Second Verse

Rated: ADULT
Warnings: Dom/sub, bondage, a very vampy Spike

Chapter One

Xander struggled in the inhumanly strong grip of the monster that had grabbed him from the street.  Twisting his head around to look at his coming death, Xander could see alien angles in the twisted face and yellowed eyes, and oh shit, fangs.  What the hell?  Vampires weren’t real, Xander thought even as the beast drove fangs into his shoulder.  The agony of the bite quickly evaporated into the pain/pleasure feeling of pulling a scab, and then Xander felt himself start to harden despite the fact that he really didn’t have the blood to spare, but Xander Jr. demanded his share even as Xander’s struggles started become more about driving back into that bite.  Then the mouth ripped away, tearing the skin where neck met shoulder and blood flowed freely, some Xander’s but mostly the blood of the vampire because Xander now knew that vampires were real, and wandering the streets of L.A.  And his mom worried about muggers, he thought as he slumped to the ground as a black man pulled back his baseball bat for a second swing.

With a start, Xander woke in his bed.  The sun shone through the streaked windows eliciting a groan from the dark haired boy.  Rolling his nearly six feet of lean body over onto his side, Xander threw an arm over his eyes and cursed; he could have sworn he closed his drapes, but obviously not.  And why was that old dream bothering him now?  He’d gotten past all that.  Pulling himself upright in his bed, he found his mother looking down at him with an ominous expression.

“Xander Harris,” she barked.  Internally he groaned, but on the outside he just put on his most neutral expression and smiled with his big brown eyes wide.  “What the hell were you up to last night?” she demanded with his jeans in her hands.  Shit.  In the dark, Xander hadn’t seen the large bloodstain on the knee. 

“Nothing, mom.  Gunn and Casey were horsing around and Gunn scraped up his knee, and I was down next to him, trying to help, and I must have gotten his blood on my jeans when I was down next to him—helping him.”  Xander realized he was babbling, but he just couldn’t seem to stop.  Damn, a simple answer would have been believable, but even he didn’t believe his Xander-babble.  Obviously his mother didn’t either because she continued to stand there, unmoving, unsmiling, and definitely unconvinced.

“That Gunn is a gang leader if I have ever seen a gang leader, and I do not want you anywhere near that boy.  When your father moved us to this god-forsaken city, I told him it was a mistake, but no.  That man just had to have his way.”

“Mom, I’m eighteen and Gunn isn’t a gang leader and the whole thing with the jeans was an accident.  I’ll wash them now,” Xander retorted as he got out of bed and pulled the jeans out of his mother’s hands as he started toward the bathroom.  The last thing he needed was for his mother to start one of her diatribes against his father.  Yes, the bastard had left the family after moving them to L.A., but in his defense, the man had believed all that crap about making it rich in real estate.

“I am still your mother, and I don’t want to outlive you.  I’m calling your father.”  Mrs. Harris beat Xander to the door and pushed him to the side as she left his room ahead of him.  Xander yielded without complaint; he only rolled his eyes and continued toward the bathroom.  What did she think dear old dad would do; the man never paid child support, he avoided visiting, and didn't even call except for holidays, and then the calls were short and generally painful. 

Xander reached the bathroom and looked in the mirror.  Was he really so unlovable that his father didn't even care?  Nope, not going there.  He just needed to get the blood out of his jeans as quickly as possible before he lost another pair.  He could understand his mother’s concerns, but he didn’t think it would make her feel any better if he announced that the blood came from a vampire’s victim who he had tried to give CPR while Gunn and the “gang” dusted the vampire and his buddy.  Nope.  Not going there either.  Xander gave his reflection a lop-sided smile.  At this rate, most of his own brain was going to be off-limits.  Of course, other people had been telling him that he and his brains weren't on talking terms for years now.

“Mom, I have stuff to do,” Xander yelled as he left he apartment to the sounds of her arguing with his father over the phone.  He only hoped his mother assumed he had work as opposed to having to look for work—again.  He wondered if there were any fast food places in L.A. that hadn’t fired him yet.  Once out on the street, Xander made a beeline for the warehouse that Gunn, Casey, and a half a dozen others had commandeered, turning it from a boarded up storage room into a bunk-house slash command central.  Xander slipped in the door unnoticed and sat on an old faded floral couch that Casey and Troy had brought home late one night after patrol.

“Xander,” Gunn finally acknowledged, flashing a smile.  Xander smiled back with a soft, “Hey.”  He knew that he didn’t truly fit.  He wasn’t one of the “brothers,” he couldn’t fight off a pack of fledgling vampires single handed, and he hadn’t grown up in the neighborhood; however, Gunn’s friendliness made all that disappear.  Deep down in his heart, Xander realized he had a bit of a crush on Gunn, but he would never tell the tall African-American that.  He didn’t *think* Gunn would beat the crap out of him, but the others might, and Gunn would certainly never let him stick around after that conversation.  Xander found himself with itching fingers.  Damn it, he had already told himself that his growing awareness of men's bodies, their firm bodies, their firm, muscular bodies were 100% off limits.  Why wouldn't his brain just do what he told it to?

“We’re heading out on a supply run, wanna come?” Gunn asked

“Uh, no thanks,” Xander quickly replied.  The guys might call it a “supply run” or “collecting the vampire tax,” but the police called it shoplifting.  Considering Xander’s ability to find trouble, he didn’t want to take that chance.

“Man, you cannot keep trying to work some shit job all day and then fight vamps at night,” Gunn insisted as he put down the stake he had been sharpening and walked over to the couch.  “You’re going to get your sorry white ass killed doing this,” Gunn commented as he gently smacked Xander on the side of the head.

“Not really a problem right now,” Xander admitted wryly as he rubbed his eyes.  From Gunn’s comment, he knew he must look like shit, but the stress of the fight and getting fired had made a good night’s sleep difficult.

“Oh man, not again.” Gunn sat next to Xander on the bed.  After a long pause, Gunn sighed softly.   “I know a guy who might have a job—he went to high school with us before I dropped out although I doubt you ever met him.  He didn’t exactly come to class much,” Gunn said in a voice barely above a whisper,  "not that I did either."

“Don’t put yourself out,” Xander quickly responded.  “I don’t want your friend getting pissed with you because I call in sick or am too sore to lift some box.” 

“That’s why you lost this last job?” Gunn asked quietly.  Xander loved the fact that he got to see Gunn’s quiet side—the caring side of the man who usually spent his time beating the shit out of vampires and fighting off the gangs that tried to make this small slice of the LA inner city their own.  No one could doubt that this territory was Gunn’s, and Xander thanked god that his parents had chosen this section of town.

“I dropped a crate of glasses,” Xander admitted.  “Have you ever heard 60 glasses hitting a tile floor all at once?” he asked with a small smile.  “Impressive.  It sounded like someone had driven a car through the big window.  Hell, two people jumped right out of their chairs.”

“Damn, you do know how to make an impression, don’t you?”  Gunn gave Xander a second slap on the side of the head, and Xander found that he enjoyed even this limited physical connection to the large man.  “I doubt T will want you dropping his glasses, but he’ll understand if you’re too sore to do your normal lifting,” Gunn continued.

“Understand as in…”

“As in I saved his ass from three vampires a while back.  He’s in the know, so tell him you got your ass kicked covering my ass on patrol and he’ll cut you some slack.  You go see him or you stop coming on patrol—I’m not going to have you turned because you’re too damn tired to do anyone any good.  Course—the offer to let you stay here and do a bit of tax collecting with us—that offer’s still open.”  Gunn finished.

“Um, the tax collecting thing?  I’m thinking no.  I’d get caught and you know it.” Xander mumbled as he tried very hard not to think about Gunn and Gunn's ass in the same sentence.  In his mind, covering Gunn's ass took on whole new meanings. 

“Most of the business owners don’t mind—they know what we do.  And Luther won’t give you any trouble at all if you stay here,” Gunn nodded over toward the short, heavy set Luther who was currently restringing a crossbow.  Every chance he could, Luther expressed his dislike for Gunn’s only white crew member.

“Yeah, I can handle Luther—well, okay, I can’t handle Luther, but I can ignore his random insults…and I don’t mean to suggest that what you’re doing isn’t legit, I mean you provide a real service to the neighborhood and I wouldn’t—”

“Xander, breathe,” Gunn finally ordered with a quiet laugh.  “I’m not trying to back you into a corner.  You stay here, you don’t—it’s your choice.”

“I just don’t want you to think…” Xander froze.  How could he finish the sentence without sounding condescending?  Most of him understood the system Gunn and his guys used, but another part of him really didn’t want to get involved in the less legal parts of the system.  Part of him still believed stealing wrong, even if it allowed the guys the time to concentrate on vampire hunting, and the vampire activity had certainly increased recently.   “I don’t mean to suggest…” Xander’s voice faded out again.

“Forget it, man.  I don’t take it personally.  You got more heart than any ten other guys I know, and I know you just aren’t comfortable with the way life is here.  We do what we gotta do to take care of the neighborhood.  That doesn’t mean you have to.” Gunn assured Xander with a small squeeze on his upper arm. 

Xander felt his blood rushing to new zones:  his face reddened and his groin tightened into a familiar knot that he hurried to cover by leaning forward to retie his sneaker.  Of course leaning over didn’t help the problem, but at least he wouldn’t reveal his problem to Gunn.  Xander just wished he could reach out his hand and run it down Gunn’s well developed leg, sliding it around to the inside of his thigh.  ‘Oh, Xander,’ he thought to himself.  ‘Xander you’d better just stop now or you’re going to have to retie this sneaker for the next week.’  Luckily Gunn didn’t seem to notice.

“I just don’t know if you want to work for T; we could find another place I suppose.” Now Gunn seemed to be nervous; Xander could see Gunn studying his fingernails with great interest. Anything capable of making Gunn nervous terrified Xander, but on the good side fear made the blood retreat from his cock.  In fact, his balls seemed to be climbing back up into his body.

“Gunn?” he asked warily.

“He runs a club that might make you a little nervous—no offense, but you are a bit white-bread,” Gunn pointed out with a smile.  He absent-mindedly ran his hand over his shaved head, a gesture Xander associated with eminent danger.

“White bread?” Xander asked.  “The only people who think I’m white bread are standing in this room,” Xander sat up and gestured toward the nine young men engaged in various activities across the room.  Casey and Luis battled it out on a Playstation set up on a plastic milk crate; Luther still fought with the broken crossbow, by the expression on his face, Xander guessed he was softly cursing.  Fredrick, Lou, and Trey all slept on pallets laid out on the floor, catching some sleep after the previous night’s excitement.  The same vampire that had caused the wound that bled all over Xander’s jeans had thrown Trey into a brick wall and his buddies had nearly killed Luther and Fredrick.  In short, everyone was rather short-tempered and tired today.  “If I hung out with anyone else, my whole vampire-bait act and front-line first aid performances would qualify as high-drama.  It’s just compared to you guys that I end up looking white-breadish.”

“True ‘nough,” Gunn agreed, “but I still don’t know whether you want to be around T’s type of scene.  He runs a club over near Glitters,” Gunn finished and Xander’s breath caught in his throat causing him to make a small strangled noise.  Glitters sat at the center of gay island in the center of the club district.  Gunn must have heard the noise because he quickly continued.  “We can find you some other place, man, no need to choke.”

“No, it’s fine.  If he’s willing to give me a chance with my employment record, I’ll give it a try.  Gotta be better than scraping grease out of exhaust fans or washing dishes.  I mean unless he wants me to clean out his exhaust fans.  Cause I need the money, so I’ll take the job even if he does want me to clean the fans…or wash the dishes.”  Xander stopped when he noticed Gunn was laughing.  Xander-babble strikes again, revealing his nervousness but hopefully not its cause.

“Makes you that nervous, huh?” Gunn asked. “But you’re still gonna take the job—I’ll give you credit for having balls, and you just tell T that the guys have to lay off you or I’ll come down there and have a conversation with anyone who gives you a hard time,” Gunn promised.  Xander sat on the odious couch in absolute shock.  Within a matter of seconds, Gunn had given him an excuse to spend large amounts of time in exactly the place he wanted to be, and he had expressed the sort of protectiveness that Xander found incredibly sexy.  He took a deep breath to try and counteract his body’s attempt to send all the blood to his crotch.  He wished, for only the five millionth time, that Gunn had any interest in him at all.  Of course, his luck held, and Gunn remained 110% straight, at least publicly.  Who knows what Gunn did in private, but that's not the kind of relationship he wanted. He'd hid long enough, so when it was time for him to fall for some guy, he wanted to be obnoxiously public about it.  God, fall for a guy, he was turning into a real girl. Next thing you know he was going to buy romance novels at the grocery story, Xander thought to himself.

Simple fact:  he wanted permanence, someone who publicly acknowledged him.  He wanted someone who found him so irresistible that he couldn’t keep his hands off.  The real problem was that Xander knew just how resistible he could be.  Gunn had this presence—this grace during a fight and strength that no one could resist.  Luther had this whole dangerous thing going for him.  A fight with a tall older vampire had left Luther with a long scar down his right cheek so that Xander tended to think of words like rakish and striking and daunting every time he saw the man.  Casey had this quiet almost child-like charm that he often used to beguile half the females in LA all at the same time. Xander realized that he had nothing to offer compared to any one of these men.  Even on patrol his job was to stay safely behind the others and help anyone who fell during the fight. 

The first time he met these men, he had recently transferred to their high school, and he had foolishly gone out on a late night walk to avoid one more parental fight.  Four of them had rescued him from a vampire attack that had left him seriously short on hemoglobin.  Compared to them, he was weak, plain, and utterly white-bread, and despite his objection earlier, he suspected that he would have played second string no matter where he ended up.  Maybe fate decided that it needed a comic relief to balance out all the heroes and Xander’s name had just come up. 

“So, what’s the name of his place?” Xander finally asked, realizing that Gunn watched him with a curious expression.  No doubt he had stood there zoning for long enough for Gunn to start worrying, but Xander wasn’t about to share his private thoughts with the man.

“It’s called Safari.  It’s over by the Walgreen's on the corner.  Go in and give him your name.  I’ll call and make sure he knows who you are.”

“Thanks Gunn.” Xander stood up and just stood there for a minute, unsure of how to express his gratitude without expressing slightly less appropriate feelings.  After all, Xander had no death wish, and lusting after Gunn in the middle of the crew would shortly lead to much Xander-beating, and he knew it.  After a second or two, he turned and left the room without another word.  Next stop:  one serious mega-sized life change, or so he hoped.  His life could use some changing.


Chapter 2

When Xander pushed the door open, he found himself speechless, which really amazed him given his propensity for Xander-babble.  However, faced with the interior of the club, even in the harsh florescent lights the cleaning crew used before the club opened for the evening, he couldn’t form thoughts much less form words. 

The owner had obviously taken the whole “safari” theme farther than Xander could have ever imagined. The walls features murals of nearly naked “savage” men hunting lions with spears and European explorers leading expeditions in g-strings and those funny hats white men always wore in the Tarzan movies. Half walls with planters apparently at random created little nooks of privacy, and Xander found his mind instantly obsessed with what might happen in the shadows behind one of those half-walls.  Of course, anything that happened there would be visible to anyone walking close enough to peak through the foliage or anyone standing at either of the open ends, but that made it even more exciting.  The best view, however, had to come from the walkway that ran the length of one wall.  The walkway was raised about three feet off the ground, and metal bars separated it from the main club.  Xander wondered if security used the protected space to monitor the crowd, but the bars seemed a little too far apart to protect those inside the walkway.  The tables and bar and chairs were all made of bamboo and had a definite “safari” feel complete with a grass awning over the bar.  Xander realized that the décor was nothing less than tacky, but still, it had its appeal.  While he was still standing there, open mouthed and silent, a young red-head walked up to him while wiping his hands on his apron.

“You Xander?” he asked without much enthusiasm.

“Yeah,” Xander finally turned away from the décor to look at the men who were even now cleaning the club and chatting in small groups.  If he had expected a gay bar to be filled with sexy, irresistible men (which he had), he was in for a disappointment. Not one of the men did anything for Xander—they ranged from downright ordinary to borderline nasty.  The blue haired man with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth and various unidentified stains decorating his sweat-marked t-shirt made Xander itch for a shower.  Just being in the same room make him feel dirty.

“T says you’ll work the food runs.”  The redhead announced indifferently and then began walking away without checking to see if Xander followed.  “Screw up and your ass will be out that door before the night’s over, sweet cheeks,” he finished as he continued to walk away.  Xander felt the familiar sinking feeling that always preceded an ugly reintroduction to unemployment.

“John, you mind your manners or you’ll be the one whose ass meets that door,” a thin black man announced as he came out one of the doors marked “Employees Only.”

“T” the red-head named John tilted his head toward his employer before turning and joining a group of table cleaners on the far side of the room.

“Hey, Xander.  I’m T.” The man held out his hand and smile warmly as Xander stepped forward to shake his hand.

“Thanks for the job; I really need it,” Xander admitted.

“No problem.  I owe Gunn so much that I’ll never pay him back.  It’s more than just saving my ass, he protects that whole neighborhood and my family lives there.  Course, I hear you have something to do with protecting that neighborhood too, so I figure I owe you whether or not Gunn called in a favor.”

“Nah, not me,” Xander hurried to correct T.  “I just clean up after the guys and help the wounded limp off the battlefield.”  Xander liked the fact that this man looked at him with respect, but he didn’t want to mislead him either.  Xander knew he couldn’t hold his own in any fight, and if T thought he was a vampire fighter, the man might expect Xander to handle gay-bashers or drunken fights when Xander couldn’t even handle two little old ladies fighting over the last box of Depends.

“Hey, you go up against vampires when most of the world stays inside and pretends they don’t exist.  Hell, even the few people who have survived vampire attacks pass them off as cultists or gothic muggers.  You got nerve hanging with Gunn and that crew, and I don’t think Gunn would let you if he didn’t trust you at his back,” T continued as he used a warm hand on Xander’s shoulder to guide the young man into the back kitchens.  Xander wanted to argue. 

He wanted to point out that Gunn put up with him because Xander had nagged him into it.  He wanted to describe how, after Gunn had saved him from the attack, he had followed the upperclassman after school to see what the “crew” did in those late nights.  He wanted to explain that Gunn had finally let him join the crew only because he got tired of finding Xander playing vampire bait half a block down from the crew as he tried to follow them.  Looking back on his sophomore self of four years earlier, Xander realized he’d been pathetic.  Of course, now he was nearly 19, lived at home, couldn’t keep a job more than a month, and had to rely on his friends to save his life on a fairly regular basis since he tended to attract any vampire within a five mile radius.  Yeah, he could safely say he hadn’t grown out of that whole pathetic stage yet.

“So, you have a paycheck here whether or not you can make work that day—got it?” T demanded.  Xander took a minute before he could process that.

“Whoa, that’s not the kind of job I’m looking for,” he quickly assured the man as they navigated well lit stainless steel prep areas that were currently abandoned.  “I don’t do the whole vampire tax thing,” Xander finished.

“Tough,” T told him with a smile.  “I want to help out the cause and most of Gunn’s men won’t even come here to claim free drinks—not even before we open to the public.  You have some serious homophobic vibes in that group.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” Xander muttered.  When a confused expression crossed T’s face, Xander found himself blushing.  He silently cursed himself for the slip.  T and Gunn talked, and he didn’t need his own orientation becoming a topic of discussion for Gunn and the crew.

“Well just don’t let the guys give you shit,” T continued as if he hadn’t heard Xander—which he clearly had.  “Doing the food runs is light work compared to the other jobs, so there’s a bit of jealousy going on.”

“Yeah, as evidenced by the whole indifference and dislike thing.  What is the job?  I mean, exactly,” Xander asked.

“You’ll notice out there several tall tables—we set up free food on those to encourage people to stay and buy more drinks.  Doing the food runs means keeping those tables full of nice, salty food that makes people want lots and lots of drinks.”

“That’s all I do?” Xander had expected T to offer him either get some completely disgusting job, like cleaning grease traps, or some totally embarrassing job like stripping.  Yeah, like anyone would want him to strip—at least not anyone who didn’t want all the customers running away screaming.

“Yeah, that’s it.  But there are a couple of different ways to do the job,” T confided as he began to pull boxes out of a walk in freezer.  “My cook called in sick, so I’m pulling snack duty today,” he explained as he tore open a bag of potatoes and dumped them into a sink full of water. 

“Let me help,” Xander offered as he took the potato scrubber out of T’s hand and began grabbing potatoes.  “What exactly do you mean ‘different ways to do the job’?” he asked as he efficiently scrubbed each potato and dropped it on the side prep area where T grabbed it and started filling baking sheets.

“Well, you do the job dressed like that and you’re going to have to rely on my paycheck to pay your bills,” T offered with a smile and a wink.  Xander stopped scrubbing in order to look at his boss in confusion. 

“And I shouldn’t rely on your paycheck?” he asked totally confused.

“You certainly can,” T quickly assured him.  “That’s fine, and Gunn said you probably just wanted the paycheck.  In fact, maybe I should move you back to cooking,” he commented as he watched as Xander finished the last of the potatoes and pulled out a baking sheet of his own to lay out the potatoes for baking, “but with a few wardrobe changes you could make a nice profit doing the food runs.”

“Did Gunn warn you that I was a little dense?  Cause I can’t make any sense outta what you’re saying,” Xander gave one of his small patented ‘Don’t expect me to understand *that*’ looks that had once worked so well to keep teachers from asking him questions in class.

“The food runners often get tips,” T said as he grabbed both trays of potatoes and slipped them into the preheated oven.  “But those baggy pants just sort of scream ‘don’t look at me’ and that shirt…” T sighed.  “That shirt is an offense against Hawaiian people everywhere.  Really, how can you wear that without getting mugged?” T waved in the general direction of Xander’s shirt, and Xander looked down.  The orange and yellow flowers on the green background were a little bright, but Xander liked the bright, vivid colors.  In a city neighborhood where dirt brown and smog gray were the two standard colors, he loved his bright and cheerful wardrobe.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that Goodwill carried this type of clothing, and he definitely couldn’t afford to shop any place but a used clothing store.

So the shirt and the décor—not a match?” Xander guessed.  He wasn’t sure what he should do since he only had a couple of solid colored shirts, but then maybe he should just stay in the kitchen.  He opened his mouth to make that offer, but T cut him off.

“I don’t care what you wear—you can prance around in swim trunks or a Santa suit, makes no difference to me.  However, you’ll get more in tips if you give the customers something to look at—not that you aren’t a looker in even those clothes,” T finished.  Xander just silently stared at his tall, thin boss as his brain tried to process that last piece of information.

“You mean people would actually give me tips for bring out free food?” Xander finally formed the question just as T pulled down an entire stack of bowls and put them on the counter.  He heard a snort behind him, and when he turned, he had to put a hand on the cold steel counter just to keep his balance.  The man who was currently walking through the kitchens could easily qualify as a god.  His long, thick, dark hair flowed in waves past his shoulders, and his dark eyes shone with intelligence and a teasing sparkle.  His features showed either Hispanic or Native American influence, and he had an exotic face that was only emphasized by a spiral tattoo on his temple. 

Of course Xander Jr. certainly couldn’t ignore the body if the tightening of the jeans was anything to go by.  The man’s shirt hung open and Xander could see clearly defined abdominal muscles that twitched in unison.  The arms below the sleeves flexed, but the man was not an overly muscled monster—no his muscles suggested those of a runner or soccer player, not the heavy, slow muscles of a body builder.  By the time Xander pulled his eyes back up to the exotically beautiful face, he could see amusement written all over the slightly upturned lips and single raised eyebrow.

“New guy?” the god asked T.

“Xander,” T nodded his head toward Xander as he separated the bowls and pulled out a giant bag of peanuts which he began to ration using a large ice scoop. 

“Xander,” the god offered his hand.  “I’m Charlie, and you can get a lot in tips if you’re willing to give up that awful shirt,” Charlie confirmed as he closed his hand around Xander’s outstretched digits.  Without thinking, Xander had come out from behind the prep table to shake Charlie’s hand, but now he realized how exposed he truly was with Xander Jr.’s unmistakable interest and Charlie no more that a few inches away.  For one second, Charlie’s eyes flashed downward toward the unmistakable interest straining the seams of Xander’s jeans, and then he looked right into Xander’s eyes and gave a slow wink.  “T, can you spare Xander long enough for me to get him a decent shirt, at least?” Charlie asked without taking his eyes off Xander.

“Figured you’d take an interest.  Just keep your hands to yourself…unless you have an invite,” T added that last part after just the briefest hesitation.  Xander realized that his carefully constructed heterosexual facade, complete with hateful ex-girlfriends who wanted him dead, was truly crumbling.

“Come on, I have something you can borrow,” Charlie offered as his hand closed in on Xander’s upper arm in a tight grip.  Xander felt his cock jerk in his jeans, and he shifted his hips as he walked and tried to give the uncooperative organ more room.  He just thanked god that he was wearing fairly loose jeans because otherwise he might have damaged himself. 

“Um, do you have an employee bathroom around here?” Xander asked, trying to keep his voice neutral, but he doubted that he did because Charlie’s expression turned even more amused.  Charlie nodded toward a hallway where, Xander assumed, he would find a bathroom, but for one moment Xander didn’t think Charlie was going to let him go.  The large hand remained solidly attached to his arm, and Xander wasn’t sure exactly how to handle the situation.  Xander Jr. had a suggestion or two, but before Xander could come to any conclusions, Charlie released his arm, and he darted toward the bathroom with as much speed as possible without looking like an utter fool.  The gentle chuckle behind him made Xander wonder whether he had succeeded, but when the bathroom door came into sight, he could no longer find the energy to care. 

Xander pushed the door open and found himself in a completely unremarkable bathroom that could have been the employee bathroom in any number of fast-food places where he had worked.  Piles of toilet paper and boxes of cleaners sat stacked against one wall and the room had the strange stale smell that came from a lack of air circulation, but the only thing Xander cared about was the fact that it had only one toilet, so he could lock the door and have the entire closet-sized room to himself.  He did so quickly and unfastened his jeans, allowing his erection to emerge with a happy sigh. 

The organ was already turning red, tiny drops of white liquid gathering at the tip before slowly rolling down his cock.  Xander reached a hand down and gently stroked the vein on the underside, enjoying the sensation for a brief moment, but he realized that he didn’t have much time before providing Charlie with entirely too much entertainment, so he closed his hand around the shaft and began a more aggressive stroking, thrusting his hips up on each stroke and struggling to remain silent since Charlie was probably leaning right outside the door.  Xander closed his eyes and rested on shoulder against the cool white tile and he stroked faster, his fist closing slightly to give him more friction, more stimulation even as the precum dripped down between his hand and his cock providing lubrication for his ever-more desperate thrusts. 

With his eyes closed, Xander first imagined Gunn’s large hand closing around his cock, Gunn’s other hand going to Xander’s chest where his fingers splayed out and pressed Xander back against the wall of the basement room even while the other crew members watched and realized that Gunn chose *him*.  He imagined coming all over Gunn’s hand as Luther watched with undisguised jealousy.  That fantasy quickly dissolved into one starring Charlie:  a fantasy where Charlie used some unknown key and walked into the bathroom finding Xander jerking off.  Charlie would slip in behind Xander and encircle his waist with one arm while his other reached around to grab hold of Xander’s cock and pump it in time with Xander’s thrusts, Xander’s back pressed up against Charlie’s front, feeling Charlie’s own erection as proof of his interest. 

However, when Xander felt his balls tighten and his leg muscles stiffen, his mind was strangely blank.  No fantasy filled the last few seconds before his body reached climax and poured itself out into the toilet with an erratic splashing sound.  Xander braced himself with one arm against the sink as he allowed his cock to slowly return to normal size before trying to pee.  Xander closed his eyes and wondered how he was supposed to open the door and face Charlie after that.  He had no illusions about fooling Charlie; Charlie knew exactly why he needed the bathroom, and he had probably gone to tell all the other employees just how pathetic the new guy truly was.  But Xander knew that he needed the money and the job, no matter how much grief the other guys gave him.  He had survived humiliation before, and he would again.  Hell, humiliation was his normal state of existence.  With a sigh, Xander tucked himself in, zipped up his pants, and turned to face his imminent disgrace.

Xander opened the door to find the hallway empty.  Okay, this was a new torture technique, but Xander had to appreciate its effectiveness.  If Charlie had been waiting with a few evil comments or if half the staff had been waiting with smug expressions, he would have at least known what to expect.  The whole not knowing what to expect actually sent his stomach into loops faster than anything Charlie and his buddies could have done.  Xander wandered back toward where he left Charlie in the connecting hall.  Several other men zipped down the hall, and given their general cuteness—at least in Xander’s opinion—Xander assumed that these men, like Charlie, worked up front. 

“Move it or lose it, cutie,” one brunette kindly ordered with a gentle shove to one side as Xander paused in the maze of corridors, unsure where to find Charlie.

“Where’s Charlie?” Xander blurted before the brunette could leave.

“Charlie?  The headliners use the last room,” the man waved toward the end of the hall before he opened a door where three or four men were changing.  Xander turned his face before he could get a look at something that he shouldn’t, even if he desperately wanted to look. 

Following the hall to the end, he knocked on the last door even as he wondered what a headliner was.  Almost immediately, Xander heard Charlie’s voice sing out, “For god’s sake just come in…it’s not like half the city hasn’t seen it.”  Xander pushed the door open and thanked god he had stopped and taken care of his problem.  If he hadn’t, the sight in front of him would have left him coming in his jeans, something he hadn’t done since he was fourteen and his two best friends talked him into playing doctor.

Charlie dressed, or rather didn’t dress, to fit with the safari theme in the main room.  He had a leather loin cloth strapped across his hips, and as he adjusted the front flap so that it covered most of his private parts, Xander could see that he sported a healthy erection currently trapped within the confines of leather straps that looped around his balls and the base of his cock, forcing them away from his body.  Xander’s own cock twitched in sympathy—that looked decidedly uncomfortable.  Charlie just continued to adjust his small cloth so that when he dropped it, his genitals were visible only in small glances as he walked. 

Xander wasn’t even sure how the man could walk with his balls forced so far from his body, but Charlie still moved with quiet grace that just screamed sexy.  Around Charlie’s upper body, looped so that it went from his left shoulder to his right waistline, a long bull whip drew attention to his beautifully cut stomach, chest, and back muscles, and the finishing touch was a pair of sandals that were nothing more than leather straps wound around first his feet and then up his legs in a crisscross pattern.  Xander had never seen anything so sexy in his entire life.  What’s more, he never expected to ever be so turned on ever again.  He was realizing that despite his earlier side trip, Xander Jr. was quickly becoming a problem again.  In fact, Xander didn’t even hear Charlie until the man had raised his voice with an amused snort.

“Earth to Xander, care to join us?”  Charlie asked.

“Huh?” Xander really couldn’t find enough higher brain activity to manage more than the one syllable. 

“Red or purple?” Charlie said in a tone that made it clear he had asked the question before.

“Huh?” Xander repeated stupidly despite the two shirts that Charlie held up on their hangers.  This time Charlie didn’t just snort, he laughed outright—a large deep laugh that made Xander blush all the way down to his toes. 

“Red, I think,” Charlie said as he pulled a red silk shirt off a hanger. "It'll look nice with those deep brown eyes of yours.  You do have the look, don't you,” Charlie continued as he tossed the shirt at Xander.

“I don’t think I can wear this,” Xander objected as he held the shirt, which probably cost more than he typically made in a week.

“Sure you can—it’s left over from when I did food runs.  It has a couple of stains, but in the dark no one will notice.”

“It’s yours?” Xander asked, imagining Charlie wearing the beautiful red silk.  “I mean, I doubt it’ll fit me,” he quickly added.

“Xander, we're built pretty similar.  You have some nice upper body development, and the silk will really show it nicely.  And if you want tips, you need to show off a little,” Charlie confided as he pulled his hair back into a leather thong at the nape of his neck.  “Course we need to find you some other pants.  Mine might be a little big, so I’m going to pop down and ask Mike if he has a pair you can borrow.”

“What’s wrong with my pants?” Xander shouted through the open door as Charlie disappeared down the hall.  Xander didn’t have long to wait before Charlie reappeared with a pair of black jeans that seemed far too small for Xander to fit into.

“What’s wrong is that you’re going to lose most of your tips in pants that loose,” Charlie commented as he tossed the jeans to Xander.  “Now hurry up and change.  The club opens soon.”  Without another word, Charlie left, pulling the door closed behind him.  Xander stared at the closed door and then at the unfamiliar clothing still held in his hands.  The shirt he could handle, and he quickly shed his bright Hawaiian print, dropping it on a plastic chair sitting in the corner of the small dressing room.  As the red silk slipped over his skin, he understood women’s obsession with silk underwear.  The smooth fabric slid over his skin making every nerve feel alive.  The pants, which had landed on the seat of the same plastic chair with his discard shirt, required more thought.  Xander didn’t know whether he was ready to parade around in pants that left nothing to the imagination, especially when Xander Jr. was acting up, but he felt strangely reluctant to disappoint Charlie.   Oh well, he could always change back later if he looked too stupid.  Xander quickly slipped off his jeans before he could change his mind and slipped the black jeans on. 

"Oh, and lose the underwear—the lines of it will show through the jeans," Charlie's voice floated through the door.  From the tone, Charlie must have shouted the words, but Xander could barely hear them, meaning—and at this Xander really blushed—Charlie had just told him to go commando loud enough for the entire staff to hear him.  Xander slipped the black jeans back down and shucked off his underwear.

With a small curse, he pulled up the stiff fabric and tucked himself in before buttoning up the button-fly, an act which caused no small amount of discomfort as Xander Jr. struggled to reach full size.  Shit, he hadn't ever been able to recover this fast.  Looking in the slightly warped mirror hanging on the back of the door, Xander faced a person he didn’t know.  The red silk made his normally unremarkable upper body look moderately developed, and the black jeans followed every curve.  He pushed his fingers through his thick, wavy brown hair wishing it were either long enough to tie back or short enough to not curl up and get in his eyes.

“You ready?” Xander heard Charlie call as he reappeared in the room without even knocking—of course, it was actually his dressing room, but still.

“If you explain the tips comment,” Xander retorted sharply feeling slightly foolish and embarrassed.

“Whoa—you clean up nice,” Charlie commented with appreciation as he took in the new and improved Xander.  Charlie took a step back and looked Xander up and down.  “Very nice.”

“Um, yeah,” Xander just mumbled.  “So, are you going to explain the comment?”

“How do you think the customers give you tips?” Charlie asked with a small tilt of his head. 

“Don’t they usually put the money in a glass or jar?” Xander asked as he tried to pull at his jeans enough to give his cock room.  As Charlie had reentered the room, Xander Jr. had reasserted himself in the now much tighter confines of the black jeans.

“Give it up, Xander,” Charlie laughed as he saw what Xander was attempting to do.  “You’ll get more tips that way.  But to answer your question, no, there are no jars.  Your tips will end up down your pants, which is why you don’t want to wear loose pants.”

“Shit,” Xander swore, partly from the idea of getting that kind of attention and partly because the thought had sent enough blood straight to his cock to make the jeans a torture device.

“Oh yeah, that’s how to get the tips,” Charlie laughed as he slipped his hand down to cup Xander’s crotch.  “Keep that up and you’ll take over my hours on the walkway.”  Without another word, Charlie turned and left the room, leaving Xander to try and figure out how to walk.  “Better hurry up and get T to show you the ropes before the club opens,” Xander heard Charlie shout from half way down the hall.  For a moment, Xander stood in the small private dressing room staring at his old jeans.  If he walked out of the room dressed like this, he might as well admit to everyone in the club that he was gay.  A straight man might work at a gay club, but he certainly wouldn’t go out on the floor dressed like a rent boy—a rent boy with an erection making walking impossible and straining the seams of his jeans.  It would be like telling the whole world he was gay. 

He had heart palpitations at the thought of telling Gunn or his parents, but telling stranger—he could live with that. Maybe he could even use it as a trial run—a practice coming out party.  With more confidence in his walk than in his heart, Xander walked out of the small dressing room, closing the door behind him.  The kitchen where he left T preparing snacks lay at the end of the hall, so he walked down the length of the hall where a few open doors revealed small groups of men preparing for work—most of them changing into the zebra print pants and white, open vests that functioned as a uniform.  When no one made any disparaging remarks by the end of the hall, Xander began to believe that he didn’t look completely stupid.  However, T’s comment nearly sent him running back for his own baggy and nondescript clothing.

“Holy shit, what the hell did he do to you?” T asked as he froze, his hand still full of shredded cheddar cheese suspended above the waiting potato skins.

“I can change back,” Xander quickly offered as he began backing toward the waiting hallway.

“The hell you can.  That thick curly hair and big puppy eyes paired with that red silk—shit, I’m going to have more people looking at you than the dancers.”  Xander stood with his mouth open, trying to figure out what he missed because at first glance the comment seemed complimentary, overly complimentary.  In Xander’s experience, any compliments based on appearance simply provided the warm-up act for later humiliation.  A small but emotionally scarring incident in 11th grade had tattooed that fact into his brain.  However, T continued without commenting on Xander’s silence or his suspicious expression.

“Damn I had no idea you were such a cutie under those atrocious clothes.  You must have been a swimmer,” T talked on as his hand resumed the job of preparing snacks.  “As soon as I can get you to give up the slouch and put a little swing into those hips, I’m going to get you on that walkway—maybe dress you up like a lion with that think hair of yours, any chance you could let it grow out some?” Xander opened his mouth to comment on the question and the unlikeliness of anyone paying to see him as nearly naked as Charlie had been, but T continued his train of thought without giving Xander even a chance to jump in.  Xander realized that even his Xander-babble was helpless in the face of T who continued his monologue even as he slipped one tray of potatoes out of the oven and another into. 

“Your biggest problem tonight is going to be getting the food to the stations.  Each of the food stations has a soft yellow light above it, and it’s easy to see with the dance lights on, but the customers are going to descend on you like a flock of vultures.  And here I thought you were going to have a chance to work your way into the job slowly.” Here T inserted a snort that sounded suspiciously like Charlie’s.  “Don’t let customers push you too far.  If they get too grabby-feely, look for one of the black vested bouncers.  Give them a nod and they’ll pull you out. 

"Don’t let customers pull you into a private corner or pull you to these rooms back here,” at this point T nodded to the rooms off the hallway Xander had just walked.  “Lots of the regulars come back here, but you are so not ready for that, boy.”  T winked at Xander, and Xander didn’t have to ask him what went on in those rooms.  Xander felt his heart jump, and not in the way the sent Xander, Jr. to happy land.  The thought of illegal prostitution or of having to fight off overly amorous men frightened Xander, and T must have recognized the expression. 

“Don’t worry, I run a clean club and the only thing that goes on around here is love between consenting adults.  I just don’t want you doing something you aren’t ready for because you didn’t stop and think.  Besides, Gunn will tear this place apart if something happens to you, so you keep those bouncers in sight.  I’ll tell them to keep an eye on you for the next week or so until you get your feet under you.”

“Grab a tray,” T ordered as he picked up a tray stacked high with peanut bowls and gestured towards the others that waited on the table.  Xander picked up the one with some sort of fried bread and hurried to follow the thin man out into the main club.  Xander wondered just how much caffeine T consumed in a day because he had never met anyone who so clearly needed to cut back. 

“Uh, T?” he asked as they approached a narrow pillar that had a chest high counter running around it. “How are they going to know I work here?”  Xander asked as he realized that nearly all of the other employees wore uniforms.  Everyone had the zebra pants but while most of the men wore white vests that exposed their chests, a fair number of the larger men wore the closed black vests.

“Simple, you’re going to have the tray in your hands.  Not all the employees wear uniforms, the walkway dancers change into street clothes after they dance and mingle with the customers.  It’s a chance for them to pick up a few extra tips,”  T explained as he gestured toward the walkway Xander had earlier assumed would protect security.  The thought of Charlie dancing behind the bars send Xander’s cock through another round of torture in the tight jeans. 

“And this is legal?” Xander asked dubiously.

“If the guys had sex for money or had sex on the dance floor, no.  But they’re just talking to customers, and if a few want to slip a hand with a few dollars down their pants, that legal as long as the guys aren’t dancing at the time the customers are touching.  Usually the dancers help with the food running because it really will be difficult keeping up with all the food stations, but just remember, you put the food out too fast and I just have to give more away, so don’t break your neck keeping the moochers in free peanuts and pizza bread,” T explained with a nod toward Xander’s breadsticks as both men dropped off a bowl of food at the pillar and walked on to the next one. 

“T, I just don’t…” Xander stopped, unsure how he could finish the sentence.  He didn’t want to work there—no, actually he wanted to very much.  He didn’t think he belonged there—definitely, but he had pushed his way in where he lacked qualifications before.  He didn’t know how to do this—definitely again.  He couldn’t even say the word “gay” out loud, and he was about to let gay men touch him for money.  Xander couldn’t process any of the possible options before T cut him off by answer without waiting for the rest.

“I know.  Do what you can, what you want.  When you need to leave, give me a head’s up in the kitchen and I’ll have one of the bartenders fill in or just have the dancers take the food.  It’s fine darlin’, you’ll be fine.” With this final comment, T gave Xander’s arm a pat and took the tray since they had laid out the food on the last pillar-counter.  “Carlos, meet Xander,” he called to a black-vest, and with that T disappeared before Xander could say another word.

“Hey Xander, you need anything, you give me a stare, and I’ll get right to you, okay?” Carlos commented as he gave Xander a smile that made Xander relax.  Carlos was old enough to be Xander’s father if Xander was any judge of age, but his body looked fit enough to break Xander’s real father in two.  Comforting combination.  “You get the rest of the food out ‘cause the fun is about to start,” Carlos added as he jerked a thumb toward the entrance.  The club had obviously opened because the first few customers had started wandering in through the doors in pairs and small groups.  The light instantly dimmed, and Xander made an ungraceful dash for the kitchen.



Chapter 3

Xander had expected to last about fifteen minutes.  Five hours later, he found himself still navigating the crowd with his tray full of both empty bowls needing refilling and full bowls he was trying to get over to the far food stations.  Currently, three middle-aged men with nice suits and strong breath prevented him from making any progress.  Xander just knew that Carlos hovered near, but he intentionally avoided eye contact.  After five hours at the job, Xander knew good tippers when he saw them.

“I haven’t seen you before,” the tallest man commented from behind, slipping an arm around Xander’s waist.  Normally Xander would have felt compelled to push the stranger off, but he had discovered that the tray made that impossible.  After sending a nearly full tray of pizza bread to the floor, he had discovered that his only two escape moves were twisting his body and making eye contact with Carlos.  Luckily, the subsequent scramble on all fours to recover the ruined food before anyone fell on it led to a number of interesting gropes and so many tips that Xander had to go to the restroom, fish the money out of his pants, and have Carlos hang on to it for him.  This time Xander twisted.  As he moved, tall guy’s hand went from Xander’s bare stomach, where it had found its way under his shirt, to Xander’s bare hip by sliding into the already too tight jeans.  The man’s hand wedged in prevented Xander from twisting to the right, so he tried to twist back to the left when suit number two moved in.  This one reminded Xander of Screech from “Saved by the Bell,” but his voice sounded lawyer-smooth, even drunk.

“I would have remembered you,” he confided in a stage whisper loud enough for his friends to hear.  Screech-clone then grabbed Xander’s waist band and pulled Xander into his own body, tall guy still attached at the hip.  Xander might have made eye contact with Carlos, only he felt the paper slide in with the man’s fingers.  For the first time in months, Xander realized that he was going to have enough money that his mother wouldn’t have to take any overtime shifts to pay for the rent. He just smiled and held the tray to one side.

“First night here,” he agreed as suit number three moved in on the only open side.  The man reached his hand up and put his palm on Xander’s cheek in the most intimate gesture Xander had ever shared with a man.  Pulling Xander’s face toward his, suit #3 leaned in and kissed Xander—not a tender kiss, but a commanding kiss.  His tongue reached out and slipped under Xander’s upper lip, pulling it out far enough for the man’s teeth to close over it firmly enough to earn a gasp from Xander.  At the open invitation, the man’s tongue quickly moved into Xander’s mouth and suit #3’s hand slipped behind Xander’s head to keep him immobile as the suit explored Xander’s mouth even as Xander’s body remained trapped between the two friends.  After a couple of minutes, the man pulled back and held up a twenty dollar bill.

“Very nice,” he commented as he slipped the bill in the front of Xander’s jeans so far down that the paper brushed the top of Xander’s cock.  Xander looked up to see Carlos obviously perched to descend on the trio, but Xander intentionally broke eye contact, giving Carlos no reason to interfere.  When suit #3 had deposited his money, he left his hand beneath Xander’s jeans, his splayed fingers stretching across Xander lower stomach scant centimeters from Xander’s now painfully enlarged cock.   This gave Screech-clone a chance to let go of Xander’s jeans without risking Xander’s escape. 

“My turn,” he announced as he placed his hands on either side of Xander’s face and pulled Xander’s head to his own.  This time Xander knew what to expect, and he opened his mouth before the lip bite could be repeated.  “Eager,” Screech-clone approvingly mumbled before covering Xander’s lips with his own.  This time Xander felt the suction almost immediately, and the invading tongue worked at prying his own tongue out of Xander’s mouth and into Screech-clone’s.  Xander complied and used his tongue to explore the other’s mouth, to find the unfamiliar tastes.  Where normally Xander tasted gum and lemonade and sweetness in the kiss of a girl, this kiss tasted of alcohol and lust and a faint trace of cigarette. 

Before Xander could finish cataloguing the differences, the man’s teeth closed even as the suction continued.  Xander tried to withdraw his head, but a hand latched on to the back of his head and pulled him forward.  He tried to pull back his tongue, but the teeth tightened and Xander froze.  He supposed he could drop the tray, but he didn’t want to have to scramble for far messier potato skins with the dance floor this crowded.  As soon as Xander froze, the man’s teeth eased up, and Xander felt the other man’s tongue stroking along the underside of his tongue in rhythm with a stroking that now began on his left nipple. 

Xander relaxed, but then a nail raked his nipple, and he groaned as his body sent so much blood to his cock that it closed the distance between it and suit #3’s fingertips.  When Xander felt the head of his cock nudge the warm finger, he groaned into the mouth that still held his tongue captive and still stroked it.  “Nice hardly seems adequate,” Screech clone commented as he finally released Xander’s mouth.  Suit #3 reluctantly withdrew his hand, and Screech-clone held up his twenty dollars.  Xander held still as the hand with the money disappeared down the front of Xander’s jeans.  This time, the hand didn’t stop until it had pushed the money between Xander’s cock and his lower stomach, allowing Screech-clone to run his finger down half the length of Xander Jr., who twitched approvingly. 

With a glance over his shoulder toward the black-vested bouncer, Screech-clone pulled his hand out until he once again had a firm hold on the front of Xander’s waist band.  Suit #3 now closed his own fist around the left side of Xander’s waistband, leaving him unable to move at all, especially since he still held his tray between the two men. 

Xander now turned his attention to tall guy who had kept his hand inserted beneath Xander’s jeans and on Xander’s right hip the entire time.  Obviously the other two weren’t going to let go until the third got his kiss.  Xander watched the dark-haired man over his shoulder, waiting to see how he would react.  After several seconds of no one moving, Xander began to squirm, but he really couldn’t move much with all three men holding him.  “Uh, food getting cold here,” Xander finally pointed out as he raised the tray slightly. 

“Let’s take this somewhere private,” tall man suggested and nodded at the other two.  All three of them began maneuvering Xander toward one of the semi-private tables shielded by a half-wall planter.  Xander felt himself being bodily pushed, and he planted both feet as firmly as possible.

“No!” he commanded as he looked around for Carlos.  Before he could make eye contact, tall man pulled his head back around with a palm on his cheek.

“I promise to make you cry with pleasure,” he purred.

“And I said no.  Either let me go right now, or you’re going to find yourself tossed out on your ass.”  Xander insisted with more vehemence than he really felt.  Of course, it didn't help that Xander Jr. kept insisting that this was exactly what he wanted.

“Playing cock-tease?” Screech-clone asked with a sneer.

“You started the game, you did the teasing.  I’m just running food.  Let me go now,” Xander hotly returned even though he couldn't turn to face Screech-clone with the tall man's hands holding his head captive.  He was surprised when the men instantly complied, but when he turned, he saw that Carlos had obviously spotted the problem because he had moved up to stand directly behind Xander.  His narrowed eyes and clenched fists convinced the three suits far more than Xander’s words.  Unfortunately, Carlos’ rock hard body also made a perfect target for the tray as Xander swung around.  When his tray met the side of Carlos’ body, the bowls of potato skins slid wildly and then careened off the edge of the tray onto the bouncer’s black and white pants and then onto the wood floor. 

“Shit,” Xander cursed as he instantly dropped to his knees and started grabbing bowls and now cold potato skins off the floor.  Carlos stood stunned for a moment, but when the three suits hurriedly backed away, he looked down and assessed the damage. 

“Are you sure you’re not doing this for tips?” Carlos asked as he checked out his grease stained pants and the men who now eyed Xander as he knelt on the floor scrambling to grab the scattered food. 

“Hardee-har-har.  Go on, get changed.  They aren’t going to give me any more grief,” Xander told Carlos as he spotted the three suits disappearing into the dancing men on the floor.     Carlos turned and nodded to one of the other bouncers to take up Xander watching before he left the floor.  Xander sighed.  Why did everyone think he needed a body guard?

“You look good on your knees, luv,” came a British voice, and Xander looked up into stunning blue eyes within a beautiful angular face that made Xander want to reach up and touch it.  Of course, since his hands were covered in potato goo, that might not be the best move.

“Don't expect to ever see the sight again,” he dryly snarked back instead.  That earned him a short barking laugh.  However the laugh disappeared immediately as another customer came up behind Xander to join in the fun. 

Xander figured he was about to endure another round of grab the new guy’s ass, but the British man stepped forward so that his boots were inches from Xander face and snapped, “Back off, git.  Go find your own.” To Xander’s amazement, the other man practically stumbled as he backed away with his hands held up in a mock surrender.  Xander leaned back on his knees and looked up at blue eyes in confusion.  The man didn’t look particularly threatening:  the long, black leather duster and bleached hair and black fingernails certainly suggested a certain willingness to break the rules, but the man’s build was almost painfully thin, and his fingers were long and delicate—hardly the sort to send another man running in fear. 

Xander was still trying to figure out why this man seemed so different when Mr. Blue Eyes crouched down on the balls of his feet, practically bouncing with energy.  With a movement too quick to follow, he snatched the tray from Xander’s finders and grandly waved with his free hand.  “Go on, grab it up ‘fore the great unwashed here fall on their arses.”  Xander hurried to do just that, dropping the ruined and mashed treats into bowls and depositing those on the tray Blue Eyes held for him.  Every time Xander turned to chase another bit of food, he expected the grope and the dirty dollar bill finding its way into his jeans; however, blue eyes just hunched down, still bouncing on the balls of his feet, with an almost predatory smile on his face.

Xander dropped the last of the bowls on the tray and pulled the small towel out to wipe his hands before dropping it back on the tray.  When he then reached out to take the tray from the blue eyed man, the man whipped the tray behind his back with a smirk.

"What are ya prepared to pay for this, mate?  After all, I don't do kind acts—expect to be paid for my services," the blonde leered.  Xander groaned at the same time that Xander Jr. twitched and grew.  The blonde's eyes widened, almost as if he knew, but Xander refused to be intimidated.  He had faced off against vampires and monsters, he wasn't going to back down to a Goth reject bar fly.

"Since the tray is mine, I don't expect to pay anything," Xander said, straightening up and standing over the still crouching stranger.  When Blue Eyes also stood up, Xander sighed in relief when he saw that the lanky stranger stood a good inch shorter than him.  At least he wouldn't have to ask the bouncer for a rescue…this time.  "In fact," he continued as Blue Eyes ran his gaze up and down Xander's body.  "In Fact," he repeated louder when it became clear that Blue Eyes wasn't listening.  This time, those stunning blue eyes settled on his face with the eyebrows raised in a look of both curiosity and amusement.  "You cost me quite a few tips scaring off the customers like that," Xander pointed out with a head nod toward the crowd behind him.

"So, you do the whole crawlin' thing for money, do ya?" Blue Eyes asked with the corners of his mouth twitching into an even wider smile.

"It's not like….I just dropped the ….You’re twisting my words, and it doesn't change the fact that you're still scaring off the tipping customers AND keeping me from doing my job."  Xander felt a moment of pride that he had managed to recover from the moment of babble.  Of course, with those brilliant blue eyes staring at him as if they could see right through him, babbling in some form was inevitable.  Xander Jr. valiantly tried to break through the denim of his jeans, and Xander watched as Blue Eyes' nose widened in an almost feral sniff.  Damn, the man could even inhale sexy.  

"Not stopping anything," Blue Eyes insisted.  "You pay up and I'll be on my way, mate."  Blue Eyes slowly winked at Xander who stood there silently trembling.

"I don't…If you don't leave, I'll get the bouncer.  One look to him, and you'll find yourself thrown right out of here 'cause T doesn't take any shit from the customers.  And this whole refusing to give me the tray shit, that is definitively giving me shit, and he won't take that," Xander gasped in one breath as Blue Eyes walked toward him.  Xander unconsciously backed up until he found himself backed up against one of the half walls with his back toward the caged runway. 

"What bouncer?"  Blue Eyes inquired quietly.  Xander looked around in a panic and realized that the black-vested guardian had disappeared, leaving Xander backed against the wall with Blue Eyes a matter of inches away from him, the tray still held behind his back.  Without a word, blue eyes set the tray down precariously on the half wall, the edge of the planter making it tilt dangerously.

"So, payment now," Blue Eyes demanded in his English accent as he slowly put a hand on either side of Xander, resting them on the half wall and leaning in toward Xander who had suddenly frozen.  Xander felt his stomach tingle in a way that it never did with Charlie or even Gunn.  He could feel his balls draw up in preparation, and he drew a deep breath, trying to calm himself before he embarrassed himself in front of the whole club, or at least the two or three men actually paying attention to their little drama.

"What payment?" Xander squeaked in an attempt to maintain his manly dignity.  Okay, the squeaking part probably ruined the whole dignity thing, but he still wasn't going to play along.  At least, he didn't plan to until he felt the hand descend on his arm. The long fingers grasped his arm much more tightly than he had expected, and he could feel the fingers through the cool silk.

"Red, my favorite color," Blue Eyes whispered as he moved in toward Xander, leaning his body against Xander's slightly larger frame.  His second hand moved in toward Xander's neck, slipping in under the silk, and caressing the junction of his neck and shoulder.  When cool, slim fingers pressed into the skin of Xander's scar, Xander felt his whole body shudder in pleasure.  "Oh yeah, knew I was right about you," Blue Eyes whispered as he lowered his mouth to Xander's and aggressively invaded with a strong tongue that tasted of whiskey and metal and cigarettes. 

Xander felt himself moan into the mouth as he lost all control of his body.  Blue Eyes ravished his mouth, caressed his scar, and slowly leaned his hip into Xander's erection.  He could take no more, and he gave a small scream and came for the second time that night.  Hoping that the rest of the crowd hadn't noticed since his scream had been muffled by Blue Eyes' mouth over his, he stood there with his eyes closed, semen soaking into his jeans, and Blue Eyes' hand still on his arm, holding him motionless with the single gesture.  Xander's legs trembled and struggled to hold up his weight, but eventually Xander opened his eyes and found Blue Eyes still grinning.  "You tell Cassidy that Spike did that do you," Blue Eyes commanded as he ran a finger down the now damp crotch of the jeans.


Chapter 4

Xander had not yet found enough brain cells to point out that he didn't know a Cassidy before Blue Eyes, correction—Spike, disappeared into the crowd.  Only then did Xander look around and realize that he had just been returned to his regularly scheduled nightmare, still in progress.  Quite a few men silently watched him with knowing smiles, and Xander watched as several nudged or pulled over friends and partners, pointing toward Xander and whispering meaningfully.  Soon, T's prediction came true and more customers watched Xander blush deeply and retrieve the tray than watched the dancer currently prancing down the runway. 

He considered making a mad dash for the kitchen.  Oh well, he told himself, he had publicly humiliated himself and lost the best paying job he had ever held, but at least he had enough money to carry him through a month of job searching. Maybe T would still let him wash dishes, he mused as he considered the distance between himself and the kitchen door.  Deciding that a dash would probably end up with him fishing potato skins off the floor for a second time, Xander decided to go for the dignified retreat, not easy in cum-stained jeans.  Xander groaned as he realized the jeans weren't even his.  Good news: he didn't have to walk home like this.  Bad news: he owed someone for one very expensive pair of jeans.  Mike or Matt, he thought to himself as he tried to remember whose jeans he had just ruined.  He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't register that several members of the crowd had moved in on him until he looked up.

When a thick arm circled his waist, Xander jumped, and struggled to right the tray before he dumped it back on the floor.  Obviously he had no business carrying the thing.  "Nice show," a deep voice rumbled in his ear as a ten dollar bill appeared in front of him before the hand that held it slowly sank down and fingers slipped under the front of his jeans.  The fingers continued to invade until Xander felt the paper suddenly slide easily into the slippery cream that filled his jeans.  The hand withdrew and the slightly damp fingers slid up under his shirt and rubbed the substance into his skin.  Xander stood silent, shocked, his fingers closing on the edge of the tray until the knuckles turned white.  He couldn't imagine how his heart managed to beat with all his blood in his face which burned with shame.

"Lovely," a second voice added as an older man with salt and pepper hair came up on Xander's right and slid his empty hand down the front of Xander's jeans until his fingers found the dampness.  Xander felt the fingers press into his skin and slide along a couple of inches before the older man pulled his hand out with the collected cum pooling between two fingers.  "Just lovely," the man intoned as his second hand held up a fifty.  The man's damp fingers reached up toward Xander, and Xander pulled back sharply, or at least tried to.  The thick arm tightened as Xander simply managed to push himself back into the first man's embrace.  Xander felt the weight of the arm and the press of other men crowding in as the cum-covered fingers approached his mouth.  "Be a good boy," the older man cajoled as he held up the fifty.  When the fingers touched his lips, Xander opened his mouth with a small whimper that caused the man behind him to laugh.  The older man slipped his fingers into Xander's mouth and rubbed the salty, slightly sour taste over Xander's tongue as other men now stepped up and slid their tips into Xander's jeans. 

After a moment, Xander watched as the older man's face slowly turned into a frown even though the fingers remained in Xander's mouth.  Xander's brain had long since turned off, and so he simply gazed back until the man leaned in and whispered, "Suck, boy."  Without a second thought, Xander began to suck; he had often had fantasies of men, but this surpassed even his wildest ones.  He couldn't help feeling like he had fallen into some dream and would soon wake up in his own bed.  Feeling this dream-like trance settle in over his mind, Xander felt free—free to do anything since he would soon wake and find that he had imagined it all. 

In this trance like state, he sucked harder and then began to tongue the fingers enthusiastically.  His hips thrust up to meet the probing hands even though his own erection could not meet the challenge of a third performance without more recovery time.  The older man left his fingers in Xander's mouth even as he slipped the fifty dollar bill down the back of Xander's jeans, his fingers running as far as they could down Xander's crack given the tightness of the jeans and the fingers exploring the front of the jeans.  Xander continued to suck and caress the fingers even after the hand had deposited the fifty and withdrawn and the older man slid his free hand through Xander's thick hair, pushing the curls away from this face.  "So lovely," he finally announced as he pulled his fingers out of Xander's mouth.  Xander's eyes remained fixed on the gray-haired man until a darker complexion moved into his line of sight.

"Xander?" Xander heard the voice, but his eyes hadn't quite focused since blue eyes had left him leaning against the wall.  He did suddenly register the lack of warmth behind him suggesting that the man in whose embrace he had stood just a moment ago had left him.

"Xander?!" the voice repeated more insistently, and Xander looked up into Carlos' worried face.  "Are you okay?" Carlos asked as he slipped an arm around Xander's shoulders and glared at the few remaining customers who now hurried to back off.

"Yeah," Xander replied slowly, "I'm just fine."  He didn't even convince himself with his weak and trembling voice, and he felt Carlos' arm pulling him toward the kitchen.

"Yeah, right," Carlos snorted sarcastically.  "When I catch Billy, I'm going to beat the crap outta him for leaving you alone."  Carlos promised as he steered Xander around several people and through the kitchen door.  Xander only half listened as he continued to walk in his dream-like state and think about Spike pinning him against the wall. 

"Shit, what happened to the boy?" T asked as he tossed a baking sheet aside and took the tray from Xander.

"He dumped a tray of your skins on the floor," Carlos jutted his chin out toward the tray of mangled potato skins.

"Fuck the potatoes, what happened to him?" T asked, but Xander couldn't find the strength to do anything except brace himself against the metal table and take deep breaths in an attempt to restart his brain.  "Xander?" T called his name gently as he walked around the table and laid a hand on the small of Xander's back.

"Well there's the tip stealer," a high-pitched male voice called out as Xander heard the slap of a stripper's sandals against the tile of the kitchen floor.  "Did you see him out there?" the indignant voice demanded as the slapping noise came closer.  Xander lowered his forehead to the prep table and prepared to be humiliated and fired—in exactly that order. 

"What happened?" T asked the nameless stripper.

"He and some guy were hot and heavy on the floor—had a whole audience for it.  Not sure, but I think the boy even finished the deed if the reactions of the audience were anything to go by.  I'm out there shaking my ass, and he does the whole trembling, blushing virgin bit, blows his load in the middle of the floor, and steals every tip in the house." The voice snorted derisively. 

"You outta be in pictures, 'cause you're one damn good actor with your whole wide-eyes, 'don't know what to do' act you have going," the voice stopped just behind Xander, but Xander didn't move—just let this be over and let T quietly fire him, that's all he hoped for at this point.  "Just tone it down during my show or I'll show you," the voice finished with a threat.  Xander didn't think the threat entirely necessary since T would shortly fire him, but he couldn't blame the stripper.

"Luis, you cool it or you'll be shaking that ass on the street," T retorted.  "Xander?" T asked quietly, hand still on his back even as Xander leaned over the table.  "That what happened?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Xander agreed.  The details didn't matter and that is what basically happened.

"Carlos?" Xander heard the sharpness in T's voice and he braced himself to be forcibly thrown from the club.  Luckily T was calling for Carlos, who Xander hoped would only shove him out the door and not actually throw him.  Of course Carlos was entirely large enough to throw Xander if ordered, hell the man could probably bench press him, he realized with a start.  He wondered if they would let him get his clothes or if he would have to walk home in the cum-stained jeans after all.  If he got home.  The vamps were out in force lately and he wouldn't call Gunn for an escort with his jeans still stained from his most recent humiliation.  Xander mentally pulled himself to a halt to review the latest words he thought he heard T say.  Reality didn't seem to be meeting expectations, so he listened more carefully.  Yep, T was angry at Carlos for leaving him alone.

"I just went to change, and I ordered Billy to keep an eye on him," Carlos defended himself against the accusation Xander had only half-heard T make.  "I didn't know things would get so out of hand, and I trusted Billy to keep him safe…I won't make that mistake again," Carlos finished with a growl.  Xander struggled to understand what was going on.  It sure didn't seem like T had fired him, so he peeked over his arm to look at the thin black man.  Yep, T looked angry as stick-poked bear, but the scowl pinned Carlos in place and the hand now moved in small circles on Xander's back.

"Wasn't his fault," Xander managed to murmur as he started to push himself up from the table.  Since he wasn't fired, he had to show some pride, and hiding his face in his arms while the boss rubbed his back didn't seem very manly.

"The hell it isn't," T retorted sharply.

"No, it isn't," Xander snapped back.  "I saw him call the other bouncer over, and he had to change his pants because of *me,* so if you want to get angry, get angry that I dumped the food on him in the first place."  Xander stood up and turned so that T had to let go of his back.

"That was an accident," Carlos interjected quickly.  "You didn’t do anything wrong."

"And neither did you," Xander turned to pin Carlos with a glare just as cold as T's own.  "I'm a big boy, and you can't blame other people for my mistakes," Xander finished as he turned back to T.

"Honey, I doubt the mistake was yours," T slipped a hand over Xander's arm, and Xander could feel his own muscles tremble beneath the fingers.  "What happened?" T asked gently.

"The blond…things got a little out of hand with him," Xander finally admitted.  "I thought he wanted a kiss for helping me pick up the mess, but when he backed me into the wall, I knew I was in trouble.  I looked for a bouncer, but I couldn't find one.  I should have just shoved the guy back and walked away.  He was smaller than me," Xander finally admitted.  In retrospect, the whole situation should have been easy to handle, but Xander just couldn't stop the shiver as he remembered the blue eyes and the sardonic smile that had immobilized him.  T's hand tightened at the feel of the shiver and Xander found T's dark eyes searching him, looking for some sort of answer that Xander didn't have.

"How far did it go?" T finally asked. 

"He didn't do more than lean on me, and I ruined the jeans," Xander sheepishly admitted.  Xander heard a friendly snort behind him and Charlie appeared in the kitchen. 

"If cum ruined clothes, I'd be running around naked by now," the well-built man laughed as he stole one of the fresh potato skins that lay forgotten on the prep table.  He had changed out of his work clothes, but the tight green shirt and white pants still made him look like a god.  "You want me to make a food run?" he asked T as he pulled a second tray down from the top of the ice machine and began to load the new potato skins and the peanut bowls that waited to be served.

"Please," T agreed with a smile before turning back to Xander with concern still in his eyes, but Charlie hadn't finished yet.  He continued talking as he efficiently loaded the tray.

"Good job, Xander.  Now that the customers know you're capable of that kind of show, you're going to rake in the big bucks," Charlie ruffled Xander's hair as he walked by with the tray of food held high in one hand.  "We're going to have to work a little harder to keep their attention on the runway."  With that, Charlie backed through the kitchen door into the main club.

"So I'm not fired?" Xander asked in a small voice.  Charlie had given him some hope, but he didn't know whether to believe it.  He certainly wouldn't keep his job at the expense of blaming Carlos, but Xander did wonder if his words would simply mean they were both unemployed.

"You thought I'd fire you over this?" T asked with a quick wrinkle above his nose that appeared and disappeared in a flash.

"Well, yeah.  I didn't handle the blond guy very well, and then I embarrassed myself in the middle of the club, and then I just sort of stood there shell-shocked and didn't even try to do my job as guys touched me." Xander enumerated his crimes.  He wanted T to make his decision based on the truth, and he knew that he hadn't handled the day well at all.

T gave a small defeated sigh.  "Xander, you not only have a job, but I'd give you a raise just to keep you, not that you need one," T commented as he gestured toward the jeans where a couple of green paper corners stuck out from the waist band where a few timid customers had not pushed them down very far.  "You and the blond guy put on a nice show for everyone, and if you're okay with people seeing that, trust me, I have no problem with you doing it.  Law says there can't be any touching of genitals, but what you did was both legal and highly entertaining.  Some of those men will come back just hoping to see a repeat of that."  T's brow quickly wrinkled and smoothed for a second time. 

"As far as embarrassing yourself, I'm sorry you aren't comfortable with what happened, but no one is judging you.  And your job is to keep customers here and drinking.  If the customers stay because of the food—fine.  If the customers stay because they're watching you—all the better.  It saves me on the cost of chips," T finished as he pulled a box out from under the prep table and began to line up bowls.  "However, I think you need the night to recover, so go use Charlie's dressing room to get changed and cleaned up.  There's a small bathroom behind the screen.  Xander turned to leave, but he didn’t get far before a sound stopped him.

"Xander?"  Xander froze at the sound of his name, and when he turned, he found Carlos right behind him, smiling.  Carlos held out a stack of money he had been holding for him.  "Thanks for sticking up for me," he said quietly enough that T wouldn't hear.  Without another word, Carlos turned and followed the path Charlie had taken toward the main club.

"Xander?" This time T called his name, and he silently turned to his boss.  "Normally the strippers and food carriers put 10% of their tips in the jar for all the bouncers to split," T nodded toward a jar half full of money that sat on a shelf across from the ovens.  "However, Carlos guarded just you tonight.  You give your 10% to him and the others will split that pot," T finished.

"But won't that be less money for Carlos?" Xander asked, concerned about losing Carlos part of his income for the night.  T only laughed.

"When he was back here changing, he showed me what you got when you dropped the first tray.  Trust me, he's better off taking his share from you," T said confidently.  "Take advantage while you can, the customers can smell virgin meat, and you'll only get those tips as long as you blush the color of that shirt every time someone calls you cute," T finished as he emptied the bags of corn chips into the waiting bowls.

Xander felt his face warm once again as he proved the accuracy of T's words and quietly crept down the hall toward the end room where he could hopefully have privacy.  T's laughter followed him down the hall.

Xander woke with only the light from the hallway showing and a strange quiet throughout the building.  He sat up and quickly checked his surroundings.  The silk shirt lay folded and draped over the arm of the wooden chair.  The newly washed and still damp jeans were draped over the metal partition screen between the bathroom and bedroom. He now wore his baggy jeans and Hawaiian shirt and lay on the floor half on, half off a bean bag chair.  He remembered sitting down, but he didn't remember falling asleep. With a surge of panic, Xander leapt up and stepped into the bathroom.  Two stacks of money still waited for him: one had mostly fives and tens to make $60, the other had everything from dirty ones to damp tens to a single fifty dollar bill, that stack made up the other $510 Xander had earned.  Xander looked at the money in awe, and pocketed the two stacks separately.  Stretching his neck which had stiffened in the uncomfortable sleeping position, Xander walked in the silent hall wondering about the time and what had woken him.  Usually he didn't wake without serious yelling, cover-pulling, and direct sunlight involved. 

" more," he heard the tail-end of T's comment as he quietly padded down the hallway.  He didn't want to bother T if he were on the phone, but he needed to give T the money for Carlos since the other employees had clearly left.

"Help Xander, and it's even." Xander recognized Gunn's voice.  Gunn must have rung the employee buzzer and come in the back, Xander mused.  The buzzer was loud enough to be heard over the bustle of rush hour as Xander had discovered when a load of alcohol was delivered and the trucker had rung the buzzer causing Xander to drop a tray.  Luckily, that one had been empty.

"How'd he do?" Gunn asked, and Xander froze.  He didn't want T to be nice just because he was there, and he really needed to know whether T would tell Gunn about the whole 'obviously homosexual' thing.

"Let's see," T began, and Xander felt his heart tighten.  "He dropped three trays—two of them full of food and of course the full ones he dropped on the club floor.  He dumped potato skins down the front of one of the bouncers, pissed off a stripper, panicked and humiliated himself when one customer got overly friendly, and had to be rescued by a bouncer when he couldn't get by another rather friendly group," T chuckled and Xander could hear Gunn's open laugh. 

"Yeah, that sounds like my boy.  Lost his last job when he dropped a crate of glasses on the floor," Gunn agreed.  Xander felt the warmth at his eyes, and he struggled to even out his breathing and not cry.  When others were around, he could do the whole manly 'don't cry' thing, but when he knew no one was watching, Xander sometimes just couldn't stop the tears.  Now, in the privacy of the hallway where the two men couldn't see him, he felt the tears fill his eyes and threaten to fall.  The $500 would be enough for the month, he decided.  Hell, it was as much as he normally earned in two or three months.  He wasn't going to stay when the job and the kind words were obviously just part of some sort of "payment" T felt that he owed Gunn.  He hadn't yet slowed his breathing down enough to confront the two men before he heard T continue.

"He has also endeared himself to my security chief, Carlos, and my headline stripper, entertained the entire club with his ability to blush, charmed the bartenders, and caused half my customers to fall completely in love with him, not that he noticed," T finished with a chuckle.  "I don't think that boy even noticed that one of my strippers spent the entire time on the catwalk trying to catch Xander's eye, or so Carlos told me.  I was too busy back here to watch the fun, but apparently Xander did make for an interesting evening; he has real charm about him, doesn't he." T commented quietly.  "I'm glad you sent him." 

Xander's breath caught as his emotions swung back once again.  He couldn't believe that T had not only kept his secret but expressed an honest desire to have him back.  He never felt like he belonged anywhere, not in his LA high school where he was one of the only white kids, not in his Sunnydale junior high where he was the class loser, not in Gunn's crew, not even in his house where he seemed pushed to the side by his parents' fights.  Even after the divorce, one screaming match caused both of his parents to completely forget about him.  The kind of acceptance T quietly offered seemed entirely foreign to Xander.

"Know what ya mean," Gunn agreed.  "Even Luther who hates all white guys can't manage more than a few half-hearted insults when it comes to Xander.  Boy's got heart, he'll jump into any fight if it means helping his friends or doing the right thing."

"Yeah, that's what worries me.  He's got more heart than common sense," T commented in a voice so quiet Xander had to strain to hear it.

"What happened?" Gunn asked, his voice instantly hard like steel.

"Nothing.  I wasn't there, but one of the strippers said that the guy who hassled Xander had a real look to him."

"Look as in…" Gunn let his voice trail off, inviting T to provide more information.

"Don't know," T confessed.  "Xander said that he was small, that he could have pushed right by him, but he didn't.  Xander stood there until the guy moved on.  And the dancer who was on the catwalk said the guy had a real fierce look in his eye."  T fell silent again.

"Xander’s got good instincts," Gunn confessed.  "He knows when he needs to stay back and when we need the extra help.  I've seen Xander go up against vamps, course he got his ass kicked, but he still went in swinging and gave us the extra edge.  If Xander froze then something about this guy made him freeze." Silence fell again, and Xander leaned forward to try and hear any words they might whisper, but he didn't hear anything until Gunn gave a sigh.  "Maybe he shouldn't come back," Gunn finished.  At that, Xander felt his anger rise up.  How dare Gunn make that decision for him! 

"Guy probably won't come back; he wasn't a regular," T hurried to say.  "I wouldn't want to lose Xander; I really need him for the weekend shifts."

"I just don't want to see Xander get…"

"Get hurt?" Xander finished as he walked briskly into the kitchen, trying to make it seem like he had just woken.  "Why?  What do you have planned that would lead to Xander-hurtage?"  Xander asked with his patented naïve smile determined to cut this conversation off.  These two men were not going to stand in a kitchen and decide his future for him.  The two men in question turned to face him, their elbows rested on the tall metal prep table and each nursed an amber colored drink in a short glass.  Xander raised his eyebrows; it wasn't like Gunn to drink before patrol or escort duty.  If Xander wanted to get home, they had to go through some pretty active vamp territory.

"No plans, you just seem to find trouble on your own," Gunn laughed as he lifted his drink to his lips.

"Gunn?" Xander asked in a long, drawn out tone.  Gunn cocked his head to one side and looked at Xander.

"Yeah?" Gunn replied in the same exaggerated tone.

"Are you planning to get drunk before walking me home?  If so, maybe we should save the vamps some trouble and just tie ourselves to a lamp-post as sacrificial victims." Xander gestured toward the nearly empty glass and the half-full bottle of booze between the two men.  Xander could see T's lip's twitch.

"I can see your point, but I don't think we really need to worry," Gunn said confidently as he quickly downed the rest of his drink in one gulp.

"Worried?  I'm not worried, I'd just like to stay breathing.  So, unless you have some super weapon that we can use to get home, maybe you should stop drinking," Xander gestured toward the bottle that Gunn uncorked as he began to pour himself another drink.

"Super weapon—that's a good word for it because it will certainly 100% guarantee that no vampire is going to bother us on the walk home.  I could be falling down drunk, and I still know we'd be safe with our super-weapon."  Gunn threw back another drink with alarming speed.

"Super weapon?"  Xander repeated slowly, and T began to laugh.

"Oh yeah," T agreed.  "That big ball of light in the sky does wonders at keeping the vampires at bay."

"Ball of light?" Xander repeated dumbly, only dimly grasping their meaning, and both men burst out laughing.

"It's 11 o'clock in the morning, Xander," Gunn finally explained.  "I don't think you need an escort home, and you certainly don't need me to be sober." Gunn sipped this drink more slowly, but he clearly intended on drinking more.

"Damn," Xander quietly whispered.  He knew that he felt more rested than he had in days, possibly weeks, but Xander had no idea he had slept so long.  With his free hand, Xander reached up to rub the tension out of his shoulder, but in doing so he pushed hard on his scar, a scar left by the vampire who had nearly killed him on the day he met Gunn.  A scar Spike had played with the night before.  As he pushed, he could feel the warmth in his stomach grow and his cock struggle to react.  For years he carried that scar, but until Spike came, he had no idea of its power.  Now he dropped his hand awkwardly as the two men looked at him curiously. 

For a moment, he worried that they knew of his arousal, but he quickly realized their amused faces came from his confusion over time.  "Morning," he squeaked as he concentrated on calming his arousal and his disobedient cock which remained at half-mast.  Both men laughed again as Xander rolled his eyes.  "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up you hyenas," Xander snarked.  "You wanna unlock the back door for me, boss man?" Xander asked as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and fingered his two piles of money. 

"Can do," T replied as he draped his arm over Xander's shoulders and gently pushed him down a new hallway, one that passed a couple of locked storage rooms and a giant freezer before turning at a 90° angle and revealing an EXIT sign.  When they turned the corner, Xander pulled out his hand with the $60. 

"Give this to Carlos, huh?" Xander asked as he pushed the money into T's hand.  T quickly counted.  He gave a soft whistle. 

"$60?" He cocked one eyebrow.  "Is this 10% or are you being a little overly generous?" T asked in a serious tone.

"I brought in $570," Xander admitted.  As the door opened and the sunlight flooded the small hallway, Xander suddenly felt embarrassed by the large pile of bills in his pocket.

"Knew you'd be good, but I had no idea," T slapped Xander's butt gently to push him out the door.  "Get yourself three shirts and two pairs of tight jeans:  you're on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shifts," T announced.  You can keep the one pair you used last night.  Mike said that if you came in them, you keep them.  You owe him $90 for a new pair." T finished as he pulled the heavy door closed.  "See you tonight, cutie." Xander barely heard T say as the door clicked shut and Xander found himself blushing in a wide alley.  With a sigh, Xander started the thirty minute walk home wondering what he would tell his mother about his new source of income.


Chapter 5

As it happened, Xander didn't have to tell her much of anything; Gunn had called the night before and told her all the good news about Xander getting a job as a night assistant manager at a club because of all his experience.  Yeah, Xander thought with a snort as his mother congratulated him over and over.  Experience at getting fired from every grocery store, fast food place, and check cashing company in the neighborhood.  Despite his mother's excitement, he couldn't help looking at the woman with an unfamiliar horror.  She didn't even know him.  She didn't know how often he'd been fired.  He doubted that she even knew how close he came to never graduating. 

He felt a moment of rising resentment, and he stomped on it—hard.  Looking at his mother again, Xander watched the wrinkles at her eye deepen with her smile and her gray hair bob as she practically danced around the living room doing her regular chores.  She worked her ass off to keep him in food and clothes and a home, and he stood in her living room and resented her for not doing more.  He felt the guilt rise up and drown the resentment and anger out of his body.  Taking his mother's dry, warm hand, he pressed $100 into her palm as he tried really hard not to think about where those bills had been a few hours earlier.

"What's this?" his mother asked in a voice much softer than the one she usually used.  Of course, she was usually yelling at him…yelling about not being late, about coming home to late, about going to technical school or automotive school or computer school.

"My rent for the last two months," Xander said.  When he had graduated, he had promised his mother that he would pay for the difference in price between a one bedroom apartment and a two bedroom--$50 per month.  Of course, those months when he didn't have the money, she never commented and never complained—okay she rarely commented and her many complaints never included the missing rent, so close enough.  Certainly his mother was better than his father whose best feature was that he usually stuck to verbal and emotional abuse. "I know that I'm behind, and I'm going to get caught up," Xander promised as he also promised himself that he would start buying more of the groceries. 

"Honey, you don't have to pay right now, I can wait until the end of the month," his mother offered with a small smile, leaving her hand and the $100 still extended.  Xander gave her a quick hug and pushed her hand toward her body. 

"Nope, I'm paying my bills like a real-live grown up, and now I'm going to go buy clothes that don't clash with the club's décor—T seems to think I have bad taste in clothing," Xander admitted with a wink.

"Well, honey," Xander's mother contracted her brow in an obvious sign of concentration before it smoothed out again.  "I wish I could find a nice way of saying it, but you have atrocious taste in clothing," she finally finished.

"Now you're just ganging up on me," he gave a mock whine.  "Fine, tell me where to shop for solid colors in nice fabrics without having to rob a bank."

"Well, what budget are you talking about?" she asked hesitantly.

"Boss gave me an advance just to get me to stop wearing Hawaiian shirts," He laughed even as he crossed his fingers behind his back.  "$200 is burning a hole here."  Yeah, he knew the whole crossing fingers thing was about as mature and sticking out his tongue, but he didn't feel like explaining the benefits of tips over a weekly paycheck, and he *really* didn't want to explain $500 in tips.

"Head over to the Garment District, between 8th and 11th," his mother suggested.  "Try the Cooper building."

"Thanks mom," Xander yelled from his bedroom where he was already stripping out of his clothes and grabbing new ones for the bus ride down to the garment district.  He hoped to finish his shopping and meet Gunn and crew for the late afternoon shift.  He could help check out the abandoned buildings that so often turned into vampire nests without constant monitoring, and then while the guys split up to patrol the area once the sun set, he would head over to the club. 

Entering the bathroom, Xander dropped the clean clothes on the bathroom counter, dropped his robe and stood under the hot shower feeling water cascade down his skin. For the first time in a long time, he felt excited.  He felt like he had somewhere to be. Usually his life was a couple of hours of boring job and many hours of waiting around for Gunn to start the afternoon patrol.  Now he felt like he had to get moving—like he had a purpose.  Okay, that just didn't jive.  The only purpose he had found included letting men touch him in ways that he still wasn't sure he liked getting touched.  A face flashed across his memory as he realized that he had enjoyed at least one customer's attention.

He stood under the shower fingering his scar.  He wasn't sure whether it was the feeling of his own fingers pushing into the marred flesh, pushing until he felt a pressure that seemed to reach from his head all the way down through his legs, or the memory of Spike's face as Spike leaned in with long, cool fingers caressing the scar.  Either way, Xander was half-aroused before he even realized that his body had hijacked the controls.  With a small yip, he turned the knob toward cold.  Even so, Xander ended up taking a longer than normal shower and exited the bathroom shivering with his arms covered in goose-bumps.

Luckily the shopping trip had proved so annoying that Xander had escaped without any more interruptions from Xander Jr.  He deposited a couple of outfits in a small locker at the club, left the rest at home, and then went to find Gunn wearing his least favorite purple and green Hawaiian shirt. 

"Damn boy, I thought you were going to stop offending the eyes," Gunn complained as Xander came through the basement door.  Casey, Trey, and Fredrick took up the dusty couch, Gunn leaned against the wall, and various other young men draped themselves over low bunks, milk crates, and even an upturned shopping cart someone had hauled down.  From the variety of stakes and crossbows in evidence, Xander guessed that Gunn had something planned.  Fredrick was certainly fingering his beloved crossbow with more enthusiasm that usual even if his face did have that bored, I'm-too-cool-to-listen-to-anyone expression.

"Nothing's gonna make that less offensive," Luther snorted from his spot on a bunk as he waved a dismissive hand in Xander's direction.

"In which case, my choice in clothing shouldn't matter.  Besides," Xander said with a shrug and a smile, "you guys bleed on my shirts with such regularity that I don't really want to wear anything nice—not like I'm trying to impress the vamps," Xander continued as he settled himself cross-legged on the floor.  "Not really into dating demons, thanks."

"Can't imagine who else would have you," Luther returned quickly.  "Of course, the retard school has a few possibilities for you."

"Okay, that's just ew.  I don't know what worse, you calling them 'retards' or suggesting that I hit on them."  Xander watched as Luther's face suddenly turned dark.  Oh shit, pissed off Luther does not a healthy Xander make.  "Of course," he hurried to add, "I don't really have to go that far now that they're opening that school for blind.  I bet I could impress a blind girl with my manliness."  Xander tried hard not to think about the one person he wanted to impress with manliness.

"Yeah, she'd have to be blind," Luther snort-laughed even as his shoulders relaxed.

"Oh, I don't know, a studly guy like me has one or two options," Xander gave a quick wink toward Alonna, Gunn's sister.  He and Alonna had been in the same grade in school and were the only two in the room who had actually finished high school. 

"You better not be making eyes at my sister," Gunn warned, but when Xander looked over, he could see the corner of Gunn's eyes wrinkling as Gunn attempted not to laugh.  "You two are definitely on different teams tonight."  That comment made Xander sit up.  When the group invaded abandoned buildings looking to break up nests, Gunn usually kept the group together.  If he planned to split the group into two or more teams, he was worried about something big.  Xander felt the familiar fear start to uncurl in his stomach, but he clamped his mouth shut and waited for Gunn's game plan.

"Okay, Casey, Luis, Trey, Chuck, and Schilly—you're with Luther.  You guys are going to the work the back of that gray tenement between the check cashing place and the Catholic church.  Alonna, you're going to run back up for them.  Fredrick, Pedro, Dan, Lou—you're with me.  Xander's running back up for us.  We're going to work the old theater on the north side."

"Didn't we just clean out the theater?" Xander asked.  If he remembered right, that night had cost him a couple of bruises and a pair of jeans. He had gotten his jeans' pocket caught on the ticket booth and ripped a chunk out of them.  Xander realized that if he hadn't found a new job, he shortly would have been fighting vampires naked.

"I spotted a couple of vamps right before first light," Gunn explained.  "They didn't look like our typical vamps from around here—little too clean, little too put together.  They had a third vamp I think I recognized from the Chinese grocer.  The guy was human last week, so we may have some vamps intent on something other than just feeding.  We certainly have more nest sites if the neighborhood gossips are right, so we need to clean these out now."
"If something's up, maybe we should ask around first, maybe during daylight tomorrow," Xander commented.  Most vamps around the neighborhood were vicious, mindless killers, and 'put together' vamps making little vampire families out of neighborhood guys sounded pretty strange.  Xander had reached the point that he could pretty much predict a vampire's next move, but these guys sounded like they were changing the rules.  Definitely not of the good, Xander decided.

"I think vamp bait's got a point," Dan agreed, nodding his head toward Xander even while he used the group's favorite nickname.

"We do what we gotta do, whether vamp bait's balls are too small to do the job or not," Luther insisted as he pushed himself to his feet.  "Can't have them breeding up."  Xander watched as a fine tremor made Luther's large frame shiver.  He could sympathize.  As the only member of the group to actually experience a vampire bite, he didn't look forward to a repeat performance, and the thought of being turned made his stomach ache.  He still remembered the feeling as Gunn swung the baseball bat into the face of the vampire who had attached himself to Xander's neck.  Xander shivered as he recalled his torn neck with his blood and the vampire's blood running down his shoulder.  Luther had shot at the vamp, but the bloodsucker had disappeared into the night leaving Xander confused, scared, and "in the know" about vampires for the first time in his life. 

"Some of us just have bigger brains than balls, that's all" is what Xander said, despite his sympathetic thoughts.  Showing sympathy for Luther wasn't a smart move; Xander had already learned that lesson. "And I'm really hoping that came out in a 'I have really big brains way' and not a 'I have really small balls way.'"

"Listen vamp bait, it ain't your fight," Luther took a step forward and Xander quickly stood up, despite the fact that he knew Luther wouldn't actually hit him…well…he was fairly sure at least. 

"Back off, both of you," Gunn interjected as he stepped away from the wall and took a position in the middle of the group.  "We have a job here."  Without another word, Gunn turned and left the abandoned basement, leaving his crew to follow him into the afternoon sun. 

When Gunn and his half of the crew reached the theater with the late afternoon sun still bright, Xander felt the familiar fear start to uncurl in his stomach.  He was back up, meaning he didn't have a place at the front line; he held back and pulled any injured to safety and yelled his head off if vamps grabbed someone:  two jobs at which he excelled.  The building was beyond decrepit with peeling paint, and in several places, boards so warped they appeared to be peeling off the building along with the paint.  The once-proud sign now had two corners broken off and an entire display of broken light bulbs.  Inside, Xander knew it would smell of dust and rot and something vague but putrid, but when Xander slipped in under a broken board, the smell that hit him wasn't nearly as nice as that.

"What the…" Fredrick choked before his voice cut off.  Vamps during the day were sluggish, but still able to put up quite a fight with enough warning.  Xander could hear the other four ahead of him, their short staccato breaths sounding their displeasure at the smell even as he heard small gagging noises from Fredrick behind him.  Xander couldn't place the smell, but if pushed he thought he would probably compare it to fifty dead and decomposing cats lying next to a pool of ammonia. 

He struggled to take shallow breaths in through the collar of his shirt which he had pulled up around his nose.  If there weren't vamps in here, there sure as hell was something else.  His backpack with various supplies hit his butt with each step and he reached back to steady it before something clinked together and alerted the nest.  The lobby had pools of sunlight that only highlighted the worn carpet and layers of dirt, but the hall into which they traveled only allowed in tiny slits and slivers of light through the worn roof, which did little more than illuminate the dust floating through the air.  Xander kept his eyes focused on Gunn, worried about losing sight of him. 

When Gunn froze, Xander moved to the side of the hall they were traveling through so that he wouldn't be in the way when the fight started.  Slowly, he lowered himself to one knee so that he made a smaller target—despite their human appearance, vamps hunted like animals, going for the large or quickly moving targets first and sometimes even passing by Xander without even giving him a second glance.  Xander had developed a technique where he waited for a vamp to rush by him and then staked him in the back. At least that's how it worked in his mind.  In reality it included having the vamp rush by and right before Xander staked him in a leg or dropped his stake.  He really couldn't blame Gunn for leaving him on permanent back-up duty.

Gunn's plans usually included covering him while he helped the wounded and shoved ammunition or replacement stakes into the fighters' hands.  Xander could count his kills on one hand.  Xander clutched his stake tighter as he saw a vamp come around the door that led to the main auditorium.  Within seconds, he could hear the growl as the yellowed eyes caught the little available light and shone it back like cat's eyes. Gunn abandoned stealth and leapt toward the vampire.  Xander's breath caught in fear as the vamp's hands rose to fight off the attack, but Gunn had moved more quickly than the unsuspecting vamp couldn't counter and the eyes disappeared into a cloud of ash that Xander could hardly see. 

"Lights!" Gunn shouted, and Xander scrambled for his heavy duty, yellow and black flashlight.  Now the dark hid just the monsters, and Xander rushed to flick on the light, and other hands had flicked on their flashlights before dropping them to the ground.  No one could afford to hold the lights, so Xander just scooted around and turned the flashlights to better illuminate the door, so he didn't actually see the first wave attack.  When he scooted back to the wall with his stake clutched, Xander quickly looked for each man.  Was everyone alright? 

Pedro and Dan were fighting in the middle of a cloud of ash that spoke of their success; Lou had his back up against the wall, but he held his own since he had his back to a slight indent where a water fountain once stood, so the vamps had to come at him one by one, which meant they turned to dust one to one when confronted with a giant crucifix hanging from Lou's neck, the holy water gun in his left hand and the stake in his right.  However, when Xander looked for Fredrick, who should have been at his side, the small man with his crossbow was missing.

"Where's Fredrick?" Xander yelled as he alerted the team to the missing member.  Nearly at the door, Gunn started edging back, keeping the wall of the hall to his back as he fought two vamps at once.  One vamp disintegrated, but a hard backhand sent Gunn flying, and Xander rushed in, throwing a towel soaked in holy water with one hand while he held his stake high in the other.  Gunn recovered almost immediately and lunged forward with the stake to dust the offending vamp.

"Where'd you last see him?" Gunn gasped as he stood up.

"I lost him when I moved the lights—almost immediately," Xander felt panic pushing reason right out of his mind as he felt a desire to start screaming Fredrick's name.

"He pass you?" Gunn asked.


"Then he got pulled into the main room," Gunn said as he started forward.  Xander looked around for backup; vamps had pushed Dan and Pedro back toward the lobby where the two of them used the pools of sunlight from the broken boards to their advantage.  Lou had three vamps still trying to get at him, but his system was working well, so Xander hated to call for him and force him to leave the safety of the alcove to take on all three vamps at once.  In a heartbeat, Xander made up his mind and grabbed a flashlight before following Gunn down the hall and toward the main auditorium.  He wanted to point out that if Gunn helped Lou then Lou could back up Gunn, but he doubted Gunn would take the time.  The last member of the crew lost to a vampire had died seconds before rescue, and Xander worried that Gunn wasn't thinking straight now that another member of the crew had disappeared. 

Xander crossed the threshold and a cold hand immediately grabbed the wrist holding the light.  A sharp twist sent the light flying back out into the hallway, and Xander could only hear the scuffles as someone—either Gunn or Fredrick—fought for his life. 

"What the…" a strange voice inquired as the hand quickly released Xander.  Before Xander had time to wonder why, he had plunged his hand into the darkness and felt the wood sink into flesh before that flesh turned to dust.  The sudden change in resistance sent Xander stumbling forward, away from the door and the flashlight.  His outstretched hand jammed into an old theater seat, and Xander spun around as he felt the hairs on his neck rise.  Even though he couldn't see, he felt the air move around him and he smelled cologne that did not belong in this room that reeked of decay and rot.  Xander stuck the stake into the darkness again, but encountered nothing.  Pulling back toward the seat, Xander tried to convince himself that he only imagined a demon stalking him from the shadows. 

He strained to hear something useful, but he could only hear the sounds of struggle to his right.  He didn't dare interfere or Gunn might stake him or he might stake Gunn or maybe he would just trip Gunn and then the vampire would eat him.  Xander realized too late that his small curling fear had turned into out and out panic and mental babbling.  It still beat out-loud babbling, Xander justified mentally as he tried to squint enough to see something. 

His eyes obliged him by adjusting to the dark enough to vaguely make out two figures struggling four or five feet away.  Xander still couldn't tell who was who.  He turned, and quickly decided he had more immediate problems.  A vampire stood three feet from him, slowly circling with his eyes invisible in the dark, so probably using his human face.  Xander continued to move his head as if he was scanning the room even though he had spotted his opponent.  While appearing to aimlessly turn from side to side, Xander turned his body and his stake-arm to the vamp, and then without warning, plunged his stake straight at the vampire's body. 

For a fraction of a second, Xander felt pride and fight-lust and anger all surge up, but the sound of struggling precluded any drawn out victory dances.  He sped back out to the hallway and grabbed his flashlight.  He heard Lou ask something, but he didn't even take the time to actually decode the words, he simply dashed back into the auditorium and pointed the flashlight toward the fighting couple.  Immediately Xander could tell the vampire from Gunn, and just as immediately, Gunn shied away from the light, blinded by the sudden beam.

"Fuck," Gunn swore and Xander felt a body move past him and Lou leaped in and plunged his stake deep into the last vampire.

"God, Gunn, I'm sorry," Xander started.

"It's alright.  You couldn't tell who to help without some light," Gunn waved Xander off even as Xander tried to push closer.  "Find Fredrick," Gunn ordered Lou who quickly took off down the aisle with his own retrieved flashlight.

"But I caught you right in the eyes.  I'm really sorry," Xander continued.

"Stop it," Gunn ordered sharply. Xander froze for a moment, unsure about whether Gunn was actually mad or not.  "Stop apologizing," Gunn amended after glancing at Xander's face.  "You get yourself any vamps?" Gunn asked with more enthusiasm.  Gunn looked at Xander strangely, rubbing his head in obvious distress, probably over Fredrick.

"Two," Xander revealed, grateful that he hadn't totally embarrassed himself.  "One when I first came through the door and one right before the light." Xander knew in his head that Gunn's approval shouldn't change how he felt about himself.  More importantly, more episodes of Oprah than he was willing to admit to having watched meant that he knew he shouldn't look to Gunn's approval to make him happy.  But damn it, Gunn's approval changed Xander's opinion of himself, and Gunn's approval made him happy. 

"God, you got two of them in this dark?" Gunn asked in a quiet, gravelly voice.

"The first one was more accident than on purpose," Xander admitted sheepishly.  Oh well, there went that bit of approval.  "But the second one, I kept calm and just waited for my eyes to adjust enough for me to see his outline," Xander continued, mentally cataloguing the number of things he had done right.  He waited for the expected praise, but Gunn simply stood there in the glow of the flashlight looking at Xander strangely.  Seconds passed and then more seconds.  "What?" Xander finally asked fearfully. 

"Nothing," Gunn quickly replied.  "Just listening for Lou and Fredrick."  Xander studied the deep lines around Gunn's mouth.  Sure enough, Gunn's hand moved to rub his bald head nervously again—an ominous portent.  Xander considered the man, but then it dawned on him that they hadn't heard either Lou or Fredrick, which couldn't mean anything good.

"Lou?" Gunn called out.

"Here.  Nothing yet."  After hearing Lou's reply from the back projection room, Gunn took the flashlight from Xander's hand and started walking toward the front.  Xander knew there was a room that could double as a stage if the screen was lifted, so he started to follow Gunn.  "No, just head back to the others and let them know what's up," Gunn ordered as he continued down the aisle toward the front.  Xander stood there near the door, confused and tilting between hurt and anger, but he finally simply followed orders and went to find Dan and Pedro.

When Gunn and Lou followed a few minutes later, no one had to ask about Fredrick.  Gunn pressed his lips so tightly that they were little more than thin lines, and Lou had an uncharacteristic shine in his eyes. Gunn blew by the group of men waiting in the dusty old lobby amid broken counters and dirty burgundy carpeting.  He practically charged at the gap in the boards and pushed himself out into the alley.  The sun still had a good hour left in the day, and normally the group would be celebrating, drinking, and maybe making a quick "supply run" during which Xander would excuse himself, but today Gunn led the group wordlessly back to home base. 

Xander tried to get close enough to Lou to ask, but the man kept moving away.  Of course he did, Xander told himself.  He was supposed to keep an eye on everyone, shout a warning at the first sign of trouble.  Instead, he was caught with his back turned and Fredrick had died.  Xander's eyes dropped to the chipped and cracked sidewalk as he allowed himself to slowly gravitate to the back of the group which was now short one man. 

He remembered Fredrick teaching him how to shoot a crossbow—the two of them had stood in an empty lot covered in half-collapsed cardboard boxes and weeds and broken needles.  Over and over he shot and missed the red circles Fredrick had painted on the side of the large piece of cardboard he had propped up against the side of a convenience store.  Fredrick had stood behind him, moving his foot into a better position, showing him how to hold the crossbow, helping him pull back the string.  For hours they worked until his shoulders ached and his fingers threatened to never unbend again, but Fredrick never complained.  The only comments Fredrick made all day were words of encouragement and an enthusiastic congratulations when his arrow finally nicked the corner of the target. 

The memory of those words caused the corners of his lips begin to curl into a small smile, but then an image entered his mind: the image of Fredrick lying on the cold, dirty floor of the theatre with his neck torn open.  Or even worse, maybe the vamps had turned him so that Gunn had to stake him before Fredrick even woke.  Or maybe Gunn had arrived in time to see Fredrick die with his breath gurgling out of his bloody mouth.  Xander shuddered.  Not knowing made it even worse, and he couldn't believe that a few seconds of his carelessness had killed Fredrick. He shouldn't have gone.  He knew that he just wasn't focused today with thoughts of a certain blond filling his thoughts.  He should have begged off, then Fredrick would have survived.

He continued to put one foot in front of the other as he followed the survivors, but he desperately wanted to just go home and forget the evening.  The only thing that kept him moving was the knowledge that he deserved everything the rest of them were going to say when they found out.  The crew had lost men before, but no one had ever been snatched during a fight; Gunn's system made sure of that.  Out of all the nests they had invaded and all the street fights, they always came home together because the back up always yelled the warning in time.  He had done it right himself a dozen times; after all, he only had to yell for help before the vamp pulled Fredrick away.  Gunn had been close enough to save him as had Lou.  The system had always worked before; at least Gunn's system made sure of that when the person playing back-up wasn't a complete fuck-up.

Before he realized he had even reached the building, he found himself mindlessly entering the familiar basement.  Xander spared the couch a quick glance, but he could only see Fredrick sitting back with a familiar half-bored look on his face—the expression Fredrick had worn as the Gunn had given the assignments for the evening just an hour or two earlier.  In fact, the other team hadn't even arrived back. 

He saw the confused faces on the few members of the group who hadn't gone hunting:  Tomas had stayed home on the injured reserve list and Gilly and Gwen mostly just acted like den mothers—the sisters had sort of moved in on the group after losing their apartment.  One of them knew Alonna.  Now, the three of them looked from one face to another until the widening of the eyes and the quick gasps told Xander that they noticed the missing member.  He waited for someone to point out the obvious, but the other members each found a quiet corner without commenting on Fredrick's absence or his own guilt. 

He looked around for either Gunn or Lou, needing to know how Fredrick had died, but the two men were sitting together in the far corner, and the stiff backs and cold stares made it clear that they wanted no interruptions as they whispered to each other.  He moved into the opposite corner and lowered himself to the cold concrete with his back against the cinderblock wall.  He pulled his knees up under him, lowered his forehead to rest on the kneecaps, folded his arms around his head, and allowed the silent tears to fall in the relative privacy of his own limbs.


Chapter 6

Xander knew nothing else until the sound of raised voices woke him from the half sleep, half daze he had entered.  Someone had slipped a blanket over his shoulders, and he pushed it off as he stood, determined to face the group on his feet.  Luther's group had obviously returned because he now sat with Lou and Gunn in the far corner and Casey and Trey stood a foot or so away, their own confusion and pain written on their faces. 

"Man, what went down?" Trey asked him.

"Nothing good," Xander finally choked out.  He knew it was cowardly, but he couldn't bring himself to tell them how he had failed Fredrick.

"Not dead," Trey asked in a tone that existed somewhere between hopeful denial and pained sob.  Xander studied the floor carefully, unable to even look at Trey, unwilling to be the one who destroyed the last shred of hope that Fredrick simply needed them to get him out of jail or the county hospital.  Xander was saved from having to reply when Gunn rose to his feet and started moving toward their end of the large room.

"Need to talk," Gunn began, and every voice, every shuffle, every breath instantly stopped.  Gunn sighed deeply into the silence, and Xander waited to find out just how much Fredrick had suffered for his mistake.

"Lost Fredrick tonight," Gunn said in a rushed tone as if he forced the words out.  "More vamps than we expected, a lot more.  Had a couple of real clever ones in back, harder to kill, and we think one or two may have got away.  Openings to the sewers back there."  Gunn took a deep breath and rubbed his head as he looked around the room.  Xander waited in near panic.  He had never seen Gunn so…Xander searched for a word to label Gunn's expression.  Nervous?  Scared?  Horrified?

"Vamps had some sort of set up in there—had strange letters on the walls." Gunn stopped again, and Xander could feel the whole group begin to react to Gunn's nervousness.  "Letters in blood.  Vamps used organs and such—made some sort of pattern," Gunn almost whispered, but in the silence every word sounded like a shout.  Xander's brain couldn't even process for a moment, and then the thought of Fredrick split open with his guts decorating a floor and his blood used as paint rose to the surface.  Oh god, had he seen that before he died?  Had he known?  Xander felt his stomach twist as he reached out to steady himself against the wall.  Somewhere deep down, he registered the warm hand holding him steady, but he couldn't even see who had offered him that comfort.  He silently accepted the help for as long as it was offered.

"They're doing something, and it's not your normal vamp activity," Gunn's voice pulled Xander back to consciousness, and now Xander could hear a variety of soft sobs and angry curses and threats and promises.

"We'll gut the sons of bitches before we stake them," Luther promised darkly, and a chorus of voices passionately agreed.

"We can't go rushing into this; these vamps were ready and all our training didn't save Fredrick," Gunn replied when the voices finally dropped off into an angry murmur.  "We need some intel and some bigger ammo.  We're going to get them, but I won't have any more of us lost.  I won't make the mistake of walking into another nest of these new vamps," Gunn continued.  Xander knew that Gunn was taking the blame to save him, but Xander couldn't listen.  He also couldn't admit his own guilt, so he took the only option open.  Without a word, Xander pushed himself away from the supporting wall and supportive hand and he headed toward the door.  Once out on the street, Xander looked at the quickly darkening sky, and began his long walk toward Safari.  He couldn't decide if he was going to the club to work his shift or going to tell T that he couldn't work; he just knew that he had to keep moving, and so, with only a stake in the waistband of his jeans, he started off into the twilight.

Xander wandered down the street, passing old men sitting on steps and couples holding hands and mothers trying to herd entire flocks of children and he didn’t actually see any of them.  Instead, Fredrick’ face floated through his memory as he wandered in the general direction of the club.  Xander only looked up when a pair of black boots connected to a pair of black jeans suddenly blocked his forward progress.  Xander looked up into the face of Blue Eyes—Spike.

“Hello pet,” Spike said with a quick flicker of his eyebrows making him appear like a man on the prowl, which he probably was, Xander realized.  However, Xander just could not deal with another round of grope and kiss, so he simply turned to detour around the man.  What should have been an easy maneuver on the wide sidewalk of the club district turned into a dance with Spike blocking Xander’s various attempts to evade.  In fact, Xander found himself growing increasingly irritated after he attempted to use an oblivious couple to block Spike while he slipped by on the right.   The attempt ended with Xander face to face with Spike again, only this time, Spike wore an expression that bordered between a smile and a smirk.

“Please move,” Xander finally asked in the most polite voice he could muster.

“Don’t wanna,” Spike announced with a shrug.  “Havin’ fun here.  Besides, I’m not a patient man, so the whole following you around plan—I’m revising it.”

“Really not interested today, blondie.” Xander felt his anger transform into a weariness and emptiness that threatened to make him sit down and cry in the middle of the sidewalk.  “Now please, I have to get to work.”  Xander tried to move around Spike once again, and once again Spike moved to intercept so that the pair of them simply moved two feet to the right.

“Like I said, not patient,” Spike repeated.  “So you give me an answer and I’ll let you pass.”  Xander waited for the request for a date, for dinner, for a quick fuck in a hotel room, whatever.  He would say yes to anything and then just not show up later, he decided.  It really was the quickest way to get rid of the man and be alone with his thoughts again.

“Tell me ‘bout Cassidy—where he’s hidin',” Spike whispered in a hiss as he leaned forward into Xander’s personal space.  Xander was still nodding his head to his own internal thoughts when the words finally penetrated.

“Cassidy?  I don’t know a Cassidy,” Xander protested as he now began to shake his head.  Spike had mentioned him last night too, Xander now recalled.  Maybe the blond had him confused with someone else.

“Pet, I wouldn’t take that route with me, I tend to be an unforgivin’ sort,” Spike made direct eye contact with Xander and for a moment, Xander thought he had lost his mind because the blue eyes slowly started showing flecks of gold, and then a ring of gold, and then Xander stopped breathing because he knew who he was facing.  Or more precisely, he knew what he was facing.  As the vampire’s eyes turned pure gold and then faded back into blue, Spike smiled again.  “Care to revise you answer, then?” Spike asked.

“I…” Xander managed before his throat closed.  “I…um…I…” he got out the second time.  Xander tried to casually reach his hand back to the waistband of his jeans, but long before his fingers found the wood of his stake, Spike’s cool fingers closed around his wrist. 

“Let’s take this conversation somewhere more private-like,” Spike said in a friendly tone as Xander felt a cool hand at the back of his jeans removing his stake without releasing his right wrist.  Once the weapon had been tossed into the gutter, Spike threw his arm around Xander’s waist and started walking back the way Xander had come as if the two of them were best friends wandering down the street together.
Xander looked around at the crowds.  He had been on plenty of vampire hunts, but he had always played back-up to Gunn, Luther and the others.  Hell, even Alonna kicked his ass on a fairly regular basis.  He didn’t know what to do without even a stake.  He considered calling out for help, but he didn’t know how Spike would react, whether he would kill any hapless Good Samaritan who tried to come to Xander’s aid.  Huh.  Spike.  Xander never knew vampires had names much less personalities.  Always before they were mindless monsters stalking the night.  Xander wondered whether it was better to be killed by a monster whose name you knew or by an anonymous demon who chose you because you happened to be there. 

Even more, Xander wondered who the hell Cassidy was and just how long it would take Spike to kill him if he couldn’t tell Spike where to find the man.  Obviously he deserved anything that Spike might do to him.  In fact, Xander thought it had a sort of elegant symmetry.  His stupidity had caused Fredrick’s death, and now his stupidity would cause his own death.  Making up his mind to die without taking anyone else with him, Xander followed Spike’s lead without complaint.

Spike soon turned the corner, and Xander watched as the buildings became larger—the businesses gave way to warehouses and shipping yards.  On one lot giant semi trucks squatted with their square headlights silently watching the couple.  Xander felt Spike push at him, and he silently pressed his body through a gap between the fence and the huge rolling gate. The ends of the chain link scratched against his skin as he forced his way through the narrow space, and a cool grasp on his wrist held him in place as Spike gracefully followed with far less effort. 

“Can we stop with the whole hand-holding thing here?” Xander asked testily.  “Feel like we’re going steady,” he muttered as Spike continued to hold his hand even as they continued their journey deeper into the truck lot.

“And I thought you already had a steady,” Spike snapped back in a sharp enough tone that he lost a step, forcing Spike to give his arm a yank.  As Xander gave a quick step to catch up, he finally decided that if he was going to die, he wasn’t going to be quiet about it.

“Since we both know what you are now, can we just stop with the sexual innuendo?  Ya know, the thought of sex with a dead guy—kinda ew.”

“Didn’t seem to be a problem before,” Spike snarked back without turning to look.

“Kinda didn’t know you were dead then.  So let’s skip the intro and go straight to the main event.”

“And what event would that be, luv?” Now Spike stopped at a metal door set into the side of a small, windowless concrete shed.  He turned and Xander watched as Spike’s lowered his head and raised his eyebrows in the same expression that the night before caused him to come in the middle of Safari.

“Ok, just ewwwww,” Xander complained.  “Dead guy sex.  I’m thinking not.” The minute the words came out of Xander’s mouth it occurred to him that he really didn’t have a choice in the matter.  If Spike wanted to go there, Xander didn’t have the strength or speed to stop him.  The horror of his situation settled around him like a heavy cloak that made it difficult just to keep himself upright.

“Wot?  Not good enough for ya’?” Spike demanded in a voice that suddenly dripped with both English accent and a dark menace that made Xander wish for a hole to open up under him.  Damn it, he wasn't going to play the good little sacrificial victim.

“You mean other than the dead guy thing?  Oh, there's the you being a killer thing, and the demon thing, and I really had my heart set on a church wedding, so I don't think the romance will work.  After that, there's always the drinking blood thing, definitely designed to make romantic dinners instantly disgusting, and I always thought I'd take my first love sunbathing in Europe what with the naked beaches an all.  However, I'd be glad to escort you into the sun any time you'd like.”  Spike simply stood looking at Xander, their hands still connected even as Spike used his free hand to dig in a pocket. 

When the key appeared, he realized that this was it.  If he let this monster drag him into his lair, he would never see daylight again.  He waited until Spike had his attention on unlocking the door, and then he wrenched his hand away.  He stumbled back a couple of steps, still surprised the maneuver worked, but when he turned to run, to find a stake, to scream for help, to do something, he felt Spike barrel into him from behind.  As his head and chest hit the hard ground of the parking lot, Xander felt the warm stickiness he always associated with blood loss.  He would have reached up to feel the damage, but Spike had both hands pinned to the ground.  Actually, Spike seemed to be sitting on Xander with his legs keeping Xander’s arms pinned close to his body.  he could hear Spike’s soft cursing as Spike squirmed, but he barely had time to wonder what the vampire was doing before he felt his arms being pulled behind his back and leather lashing his wrists together.  No one had ever accused Xander of being a genius, but then it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Spike had just used his belt to tie Xander’s hands.

“Bloody wanker.  Try that again and I’ll decorate my floor with your guts,” Spike snapped as he slapped Xander across the back of the head far more gently than Xander expected.  Of course anything less than a broken neck was actually less than Xander expected.

“Yeah, like that’s not going to happen anyway,” Xander immediately replied.  He knew the score, and he somehow doubted that he actually could make anything worse.

“Probably, but there’s always a chance.” Xander felt strong fingers grab his upper arms and pull him to his feet.  “Move,” Spike commanded as he pushed Xander toward the now open door.  Realizing that the vampire could just as easily throw him down the stairs he could now see in the harsh glow of a bare bulb, Xander decided to play cooperative hostage—at least until he died, which right now, Xander was betting would be in a few hours.  Unless he got lucky.  If he got lucky, he could hope to die within the next few minutes.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Xander realized just how different Spike actually was.  The vampire lairs he had raided with the crew were dirty holes with rats and stained mattresses strewn about the floor.  Usually three, five, or even ten lived together in dark, dusty mildew and filth.  Luckily, vampires usually cleaned up the bodies after eating, so Xander had never encountered the kind of stench they found the theater.  However, Spike clearly didn't fit this stereotype.  The room was a huge rectangle with gray cinderblock walls and four bare light bulbs hanging near the stairs.  A large bed with shiny black sheets stood on one wall, and a large brown recliner sat nearby.  On the wall by the stairs, Spike had even set up a stereo system and tiny television on a bookshelf with a poster of some strangely dressed rock stars somehow fastened to the cinder block wall above.  The opposite wall hosted a huge metal storage cabinet.  And the room's far end disappeared into darkness, leaving him with an impression of some huge space beyond the light.  He felt as if he had entered some strange adolescent secret clubhouse.  Spike gave him very little time to think, though.  Spike shoved him toward the chair, and he barely had time to twist his body so that he landed on his butt instead of his face.

"Hey!  Human here!"  He struggled to get his legs untangled and get comfortable in the chair with his hands still tied.

"That's just too damn bad, innit?" Spike asked as he walked over to the bed and pulled out a bottle of whiskey from the far side.  "All I need is some information, and you go all silent on me.  So, how are we gonna handle this?"

"You're asking me?" he stared at Spike, who seemed to be intent on breaking every rule Xander knew about vampires.  "I'm the guy who's tied up; I think that leaves it up to you."

"Could go the torture route, but you're already scared shitless and still not talkin'.  Could take a while to break ya, and like I said, I'm not a patient man."  Xander sucked in a breath of air, suddenly realizing that he hadn't been breathing for a moment.  He would accept any excuse for avoiding torture, so he found himself blessing Spike's lack of patience.

"Suppose that leaves getting you drunk or shaggin' you to try and turn your demon."

"My what?!" Xander practically screamed.  He may not know what shagging meant, but he sure as hell didn't have a demon, meaning Spike really did have the wrong person.  He couldn't decide what he felt about that because a tiny little voice in the back of his head screamed that being here felt right.  Okay, where the hell did that thought come from?

"Your demon, pet.  Didn't Cassidy tell ya' that your demon can be turned?"  Spike calmly took a drink from his bottle and settled back on the bed.  "So, is it going be shaggin'?"  Spike patting the bed.

"Oh shit," Xander said as he finally figured out what shagging meant.  "You really don't want me; I know dozens of guys that are a whole lot better looking than me, and I eat so many donuts in a day that I'll probably just give you this whole sugar rush and then you'll get a headache and be really cranky, 'cause those sugar highs can really make your head, well, ache…" Xander's words trailed off as he realized three things.  One:  he was babbling, again.  Two:  his babble seemed to amuse Spike if the smile was any indication.  Three:  Xander Jr. didn't object to the thought of shagging nearly as much as Xander thought he should. 

"Almost like having my Dru back," Spike said in a voice that sounded strangely sad and quiet for a monster about to commit rape; however, Xander knew a choice diversion when he spotted one.

"Dru?" he asked, praying Spike would take the bait.  On one hand he didn't know why he was trying to put off the inevitable, but on the other hand he just wanted a few more minutes to pray for a miracle. 

"My dark princess.  We were together better part of a century." Spike closed his eyes tightly and his demon form rippled to the surface for a moment as he took a deeper drink from the bottle.  Xander felt a small stirring of sympathy in his own heart.  Then Spike's face suddenly turned hard and gold eyes pinned Xander to the chair.  "Your master killed her, and I'm gonna kill him."

"No master here.  No master, no demon, apparently no common sense either based on today's track record."

"What are you up to?" Spike said, standing up and walking over to loom over him with his eyes still showing more gold than blue.  He shivered at the sight.

"Up to?  I seem to be up to getting kidnapped by a hyperactive vampire who may be suffering delusions and probably is suffering multiple personality disorder."

"Don't taunt the vampire, pet." Spike said without rancor as he reached down and grabbed the lapel of Xander's Hawaiian shirt.  Xander flinched as the hand descended, but Spike simply grabbed the fabric and ripped it.  Xander yelped as the fabric dug into his armpit, but then the shirt tore leaving his shoulder bare.  "And what is this, then?" Spike asked as he began to rub the reddish scar on his neck.

"Oh shit," Xander once again exclaimed, only this time the words were flavored with desire rather than panic.

"Pet?" Spike asked hesitantly.  He opened his eyes when Spike stopped his gentle rubbing and found Spike looking down at him in full game face: bumps, ridges, fangs, and all.  What caused the hysterical laughter, however, was the look of utter confusion on that face.  Xander laughed so hard his stomach hurt, but then he felt a hand around his throat that slammed him back against the chair so hard that Xander had no doubt that he would have died if Spike pushed him equally hard into a solid surface instead of the soft, bumpy fabric of the chair.  Now the hand tightened, and Xander struggled to breathe, his feet involuntarily kicking as he started to truly panic.  Just as soon as Xander realized that he had reached the end of his short and rather unproductive life, he also realized that Spike had let him go and that air could flow into his abused lungs.

"Laugh at me again, and I'll strip every piece of skin from your back before I kill you," Spike announced in a voice so cold that he didn't even recognize it.  He looked up into Spike's face and realized that the vampire meant every word of his threat.  For that moment, the personality disappeared and all that was left was raw fury and aggression. 

"I just didn't…I mean…I never thought of a vampire as ever getting confused," Xander tried to explain.  When the face remained hard and angry, Xander tried another approach.  "I'm sorry.  I won't do it again," he promised, and he found himself meaning it.  At those words, Spike's features slowly retreated into human curves and angles, but the way Spike quickly turned his back reminded Xander of himself.  Xander suspected that this vampire liked being laughed at as much as he liked it when others always laughed at his cheap clothes, clumsiness, or inability to keep a job.  Of course Xander had learned to laugh with the tormenters, to befriend them and take the sting out of the insults by insulting himself; however, Spike was a beautiful, powerful hunter.  Insult him, and you could find yourself spread out across several acres before he actually allowed you to die.  Part of Xander envied that strength, but only part.  The larger part of Xander screamed in terror that a mentally unstable vampire had him tied up in a secret lair.   Great plot for a bad T.V. movie of the week; bad situation for real life.

"What's wrong with your mark?" Spike finally demanded after a silence so long that Xander was beginning to believe it was a new form of torture.

"What mark?  You mean my scar?" he asked, this time ready to truly listen to Spike instead of just issuing general denials.  If Spike had human emotions like shame or love, maybe he had enough sympathy for Xander to talk his way out of this.

"Yeah, mate.  Your scar, why do you respond to me?"  Xander noticed that the "pet" had been replaced by "mate" and for a brief moment, he felt offended.  Then he just felt confused at his own reaction.

"Since yesterday, I just get a little…" he searched for a polite word for his reactions, "a little excited when anyone touches it…even myself," he finally finished in a whisper.

"It only happened starting yesterday?" Spike turned back around, and he sighed in relief when he saw ice-blue eyes.

"Well, yeah," Xander agreed as he squirmed to try and ease the pressure on his arms which had begun to ache.

"Sit still," Spike ordered brusquely, but he also walked over and pushed Xander's torso forward so that he could reach the belt and undo the clasp.  "Does it react to Cassidy too?" 

"Spike, I am telling you the honest truth here," Xander said, and then he waited for Spike to finish freeing his arms so that he could look Spike in the eye when he finished his sentence.  When Spike finally pulled back with the belt in his hand, Xander pulled his arms in front of him and struggled to not rub them as he deliberately made eye contact and tried to simply will Spike to believe him, "I. Do. Not. Know. Cassidy."  For a moment, the two men looked at each other and Xander felt a rising desperation at Spike's lack of reaction.  If Spike didn't believe this, he had no hope left.

"Cassidy left that mark," Spike finally said.

"You mean you're looking for a *vampire*?" Xander asked.  The emphasis on the last word made his incredulity clear.

"I *am* a vampire, pet, who did you think I'd be looking for?" Spike words were spoken softly, but the eyes once again flickered gold.

"No, I mean why come to me if you're looking for a vampire?  I haven't seen the guy who did this for about four years.  And when I do see vampires, I tend to run and hide behind someone with a really big stake, so I don’t really take names."

"You mean he took you as a pet and then left you?" Spike asked as he now crouched down and started that same nervous bounce he had the first time Xander had seen him in the club.  Xander didn't realize he had been rubbing his sore arms until Spike took his left arm in his hands and began vigorously rubbing to help circulation return.  "What did ya call him if he didn't give you his name?"

"Who Cassidy?"  Oh yeah, the rubbing of the arms felt wonderful, so wonderful he hadn't quite caught all the question.

"Bloody hell, pet, is there any other vampire we've been talking about?" Spike stopped, and he had to curb the urge to whine at Spike to start again.

"I didn't call him anything except maybe, 'Who the hell' when he bit me.  After he bit me I tended to call him things like 'that asshole bloodsucker who bit me.'"  Xander returned to the task of rubbing his own arms.  They didn't really hurt anymore, but he needed to do something, and since Spike had now taken up pacing, he didn't want to risk a mid-stride collision.

"Pet, I'm still confused as hell here, so you tell me every minute of your relationship with that wanker." Spike still paced, but now the confusion had been replaced with an expression that frightened him even more.  As Spike paced, he flipped his leather coat and pursed his lips in a way that suggested either deep thought or constipation.

"Well, the whole thing took less than a minute, so it's a pretty short story.  I was walking; it was about two weeks before the start of sophomore year, and I had a pretty big fight with my best friend over the phone…"

"Xander, I need the vampire bits.  I love a good soap, but it'll have to wait for later."  Spike interrupted, and Xander bit down on his desire to tell Spike exactly where to shove his vampire bits.

"Fine," is what he said more sharply than he intended, but Spike only gave him one of those looks with one eyebrow raised higher than the other.  "I was walking.  I got bit.  The vampire ran away," Xander said with his arms crossed.  Spike only sighed deeply and sat on the side of the bed facing Xander. 

"It really is like trying to get a story out of Dru," Spike mumbled as he scanned the room.  When he walked over to the shelf where he had deposited the whiskey some time during the earlier drama, Xander realized that the vampire had probably reached the end of his patience.

"I was walking out late when a vampire grabbed me, pulled me into an alley and bit me," Xander began again before the vampire went back to the earlier three options of torture, rape, or forced drunkenness.  "I thought I was dead, but these two black guys came into the alley and ran toward us.  The one, Luther, held up a crossbow, but the second one, Gunn signaled Luther to not shoot with me in the way.  Gunn ran right up to the vamp who was still feeding and hit him in the face with a bat.  Then Gunn pulled me down to the ground with him while Luther let loose with his crossbow.  The crossbow didn't hit the heart, so the vampire ran away." Xander finished and waited for Spike to respond since the blond was now smiling and nodding his head happily.

"He bled on you," Spike said confidently as he returned and sat on the bed.

"Well, yeah," he agreed, still confused about the source of Spike's amusement.  The 'no laughing' rule obviously only worked one way because Spike now softly laughed to himself.

"Bloody wanker made a pet by accident," Spike finally announced before he broke out laughing and fell back onto the bed.  "Only that git could manage to fuck up making a pet."  Spike wheezed after the laughter finally subsided. 

"Hey!  Pet is definitely added to my list of no's.  No master, no demon, no pet and no common sense," he repeated his list from earlier with the new addition.

"Wait one minute," Spike said and all laughter disappeared immediately.  He really was beginning to wonder whether a vampire could get multiple personality disorder from his host.  "How did you know those hunters' names?  How'd you know their signals?" Spike demanded suspiciously.

"Cause I joined their crew?" Xander returned uncertainly.  He didn't want another trip to the land of no air, but he realized that he had trapped himself by giving away so many details.

"*You're* a vampire hunter?" Spike asked, the humor returning as laugh lines appeared in the corners of his eyes.

"Sort of.  I mostly help the injured and call for backup if there's trouble.  I have a bit of a reputation for getting in trouble when I try to take on a vamp myself," he admitted.  "I once dropped my stake as I was bringing it up to dust a vampire. Even tripped on my own toe during a fight, so don’t expect me to put on any demonstrations of physical prowess," Xander looked at his own shoes, ratty old sneakers.  He had hoped to replace them with tonight's tips, but he clearly wasn't working tonight.  He wasn't even sure if he would survive the night, so shoes really should be the least of his worries, but he still studied them intently.

"Pet, that was probably the demon in you," Spike said in a soft voice.  Xander didn't move, but Spike continued.  "A pet only has a small part of a demon, so it will always seek a stronger leader to follow.  Demon didn't want those vampires dead, it wanted to be claimed by one.  That's what I meant when I told you a pet can be turned to serve a new master.  If a master vampire can dominate a pet—prove that he is stronger than the pet's old master, then the pet may change allegiance."

"I'm not a pet," Xander insisted as he looked up, expecting to see Spike laughing at him, at his situation which was beginning to sound entirely too possible; however, Spike simply returned his gaze calmly and with an expression that he might have described as sympathy on any other face.

"Actually, I'm not sure what you are, but the closest name would probably be a pet," Spike calmly replied as he went to the metal storage cabinet and opened it. "Sometimes a vampire wants control over a human, and so he forces some of his own blood and with it some of his demon into the bite.  Then all he has to do is dominate the demon, and the demon will force the human to act.  It's kind of a shortcut for brainwashing, like a thrall."

"So I'm a demon?" Xander asked as he fought not to hyperventilate.

"No, pets only have a bit of demon in them, but that bit will push.  You have to be strong to hold your own against the demon's desires, but it can be done."

"And the problem is my demon was never…dominated?" Xander practically squeaked out the last word.

"Yep, you have the demon, but the demon has never had a master either beat or frighten or fuck him into submission, so it's left with just you to contend with.  Give him a strong master, and you may find your desires and fears basically hijacked by a demon desperate to please his master." Spike confirmed his worst fear without pulling his head out of the storage cabinet.

"But why would a vampire do that?" Xander asked in a near panic as he thought back over the last four years: the feelings that sometimes floated to the surface, the desires he shoved into the part of his brain he labeled "sick fantasies" and then tried to forget.

"Sometimes a vampire wants to keep a human close, either to use as a pet or to give the human time to grow a bit before taking him as a childe…"

"A childe?" Xander asked curiously.

"Bloody hell, don't you know anything about vampires?" Spike gently chided, and Xander could almost hear him roll his eyes.  However, the next sound sent Xander's heart racing, and the moment of sharing disappeared as he returned to the tried and true sarcastic approach to life that served him when everything seemed to get out of control.

"If you stick a stake in their hearts, they turn into little floaty bits of ash.  That's all I ever needed to know," he snapped sardonically even as Spike turned around with the chains in his hands.  He knew that fighting was useless, but he gripped the arms of the chair in an attempt to keep himself from doing something stupid when he seemed so close to actually surviving this encounter.

"Pet," Spike said softly, and Xander was reminded of the way people on TV sometimes talked to spooked animals.  "I just need to make sure you stay here while I do a bit of research." Spike inched forward as if he expected Xander to go crazy on him at any minute.

"Oh for god's sake, just do it," Xander sighed as he held his trembling arms out.  Before he had a chance to reconsider, cold metal closed around his wrists, and Spike crouched in front of him with one hand holding the metal chain connecting the two manacles and the other hand running over Xander's hair.

"Beautiful curls," Spike said as Xander sat there fighting the tears.  "Dru used to have me curl her hair; she'd love your curls.  Probably keep your body around for weeks until I made her throw it out," he finished and Xander's eyes, which had begun to fall closed at the petting, flew open. 

"Um, thanks?" he replied uncertainly.  "I think.  That was a compliment, right?"  Spike only chuckled.

"Come on," Spike used the connecting chain as a leash as he pulled Xander to his feet.  Once standing, Xander's shirt started falling off his shoulders, and he realized he had to pee.  Spike solved the first by simply tearing the rest of the shirt off his back, but when Spike began pulling him toward the bed, he planted his feet.  As soon as the chain went taut, Spike gave a small growl, "Pet," his voice carried a clear warning as he turned to look.

"I really have to go to the bathroom," Xander admitted.  "Maybe we could just go up into the parking lot?"  He really didn't want to even think about how Spike would react to finding pee in his bed.

"Or you could use the bathroom," Spike said gesturing toward a door behind the stairs where Xander had first walked in.

"You have a bathroom?" Xander asked, confused.

"This place came with one—it's a bomb shelter, you idiot." This time Xander actually saw Spike roll his eyes.  He also watched as Spike dropped the chain leash, and dug around in his duster's pockets until he found a cigarette and lighter.  "Get in and get out within five minutes because I will not be happy if I have to break down that door to get you out again," Spike warned as Xander started to walk away.

"Got it," Xander replied before opening the door and finding himself in a hallway.  The door at the end was barred and padlocked as were the two doors on the left, which meant the bathroom must be the door on the right.  Xander opened the door to find what he considered to be a pretty standard locker room bathroom minus the urinals.  Four sinks each had a mirror, three yellow bathroom stalls, and an open doorway into a shower area.  Xander scooted into one of the stalls, noticing as he passed the shower room that someone had set a giant old-fashioned tub in the middle and run pipes from the fixtures on the wall to the bathtub taps.

Xander spent only one or two minutes in the stall, so he had time to check out the damage to his face when he went to wash up.  He had been right earlier; Spike's tackle had left a gash on the left side of his forehead.  Taking a hand towel from the floor and praying it was fairly clean, Xander wet the cloth and began to awkwardly wash the wound with his chained hands.  It didn't look too bad and even the rough towel had only caused a small trickle, so Xander assumed it would be fine and returned to Spike before his time was over. 

When he reached the main room, the cigarette had disappeared, but the smoke lingered in the air.  Spike went to reach for the chain, but when Spike looked up, he could see vampire eyes go to the still bleeding cut.  Spike reached out and ran a finger along the length of the wound and then brought it to his mouth.

"Bloody hell, pet. You're not local." Spike exclaimed as his eyes went wide.

"What do you mean?  I grew up in California," Xander protested as he went to reach up to touch the wound, but Spike's hold on the chain stopped him.

"You grew up in Sunnyhell," Spike corrected him.

"You mean Sunnydale?" When Spike nodded, he laughed.  "Sunnydale *is* in California.  Hell, it's only about two hours away, so I think I still count as a native."

"Sunnyhell is the home of the hellmouth, pet, and your blood fairly sings with the taste of hellmouth.  No wonder Cassidy got too distracted to notice your vampire hunters."  Spike took a step back and pulled Xander with him to the bed.  This time Xander didn't protest.  Whatever Spike planned, Xander knew he didn't really have a choice in the matter.  "Vampires from all over go to the hellmouth to eat a couple of humans—best tasting blood around, except Slayer blood of course," Spike had now pulled Xander over to the wall and padlocked the leash to a ring set into the wall.  Xander realized that he would never pull that loose, so he simply sat himself on the side of the bed.  Suddenly something occurred to him.

"There are vampires in Sunnydale?" he asked in a near panic.

"More demons in Sunnydale than humans by some accounts.  Never been there myself," Spike confirmed.  "Why?"

"Willow," he whispered.  "What if she's not okay?" 

"Friend of yours?" 

"Yes," Xander quickly replied, but then he revised himself in a much softer voice, "No, not really.  Just somebody I used to know."

"Yeah, well if she's survived this long, she can take care of herself," Spike pointed out before he gave Xander's leg a pat and started walking away.  "Sleep tight."

"What?  You're leaving?" Xander asked in confusion.  Somehow the chains and the bed had suggested to him that Spike had decided to take advantage of Xander's little uninvited guest.

"What?  Want my company now?" Spike asked with a prurient leer.  "Sorry luv, but if I want to use you as bait, I have to make sure you keep smelling like Cassidy, which means I don't get to bite or fuck you," Spike laughed as he climbed the stairs.  "Be good now," he called from the top as he locked the door.  Xander leaned back on the bed.  Most of him breathed with relief at the thought of escaping certain death or rape…so far.  A small part of him howled in outrage at not being taken, and Xander could now feel the alien nature of the small voice that had lived with him for so long.  The logical part of his brain finally recovered from the hours of panic to register Spike's last words. 

"Bait?" Xander howled as he jerked at the chains that held him.  "Shit."



Chapter 7

Xander didn't remember drifting off to sleep; his next memory included laying on his back with a cool body draped over his half-naked frame and his hands still chained with about twelve inches of chain between the manacles and a couple of feet of chain giving him just enough movement to prevent his arms from becoming sore. 

He shifted, and a cool hand reached out and gently smoothed his hair back, and a sleepy British voice mumbled, "'S'all right luv."

In those moments of partial consciousness before thought fully engages and only half-understood messages reach the sleep-addled brain, Xander found happiness.  He felt content, the little voice in his head felt protected, and Xander Jr. was rapidly moving toward ecstatic.  However, as the sleep slowly fell from his mind, he rediscovered his anger, even if the little voice and Xander Jr. insisted on remaining happy.

"Wake up, bleach boy." He looked down and found Spike's head on his bare chest with one leg thrown over both his legs.  Since he couldn't reach down and push Spike off, he bucked his body.  "Wake up," he shouted louder.

"What the…" Spike woke up, in full game face with a growl already rumbling from his chest and gold eyes staring into Xander's frightened brown ones.  As Spike crouched above, he froze in fear at the image of the powerful beast that lived within Spike, but then the face faded back into human features and he could see the look of confusion.  He wondered if he had woken Spike in the middle of a dream because Spike didn't seem to recognize him for that moment.  "Why?" Spike started again, his voice still blurry with fatigue.

"I need to get up," he said quietly once Spike seemed fully in control again.

"Bloody hell, I'm warm; no you don't.  You're comfortable," Spike lowered his head to Xander's chest again.  For a moment he wondered whether Spike was ordering him to be comfortable—you know that whole dominate the inner demon thing—or whether Spike was trying to compliment him on making a nice pillow.  Either way, it didn't really matter.

"You aren't going to be comfortable in about five seconds when your bed is wet and smelly."

"Why would…" Spike began, but then the voice stopped as Spike started rolling himself toward the opposite side of the bed.  Xander told himself not to notice that the vampire was naked and damn sexy with his leg muscles clearly defined all the way up to his firm ass.  Nope, not noticing at all. 

"Bloody inconvenient humans with your bleedin' bodily functions," Spike complained as he retrieved a key from the floor on the far side of the bed.  He crawled back and reached up for the padlock that fastened the chain to the wall.  With a quick click, Xander found himself free, or at least relatively free.  His hands were still shacked and he was half-naked since both his shirt and now his shoes had disappeared and he was still locked in a vampire's lair, but at least he could walk around that lair. 

Yeah, he thought to himself, really making progress here.  Not only was he going to die in this place, he really did deserve it after all the stupid mistakes he had made in the last 24 hours.  He gathered up the chain so that it wouldn't make a lot of noise as he walked, and when he stood, Spike slid forward into his old spot in the bed.  Had he taken Spike's side of the bed or was the vampire finding the warmth left behind by his body?  Did vampires care about being warm?

Xander thought about his strange situation as he walked to the bathroom.  If asked a week ago, he would have told people that he knew all about vampires, but the longer he spent with Spike, the less he seemed to understand.  Yes, Spike was clearly a predator.  A couple of times Xander had thought himself dead, but Spike was also a person.  He stopped and thought about that one for a moment; okay, Spike was at least a person-shaped being.  He didn't like getting laughed at, he was impatient, he joked around, he hurt over the loss of his 'dark princess,' he wanted revenge:  these were not the actions of a mindless monster.  He sat on the toilet taking care of his morning business and he wondered just how many other things he didn't know. 

The whole pet business for example.  Yes, on the one hand that had a real ewwww factor, but it also implied that the vamps fed and cared for their humans, at least cared for them enough to keep them alive.  And what about the whole child thing?  Spike said vampires keep humans around until they could turn the humans into their children.  Did vampires have family feelings?  Did they have and care for their children?  The only vamps he had ever seen were barely able to take care of themselves; they certainly didn't engage in any sort of activity that suggested intelligence.  Xander suddenly came up with a counter-example.  The thought of Fredrick's body being laid out in a pattern, and his blood being used to write…that did indicate a sick sort of intelligence.  Xander shivered, finding himself suddenly cold.  He hurried to finish and then walked back to the main room, once again clutching the chain so he didn't wake Spike.  He didn't especially like the way Spike reacted when woken unexpectedly. 

Xander quickly glanced toward the stairs, but he remembered a clicking sound when Spike had first led him in, and so he assumed that the door was locked.  Besides, Spike knew where he worked and could probably find where he lived.  Xander decided to finish it one way or the other himself.  If Spike planned to use him as bait, that meant that Spike intended to keep him alive, hopefully long enough for Xander to find a nice sharp piece of wood. 

Ignoring the howling in his mind at the very thought of staking Spike, he wandered over to the shelf.  The CD player was old and one speaker was cracked, but the very lack of dust on the buttons in contrast with the thick coat of dust on the top suggested that Spike liked his music.  Eyes swept the CD's.  He didn't know any of the names on the CD spines:  The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Screeching Weasel.  The title on the last one made him pull out the green CD, and sure enough a white weasel sneered at him on the cover.  He looked closer at the title, Boogada Boogadaboogada!  Some sort of demon language, maybe?  Ah, here's a name he knew, Kennedy.  Even his inadequate, inner-city education covered the Kennedys.  Xander pulled out the CD labeled Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Flipping it over, he started reading the tracks and couldn't quite stifle a hysterical giggle. The tracks included  "Kill the Poor," "Stealing People's Mail," and "I Kill Children."

"Go on then," a voice said behind him, and Xander nearly jumped out of his own skin. The CD flew out of his shackled hands and clattered to the cement floor.

"Oi," Spike complained as he got up from the bed and retrieved the CD.  "That's no way to treat great music."  He had put on a pair of black jeans, but his chest showed his wiry muscles and well defined shoulders, and Xander couldn't help but think that Spike was lithe and compact and just plain sexy.

"If it's so great, why I haven't I ever heard of any of it?"

"'Cause you're an uneducated git?" Spike asked with a laugh-snort as he pushed him to one side and inserted the CD.  Xander had two seconds of being surprised by the thought of a musically-inclined vampire before his ears were assaulted by the punk music blasting at full volume.

"Gah," he yelped as he backed away from the speakers.  Spike must have translated that correctly because the volume dropped dramatically with a quick adjustment the knobs. 

"Bloody great music." Spike returned to the bed and began searching the pockets of the leather duster.  When he came up with a package of cigarettes, he smiled in triumph.

"That's great?  Are you insane?"  The same four chords played loudly over and over as someone crashed some drums.  He couldn't understand the words of the singer until the chorus came on and he heard, "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill the poor," over and over.

"Not hardly.  Dru cornered the market on insanity in our little family, and *that* is bloody wonderful," The vampire insisted as he lit his cigarette and leaned back against the wall with his body spread out on the bed.

"Do they know more than four notes?"

"Oi! Don't go insulting the music, pet."

"That's not music, Spike," Xander insisted and he went over to the brown chair and sat down—he couldn't quite figure out what else he was supposed to do with himself.  "That's someone screaming to kill the poor, which is mildly disturbing,"

"Git," Spike repeated, and Xander resolved to look that word up as soon as he could find a dictionary.  "That's social commentary." A blonde head nodded to the heavy beat. 

"Yeah, right." 

"It's protestin' the bomb and the upper classes throwin' the poor away like yesterday's trash, you ponce."  Spike pulled on his cigarette, making the end glow red and his cheekbones become even more prominent.  "You just have no taste—take your shirt, for example.  What happened to the kit you were wearing at the club?"

"Yeah, I'm gonna wear silk to hunt vampires," Xander sarcastically snapped and rolled his eyes before it occurred to him that he was running the risk of appearing to insult Spike's intelligence.  He froze, hoping that he hadn't just set Spike off.  Nice job, he thought to himself.  As if things weren't bad enough you had to go and piss off the nice…okay, less homicidal than normal…vampire.  In the long silence, he waited for the explosion.

"What you smellin' all fearful for?" Spike asked after a long pause.

"Um, I'm being held by a hyperactive vampire who plans to use me as human bait?"

"That's not what I smelled when you woke up.  When you woke up, you were smellin' of something far more interesting.  So what set you off?"  Spike walked over to the cabinet, opened it, and let the cigarette ash fall into a bowl.  Xander remained quiet as he tried to figure out a story that wouldn't get him in trouble, but the silence must have gone on too long. 

"Pet, answer me," Spike commanded, and Xander found himself blurting before he realized it.

"I thought you might take that as an insult and get mad."  For a moment, Spike stood there and stared at him with emotionless eyes until Xander finally listened to the little voice in his head and dropped his own eyes to the floor.  Xander heard soft cursing and the sound of Spike walking over, but he didn't look up—Spike's face had gone so blank at that little confession that he feared he had said the wrong thing, so he continued to focus on the floor.

"Let me tell you a story, pet." Spike started as he sat on the arm of the chair so that his leg pushed into Xander's arm.  "Dru, my princess," Xander looked up as he heard Spike's voice break.  The vampire had gotten rid of the cigarette and now he took a deep breath as he clearly struggled for control.  Ridges on his forehead appeared and disappeared so quickly that he wouldn't have believed his eyes if he hadn't already known Spike was a vampire. 

"She was a pet for a good long time.  Vampire named Angelus took her, made her watch all sorts of things a young lady of the day wasn't prepared to see.  She'd been a right good little girl until Angelus made her bleed and scream and beg for him to take her at the same time she begged for death.  Angelus left her a pet, with a soul, even as he used the demon he put in her to make her beg for the touch of the man who killed her family in front of her face."  Xander shuddered violently.  If this was supposed to be Spike's version of comfort, he was failing miserably, but then this is a man whose idea of complimenting Xander's hair had been to point out that this Dru would have kept his body around to play with after killing him.

Spike reached down and put his hand under Xander's chin and pulled it up.  "I am what I am luv, and I meant what I said last night," he said as Xander looked into bright blue eyes and a face that seemed incongruously compassionate.  His voice became even softer, "but I'm not Angelus.  For nearly a hundred years, I held Dru through her nightmares and listened to her confused ramblings because the demon and the soul managed to right wreck her mind before Angelus ever turned her.  Won't do that to you.  You do something wrong, you'll be punished.  You try to escape—I'll break your neck.  Might even turn you.  But I won't do to ya what was done to Dru, and I control my demon well enough that I won't go bashing ya around."

"But last night," Xander protested before the higher order thinking part of his brain pointed out that he probably shouldn't argue with a demon who had just promised to…what?  What had Spike just promised?  Xander hadn't yet come to a clear decision before Spike started speaking.

"Last night I was a mite upset.  Thought you might be lying, might be one of Cassidy's lot.  Had a hard time not tearin' you to bits a time or two,” Spike admitted even as he stood up and started pacing.  Were all vampires so fidgety?  "Went out last night and saw someone.  Asked him about making pets, about how much a pet could fake, about whether a pet could desire one vamp while bound to another."

"And?  Who'd you go to?  What'd they tell you?"

"Told me that if you smelled of lust for me, if you could bloody *come* for me, you weren't bound to Cassidy."

"Does that mean I'm bound to you after all?" Xander asked even though he suspected that he already knew answer.

"Nope, Peaches said the demon can't bond without either blood or semen."  Xander froze for a moment at the unexpected answer.  He knew that a voice in his head howled for Spike; he had assumed that the lust came from the demon.  Since the moment Xander had first seen Spike, Xander had wanted nothing else.  If it wasn't the demon, what was going on?  He couldn't face this little dilemma just yet.  Please, could the universe just sent him one fucking disaster at a time, please. 

"Wait…Peaches?" Xander asked.  "What kind of person goes by Peaches?"

"Angelus," Spike admitted, and Xander gasped audibly.  As much as Spike clearly loved and missed Dru, how could he even talk to the vampire who had hurt her?

"But don't you want to… I mean, after what he did…"

"Not quite so easy luv.  Angelus was Dru's sire, her maker and master.  He had the right, even if I didn't like it one bit.  And Dru was my sire.  She made me.  For decades Angelus and his sire, Darla, ruled our family.  For vampires it's about status and position in the clan.  I can hate Angelus all I want, even hurt him a bit if I can get away with it without him hurting me back, but I can't do something like kill him." 

"So you just call him Peaches to annoy him to death?" Xander smiled.  He had the image of a sharp-fanged vampire about to tear into someone's throat when Spike waltzes in calling him 'Peaches' in a falsetto voice.  He couldn't contain a giggle.

"Somethin' like that.  I'm a master in my own right now.  Have more status than him in some ways since he went and got himself a soul."  Xander was quickly developing the kind of headache he got in history class when he tried to keep too many ideas in his mind at all.

"So, Darla made Angelus who made Dru who made you?"  A blonde head nodded in confirmation.  "And now that you're older, you don't have to listen to everything they say, but you can't do anything really big against them because they're higher than you in the clan."  Again, the confirming nod.  "So vampires live in clans with clan rulers.  And while most vampires don't have a soul—including you, Angelus does which means he's lost some respect in the community, and so you call him 'Peaches' to kinda rub that in cause you hate what he did to Dru?" 

"That's my boy," Spike returned to the arm of the chair and patted him on the back.  "'Cept being a master isn't about just age—it's about control.  When I was first turned, the demon's hunger and lust controlled everything I did.  Now I have enough control that I can enjoy good music," at this Spike waved toward the still playing CD, "or I can walk through a crowd of humans when I'm hungry and not vamp out and start feasting."

"So the vampires I fought were still 'children'?" Xander tried to think of the bloodthirsty monsters who tore into the necks of the homeless as little vampire babies.  It didn't work.

"Childer.  Well, childer or minions.  Minions are never loved or protected or generally even disciplined by their masters.  A minion who displeases the head of the clan will find himself on the end of a stake, and without someone to help them learn to control the demon's hunger, they can never become more than mindless beasts.  Minions are just thrown out there as cannon fodder in a fight because their demon has to obey the head of the clan.  Childer are different.  Childer are kept at their master's side and forced to control themselves or suffer terrible punishments.  The older a childe gets, the more control he has over himself and the less often his master has to beat or threaten him into controlling himself.  Eventually, a childe has enough control to go out on his own, and then he's called a master."

"So you became a master when Dru died?"

"Not hardly," Spike snorted.  "Dru never became a master because she had no control.  Anything she thought about, she did.  Dru turned me, so she was my sire in a technical sense, and my demon certainly always felt loyalty to her.  But Angelus and Darla are the ones who kept me by their sides as we hunted.  First Angelus because he enjoyed the whole punishment aspect of siring.  After Angelus got his soul and turned into Angel—the fangless wonder who couldn't kill his own meal unless it ran on four legs and scuttled through the trash—Darla became my sire because she wanted someone to essentially baby-sit Dru.  Dru may have been mad, but she had visions that saved us more than once."

"So you became a master when you left Darla." Xander corrected himself.

"Yep.  Took my dark princess and disappeared so that the bitch would never find us.  Now she's dead and souled-up Peaches is embarrassed to even think about what he did to me, so I don't have anyone in the line to answer to."  Spike's hand still rested on Xander's back from the early pat.  Now Spike started moving it in circles.  "And you're not smelling of fear any more, pet." Spike announced as his hand moved in ever larger circles.  When fingers brushed the edges of the scar on his neck, Xander jumped so suddenly that the chain hanging from his wrists rattled.

"Shit," he softly cursed as he felt a shiver run the whole length of his body and his heart beat faster.  He let his eyes fall closed as the fingers traced the edges of the scar.

"Responsive, like that," Spike whispered into Xander's ear.  Xander felt the pull on his wrists and opened his eyes to find Spike standing in front of him, pulling him toward the bed. 

"Why?"  he managed to mumble as he followed Spike's lead, which led, inevitably to the bed.  "I mean, if you can't …" The words broke off when Spike pushed him back onto the bed and pulled the chain up to fasten it to the ring once again.  This time, there was far less slack leaving Xander's arms pulled above his head, his body, his half-dressed body stretched across the bed.  Oh, the universe had just let him down because this was definitely a fucking disaster.  And he didn't even mean the chains part, he meant the growing erection he could feel struggling to rise in his jeans.  Bad enough to get captured by the enemy, but now he couldn't even deny the raging lust.  Please god, just don't ever let Gunn find out.  Xander had an image of his dead body with two fang marks in his shoulder and a raging erection.  Yeah, that would be the final humiliation.

"I can play," Spike said with that same head tilt that he was learning to associate with sexual Spike.  "Been years since I've played," Spike undid the button at Xander's waist and quickly unzipped and pulled down the baggy jeans.  The underwear disappeared even faster leaving that traitorous and engorged body part fully exposed.  "Been years since I wanted to."  Xander felt an entirely new set of emotions at that.  Three girlfriends and a number of rude comments had convinced him of his total lack of desirability, and now this creature couldn't resist him.  This creature who had survived years of celibacy couldn't resist him. 

"What do…" Xander half-heartedly tried to protest, but then Spike lowered his weight onto him and the contact with his cock against the denim of Spike's jeans nearly caused him to come. 

"Not yet, luv"  whispered a voice as Spike braced his knees on either side and bodily shifted him toward the wall so that his arms had a little more slack.  Spike then nuzzled his head between Xander's cheek and arm in order to reach the scar.  When the pleasantly tepid and wet tongue touched the sensitive skin, Xander's whole body arched up off the bed as he made an incoherent noise.  Spike lowered his weight again, and he rolled his head to one side to give Spike more room to work.  Spike obliged by sucking the scar and running his delicate fingers down the muscles right side.  For several minutes, they lay locked in this position while Xander felt every skin cell come alive and Spike shifted slightly so that fingertips could explore more skin. 

"Oh god," Xander gasped as fingers finally darted in to touch the crease on the inside of his hip.  He tried to turn into the touch; he tried to get those fingers to touch his cock, but they simply slipped away to stroke the outside of a thigh. 

"Bad boy," Spike chided as he stopped sucking for a moment to run blunt teeth over the mark.  This time Xander did scream and he bucked and he pulled his hands as hard as he could, desperate to touch in return. "Lay still and don't come, or I just may have to find some leg irons in that closet," Spike threatened softly, and Xander felt the tightening in his balls that always preceded release.

"Don't come."  Xander wanted to ask him if he was kidding; he wanted to say that he couldn't physically prevent it if he tried.  He wanted to point out that he had a right to do whatever the hell he wanted and Spike could fuck off, except Xander could already feel the impending orgasm retreat, and he groaned in frustration.  He wanted to come!

Spike began his attack again, this time using his mouth to suck to and nip at one nipple, while his fingers pinched and pulled at the second.  As the busy tongue slid down his chest one agonizingly slow millimeter at a time, Xander spread his legs, and Spike's smooth chest pressed against his cock.  Xander was in a place equal parts heaven and hell. He knew he was babbling, but even he couldn't make out his words as Spike's tongue now worked around his belly button, first a tongue circled and then the mouth closed over the skin and a warm pressure began to build. 

Spike's hands, meanwhile, were exploring Xander's thighs, and Xander could feel the cool satiny fingers run back and forth along his inner thighs .  An eternity later, he whined as Spike unexpectedly closed his blunt teeth over a piece of skin near the belly button.  Xander would have expected such an act to cause pain, but instead it simply sharpened everything: the feel of Spike's hands on his legs, the movement of air across those patches of his skin still damp from Spike's tongue, the tingling in his scar, the weight of the chains, and the increasing ache in his genitals.  If he didn't come soon, he thought he might actually damage something. 

"Flip over…and don't come."


"Flip. Over," Spike repeated deliberately as if speaking to a slow child.  He felt hands at his hips, guiding him, and he started to roll.  The minute his leaking cock touched the satin, He groaned and tried to rub, it would just take a bit of friction, but he just couldn't move fast enough.  Spike must have realized his intentions because strong hands soon pulled him up so that his forearms supported his upper body while his butt stuck up in the air.  Hands easily arranged him, pushing his knees apart and forcing his head down to rest on his forearms. 

"Stay."  Spike now ordered.  Xander considered protesting, arguing, refusing, something; however, Spike had disappeared so quickly that he didn't have time, besides he realized that one wrong move and he was going to ejaculate all over Spike's bed.  Xander wondered if that would annoy the vampire more or less than peeing the bed.  So, instead of protesting, he stayed and tried to calm his breathing.

Long before he had calmed his breathing, a familiar hand ran down his back.  This time the fingers explored more firmly, first running up to the shoulders and then following the line of the arm all the way out to the fingers, and then running down the length of the backbone, over the hips, and down the legs one at a time.  Both hands encircled and ran down his right thigh and calf and then his left.  Finally he felt arms slip around to the front and one held his waist while the other firmly grabbed his cock.  Xander screamed once again and desperately tried to hump, to get just enough movement to come since he was so damn close and the erection was really starting to ache now.

"Don't come," Spike simply warned as he continued to hold the throbbing cock.   Spike slowly tightened his grip until pain overrode the pleasure evoking a sharp gasp, and then the pressure disappeared almost immediately.  The hand then encircled the overly sensitive balls, and he winced before Spike started pressing at all, but Spike only gave each one a small squeeze before releasing them.  Xander was beginning to get angry, even through all the sexual haze and the happy noises he could now clearly hear in his own mind.  What had begun as a lover's caress had become something that felt vaguely like an inspection.

"What exactly are you looking for?"  He could feel Spike freeze in place.

"Oh, after 120 years, I know where to look," Spike assured him as both hands disappeared.  He started to lower himself, but a sharp voice stopped him.  "Stay."

"I’m not some stupid dog," Xander complained, but he stayed.

"You were happy enough a few minutes ago, what happened?" Spike as ran a hand up and down Xander's back before moving up to the left shoulder and the traitorous scar.  Almost immediately Xander felt all his doubts disappear in a cloud of longing and hunger.  He moaned as one cool hand massaged the shoulder as the second hand pressed something cold and slimy between his cheeks.  That cleared the head in record time, and he tried to sit up on the bed.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?  You said you weren't going to rape me, or have you changed your plans again?" Xander knelt up on the bed even though he had to lean forward slightly because of the shortness of the chain connected to the thick manacles around his wrists.

"Shhh, you're fine luv," came a deep, quiet, rumbling voice from behind and a mouth descended on the scar, sucking and teasing with both tongue and teeth.  Xander shuddered and felt his resolve dissolving under the rush of lust.  A hand eased him back down, and he couldn't find the will to fight.  After all, he told himself, hadn't he already decided that he wasn't really in a position to fight?  When he got back in position with his head resting on his forearms, Spike continued to rub his scar and murmur vague soothing noises.  The wet finger returned, and this time he didn't argue.  He could feel the trail as silent tears left wet tracks for the air to cool, but even as he cried, he wanted more.  Shit, he really did need to find a therapist, maybe even two or three.  If Spike did this, he knew that he was lost; he could barely fight the desire to throw himself at Spike without the "bond," so he could never fight an even stronger connection fed by the vampire's blood or semen.  Xander trembled with the realization that chains far stronger than steel would soon trap him.

"Relax, pet.  Relax and don't come." The quiet voice ordered, and for the first time Xander realized that Xander Jr. had never once complained or stopped wanting to come.  The finger slipped in without more than a little discomfort, and Xander could feel the unfamiliar movement inside his own body.  "Ready pet?" Spike asked.  He was trying to form the words to ask 'Ready for what?' but the answer came as Xander discovered the spot called the prostate.  Xander, in his sexual confusion, had checked out a couple of websites from the public library, so he had theoretically known what the prostate did.  This theoretical knowledge meant nothing when compared to the pleasure that washed through his body.  Xander Jr. begged to come, and Xander soon found himself begging on Jr.'s behalf.

"Oh god," he gasped as Spike rubbed the spot again.  "Please touch me Spike.  Please.  Oh god I have to come," he moaned as Spike continued on his unhurried way.  "Please Spike," Xander begged.  The pressure had long since become painful, and now that pain transformed into an all-consuming fire that left nothing in his world except a need to come that couldn't be denied.  The hand disappeared from the scar, and Xander felt a single finger moved up the underside of his cock.  It was enough. 

Xander's limbs stiffened, and with a wail, he came in waves that started as painful and then transformed into pleasure and a release from pain and a release from pressure all synthesized into one earth-shattering moment.  Xander's shaking legs mutinied, and Xander found himself stomach down in the impressive wet spot.  However, he noticed in a distant haze, Spike hadn't entered him with more than a finger.  He couldn't decide how he felt about that as relief battled with agony in a psyche so fragmented that Xander decided that he might need a whole damn team of therapists. 

"Planning on sleepin' in the wet spot, pet?" Spike asked from above, and Xander had to coax words to from in his newly-rearranged mind.

"Never moving again," he announced foggily.  "Fuck off."  That earned a laugh and a slap on the butt.

"I'll take that as a compliment," Spike chuckled.  "I assume that means we can sleep the rest of the day 'til sunset?" 

"This was about getting me to go back to bed?" He turned his head so that he could look at Spike out of at least one half-open eye. 

"Not quite luv, but we'll talk this evening,"  Xander would have been mortified at the thought of this meaning nothing, at Spike feeling nothing, except Spike had gotten off the bed which put his crotch at eye level, and he could see an impressive bulge in Spike jeans. 

"I've got to go clean up," Spike said before throwing a tube of something to the floor and leaving.  Xander decided that he didn't have the energy or spare brain cells to figure it all out, so he did exactly what Spike wanted.  He fell asleep. 



Chapter 8

The second time Xander awoke, he found himself alone in bed.  The chains had disappeared, but when Xander rolled over, he found that the wet spot hadn't entirely.

"Ew" he quickly rolled back and started slipping out of bed.  He froze when he realized something was missing.

"You made the mess," Came the comment from the brown chair where Spike sat wearing headphones and reading a thick book with a faded green cover.

"Doesn't mean I want to lie in it.  Uh, Spike, where are my clothes?"  he held the black sheet in front of him since his jeans and underwear had now totally disappeared.

"Burned 'em." 

"What?!  I am so not walking around naked!"

"Well that is a thought," Spike leered over his book with an expression suggesting that Spike was having a naughty idea.  For just a moment it frightened him that he knew Spike so well after just one full night and two sexual encounters.

"What?"  Xander asked suspiciously.

"We're actually going out later, and I'm just picturing leading you through all those people with you lookin' so well-shagged and starkers."

"You know, you should probably learn English if you're going to stay here."

"We invented the bloody language, so you can just sod off," Spike returned quickly.  "And I mean that literally."

"And if I knew what that meant, I could come up with an appropriate place for you to put your sod."

"Means 'go away.'  And if you want clothes, go to the bathroom, and you'll find some new ones.  I am not going to dangle you like bait wearin' kit that makes you look homeless."

"Um, yeah.  Spike, can we talk about this whole bait thing?" When Spike sighed, he hurried before the vampire could interrupt him.  "I totally get that I'm kind of choiceless here, but you are driving me to seek serious, expensive professional help of the mental health variety, and I don't have that kind of money."  Pausing for a moment, he whispered the last part, "Just tell me where I fit here so I can figure out how to deal,” he pleaded.  He just couldn't reconcile the same man giving him so much pleasure and then sending him to his death.

"Go get in the bath, and we'll talk," Spike promised as he stood and put the book on a dry part of the bed.  He waited for Spike to leave or turn his back or do anything other than leer.  "Go on," Spike finally demanded, and Xander realized that he was not going to escape without giving Spike a show.  With a sigh of his own, he dropped the sheet, glared at the smirking vampire and went to the bathroom. 

While he made a detour to the toilet, Xander heard the water start pouring into the bathtub, so he wasn't surprised to see Spike sitting on a stool next to the tub.  The surprise came from the range of bath products on the floor next to the bath. 

"Bathe much?" Xander asked as he gestured toward the half-used bottles of shampoo and body wash and, god help him, bubble bath.

"Wot?  Not allowed to bathe now?" Spike's accent deepened, and Xander saw the beginnings of a smile.

"Better than stinking, I suppose," he agreed as he walked up and had to practically climb into the tub.

"Not a minion, pet.  Don't live for feedin' and shaggin'."  Xander just nodded and settled back in the tub all the while thanking god that Spike had added bubble bath because it afforded him some privacy as the water slowly rose in the huge tub.  He used to hide in a corner when he had to change in front of other people during gym class; hell, he even skipped showers whenever the teacher left too early to notice.  Now he found himself walking around naked.  Why did his life always have to be so damn strange?  He just knew that if he had just stayed back in Sunnydale his life would have been more normal.  His sex life definitely would have been more normal because having sex with a demon—that just about topped the list of strange kinks. 

"Now, what's your problem.  One minute you're enjoyin' yourself and squirmin' like a virgin, next you're going all wonky on me."

"ME?!" Xander sat up at that.  "One minute you're treating me like…well, like a human being, and that's actually better than how a lot of people treat me.  Then the next minute you're treating me like a piece of furniture.  I'm not the one with some sort of multiple personality thing going on."

"I'm a vampire, pet."

"Well, yeah.  Kinda got that with you going all bumpy on me," He made a waving gesture toward Spike's face, and Spike smiled.

"Love that about you, absolutely fearless.  Stupidly fearless, but bloody absolutely fearless."

"And playing the trembling, sobbing victim would have gotten me farther?"

"Playing victim would have gotten you eaten, luv."  Spike handed him a washcloth and bottle of soap.

"My point exactly," he announced as he started washing.  "However, that still leaves you doing the whole bipolar vamp thing.  I can't figure out if you're seducing me or throwing me to the wolves here."

"Not throwin' ya to any wolves," Spike offered.  "Bloody hell, it's not the same for vamps.  You're trying to figure me out using human terms."

"Until last night, all the people I knew were human.  But I'm willing to listen if you want to explain another way of thinking."  At that Spike stood up and turned his back, and Xander used the temporary privacy to wash a few of his more shy body parts.  That done, he reached for a new bottle.

"It's like trying to explain why you have a soul, you just do "  Spike finally answered as he turned back around and plucked the shampoo from Xander's hand and squeezed some out into his own hand.  He pulled the stool around to the end of the tub and sat down to wash Xander's hair.

"When I saw you in the club, I could smell vamp on you, and I wanted you. I've been alone and living for revenge for a long time.  Figured you were some master's pet, and I was goin' to take ya and turn ya—make ya mine.  Then I smelled Cassidy and changed the plan."  Xander leaned back into the sensual feeling of having someone wash his hair for him.  He could hear Spike's accent thicken with each additional sentence, a trait he realized revealed Spike's emotional state.  "Now I still want ya, but I need to draw Cassidy out, so I gotta keep my distance, and that's killin' me.  I want to shag ya' so hard that ya' feel me for days.  I want to feel my fangs sink into your neck."  Whoa now.  Oh shit, he just had to know, didn't he?  Xander struggled to sit forward even as iron hands held him still.

"Not going to bite you, pet.  Relax."  Spike ordered as he finally withdrew his hands and splashed them around in the tub before drying them on a towel he retrieved from the floor.  "Besides, bitin' and killin' aren't the same thing when you have a master involved.  Plenty of masters prefer to slip in and take a little from several humans, leaving them alive.  Makes for less mess to clean up.  But I can't do anything fun without havin' my smell mask Cassidy's."

"Can't do it, so I'm not goin' to think about it," Spike reiterated.  "But it's a vampire thing, luv.  You're looking for me to be human and treat you like a lover or a hostage taker or a psychopath.  I'm not any of those things."  Xander nodded slowly even though he could argue that Spike had shown definite signs of being all three.  For a long time, they sat in silence and Xander finished the shampoo job Spike had begun before the reference to biting had had caused the panic.  Just how much could Spike smell?  Was he just getting the general odor of fear or could he smell more?  Could he tell why a person was afraid?  He stirred the water and watched the dying bubbles trail along in the wake of his hand.  He wanted to say so much, to ask so much, but he didn't really know what to ask.  His silence must have convinced Spike that he still didn't understand because the vampire sighed deeply and tried again.

"I'm a *vampire*," Spike stated, and Xander suppressed an urge to smack the blonde repeated while yelling 'no duh.'  He resisted.  However, he did roll his eyes.  "You're a human, and that means that we'll never be equal—we'll never be lovers.  I'll always think of you as a pet, which in vampire terms means that you're cared for and protected but also property, property whose job it is to please and obey your master." Spike explained, and Xander felt his stomach knot up at the realization that he would always rank somewhere around 'family dog.'  Fuck.  He had to fall for someone who saw him as a freaking lower life form.  He had thought that when he stopped chasing girls that he would find someone who didn't treat him like a doormat, but it seems that he had only graduated from doormat to dog.  He really needed to learn to fall for a better class of psychopath.

"Doesn't mean I don't care." Spike hurried to say, and Xander wondered how much of his disappointment had showed on his face.  "Be a lot bleedin' simpler if I was your master." Spike said in a nearly wistful tone of voice.

"And the bait thing?  Are you gonna give me to Cassidy?"

"No." Spike denied, and Xander found himself anxiously trying to believe that.  Why he didn't know since the answer still left him a vampire's prisoner.  Well, actually he did know why he preferred to be chained in Spike's lair rather than Cassidy's, but he had already promised himself to ignore and sublimate that thought.  "Goin' to tempt him out is all."  Spike explained.

"If he didn't mean to make me, why would he care?  I'm not worth walking into a trap for."

"Bollocks!  He'll come out because he'll remember the taste of a hellmouth boy, he'll come out because you're going to look delicious in the kit I picked up for you, and he'll come out because I'll humiliate him by showing everyone that I have one of his pets."

"Okay, could you have chosen a more disturbing word than 'delicious'?" Xander asked with a shiver.

"You have no idea," Spike retorted with a quick quirk of his eyebrow.

"And again with the disturbing moment.  Every compliment I get from you is giving my future therapist more material.  But where exactly are we going to do this 'showing off' and what exactly do I have to do."  After he finished, he took a moment to duck his head under the water and shake his head so most of the shampoo rinsed out.  When he surfaced again, Spike had a bottle of conditioner in his hand.

"You've got to be kidding.  Vampires condition?"

"You have no bloody idea how much damage bleaching does," Spike defended himself as he tossed the bottle to Xander rather than repeat the hair washing.  Xander found himself vaguely disappointed.

"So, where and what?"

"Where—a couple of demon bars and a couple of human bars where demons tend to go looking for a quick snack or a quick shag.  What—that depends.  At the human bars, you'll stay by my side and keep quiet unless I tell you otherwise.  Just remember that I'm in charge and you'll be fine.  Demon bars are a little different.  Humans don't normally go into demon bars unless they are pets, so the demons are going to expect you to act like a pet."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?"

"Kneel at my feet, keep your trap shut, do what I tell ya." Spike ticked off the rules on his fingers.

"Oh yeah, so not with the liking," Xander confirmed as he pulled the plug on the tub.  "I honestly have to kneel at your feet?"

"Yeah.  And if you get hungry, I'll feed you."

"Feed me what?" Xander asked suspiciously

"Human food, you git.  Pets are supposed to rely on their owners, so they don't touch food with their hands.  They either eat food that's been thrown on the floor to remind them of their place or they eat from their master's fingers if their master's pleased with them."

"Okay, ew.  We damn well better stop somewhere for food before we go to any demon bars.  I am so not eating out of your hand."  By now the water had disappeared.  Xander turned on the water and stuck his head directly under the tap to rinse out the last of the shampoo and conditioner.  When he reappeared out from under the water, Spike handed him a towel. 

"Get changed, and we'll stop somewhere for food before we hit Pavidosi," Spike said as he left the bathroom.  Xander looked around.  He gave a small smile when he saw the clothes, where else, on the floor.  Spike really needed to invest in a few tables, he thought to himself as he got out an padded over to the clothing.

When Xander appeared in the main room, he didn't see Spike right away.  When the heavy metal door crashed above him, he jumped and looked up in time to see Spike jump from half way up the stairs to the floor.

"Ready?" Spike asked as he wondered whether he could find a way to slip Ritalin into Spike's blood.  "You do clean up nice, pet," Spike drawled as he lowered his head and looked.  Xander self consciously pulled at the front of the front of his black shirt.  The fabric was smooth as silk, but almost fuzzy.  It was as thin like a t-shirt, but it clung to him like a sweater, and the v-neck was low enough to show the edge of his scar, which looked far more fresh now that Spike had spent the afternoon sucking and biting at it.  The gray jeans fit slightly looser than Mike's had two evenings earlier, but not significantly so.  They still constricted and rubbed with every move—not Xander's ideal choice in clothing.  The lack of underwear especially annoyed him, but considering the embarrassing things Spike could have forced him to wear, he didn't feel like complaining. 

"Not exactly my taste."

"Considering what I've seen you wear, you aren't getting' a choice, pet," Spike pointed out as he picked up a small leather bag.  "Hold on to this, and don't you lose it," Spike pushed the bag into Xander's hands, and the weight surprised him.

"What do you have in here?" Xander complained as he followed Spike who had now started up the narrow, steep stairs.  Spike didn't answer, he simply waited for Xander in the truck yard.  When Xander finally made it to the top, he realized that he had never expected to see the outside again. The florescent lot lights on the dirty trucks and the stench of the city seemed suddenly beautiful, and Xander took a deep breath.  But the return to the real world also reminded him of real world issues.  Fredrick.  Xander sighed as he waited patiently for Spike to lock the door behind them before slipping the key into one of his many pockets.

"This is what I have," Spike replied as he unzipped the leather bag and Xander could see the chains inside.  He stared at them blankly.

"Why am I carrying these?"

"If you even think of doing a runner, I'll chain you up in some back room and leave ya there 'til Cassidy hears 'bout you.  Got it?" Spike asked as he reached over and took Xander's chin in his hand and forced him to make eye contact.

"Got it," Xander answered wearily.

"Well, that got less argument than I expected.  Not that I'm complainin' mind you." Spike let go of Xander and started walked toward the gate.  Xander took a couple of seconds to zip up the bag before he followed.

"So what's eating you?" Spike asked as they walked.  Spike preceded Xander through the gate, and then used his strength to pull the gate back the extra quarter inch Xander needed to slip through without scratching himself or ripping his clothes.

"Just life, Spike.  I did have one, you know."  Xander resented the vampire's intrusions into his thoughts; it seemed so wrong to even think about Spike and Fredrick at the same time.

"Yeah, I know.  Vampire hunter, professional crawler, soon to be stripper." 

"You," Xander lost the words to even reply for a moment he felt so much aggravation, but then he felt his emotions just collapsed under the weight of so much pain and confusion.  "Whatever."  He finally said as he walked beside Spike down the sidewalk.  He wondered if he shouldn't be walking behind or something, but he decided that he wouldn't give Spike one concession that Spike didn't have to specifically demand.

"No, go on.  I'm interested in what could make such a well-rounded person so unhappy," Spike returned.  Xander looked over in shock.  Spike had threatened him and hit him, made him come and played with his body, talked to him and teased him, but he had never before used this hard-edged sarcasm.

"Spike?" Xander asked quietly.

"No, go on.  Tell what makes the big bad vampire hunter so damn unhappy.  Someone dull the points on your stakes?" Spike continued in a cold voice.  

Okay, Xander thought to himself, Spike told you to not use human standards, so find another standard.  Spike thought of Xander as property, and whether he admitted it or not, Xander suspected that Spike though of him as Spike's property—not Cassidy's.  Spike's property is unhappy, so maybe Spike doesn't like the thought of his pet being distracted from the job.  Maybe Spike just didn't like the smell of unhappiness, Xander realized as he remembered Spike complaining about him smelling fearful. 

"It's nothing.  I'll get the job done and help you take out Cassidy.  After all, like you said, big bad vampire hunter here," Xander tried for a lighter tone, hoping that either the assurance that he would focus or the tone would assuage Spike. "Able to trip in a single bound; faster than a limping turtle."  Spike simply snorted.  From the frozen expression on his face, Xander's comments had made the problem worse.  Damn, Xander thought to himself, I've had girlfriends who required less effort.

Okay, Spike's property is unhappy.  Spike isn't worried about getting the job done, so what is he worried about?  Xander thought back to a collie named Sergeant he had owned when he was seven or eight.  Think pet, he ordered himself even though the concept made his empty stomach threaten to revolt.  They had kept Sergeant for two years before Xander's father had given him way to punish Xander for not cleaning up the back yard.  He still thought his father should have just looked down and walked around the dog shit.  Okay, if Sergeant had been unhappy and I found away to talk to him…Xander's thoughts suddenly skipped onto a new track.  He remembered mashing his thumbs trying to build a doghouse the summer he grew obsessed with the fear that Sergeant would get sunburned in the back yard, and he almost heard his own thoughts click.

"I got someone killed last night," Xander admitted.  If he was right, Spike would respond to that.

"What?  Don't seem the killin' sort to me, luv." Spike turned a concerned face to Xander, and Xander had to stop himself from cheering.  Of course the thought of Fredrick stopped that thought rather quickly. 

"I was back-up; I was supposed to call for help if someone got separated.  One of the guys got pulled off, and by the time I noticed, it was too late," Xander confessed his guilt.  He couldn't have said as much to Luther or Trey, but Spike had killed hundreds if not thousands of people, so he didn't have any room to condemn Xander for one.

"That's not you getting' someone killed.  That a bunch of wankers all trying to get themselves killed by goin' up against something they don't understand."  Spike assured him. 

"Hey, we were armed.  We had stakes and holy water and enough crosses to start a Catholic church."

"Yeah, and they had superhuman senses, speed, and strength."

"You're forgetting my secret weapon," Xander pointed out with a shrug.  "I have an superhuman ability to distract vampires through running away screaming and profusely bleeding," he joked.  Spike didn't laugh; he simply stopped and looked with a strange expression.

"Pet, if you survived this long, you're either the luckiest bloke this side of the globe or you have knackers you keep hidden.  How many of you went in?"


"And the other four, you played back up for them too?"


"And you do this how often, playing back-up as you gits take on supernatural creatures with superhuman strength?"

"Four or five times a week," Xander said as he mentally averaged the good weeks against those weeks when work had him too tired to help at all.  "Ever since I got bit and started following Gunn around, trying to force him into letting me help."

"And that bite was four years ago?" 

"Pretty much."

"So last night you saved four bleedin' idiots and over the last three years you've saved…" Spike paused for a moment, "Three or four thousand wankers, depending on how many people go on each raid.  I'd say it balances it out with you comin' out slightly to the side of the angels."  Spike shook his head after a minute.  "That's a hell of a lot of vampires, pet.  Where do you hunt?"

"In the neighborhood south of Safari.  Gunn said that the vamps have only been bad like this for four or five years.  Before that, the older people in the neighborhood talked about the Obayifo or La Llorona—spirits who killed in the night—but no one believed them.  Lots still don't believe, but the more active the vamps get, the more believers we have in the neighborhood." Most of Xander's information came second-hand from Gunn since the vamps had been active longer than he had lived in L.A. 

"That’s not right," Spike said after a minute.  He turned a corner, and Xander followed him in the new direction.  "How many vamps you dust in a night?"

"When I first started, we'd find two or three in a lair. Sometimes we'd go a day or two between kills, but lately we've found a couple big nests and found individual vamps hunting nearly ever night," Xander admitted.  The change in hunting had happened slowly, but when Xander thought back, he could see a clear difference between the early years of hunting and the last few months.

"A master might get dusted, but most of his minions will go to the winner," Spike said absent-mindedly.  "A master could turn one or two minions out for displeasin' him, but not a whole legion of 'em.  Too many vamps around attracts vampire hunters, slayers, and official attention, not to mention making huntin' even harder."  Xander followed Spike in silence.  He clearly didn't know enough about vampire habits to have an opinion on the matter, but if Spike was right, something was really wrong in the neighborhood.  Now Xander worried about Gunn and the others.  He had to find a way to warn them.

"Stop feelin' guilty," Spike ordered with a sigh.

"I'm not," Xander protested.  "Okay, I'm not much," Xander amended that when Spike looked at him with both eyebrows fully raised.  "You're right about me helping more than not even though I still feel guilty about Fredrick."  Spike put out an arm and herded Xander into a restaurant.  While Xander had been expecting fast food, the trendy steakhouse made his stomach rumble so loud that Spike laughed out loud.  Spike held the door, and Xander preceded him into the lobby.  Once the hostess had seated them and flirted with both of them enough to embarrass Xander, the two were left with glasses of water and a promise the waitress would appear soon.

"So, what's botherin' you now?" Spike asked over the table.  Xander bit his lip, wondering how much leeway he could expect from Spike.  If he didn't say anything he would have a better chance of sneaking off to find a payphone and just paying the price for it later.  If he said something, Spike could help him or prevent him from ever being able to contact Gunn.  Xander glanced toward the black bag which now sat on a spare chair.

"Pet?" Spike asked with just a touch of growl in his voice.  Xander made up his mind.

"I'm not liking this whole bait thing," Xander said in a low voice so that neighboring tables couldn't hear him.  "If it works, I'm caught between two vampires, and if it doesn't, you don't have a lot of reason to keep me alive."  Xander half-expected Spike to catch him in the lie, to have some sort of supernatural lie detector.  Instead Spike just suddenly looked tired.

"Been huntin' Cassidy for bloody months.  I'm not patient, and I'm about ready to just burn the whole city.  This is the first time I've even felt close."  Spike looked directly into Xander's eyes.  "I need this to work.  But if it don't, well, I don't believe in eatin' someone I know, that was Angelus' game.  I prefer to keep playin' and eatin' separate, so I won't drain you, even if Cassidy never shows.  But if he doesn't show…" Spike let his words trail off, and Xander could hear the pain.  He felt the guilt of Fredrick's death in his gut like a knife.  What must Spike feel for failing Dru?  She was his lover and his sire and Cassidy killed her.  Xander understood the anguish that motivated Spike. 

"And if he does show?" Xander asked.

"If he shows, he'll be dust before he gets within 100 feet of you," Spike promised, and Xander could feel the hatred for Cassidy in that promise. Suddenly a young red-head with a huge smile and even bigger braces appeared looking for orders.  They spent the rest of dinner talking about absolutely meaningless topics that had nothing to do with homicidal vampires, vendettas, or kidnapped humans. 



Chapter 9


"So, 'bout time for my dinner," Spike announced as they left the restaurant. Xander found himself suddenly fighting to keep his dinner down as he watched the faces of people walking by them. What the hell was he doing? He was calmly walking by the side of a monster who would pick one of these innocent people and eat them. Would it be that mother, Xander wondered as he watched a yuppie mother pulling a five or six year old child down the street. What about the shopper? A woman with a suit, track shoes, and an ungodly number of department store packages in the back seat of her car locked her car door and joined the stream of people on the sidewalk. The whole while, they walked closer to the shops and bars.

"You're going to kill someone."

"It's how I feed, pet. If I leave them alive, they might go natterin' to someone about the big bad monster."

"Other vamps…" Xander started, but Spike stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and trapped him with a golden stare that made his stomach drop a good two inches even as his heart sped out of control. The look of a hungry predator about to devour prey. The look of one seriously pissed off vamp.

"Don't ever compare me, pet. Not if you intend to live." Spike stepped forward, leaving Xander to press his back into the brick of the building behind him, his legs shaking when he faced Spike's demon for the umpteenth time. Just how many sore spots could one vampire have? Xander wondered idly if Dr. Phil would take Spike on as a client and work on some of these issues. 

"I just… I didn't…" He struggled just to breathe and to keep his heart beating under the glare of those gold eyes.

"Just say it, pet. Course, it might help if you breathed a bit first." Spike resumed his casual saunter down the sidewalk, and Xander had to trot to catch up. For one moment, he had glanced down the street in the opposite direction, but he knew that the feeling of freedom was an illusion. The vampire could easily catch him, and, he thought glancing down at the bag he still held, find much more unpleasant things to do than just haul him from one bar to another.

"I don't know if I can…" Xander began when he caught up.

"Can what? Not asking you to kill 'em for me."

"I can't just stand by while you kill someone," Xander finally hissed as he walked beside Spike.

"Don't have much choice on that. You either stand by, or I'll chain you up and you'll still stand by." Spike now detoured into an alley and leaned on a huge metal dumpster. "I'll feed tonight one way or the other." Xander turned and watched the people go past the mouth of the alley. So many innocent lives, which one would end tonight?

"Spike? Does everyone taste the same?" Xander finally asked, the seeds of an idea forming in his mind. "I mean, anyone not raised on the mouth of hell?"

"Pretty much. Emotion changes the blood quite a bit, but one scared victim tastes pretty much like another."

"So it doesn't matter to you what type of person you take?"

"Generally avoid drunks. You'd be amazed at how much drugs and alcohol survives in the blood. Once spend an entire week stoned when I fed off this group of hippies. Not doin' that again." Spike gave a small shudder of his own, and Xander had to smile at how human-like Spike truly seemed. Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes he was totally human with reactions that Xander could identify with entirely too much: the guilt, the desire to not have others laugh at him, the hatred of being compared and always found lacking. Oh yeah, too many similarities. But then the predator would appear with his gold eyes and cold stare.

"But you don't care if your victims are good people or bad, do you?"

"Not especially, luv. I'm not in the judgment business." At this, Spike stood up straight and walked forward with a curious expression. "What are you thinkin’?"

"Would you mind if we went over to the west side? We'd have to get some sort of transportation, but we could do that, right? Maybe the bus?"

"And why would I want to go to the west side?" 

"I can't stand by and let you kill some bystander," he whispered, afraid that Spike would reject his idea or not care enough about his feelings to go so far for a simple meal, or even that the vampire might enjoy torturing him by having him watch another human die while he did nothing. 

"Pet, you have got to learn to put sentences together so they make sense." Spike reached out and put his hand on Xander's left shoulder, squeezing the scar gently before pulling Xander closer. "Now, what are you thinkin'?"

"If we go west, you could find a member of Sotel 13 over there—find someone who tries to hurt you, and then it wouldn't really be murder." Xander whispered into Spike's shoulder. The fear of having his idea rejected, the smell in the alley, and the thought of helplessly watching someone die allied in an assault on his stomach so that Xander could feel the muscle spasms as he tried not to vomit.

"Oi, not on the leather," Spike protested as he pushed Xander out of the alley and back into the direction they had come from. "Don't mind goin' for a bit of take-out, so west it is," Spike agreed. "We go back for the bike."

"You have a bike? Okay, never mind, you obviously have a bike or we couldn't go back for it." Xander blurted out in one breath even though all he wanted to do was thank Spike for listening to him, for not making him watch some college student die. Okay, that also meant that he had to watch a gang member die, and how disturbing was it that watching that made his happy-list for the day? Xander considered that last thought the entire walk back to the truck yard and to a side lot where a Honda motorcycle in black waited. Before he had a chance to even compliment Spike on the bike, Spike had taken the leather bag, secured it to the back of the bike, and swung into his place at the front. 

"Comin' mate?" Spike asked as he held out a hand.

"Thanks," Xander replied quietly as he took Spike hand and quickly settled in behind the vampire. He only hoped that Spike knew that his gratitude covered the whole side trip to the west side. A little voice in the back of Xander's mind told him that *master* must value him if *master* listened to him, but Xander forcefully stuffed that back into his rapidly growing denial pit in the back of his mind as he reviewed his current goals. He leaned into Spike's strong body as he reflected. 

Okay, Goal One: Warn Gunn that something was up. Maybe he could tell Gunn that he had hooked up with a more experienced vampire hunter—which was technically true since they were hunting a vampire. He didn't have to mention that he was the bait in this little hunt. Goal Two: Not get killed. Possible as long as he didn't make fun of, laugh at, compare, or insult the vampire and as long as vampire number one didn't accidentally lose him to vampire number two. Goal Three: Get Free. Xander knew that he should probably amend that to "kill vampire," but for all the vampires he had seen turn to dust, he didn't want to see that happen to Spike. He was too human for that. Maybe he could sneak away—okay, not likely, at least not without leaving the state. Maybe Spike would let him go if he helped get Cassidy—a chance there, a small chance but a very real chance if Xander could judge character. If not, he knew that killing Spike would be the only option. 

By the time Xander had finished mentally reviewing just how much trouble he was in and just how likely Spike was to allow him to go free, the motor of the bike had stopped, and Spike held the bike steady, waiting. It took Xander a minute to realize he was waiting for Xander to get off.

"So, this is your hunt, luv. Where do we go from here?"

"We walk?" Xander answered uncertainly. He had always avoided this part of town, and now he knew why. Graffiti covered the buildings, and Xander guessed that if he spoke Spanish he'd be really embarrassed by what it said, at least if some of the more graphic pieces of graffiti were anything to judge by. He turned his back on a spray-painted outline of a woman with attributes that would have left a real woman unable to walk without help. He stepped closer to Spike, and he felt a cool arm slip around his waist.

"Don't have to stay," whispered a voice.

"Not letting you eat a housewife," Xander replied as he tried to stand up on his own, but Spike hand remained so that Xander simply managed to pull both of them one step away from the bike. A couple of passing pedestrians glared at them, and he even heard an overweight woman with a canvas bag snort in disgust. Normally, that would have sent Xander running for a hiding place, but he had trouble feeling ashamed of his homosexuality and his arm, which had found its way around Spike's waist, when he had brought Spike here to kill. So, he simple rolled his eyes at the woman and snorted back.

"Subtle luv," Spike laughed as he started pulling him down one street. 

Xander looked and spotted a graffiti covered payphone not twenty feet away. He stood there staring so long that Spike finally turned a quizzical look his way.

"I need to call my mom."

"And say what? Sorry, mum, but I got kidnapped and don't think I'll be home tonight?"

"Are you going to kill me, Spike?" He needed to hear the answer.

"No. Told you that already."

"Then I need to call her. If I'm never going back, then she can start grieving now, but if I'm going back, I can't worry her like this. I can't just leave her to wonder where I am."

"And what exactly do you plan on tellin' her?"

"I'll think of something, but please, don't make her worry," Xander turned his best begging eyes towards Spike, the eyes that had gotten his mother to buy him a bike, the eyes that had made his first girlfriend let him touch her boobies.

"Bloody hell, don't look at me like that," the vampire complained before starting toward the phone. 

After a brief conversation where he made up lies as fast as he could think them up, he convinced his mother that his new job included riding to San Francisco in one of the trucks in order to check on a problem with the inventory. He even impressed himself with his calm lies, and Spike's half-smile made it clear that Spike approved as well. However, it didn't escape him that he'd had to argue to get the phone call to his mother; Spike would never let him call Gunn.

"Thank you," he whispered after he hung up the phone.

"Had a mother too, once," Spike pointed out. "Now let's hunt." Spike started walking down the street.

"Spike, if we leave that bike, it won't be here when we get back."

"It’s okay. I stole it, so not my loss. 'Course I also don't plan on having to go far." Spike pulled him into another alley.

"Are all you guys this predictable?" Xander tried to count the number of vamps the crew had dusted by setting up a trap in an alley.

"Tried and true, innit?. If you lot didn't build cities with perfect little killin' spots, it wouldn't be an issue." Spike agreed amiably as he pulled Xander closer. Xander wondered if he could go to hell for feeling so good during such a disturbing moment, but he had saved some innocent shopper from being dinner.

"Cabron" hissed a voice from the other end of the alley. Xander physically jumped and tried to turn, but Spike simply chuckled in his ear and continued to hold on. Obviously, the vampire had heard the speaker before he had spoken.

"Listen chilito, you're on our ground," came a second voice, and now Xander tensed as he heard multiple footsteps coming up from the back of the alley.

"Yeah, joto."

"Do I want to know what they're saying?"

"Probably not," Spike offered with a grin right before releasing Xander and turning around so that Xander found himself behind Spike's back. Even from that relatively sheltered position, he could see the three boys walking toward them. Boys in age anyway. These three clearly had some experience in fighting from the way they walked and the way they swung heavy chains from fists. At least two swung chains; the third, Xander realized as the group approached, carried a long and wicked-looking knife. He wondered if they had guns that they simply hadn't bothered to pull out faced with two lonely victims in an alley. They were going to need bigger weapons soon because Spike had started that strange half-bounce on the balls of his feet. Spike wanted action.

"I realize it's hard to make good decisions when you're thick as pigshit, but you soddin' gits are in way over your heads. Might want to go home to mummy, boys." Xander watched as Spike's words inspired one of the chain-wielders to swing his weapon. Quicker than Xander could watch, Spike had somehow pushed that boy face first into a building and taken the chain. Spike now swung the chain in a lazy arc as he paced the alley between Xander and the remaining two attackers. 

"Last chance to run, gimboids,” Spike offered as the speed of his chain increased until Xander couldn't make out the chain but instead only saw the blur as it moved.

"You and your friend are gonna die, mayate," the taller of the remaining assailants promised darkly. Xander couldn’t restrain a small laugh at that—although he didn't know whether it came from the ridiculousness of these two trying to take out Spike or the bizarre fact that one more person now threatened him. Considering he was only a sidekick, he seemed to attract a lot of attention lately.

"Think not," was Spike's only answer as the chain came down on one boy's head even as the second boy had a near fatal meeting with Spike's elbow. All three now lay unconscious and bleeding. "I take it you're alright with me feeding on them?" Spike asked as he pulled a knife from his own boot and reached down for the tallest boy. Xander looked away when he saw the knife slide into the boy's neck. Perhaps the shock of seeing the boy die slowed him down. Maybe the emotional drain of the last 24 hours had finally taken its toll. Maybe he just didn't know how to keep himself out of trouble because Xander suddenly found himself face to face with an unfamiliar set of ridges and fangs. Xander felt the new vamp's hands on his shoulders at the same time he felt the air rush by his ear as Spike's fist passed on its way to break the vamp's nose. With a scream, the new vamp fell back toward the street, and Xander felt himself pulled back even as Spike reached forward and yanked the vampire back into the shadows. Xander now watched a second vampire slink into the alley.

"Master?" the second vamp's voice sounded unsure, maybe even hopeful.

"Not soddin' yours," Spike growled in reply as he glared down at the vampire who lay bleeding at his feet. "You touch what's mine and I'll kill you," he calmly announced as he pulled out a stake. With an almost snake-like strike, Spike had plunged the stake into the fallen vampire and then pulled it back before the body could even turn to dust. Now Spike moved and stood between Xander and the new vamp. Xander curled his fingers around Spike's arm in fear, seeking protection.

"Master?" it repeated as it inched closer to one of the fallen fighters. Xander watched in fascination as the vampire tilted its head even as it crept toward the still-breathing body. He felt like he had front row seats at a National Geographic special on lions, with the problem being that he had nothing between him and two fierce predators acting out some sort of ritual.

"Whose are you?" Spike finally growled, and the new one froze in place.

"My master's gone," he whined quietly as he tilted his head even more. Xander looked at the torn clothes, the dirt caked onto the vampire's skin, the greasy brown hair, and he recognized the type of vampire he knew and fought. However, when he encountered these types of vamps, they usually made a dive straight for his neck, and this one didn't even look at him after Spike's little declaration of ownership. 

"If you displeased him, you won't find a place at my side."

"I didn't, master. My master died. The other master killed him." Oh yeah, the whining was really getting annoying now.

"You should’ve followed him, then." Spike declared coldly even as the brown-haired vamp sunk even lower to the ground.

"I couldn't. I can't find him. He killed my master with magic." Now the brown haired vamp had obsequiously lowered himself all the way to the ground with his forehead touching the cement.

"Then follow your old master," Spike ordered as the stake struck out again and a second pile of dust drifted to the cement.

"Well, that's disturbing," Spike commented as he hurried Xander out of the alley.

"Yeah," Xander agreed quietly. "He was kinda pathetic."


"The second vamp. He really seemed a little pathetic—I could see what you meant about them being like kids."

"That was not a childe." Xander looked up at the voice which carried both amusement and steel. "And I am not disturbed by one less mindless minion in the world. What does disturb me is the thought of some master using the mojo." Spike must have seen the confusion because with a sigh he amended his sentence. "The magic. Some master is using magic."

"Vamps don't normally do that, right?" Xander asked as Spike got on the bike and then waited for Xander to join him. Even the leather bag had survived the thieves, but Xander barely even glanced at it; he had other thoughts circling his consciousness. 

"No, vamps usually avoid the mojo—it can backfire when the undead try throwin' it around."

"Writing strange letters in blood; that would be magic, right?"

"Big mojo in blood, pet. What do you know?" 

"The vamps who killed Fredrick, they used his blood to write letters," Xander said as he raised his leg over the bike and finally settled in behind the vampire.

"Really?" Spike sat silently on the bike for several second. "We'll check that out after we run you by a few demon noses." 

"Um, Spike?"


"What was up with that knife?" Xander remembered the knife Spike had used to slice open the gang member's neck.

"Makes it easier to clean up. Knife wound looks like human business and don't attract extra attention. When I'm traveling, I feed and let the locals make up some logical explanation, but when I'm in a place for too long, I like to cover my tracks." Spike reached out a hand to start the engine, and he could see the shaking. He wondered if the desire to not attract attention with messy kills had come before or after Dru's death.

He pushed in behind Spike and wondered just what the hell was going on. Was there some sort of magic revolution going on in the vampire community, or did Fredrick's death connect to a homeless vamp halfway across the city. And the timing of Dru's death to the increased vampire activity didn't escape Xander. He remembered a line out of some book he had read for a book report. Something like, "Once is luck. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." He wondered how much enemy action was taking place behind the scenes.



Chapter 10


By the third demon bar, Xander's knees ached, his head pounded, and he was bored. No, more than that; he was BORED. Xander shifted his weight a little to the side to take his weight off the bruised part of his knee, and this left him leaning against Spike's leg. Spike reached down and slid his fingers through curly hair even as he continued his conversation with the two other vamps and the green horned demon that sat at the table with him. Xander resisted the urge to slap the hand away; he knew that Spike was simply showing the others his ownership, but that ownership made Xander squirm, both physically and psychologically. He slid even farther to the side, throwing more weight onto Spike's leg and moving off the bruised part of his knee altogether. He sighed in relief as he found a semi-comfortable or at least non-painful position for the first time in quite a while. He only hoped that Spike planned to leave soon because he desperately needed to stretch his legs.

"Shuman's noth strained well," hissed a voice behind him, and Xander struggled to not turn and look at a demon that would produce such a snake-like sound. Why did it have to be a snake? He hated snakes, and this one talked worse than Spike although Xander did catch that the demon was insulting his training and not his straining. Well, unless the demon had some bizarre cooking preference that Xander really didn't want to know about.

"Well 'nough," Spike returned as Xander felt cool hands pull him even farther into the lean. Letting Spike's hand guide him, Xander allowed his head to fall to the side and rest against Spike's thigh, and he tried really, really hard not to think about the possibilities if he just turned his head to face the other way. However, Xander Jr. obviously wasn't going along with this non-fantasizing pact if the tightness in his pants were any indication. When he heard Spike's knowing chuckle, he also wished the damn vampire would just stop sniffing him at the exact point when he would suffer the most embarrassment.

"Snoth sithing righth. Disgrassseful." Xander couldn't help gasp when a decidedly snakelike being with a pointed, reptilian snout and lizard-like claws slid into view. Where the hell did these things hide during the day? Yes, this was L.A. and people tended to ignore the odd…well…oddball, but not even an L.A. native would be able to ignore this thing slinking down the street. Although to be fair, the powerful back legs and thick tail dragging behind did make the creature do more of a march-strut rather than actually slink. Xander ignored the fear crawling up his into his now-nearly empty stomach and he remained nearly lying in Spike's lap. He almost blessed Spike when he felt cool fingers slip under the neck of his shirt to play with the well-bruised scar. For once, he allowed himself to happily fall into the half-daze lust-filled fog that followed.

"Don't know 'bout that. He's done well enough by me, especially since that bond isn't mine." A snaky hiss followed that remark, and Xander didn't even try to interpret that noise. Instead he floated along on his little lust-trip.

"Then whossse?"

"Take a sniff, mate." Xander didn't even fully decode the meaning behind Spike's words before a brownish snout with two yellow eyes suddenly darted into his personal space—far into his personal space as the mouth dropped open and the creature inhaled deeply mere centimeters from Xander's neck.

"Gah," Xander yelled as he jerked backwards and fell on his butt behind Spike's chair. The vampire merely laughed, but the snake-thing's eyes narrowed and the snout pushed forward towards Xander.

"Ruuuth," it hissed and Xander couldn't tell if the thing was going for 'rude' or talking in some demon language, which Spike had done once or twice tonight. Of course the thing might be calling him Ruth, but he didn't think he looked like a Ruth.

"Back-off rat-breath," Xander barked as he scuttled backwards across the cold tile floor using his hands and still mainly sitting on his butt. God, no wonder his knees hurt, didn't any of these places use carpet? Xander knew he had reached the land of panic and mental babble when it occurred to him that the tile probably made it easier to clean the blood—like the blood he was about to spill if the look on snake-boy's face were a portent of the future. 

"Disgrassseful," the head hissed as back legs stepped forward, one rear claw catching at the edge of his gray jeans so that he couldn't move back any farther. Now the panic started to truly build. Xander looked over toward Spike who sat back with his chin cradled in one hand as he watched the show. Xander felt a genuine burning in his chest and stomach at the expression of amusement and disinterest evident in Spike's face. No rescue there. Well the vampire had warned him not to do anything to disgrace Spike and Xander knew that vampires were unreliable, but the warmth still reached his eyes and Xander fought off the tears that threatened. 

"Hey, I think I squashed one of your cousins, yesterday," Xander blurted. If he died, he would die with as much dignity as he could muster considering the whole crowd had seen him groveling at Spike's feet for the last hour or so. "Little guy, four or five inches long, ran on four legs, long tail. He got in my way so I stepped on him and watched his guts come bursting out his back end." Oh yeah, that got a reaction. The open mouth now sported two fangs that had dropped down from the roof of the mouth like some sort of horror-movie monster. Oh shit. Xander could see saliva or poison or something else slimy and juicy sliding down the fangs, and he looked up defiantly. Just let this be quick, he prayed. Either that or let him learn how to shut up for once in his soon to be ended life.

"Shuman thrashhh. Filthhhhy slittle anmallll." 

"You know, you might want to get that lisp taken care of, they teach English classes over at the community college." Okay, not learning how to shut up. Xander expected the strike, he just didn't expect the form it took. Snake boy lifted up a thick leg and held it over his chest.

"See if your guthsss bursths," snake boy hissed as the foot began its descent. Xander felt his stomach muscles contract even though he knew it wouldn't do any good. Very shortly not only his blood but his guts would lie on this floor and someone would thank the owner for having the foresight to put down tile. Before the clawed foot even made contact, Spike stood over him and snake boy lay on his back on the other side of the room. The broken table and scattered chairs suggested that Spike had tossed snake-boy away, but Xander must have closed his eyes or blacked out for the one important second because he had seen and heard nothing. One moment he faced certain death; the next, Spike stood over him with a bored expression and a cigarette hanging from one hand.

"He's mine now; you don't touch what's mine," Spike casually announced to not just the snake-boy but also the rest of the clients.

"Noth strained," snake-boy complained again as he stood up, a piece of broken wood held in one claw. Xander looked up at Spike in panic, but the vampire simply stood with that look of eternal indifference. 

"He minds me. You got problems with his trainin' in general, you go talk to Cassidy. After all, he was Cassidy's for nearly four years and he's been mine for one night." At that, the snake-boy hesitated, obviously unsure. 

"Spike's right. Boy smells of Cassidy's mark, so if he offended you, you go see Cassidy about that," the green horned demon added from his place at the table—a place from which he had never moved. The two vamps now stood, obviously nervous at the disruption. For a moment, no one in the bar moved, and Xander felt like he had been transported to some slow-motion reality. Then the snake-boy nodded.

"I'll thelll him," snake boy insisted as he picked his way through the table splinters littering the floor and walked to the door.

"Come on then, pet." Spike held out his hand, and Xander took it, allowing the vampire to pull him upright onto his decidedly shaky legs. Spike walked back to his chair and dropped into it heavily. Xander groaned, but put his hand of the seat back so that he could lower himself to his knees without causing too much more bruising. The two vamps had returned to their places, but Xander could see them darting suspicious looks from him to Spike to the retreating snake-boy.

"Hurt?" Spike asked without turning to face him.

"Yes." Xander waited a moment to see if Spike would relent and offer him a chair or leave the bar, but the vampire remained silent. With a sigh, he lowered himself onto his bruised knees and tried to avoid whimpering when his weight crushed the skin of his knees between the bony knee-cap and the hard tile floor. Xander closed his eyes tightly and tried to concentrate on all the little pains, the aching back, the stiff shoulders, the headache, in order to avoid the big pain that radiated up from his knees and flowed down to make his entire lower leg tingle and twitch. He felt a hand at his neck, and he wanted to argue, he wanted to protest, but he couldn't find the strength. His whole body shook with the knowledge that he had almost died. He allowed Spike to pull him closer, but this time, the hand pulled him so that he knelt between Spike's knees and now had to hunch over even more since he found himself totally underneath the table.

"Sit," Spike gently ordered, and Xander happily allowed himself to fall to the side, his knees finally released from the burden of holding all his weight. He pulled his knees up and sighed before he felt the fingers in his hair. At first they simply petted, as Spike usually did, but then they closed into a fist and Xander felt his head being gently pulled back toward the vampire. Rather than argue about it, he followed Spike's touches as the vampire used his foot and his hold on Xander's hair to arrange him so that he rested with his back against Spike's left leg and his legs curled Indian style on either side of Spike's right leg. He let his head fall back against Spike's knee and he stretched his back until he felt bones pop. 

At that moment, Spike laughed; however, he didn't know whether his popping bones or the conversation at the table had inspired the laugh. He had listened in on the conversation in the first demon bar, but after that Xander had been too distracted by the various aches and pains to really pay attention. Now that the pain had eased, he found himself listening once again. This conversation proved far more interesting than the first one where Xander had finally stopped listening when Spike and a stone-skinned demon discussed the best ways to keep evisceration victims alive as long as possible. Very disturbing.

"Boy should be better trained." 

"He'll get there. Besides, I don't fancy bringin' him to places like this regular-like."

"So you did bring him here just to embarrass Cassidy."

"Not my fault the git can't keep track of his own pets. He lost the boy, I picked 'em up."

"He's going to gut you for this. I don't care what happened between the two of them, he will kill both of you for embarrassing him."

"He'll try." At this, he could almost hear Spike smirk. The two vampires stayed silent as Spike and the demon talked, but from his place under the table, Xander could see them shuffle their feet nervously. What the hell did they have to be nervous about, he was the one sitting defenseless under a table in a room with lord knows how many demons who considered him part of this nutritious breakfast. Xander amused himself with thoughts of what demon commercials advertising breakfast foods might look like; at least, he amused himself until his memory filled in the image of one of the many vampire victims he had seen lying on the street. Okay, he definitely had slipped round the bend somewhere in the last couple of days.

"Your arrogance is going to get you killed. Hell, arrogance is going to take out the entire Aurelius line, what of it remains,” Spike’s demon friend pointed out.

"It can take the rest of the line, don't care. But if Cassidy comes for me, It'll be that wanker's last mistake." Xander's eyes had fallen closed, but coolness on his lips caused him to open his eyes to the sight of a piece of melon pressed against his lips. Oh no. The one thing he had told Spike was that he wouldn't eat out of Spike's hand. For god's sake, leave him some dignity. However, Spike's heavy right boot slid in closer to Xander, pressing on the still engorged cock, and Xander opened his mouth rather than get into an argument he couldn't win. He chewed silently as Spike switched to petting him like the family dog. Just don't react, Xander kept telling himself, but he didn't know whether his self-commandment applied to not reacting to the pressure against his cock by coming all over himself or not reacting to the humiliation by smacking Spike's hand away. Maybe both. 

"How did you do it, anyway?" the deep voice asked in obvious awe. "How can he sit at your feet so happily while the bond holds him to Cassidy?" Xander suppressed the urge to snort at the word happily.

"Cassidy can't control anythin'. He can't hold his pets; he can't protect his territory or his minions. Anyone who follows him is goin’ to get taken by a stronger master or left to die." Oh boy, vamp feet really shifted at that, he noticed as he ate another piece of melon from Spike hand. Yeah, he was going to make the bleached wonder pay for this later.

"Master Spike," started a slightly higher and more nasally voice, "he is powerful."

"Oi, not unless his only competition's minions, he's not. My sire could kick his ass, easy. Me, I'd be more likely to eviscerate him and stake him out to see the sunrise. May do that yet if I can ever find the tosser." After this silence fell over the table and Xander sat eating one piece of fruit after another, long after he had enough. Either the four of them were doing something silent like playing cards or they were having the world's longest staring contest. Either way, Xander eventually grew even more bored and fell asleep leaning against Spike's leg.

"Pet, wake up." Xander sat up and promptly smacked his head into something thin and very solid.


"Hey, no damaging the goods there, luv," Spike ordered with a small laugh, and Xander opened his eyes to find himself curled under Spike's chair. Sound asleep on the floor. Oh yeah, this really did a world of good for his manly self-image, he thought to himself as he slid backwards to free himself from the chair without hitting his head on the rung, again. 

"What? How long was I asleep?" Xander looked around the room and realized that the clientele had significantly changed. Before the only three vamps in the room, including Spike, all sat at the one table. Now when he looked around, he saw game-faced vamps in twos and threes throughout the room. Xander still sat on the floor, but he pushed himself closer to Spike, settling in between his legs and hoping that none of these vamps were Cassidy or Cassidy's minions.

"Long enough," Spike answered his question before pushing back his chair and holding out a hand to help him stand. He had to brace himself on the table until he could work a stiff left leg loose enough to actually walk on, but Spike continued to stand there, seemingly unconcerned even though Xander could see him making regular sweeps of the room with golden eyes. Even more importantly, the vampire leaned on one leg while the other rested on the rung of the now-abandoned chair. And the resting leg bounced. It bounced so hard that Xander expected the rung to break at any time. 

Standing firm on both his sore legs, he pushed closer to Spike, his only form of protection in a room full of blood thirsty monsters. It did occur to him that Spike was a monster too, but at least he was a less blood thirsty monster, or maybe just a monster too polite to talk to and chew on the same person. Xander counted on the vampire telling the truth about that as he felt an arm circle a waist and he leaned into Spike's embrace. ‘Better the devil you know’ he thought to himself.

"Thanks for the drink, mate," Spike said as he nodded toward the green demon that still sat in the same spot. The two vampires had disappeared from the table.

"Any time, Master Spike," the demon replied as Xander felt himself pulled from the room. He followed compliantly as Spike guided him out to the parking lot and then to the waiting bike. In the parking lot, a few people stood under street lights and he wondered if these were more vamps. If so, the number of vamps at this one bar easily equaled the number of vamps he normally saw in a year. He suppressed a shudder and wondered what the hell had gone on while he slept like a dog under its master's chair. Yeah, he really didn't like that image at all. 

Spike quickly mounted the bike and Xander followed, willing to do anything to get away from the stares that followed him from those strangely silent watchers. Spike drove several blocks, dodging around cars and changing directions so fast that he just knew he would die before the night ended, and not from a vampire bite either. Finally, Spike pulled the bike into a Wal-Mart parking lot and turned off the engine.

"Right, now where's this place with the mojo?" Spike asked, but Xander found himself still unable to completely regain his breath from the moments of unadulterated panic caused by the short ride.

"What the hell," he finally gasped. Spike only looked back at him over a leather-clad shoulder with impassive blue eyes. "Are you trying to kill me? If so, could you pick a quicker method?" That earned a quick flick of an eyebrow and a half-smile. 

"Wot? Don't trust my drivin'? Been drivin' since before you wore nappies." 

"Please don't explain that, I've reached my limit for grossness this evening. I just want to go home or back to your lair or wherever I'm going to sleep tonight. I hurt and I'm not feeling very friendly toward you right now."

"Pet," Spike growled, and Xander lowered his head so that his forehead rested against Spike's back in defeat.

"What Spike?"

"I need to know where that place is." Xander didn't look up, but he could imagine the gold eyes glaring at him from just the tone. Clearly he had reached another of those choiceless moments. 

"Straight south of Glitters on the west side of the road, an old theater called Efrian's House."

"Yeah, know the place. Went there a time or two in the thirties; it had sewer access and one of the old masters liked the place." The bike started and Xander found himself alone with his thoughts. The city had slowed and quieted. Lights still shone and cars passed by at illegal speeds, but the pedestrians had disappeared and most of the apartment windows remained dark. It must be about 3 or 4 am, later than Gunn and the others usually hunted, but they might still be on the street. 

Having seen Gunn and the crew going up against what he now understood to be minions, and seeing Spike going up against minions, he worried what would happen if Gunn met Spike. Unless Gunn or one of the guys got in a lucky hit, Spike would take them all out without working up a sweat. And even worse, Gunn and the guys fought vamps so often that they wouldn't even hesitate to attack a single vampire. Xander closed his eyes and sent up another prayer for the evening. He wondered whether his sudden increase in prayer counterbalanced the fact that he had taken up with a soulless killer. 

When the bike finally stopped in front of the familiar theater, Xander immediately slid off and looked in the opposite direction. Thoughts of Fredrick assaulted him so suddenly that he wondered for a moment if the man's spirit hadn't returned to harass the loser who had failed him.

"Pet? This it?" Spike asked and when he turned to look, Spike gazed back curiously, his head actually cocked to one side as though trying to hear something. 

"Yeah." Another long silence and curious gaze.

"You wait here then," Spike finally announced as he turned to go into the building.

"Don't you want…" Xander suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed in the feeble light of the only streetlight a half block away.

"Wait," the retreating figure ordered without breaking stride. Xander watched Spike disappear, making sure the vampire actually entered before he took off at a dead run. Two blocks, that's all he had to make. Two blocks. He ran until his breath came in ragged gasps and then he spotted the goal. Please let it work, please let it work. He slid to a stop in front of the booth and considered his options. 

The cell phones the crew used were temporaries and could get disconnected at any time. Besides, they probably wouldn't take a collect call. That last part worried Xander. He knew his mother would take a call, but he didn't want to pull her into it, so he called the only other number he could remember. Not easy to forget a number like 555-HARD, especially when that number connected to Glitters. Hopefully T would still be there cleaning up or doing paperwork. Xander picked up the receiver and almost cried when he heard the dial tone. Dialing the operator, he quickly asked for a collect call.

Every ring of the phone left Xander in agony as he watched the sidewalk for signs of either Spike or the motorcycle. 

"Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up," he chanted as he listened to each ring. Finally the line picked up and Xander could hear T agree to accept the charges. 

"Darlin' are you alright?" came the familiar disembodied voice, and Xander felt his knees shake as he reconnected with his old life. For one minute he just wanted to cry and beg T to come and get him, but inside he knew the consequences. Spike might choose to set him free, but if he tried running Spike would kill him and anyone else who might try to help. Xander couldn't take that chance.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he finally answered in the strongest voice he could muster. 

"Where the hell are you? Gunn and the boys have been worried enough they actually brought their paranoid asses into my club. They still refused to eat my food, but one step at a time."

"I'm with a friend," Xander explained as he tried not to choke over the word. "Did they tell you about Fredrick?"

"Hell, honey. Nobody blames you for that, not even that asshole Luther. I hope I never have to talk to that man again. Lord, how do you put up with him?"

"Luther's okay. I just need to get a message to Gunn, and I thought you could get it over there for me."

"If that's what you want, sure. You know, you could come over and we could sit in the kitchen eating stale potato chips while you gave me the message." Xander struggled for a moment with a real desire to just say yes. To run for the club even knowing that he would never make it, and even if he did, the club was open to the public, meaning open invitation for vampires. In the end he decided he valued both his own life and T's life far too much to make such a stupid move at this point. 

"No, I'm heading for bed after this, so I'm really not up for the whole potato chip feast. I hooked up with a vampire hunter," Xander began as he carefully constructed his story to neither lie nor completely tell the truth. 

"Blondie from the other night?" T asked and Xander nearly dropped the phone.

"How could you…"

"The boys said he had a dangerous look and a real interest in you, so tell me what your hunter told you."

"The vamps that killed Fredrick, they aren't normal vamps. Most vamps are minions, young and fairly easy to kill." Xander ignored T's snort of disbelief at that comment. "But these might be masters. What's more, it seems like at least one or two of these vamps are using magic, which isn't normal. Gunn's got to be more careful—keep the crew together—because something's happening. Some sort of vampire war has started, and if gang wars can take out neighborhoods, I don't even want to get between two feuding vampires." Xander managed the last part without choking over the irony that whether he wanted it or not, that's exactly where he found himself: between two feuding vampires.

"Xander, maybe you'd better come in."

"I can't T. Spike really does need me, and I need to get the vamps who killed Fredrick."

"Getting yourself killed won't bring him back, darlin'. You get your white ass back to Gunn's place before he tears that neighborhood up looking for you."

"T, I can't" Xander resisted the urge to scream out the whole tale, but he couldn't put someone else in danger, and he knew that T and Gunn and even Carlos and Luther saw him as the weak link, the damsel in distress who needed saving. That used to bother him a lot more, but now he simply accepted his shortcomings. However, now he had to work his way out of this without pulling his friends in with him, and if he couldn't, he needed to die without taking more of his friends with him. "Look, I'm really sorry about missing work, but I really gotta go."

"Fuck work," T insisted. "Your job and your paycheck are waiting, we discussed this. Of course, quite a few of the customers missed you terribly, but they'll live. Right now I'm worried about you off playing Lone Ranger."

"I'm with Spike. Trust me, I am firmly in sidekick mode. We ran into two vamps, and I hid behind his back the entire time. Didn't even touch a stake." Xander glanced down the street again. Spike hadn't shown yet, but he couldn't count on the vampire's curiosity keeping him in that theater forever. "Look, I gotta get to bed; I'm wiped out."

"Alright, but you promise to come in if you need help."

"I promise, Mom," Xander teased, enjoying the feeling of normalcy no matter how short-lived. "Bye."

"I'll give Gunn the message, you take care." T finished and Xander put down the phone. For a moment, he leaned his forehead against the sticky plastic and tried to regain his equilibrium. He had made the right choice; he had made the only choice possible. After just a few seconds, he turned to make his dash back to the motorcycle, and he nearly dropped dead of a heart attack in that moment. Standing behind him in full game face, Spike waited.


Chapter 11


"Aaahhhhgg," he screamed, his knees giving way as he headed straight for the sidewalk.  Spike stood there, unmoving as Xander fell to the ground and held his upper body off the ground only by leaning on the base of the payphone.

"Told you to stay," Spike pointed out in such cold tones that Xander knew he wasn't facing the same snarky Brit with the strange sense of humor.  Something primitive and instinctive drove this creature, and Xander could feel a part of himself respond. 

"I just had to warn my friends," Xander began, but the low growl warned him that he had taken the wrong approach.  "I'm sorry," he amended his response.  The growl continued.

"I told you to stay."  This time Spike stepped forward and now Xander could see the chain hanging from his hand. 

"Spike?" Xander's eyes remained fixed on the chains as he realized how much damage the vampire could do without actually killing him.  After all, as long as he was alive and smelt of Cassidy, it didn't really matter what kind of shape he was in.  He could be lying in a coma in the backroom of a demon bar, and Spike's plan would still work.  He could feel his heart beat faster as he tried to think of the words that would calm the angry vampire and prevent his possibly imminent mutilation.

"I didn't tell them anything about you.  I didn't betray you," he began, but Spike remained unconvinced, his game face forward and a soft growl filling the night.  "I shouldn't have done it," Xander tried again and the volume of the growls sharply increased.  Suddenly a hand shot out and encircled his wrist in a painful grip.  Xander didn't fight when Spike pulled him to his feet and quickly wrapped several lengths of chain around his hands before adding a padlock.  Xander stayed quiet even though the individual links in the chain dug into his skin and he actually found himself wishing for the manacles from the lair.  Hadn't Spike brought them?  Of course, maybe the vampire used the chain because it caused more pain.  Xander didn't know and he didn't stop to debate the point as Spike pulled him down the street toward the bike.  Spike quickly swung on and then pulled at the chain so sharply that Xander nearly ended stomach down over the seat.  He quickly threw a leg over the seat and settled himself without another word. 

The ride home threatened to end Xander's life several times: when Spike played chicken with a truck, when he took a turn so sharply that Xander nearly slid off, and when the vampire pulled the chain sharply enough to throw Xander forward and cause the bike to take several sliding detours as Spike struggled to bring the bike under control.  Xander tried not to make noise above the involuntary screams that periodically erupted when his life flashed before his eyes.  When Spike finally pulled into the truck yard through a side gate, he found himself grateful to return to the relative safety of the lair.  And yes, the irony of that statement did amuse him; he definitely needed therapy.

When Spike pulled him off the bike, Xander continued with the lamb to the slaughter routine, hoping to break through to the real Spike before the vampire did something that Xander would regret later, even if Spike didn't.  Silently they passed the trucks and descended into Spike's home before Spike removed the chain without a word.  Xander simply sat on the bottom step while Spike paced the concrete bunker, still showing his game face.

When Spike finally stopped pacing and turned to glare, Xander listened to the little voice in his head and dropped his gaze to the floor.  He had disobeyed Spike on so many issues tonight that he couldn't believe that Spike could lose so much control over this one.  At the first demon bar, he had tried to sit only to have Spike order him back up on his knees.  At the first bar Spike had also told him to stop looking at the other demons, an order which Xander knew full well he had broken at least a dozen times.  And then with snake-boy he had really screwed up, screwed up badly enough that Xander had thought Spike might let him die.  Why the fury now?

"I've got to make a call," Spike finally announced, and Xander glanced up to see Spike's human face showing.  He quickly dropped his eyes back down when a voice wailed in his own mind.  Shit, if he had lived anywhere else he wouldn't have to deal with this whole pseudo-possession thing, but no, his parents just had to move to L.A.  Why did the universe hate him? 

"Get over here, Spike ordered as he walked toward the far end of the room where bare concrete and empty space remained only dark since the lights over this section had either burnt out or Spike had turned them off.  Xander followed Spike into the shadows and sat where Spike pointed at the floor.  Before he even heard the noise of the chain, Xander felt the cold of steel closing around his throat and then the vampire disappeared back up the stairs and out of the lair. 

"Shit."  Xander tried to stand so he could stretch out, but he soon discovered that the chain was only about twelve inches long and attached to the wall so that he could neither stand up nor lay down.  Instead he sat waiting on the cold concrete until his ass hurt and the cold had soaked into his entire body.  How long could a human last like this, he wondered, 'cause Spike had already shown him around the demon bars, so technically Spike could just leave him here forever.  Water would probably be the first problem, but right now, he was more worried about the water that wanted to come out of him. 

He tried to distract himself from the fullness of his bladder and the soreness of his butt where the hard concrete dug into his flesh.  He tried counting.  First he went for vampires.  Numero uno had been Cassidy whose bite had nearly killed him.  Two nights later he had seen a middle-aged man, or what looked like one anyway, jump Gunn.  He had been following and had nearly died of panic, but the whole thing had been a set-up, and Luther merely staked the guy.  Several nights after that, a vamp had jumped him while he followed Gunn and company.  That led to his "demon magnet" reputation and one serious ass-chewing from Gunn.  Then the night he'd seen Alonna walking alone, he almost caught up to her before two demons jumped her, and again, it had been a trap that Xander nearly ruined.  This time Luther handled the ass-chewing.  Two vamps in the park.  The blonde girl vamp outside the theater.  The big, black vamp behind the school.  The two vamps Xander had seen the first time Gunn let him come along when raiding a nest.  That was the first time he had been invited instead of simply following the rest of them around.  After that the faces kind of blurred with one set of ridges and fangs looking like another.  Xander couldn't remember whether the nerdy one was next or the really skanky girl-vamp with the Goth makeup.

Xander leaned his head back against the cold wall, feeling so alone that he couldn't stop his miserable thoughts from wandering to a new list:  the people who'd abandoned him.  His parents had been first, he realized.  Even before they moved out of Sunnydale, they had been so busy fighting each other that their son got lost somewhere in the middle.  He remembered trying to fix his own supper at seven because they couldn't stop blaming each other long enough to notice their hungry child.  His mother had tried to make up for those early years, he really knew that.  But she still didn't really see him or know him.  After the divorce, his father had simply made the abandonment permanent.  Jesse had been next.  Wasn't really his fault, but Xander still felt the loss.  He had just moved to L.A., and he still kept up his weekly calls to the only two people who had ever really loved him unconditionally:  Jesse and Willow.  He remembered the night that he had called only to have Willow tell him that Jesse had died in a house fire.  He could hear her pain, and he wanted to say something to make it all better, but words had failed him.  Unfortunately, words just kept failing him.  He had tried to keep up his conversations with Willow, but she had simply stopped talking to him; he could hear it in her gaps, her pauses as she tried to figure out how to talk to him without telling him what she really thought.  His last fight with Willow had sent him walking the night Cassidy had bitten him.

After that, the losses became easier.  Tanisha had been his first girl-friend.  He had done all the normal sappy crap like carrying her books and one quick grab at the chest, and she had insisted that she didn't want to go farther until she married; she insisted all the way up until the day he found her in the back of the science lab with Alberto Reyes' hand up her skirt.  Yeah, that ended well.  Gabi had been next with her pony tail and track shorts that clung to her legs until Xander thought he would die from lust.  Obviously Xander Jr. had not yet sent the memo about liking guys.  Either that or Xander Jr. had trouble telling Gabi's gender because that girl could out-lift, outrun, and outfight him.  She had even worked with Gunn and his crew, ordering Xander around until Luther had started calling him "Gabi's white bitch."  When he started putting down some limits about what she could say to him, especially in public, that ended that relationship.  Pamee had been the last.  She treated him more like a walking science model, exploring the male body whenever she felt like it.  She had certainly brought him off a number of times, and she had allowed him, in returned, to do some naughty touching, but he hadn't even blinked when she walked up and announced they were over in the middle of the cafeteria.  Yep, he handled abandonment well.

Let's see, that came to seven.  He thought about his teachers for a moment, but none of them had even noticed him long enough to make an impression.  He had been the below average student who sat in the back of the room and didn't cause trouble.  His teachers returned the favor by ignoring him and passing him from one class to the next.  His various bosses, and he remembered many, had never seen him as more than another pair of hands, so they couldn't be accused of abandonment either, at least until T; Xander remembered the conversation on the phone, and he felt a physical ache as he thought about how concerned the man had sounded.  Of course, it now looked like it was his turn to do the abandoning, not that T would suffer in the long run since Xander had only worked there one night. Funny, but in one night Xander felt closer to T than he did to many people he'd known for months, maybe because the overheard conversation allowed him to know what the man really thought of Xander. Either way, the words he had overheard between T and Gunn meant a lot to him, and while T seemed to have a pretty unrealistic view of him, he liked that someone else might have stuck with him.

Only Gunn had stayed with him.  He could always count on Gunn even if he really screwed up.  Gunn's loyalty had taught Xander what it meant to be a man, which is why he couldn't disappear and leave Gunn and the guys in trouble.  Oh wait.  If vampires had clan leaders, they must follow one leader at a time, so trying to warn Gunn implied that he felt no loyalty to Spike, Xander suddenly realized.  But that didn't make sense; even Spike said that the bond connected him to Cassidy, so why did Spike expect loyalty, and why did he get so angry at that phone call when he had already broken a dozen of Spike's other 'rules'?

Xander reconsidered the whole evening.  When he hadn't stayed on his knees, he had disobeyed, but he had also leaned into Spike.  At the time Xander did it to relieve the pain and help with the whole "infuriate Cassidy" plan, but he could see how Spike might have seen that as a declaration.  Looking at other demons had certainly aggravated other demons on more than one occasion, but that didn't hurt Spike any, and during the whole adventure with snake-boy, he hadn't insulted or turned against Spike.  So the demon felt like he had declared some sort of loyalty only to have it snatched back when he ran for the phone.  Well shit, no wonder Spike had taken off; he was lucky the vampire hadn't beaten him senseless, not that he had that much sense to start with.

Xander felt better now that he had a plan; he would just wait up for Spike and then explain why Spike couldn't expect him to react like a vampire any more than he could expect Spike to act like a human.  Easy.  Xander sighed when he considered just how uneasy this could get. 

By the time Spike appeared, Xander had given up the pee fight; his wet and smelly jeans stuck to his body, and the cold now had a direct line from the concrete into the skin of his legs.  When the door opened, Xander waited patiently for Spike to come get him, but the vampire simply moved around the room as if he didn't have a wet, smelly, and badly cramping human chained to the far wall.  First he shrugged the coat onto the chair, and then he took the heavy book from earlier and deposited it on the shelf under the stereo.  With a flip, the small television jumped to life, and Xander could faintly hear the laughter of some sitcom as Spike got a bowl out of the cabinet, pulled out a cigarette, and lay out on the bed in his clothes.

Well fine, if that's the way Spike wanted to play, he could play that way too.  Xander pulled up his knees to try and keep some warmth closer to his skin.  What felt like decades later, Xander heard the familiar music of an early morning news show, and Spike stood up and flipped off the television.  However, just when he thought Spike would come and unlock the chain, he simply unbuttoned his shirt and threw it over the chair as he pulled back the blanket.  When the vampire made a disgusted noise and moved to the other side of the bed, Xander realized two things.  First, son of a bitch was going to bed, leaving him chained for the remainder of the day.  Second, they had never changed the sheets after yesterday's not-so-little deposit.

"Spike, come on," Xander whined.  He knew he was whining, but manly pride only went so far when compared to the threat of spending a miserable night in pee-stained jeans chained to a wall.  "Let me up and I'll change the sheets," he offered even though he had no idea whether Spike even owned clean sheets.  For a long moment, Spike stood silent and unmoving.  He only knew that Spike had heard because gold eyes flashed at him.

"Right then, you did make the mess."  Spike walked over, pulling a key out of his pocket, and Xander almost cried in relief.

"Spike, I'm really sorry…" he began, but the growl returned, and Xander took that as a small hint to stop before he ended up being food.  "Right, I'll just change the sheets."

"I'll get clean ones."  Spike started walking for the door to the hall, presumably for one of the three locked doors since there certainly weren't clean sheets in the bathroom.

"Could you get me some jeans or shorts or something that's not, you know, wet and kinda stinky."


"What?  Spike, in case you didn't notice, I'm kinda gross here."  Xander took a step forward and quickly realized that he would also be exceptionally sore if he walked for any length of time.  His wet, soft skin wouldn't survive the acidic urine and the rough denim.

"Get 'em off and drop 'em in the hall.  Shirt too," Spike ordered as he continued walking. 

For one second, Xander considered rebelling, but then he thought about his options.  Option one, Spike could just kill him.  Yeah, not of the good.  Option two, he could stay dressed and Spike might ignore him.  That just left his legs rubbed raw and a definite lack of sleep.  Option three, he could stay dressed and Spike could pull the clothes off him. Okay, most of him really didn't like that idea, and he was rapidly wishing he could just vote Xander Jr. off the island.  Okay, think unsexy thoughts until that problem went away.  Option four, he might piss off Spike enough to end up chained to the wall again. That would be a 'no.' Option five, Spike could just beat him senseless.  Okay, enough options, he obviously just had to strip. 

He walked into the hallway, no sign of Spike, and slipped out of his clothes.  Leaving the pile in the hall, he went into the bathroom to clean up and found a towel thrown across the sinks.  Wondering who Spike had left it for, he grabbed it up and headed into the shower.  After all, he could smell the stench himself, so he was simply saving the vampire from having to put up with human stink all day.  Xander showered as quickly as possible and came out still wearing the towel around his hips.  The clothes had disappeared.  Spike stood leaning against the cabinet in the main room, the ever-present cigarette hanging from one hand and a stack of sheets sitting on the end of the bed.

"Toss the towel by that first door," Spike directed without moving, and he only hesitated a fraction of a second before he turned and opened the hallway door so he could toss the towel as instructed.  Trying to concentrate on the task and not the fact he had to walk around naked, he quickly pulled the blanket off and dropped it on the floor before pulling the sheets loose so he could take them to the hall.  As he tugged, the far corner refused to give, leaving him the choice of either crawling across the bed to pull at the corner or walking around the bed and passing within inches of a still unmoving Spike.  Looking at the strangely motionless form, Xander decided that the lack of bounce meant he wasn't going to get hit, so he took a chance and slid by the vampire, turning his back so that Spike got as little of a view as possible. 

What really got him angry, though, was the fact that Spike was doing this just to put him in his place.  The vampire watched him, proving to him that he was weak and inferior and couldn't fight back, like he needed one more person showing him that.  A feeling of helplessness and rage simmered just below the surface as Xander did his work.

The stripping done, he turned to making the bed.  This time he had to walk within inches of Spike several times as he tucked elastic corners around the mattress before tucking in the top sheet.  He even had to bend over with Spike mere centimeters away from his raised butt as he pushed the bottom end of the sheet and blanket between the mattress and box spring.  Bed made, he stood awkwardly, not knowing how far to push this new Spike.  He crossed his arms self consciously before switching to covering his genitals with his hands before switching back to a crossed arm stance after deciding the whole hiding his genitals thing probably looked pretty stupid considering Spike had touched every part of him, even parts that he himself had never touched.

"Um, Spike?"

"Up in bed, then."  Xander quickly got in the bed and slipped under the covers.  Okay, try to find a way to explain human loyalties to the vampire, that's all he had to do.

"Are you going to, you know," Xander asked as he gestured with his two wrists held out together in front of him.  Was there a polite way to ask if a bed partner wanted to use the chains?  Hey, there could be a whole new career in advice columns for him if he survived this.  Spike simply looked back impassively, one eyebrow now raised in either surprise or confusion.

"You enjoy those, do ya'?" he asked, and Xander felt the immediate response in Xander Jr., who jerked to a sort of half-mast almost immediately.  He watched as both Spike's eyebrows made a run for the hairline.

"Can't say I like what your last chain did."  Xander fingered the tiny sore spots caused by the chain links digging into his wrists.

"Didn't mean ya' to enjoy it."

"Yeah, I got that." He watched as Spike walked over to the leather bag that he had just now noticed sitting by the wall.  When Spike stood up again, the familiar manacles with the wide wrist cuffs hung from one hand.  He never thought that he would be so happy to see manacles.  Spike walked over, and he offered his wrists without complaint or looking up.  The heavy cuff closed comfortably around his wrists and Spike locked the chain to the wall using the last link, so he would again have quite a bit of room to move.

"Smellin' nice there, luv."  He groaned when he realized that Spike meant Xander Jr. who had reached full size.  No matter how angry he was with the vampire, his body still reacted to the sight of that agile body moving with the grace of a cat.

"I wasn't this bad in high school.  I mean, I used to joke about getting turned on by linoleum, but I didn’t really mean it."

"So I turn ya' on?" Spike walked to the other side of the bed and slipped in under the covers and leaned against the headboard.

"I think you know that."

"More than the wanker you called tonight?"

"T?"  He looked over to Spike in surprise, ignoring the voice that demanded he drop his eyes.  "I'm not really attracted to T at all.  I mean he's nice, but the thought of the two of us in a bed…together?  That's kinda yuck."

"How about that other git you mentioned then.  Gunn innit?"  Spike's eyes narrowed, and Xander saw his opening.

“Spike, I’m not a vampire.”

“Think I noticed that you git.”

“Are you sure?  I mean, calling T didn’t mean the same thing to me that it would have meant to a vampire.  I'm not trying to get out of our deal or trying to get away; I just had to tell them what I know.  I had to warn them."

“Know that too.  If I didn’t, I would’ve strung you up on that wall and stripped the skin off your back.”  That made him stop and rethink his strategy.  He decided to go with the pathetically honest approach

“Then why are you so angry?”

“I may understand, but that doesn’t stop my demon from wantin' to make ya' hurt.”  That made him stop and worry.  He couldn’t exactly explain his way out of this if Spike already understood.



“Damn it!”  Now Xander felt the anger rise up.  How dare Spike take away the feeling of security he’d felt.  He knew he had no business feeling safe around a vampire, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he had, at least until Spike had refused to get over this.  “If you’re so damn angry, do something and get it out of your system," he demanded as he pulled on the chain.

“Don’t tempt me”

“I mean it. I’d rather have you smack me around some and then put up with this pissy fit.  I can’t take this.”  Xander trembled from the effort of suppressing his tears.  “I mean it, Spike,” he finished when he saw Spike’s look of confusion.

“Pet, don’t ever encourage my demon’s violence.” The words sounded like the old Spike, the one who laughed at him in the club and teased him after scaring the shit out him, but the tone still carried the coldness. 

“Spike, it couldn’t hurt worse than this thing you’re doing now.  Don’t shut me out.”  Even Xander could hear the tremor in his voice, so he knew that vampire ears could hear the pain in his voice.

“If you hadn’t gone and disobeyed me, wouldn’t be an issue.”

“Damn it, I can’t undo that.”

“Would you?” Now Spike stared at him with such an intense gaze that he couldn’t help but feel pressured to give the answer Spike wanted; however, he knew if he did that he might as well sign over a deed to his life.  He couldn't give up everything that made him Xander Harris without a fight; he couldn't become a creature who lived only to make Spike happy.

“I don’t know.  I think I probably would still call,” Xander said quietly, and he could see the instant fury in the gold rings around Spike’s eyes.  “I knew you’d be mad; I thought you might even hurt me, but I had to warn them.”  After that announcement, Xander waited for Spike reaction.  If Spike was going to hit him, this would be the time.

“Bloody hell,” Spike softly cursed.

“But I didn’t tell them about you,” Xander pointed out.  “They would want to know.  Hell, if they find out about you and then figure out that I had a chance to tell them and I didn’t, they’re going to be royally pissed off.  They may never trust me again.” Xander whispered the last part, realizing the truth only as he said the words.  Gunn and Luther would consider him a traitor, and he would definitely lose the job with T.  If any of them found out about his feelings for Spike, he would be lucky if they limited themselves to just beating the shit out of him.

“That your choice then?” Spike asked, and he had to think about what the vampire meant.

“I won’t just let them get killed,” Xander protested, “but yeah, I made my choice.”  Xander knew he was telling a half-truth, but he also knew that a certain part of him had chosen this sarcastic, pushy vampire.  The rest of him, the parts not on hiatus from common sense, decided to simply remained silent. 

“Can’t overlook my demon, pet.”  The voice had returned.  The voice that had humanity and humor and sarcasm and emotion in every syllable.  Xander felt a thread of panic begin to unwind from around his heart.

“If you can’t get over it, I meant what I said before.  I’d rather get hit than ignored, Spike.  Been ignored long enough.”  With those words, Xander knew he had just revealed more of himself than he had even done before.  He felt naked and vulnerable.  Okay, he actually was naked and vulnerable, but he felt emotionally naked and vulnerable.  When he looked up at Spike, the vampire's eyes had calmed into a pure blue and the face had a look of…compassion?  …understanding?  Spike stood and dropped his jeans to the ground.  After a moment he reached down, retrieved the key and unlocked one manacle.  Xander simply watched as naked Spike then slipped back into position in the bed.

Spike held his arm out to one side, and before Xander realized what he was doing, he had slid into Spike's arms and rested his cheek against a thin shoulder.  With superhuman ease, Xander felt Spike ease both of their bodies down onto the bed so that Spike lay on his back with Xander's free left arm and head resting on Spike's chest.  For a moment, he lay uncomfortably on the unmoving chest, unsure what to do or how to feel.  Then he felt the soft arms close in around his back, the hands joining in the small of his back as Spike settled in. 

That morning, or maybe the previous morning, Xander had woken to a feeling of contentment and security.  He had felt guilty and angry that a monster could stir feelings that even his own mother had failed to inspire for so long, but this time, he let himself admit what he felt:  safe.  Ironic that it came from a creature that ate humans, but Spike had fought his own nature to protect him.  Spike had listened to him and his ideas.  Spike wanted him and found him attractive.  He had to admit that, so far, Spike had treated him better than most people ever did.  No one, with the possible exception of Gunn, had ever taken so much time to look after him, and he let himself relax into that embrace. 



Chapter 12

When Xander next woke, he lay alone in the bed with his right arm twisted uncomfortably, the chain tangled with the sheet and pillow.  He sat up and worked at getting the chain loose before he noticed that Spike was nowhere to be seen.  Thinking back over the previous evening, he felt dirty.  How could he for one minute accept Spike's embrace?  How sick was he that he would trade in dignity for a hand job and a snarky smile? 

He threw himself down on his back and stared at the ceiling.  He had to find a way to get away before he completely lost himself in these feelings, especially since he now knew that many of the feelings weren't truly his.  Xander considered all his options, but he knew that in the end he had only one real choice:  kill Spike. Xander felt his whole body physically jerk and tense at that thought. Okay, so maybe the choice was closer to try and kill Spike because he didn't know if he actually could, but one murder attempt, and someone would die.  One way or the other, he would free himself.  Being dead had to be better than slowly losing his mind and his self-control.

He squirmed on the bed and prayed for Spike to get back soon; two days in a row of peeing himself wasn't good on the ego.  Shit, no wonder he was so damn messed up in the head—he spent his time waiting for and trying to please the very creature he should kill.  The internal howl started again, and Xander forcibly silenced it.  He chanted Sesame Street songs and gritted his teeth until the howl had retreated to some far corner.

He was busy singing, "Remember just to whisper softly into my ear, I won't leave and go away, You know I'm gonna be right here," when the voice interrupted him.

"What? And you complain about my music?"  Xander jumped at the sound of Spike voice.  Opening his eyes, he found a smiling vampire leaning against the open hallway door. 

"Spike!  Thank god.  I have to pee."

"I swear, you humans spend all your time either putting stuff in your body or sendin' it out again."  Spike may have complained, but he did walk over while pulling the key out of his pocket.  Xander waited for him to pull open the one manacle before pushing Spike out of the way and dashing for the bathroom.   He actually found himself grateful for his nudity because he wasn't sure he would have had time to pull down pants. 

"What the hell were you singing, pet?" floated in a voice from the other side of the metal half-wall.

"It's from Sesame Street; it's the llama song."

"Oi, you have to learn some musical taste."

"Hey, I like that second verse," he yelled back over the cubical wall since his bladder was still emptying itself.  Only once he had taken care of his 'inconvenient' human needs did he find himself embarrassed by his nudity.

"Spike?" he yelled from inside the bathroom cubicle.


"Do you have any clothes I could wear?"  Xander barely caught the clothing that sailed over the top of the bathroom stall.  The gray jeans were back, cleaned.  Xander wondered if that meant the vampires did laundry or if Spike made someone do his laundry for him.  This time the shirt was a red silk very similar to the one Carlos had lent him on his one night of running food at Glitters.  While he'd lost other jobs after one night, never before had he regretted it so much.  With a sigh he slipped into the clothes and left his sanctuary.  He found Spike in the main room sitting in the chair watching the small television. From the show, Xander guessed it must be around 6 or 7, too early for the vampire to have gone out.

"Where were you?"

"Sewers.  Needed to do some listenin', pet."

"Listening for what?"

"Rumors.  You put on a nice show last night, and now I just need to listen up and catch enough juicy bits to fix that wanker good."  Spike leaned back in the chair, but Xander could see the muscles in his arms flex.  Spike may have put on a semblance of relaxation, but every muscle was tensed.

"I assume the wanker in question is Cassidy,” Xander commented as he leaned against the door frame.


"And the show was…" Xander allowed his voice to trail off.  He felt awkward around Spike now, and he didn't know whether that came from last night's punishment or this morning's realization that only one of them would survive.

"You.  When the other vamps saw that Cassidy couldn't even keep a pet's loyalty, they started to question whether or not to follow him.  If I'd dominated your demon—taken over the claim—that'd show I was stronger, but doin' it this way with you still holdin' his claim, it shows that he's so weak that his pet went lookin' for someone strong enough to hold a claim.  Worked slightly better than I thought.  All sorts of people who wouldn't talk earlier are singin' their hearts out."   Xander thought about the silent faces that had watched when they left the bar the previous evening. 

"Cassidy has to get me back to prove he's not weak," he said as he leaned heavily against the doorframe since his legs now seemed incapable of carrying his weight.

"He'll try," Spike agreed from the chair.

"Oh shit."  Spike hadn't tried to enforce the claim, but he knew that Cassidy wouldn't hold back.  Cassidy had to prove that he could, how did Spike once put it, beat or fuck Xander into submission.  Shit.  He had an irrational desire to beg Spike for protection, but he reminded himself that Spike had set the situation up in the first place.  Spike saw him as a dog, an animal who, even if you care about them, is expendable.  Xander repeated that to himself until the urge to crawl into Spike's lap and cry had passed.  Besides, he now realized that Spike's own brand of affection probably had little to do caring; he just wanted a way to get back at Cassidy.

"So, more demon bars tonight?" he tried for nonchalant, but he knew that his voice actually came out closer to desperation.  He really didn't want to spend more time kneeling at Spike's feet; he was messed up in the head enough already.

"No, we're meetin' Peaches first, then a few human bars."

"Peaches?  We're meeting with Angelus?"  This time Xander realized his voice had gone up into the squeaking range.

"It’s all right, pet.  Got his soul now, won't hurt ya," Spike stood up and started pacing the room.  "'Course his soul's a pretty impermanent thing, but we won't be 'round long."

"Impermanent?" Xander asked, unsure how that worked.

"Yeah.  He fell for some bint, and when the Master killed her, he tried to save her. Tried to use bloody CPR only he managed to put her in a coma instead of bringin' her back.  He got his broody guilt up so high, some magic-type in Sunnydale tried to make him happy.  Turns out that if he gets happy enough, the soul just sort of floats away."

"What exactly do you mean 'floats away'?"

"Just that, pet.  His soul left, and Sunnydale got to meet the soulless Angelus or rather an angry version of Angelus that had been trapped behind a soul for a century or so.  From the stories I heard all the way in Europe, it wasn't pretty.  He did a lot of damage before they could magic his soul back into him."

"And we're meeting him….why?!"

"Cause he knows mojo, and that place last night reeked of it.  Mojo and somethin' else that just don't feel right."  Xander was so distracted by the thought of a soul doing a disappearing act that the second comment slipped by him for a moment so that Spike had actually started for the stairs before he could respond.

"Wait," Xander franticly cried.  "We can't go to the neighborhood now."

"My sire's waitin', and while annoying the pouf isn't a problem, we need to meet him."  Xander felt cool hands at his arms, pushing him up the stairs.

"But…but Gunn…th-the guys, they'll be out now," Xander stuttered.  Panic reached new levels as the fear from last night flared into outright horror.

"I won't kill your mates," Spike sighed, and Xander felt one hand tighten as Spike stopped him at the top of the stairs so he could open the padlock with his free hand.

"But what if they…I mean, they could start something."

"Worried about me, pet?" Spike asked as they stepped out into the night, the sky still grey from last dregs of the sunset.  Spike's pleased tone make Xander shrink into himself.  For a moment he wished that Spike would just be a little more vampire-like so he didn't have to feel so damn bad about trying to kill him.

"I just don't want to end up Cassidy-kibble," he finally complained.

"Won't happen, luv."  By now they had reached the bike, and Spike quickly slipped on and held out a hand for Xander.  God, he was back to charming.  Xander gave up trying to understand the annoying vampire and settled for wrapping his arms around the slim waist and closing his eyes in an attempt to ignore the questionable driving skills.  Of course, if Spike liked him, that only made it easier to kill him when the time came.  This time the wail in his head felt more distant—almost muffled. 

When they stopped outside the theater this time, Xander saw the big black convertible, but he didn't see either Gunn or Gunn's truck. He just prayed that the guys wouldn't show up.  Xander scooted off the bike and waited for Spike nervously.  He had to grit his teeth to avoid chanting 'hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.' 

"Oi, stop broodin'.  If I gotta deal with Peaches, I can't take you too."  Xander flinched when Spike threw an arm around his waist to guide him to the now-open front door causing Spike to quirk an eyebrow in silent query.

"It's nothing.  I just want to get this over with and leave before anyone sees us.  We aren't exactly inconspicuous here," Xander complained with a wave toward the vehicles in front the open front door with boards thrown about on the sidewalk.

"Yeah, not subtle, but Peaches never was."  Spike nodded toward a figure now coming out of the newly opened front door, and Xander watched as a tall hunk of a man came out of the theater.  Where Spike was all angles and sharpness, this man was curves. His arm muscles curved with one muscle disappearing into another.  His chest curved in a manly broad-chested sort of way, his walk even seemed to roll in gentle curves where Spike had a brisk, energetic stride.  If this was the famous "Peaches," vampire families obviously didn't share many traits.  The man dropped a crowbar into the back of the black convertible before picking up a long-sleeved shirt and putting it on over the t-shirt he wore.

"William," came a deep, calm voice, and Xander glanced behind them to see who the man had addresses.

"He means me, ya git." Spike tightened the arm around his waist while Xander nodded knowingly and made a small "oh" gesture with his mouth.

"What have you gotten into this time?" Xander heard the tone and couldn't help think of his own father; the disapproval and disrespect dripped from Angelus' mouth.  He wondered how Angelus would take it if he managed to kill Spike.  He knew his own father wouldn't do more than show up at the funeral for the sake of presenting a respectable front.  No, if he failed, his mother would be the only one crying.  He felt Spike's arm tighten.

"Me?  Not done anythin', and I won't 'til I can find that wanker.  Just thought you'd like a look is all."  Spike nodded toward the theater.  He sounded calm, but Xander could feel the muscles twitch, and he knew the infinite variations of Spike's eyebrows well enough to see the tension rolling off.

"And him?"  This time Xander jumped as Angelus gestured toward him.

"I'm just, you know, riding along," he blurted quickly, but Angelus didn't respond or even look at him.

"What kind of game are you playing with his life, William?  I told you before that if you continue this nonsense I will take your play toy away."  Angelus took a step forward, but Spike didn't move, leaving Xander unable to back away from the impending fight; however, he wasn't going to go down without some sort of objection.  If he had little to no chance with Spike, his chances of surviving Spike's older, larger, more powerful sire were somewhere between zero and not a chance in hell.

"Hey now," he began in his strongest voice, "I am not a play toy, and no one gets to take me anywhere."

"Boy," Angelus began.

"No, not boy, 'Xander.'  Alexander if you must, but not 'boy'."  And that got the tall vampire's attention.  Angelus turned and looked at him as though seeing him for the first time.

"I didn't mean to insult you, but you must admit that compared to me, you are young."

"Yeah, that still doesn't make me a boy, it just makes you old," he snapped back, and he could feel Spike twitch with suppressed laughter.

"You tell 'em, pet."

"William," Angelus' tone carried a warning of future pain; Xander knew that tone.

"Bloody hell, you're the one what started this," Spike pointed out and Xander found himself agreeing. 

"Xander," Angelus began, now obviously ignoring Spike to the point of turning so that Angelus' body faced him and not Spike, "Spike cannot hurt you while I'm here.  Just tell me where you live, and I'll take you home before I head back to the office."  Of all the things he had expected, this hadn't even made the list. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to figure out the game that Angelus was playing.  Did the vampire want to get him alone and away from Spike?  Did the soul mean that he was offended by Cassidy's claim?  He might just be offended by Spike's obvious affection and intimate embrace.  Maybe Angelus didn't see him as good enough for the family—he would hardly be the first to voice that opinion. Then again, the whole man-on-man love thing was rather unpopular way back when, so maybe Spike's proprietary arm made Angelus angry.  Were vampires homophobic?  Xander considered a whole new possible depth of gay-bashing. 

"Uh, thanks Angelus, but I think I'll stick it out here," he finally answered after several awkward seconds.  He couldn't miss the flinch at the name.

"I go by Angel," the vampire corrected him.

"And I go by Spike, simple name really, innit?  Fewer syllables than William, but you never do seem to remember."  Xander couldn't believe that they were standing on the street having this argument when each passing minute increased the odds of Gunn or the crew showing up.

"Angelus, Angel, Spike, William, whatever.  Does this really matter right now?"  Angel's eyebrows rose to comical heights and the large vampire took a step back.

"Are you sure he's not yours?  He sounds a lot like you," Angel dryly commented to Spike, and from the corner of his eye, Xander could see Spike smirk.

"Nope, the whelp came like that.  Anyway, Xander's right.  I called you to look at that mojo—think it might be related to that wanker Cassidy.  Lots of minions around, claiming their masters were killed by mojo, and Cassidy's the only new master in town."  Angel sighed so loudly that Xander could clearly hear it and see the wide chest rise and fall.  Damn, when did vampires get so damn cute?  And unless he was mistaken, Spike had just used his name for the first time.  Did that mean something?  With a start, he suddenly realized that the vampire had never asked for his name; the bastard felt him up and didn't even know his name.  Xander felt a hot flash of anger, and within a second, Spike turned a confused look toward him.


"It's just this place," Xander waved toward the building vaguely even though he felt like he could stake Spike right there on the sidewalk.

"Yeah, that's why I brought ya'.  You need to tell Peaches everything that happened the other night."

"You were here?" Angel turned a surprised look toward him.

"Yeah.  I was here when Fredrick died."  Xander thought he had edited out the guilt, but obviously not because Spike had that "I told you not to do that" look, and Angel had the strangest expression on his face—nearly emotionless but still distant and cold in a way.  Yeah, definitely not going anywhere with that vampire.  At least not if anyone gave him a choice.

"Tell me what happened," Angel commanded in a voice that expected an immediate answer.  Angel held out his arm in an obvious invitation for Xander to go first.  Catching a quick look at Spike, he realized that Spike expected him to do exactly that.

"We came because Gunn had seen some vamps—better dressed than usual.  Six of us came in through the broken boards there," Xander walked in the front door and then gestured toward the side where light came in through the lopsided boards.  Once in the lobby, he could almost feel his backpack and hear the crew members steps even though the two vampires walked silently.  Taking a deep breath, he continued.  "We smelled this horrible stink, but we started walking toward the back."

"Day or night?" Angel interrupted him.

"Late afternoon.  The roof has lots of holes in the front, so we had pretty good light in here."  Angel just nodded and made vague gesture that he should continue even as Angel started looking around behind counters. 

"We started walking down the hall toward the main theater; every time we have to clean this place out, the vamps always nest in there."

"Sewer access is in there," Angel offered as he continued to open drawers and cabinet doors behind the now ruined snack counter.

"We never found a sewer access, but we do always find them back there, so we started back with Gunn in the lead.  When a vampire came out the main doors, Gunn attacked.  We all turned on our lights and when I went to move the lights into position, Fredrick disappeared.  I called for Gunn who charged into the main room, and then I went in after him."

"How many vampires in there?"

"I don't know. I barely got in the door when a vamp grabbed my light and threw it out; the whole room got really dark.  I caught one vampire by accident when I first lost my light.  The second vamp didn't realize my eyes had adjusted to the dark, so I staked him after a minute or so later."  All this time he had wandered down the fateful hall and now his hand rested on the handle.  He knew the two vampires stood behind him, but he still couldn't contain a shudder when he opened the door.  Where he had expected darkness and memory, two flood lights with car batteries lighted the space behind the screen and a diffuse light flooded the whole auditorium.

"Your eyes adjusted?" Angel asked as he followed behind Spike who, Xander now noticed, worked very hard to stay between him and his sire.

"Eyes do that in the dark."

"Cordelia?" Angel yelled, and a giant shadow figure appeared on the screen as a woman stepped between it and the light.

"I hope you know you're paying me overtime for this, mister."

"Of course.  Can you shut the two lights off for a few minutes?"

"No, I can't.  It'll be dark in here."

"I'm aware of that.  Please, Cordelia."

"Double overtime," a petulant voice floated back as first one light and then the other switched off.  Xander waited in the dark, but nothing happened. 

"And the point of this is?" he asked the featureless darkness.

"My point exactly," came the female voice from behind the screen.  "Can I turn it back on now?"

"Just wait a minute," Angel asked.  "Xander, can you see Spike?"  He squinted and struggled to make out the shadowy forms he knew stood nearby. 

"No,” he finally admitted.

"Try harder."

"Bloody hell, he said 'no.'" Spike snapped, and Xander had to laugh at the frustration he could hear in the tone.

"Xander, you said you could see the vampire in here."

"Maybe there was some sort of dim light somewhere; I don't know."

"Lay off, Peaches."

"Don't tell me what to do, Childe.  I am your sire."

"Bleedin' hell you are, you walked out on me, me and Dru, so don't you start using that sire bollocks on me now."

"Watch your tongue if you intent to keep it," warned a growling voice, and now Xander knew terror.  What if the soul was gone?  What would this vampire do to him, to Spike?

"Angel?" came a confused feminine voice from behind the screen.   At the sound of muffled impacts, Xander turned to his right and peered into the darkness until he could see two forms struggling.  Fortunately, their different shapes made it possible to tell which was which.  Unfortunately, Angel obviously had Spike bent over backwards and pinned to a row of molding chairs.

"Look at him," Angel demanded and suddenly he could see not only Angel's gold eyes but also Spike's.

"Bloody hell."  The two shadows separated, and Xander looked in confusion from one to the other as the shapes moved toward him, one on the right and one on the left.

"What?" he finally asked when the shapes took positions several feet from him and waited.

"Pet, how much can you see?" Spike finally asked.

"Shadows, outlines.  Not much," Xander admitted.

"Cordelia," Angel called out.

"Can I turn the lights on now?" she demanded in a very aggravated tone.

"In a second.  First, tell me how much you can see."

"You know I can't see anything.  It's totally dark in here."  Xander watched the Angel-shadow walk down the aisle and up the stairs, and Spike's hand gently guided him to follow. 

"Can you see me?" Angel asked, when he reached the top of the stairs and stood at the  corner of the screen.  Spike stopped him a couple of feet behind Angel.

"Okay, that's just creepy, mister.  Floating gold eyes, that's what I see." 

"And now?" Xander could see the gold eyes blink out; the vampire must have returned to his human face.

"And we're back to pointing out the obvious—it's too dark to see in here, at least for those of us who still shop for tanning lotion."

"Okay, one last question," Xander saw the two yellow eyes blink back into existence inside the Angel-shadow.  Angel made a gesture and Spike and Xander joined him behind the curtain.  "Cordelia, how many gold eyes do you see?"  A sharp gasp filled the silence.

"Six.  Good god, you brought vampires back here; I am so going to stake you."  With that, the lights flipped back on, and Xander blinked uncomfortably as a beautiful brunet waved a large stake in Angel's face even as Angel held up his hands in surrender.

"It was an experiment; you're safe," Angel insisted even as he backed up a couple of steps.  He took a closer look at the small woman who had an ancient master vampire backing up, but she just appeared to be a normal human.  A very determined normal human waving a large stake, but even he could see that the point only marginally pointed in Angel's direction.

"Are you sure you didn't get happy out there?" Cordelia asked, and he remembered Spike's comment about a soulless Angel causing real problems back in Sunnydale.  So this woman knew about Angel, and she still worked with him.  Nervy.  Xander could see himself going for her if he wasn't gay; he found strength sexy, and she seemed to have it in spades.

"Believe me, I was with Spike; I did not even approach happy."

"Oh yeah, and you're the life of the party," Spike snorted.  "Trust me, Peaches here needs magical help to get happy; his life is one giant brood."

"You noticed," Cordelia responded with a small smile.  "However, you're still vampires and I'm definitely a stake-first kind of girl."  The point of the stake wobbled over in their general direction.

"Cordelia," Angel said, but this time his voice carried only a tired sort of frustration, not the threat it carried when he spoke Spike's name.  Xander wondered how much that had to hurt. He remembered how his father would be nice to other kids and how that made him feel even more worthless each time he heard it.  "Spike is my childe, and Xander is not a vampire."  Xander wondered what would make her even think that, but then his brain finally processed her commented.  Six. 

"I go all glowy in the eyes?" Xander asked in amazement as he looked from one person to another.

"Yeah, pet.  You do."

"Cool.  I guess the whole unwanted visitor is good for something.  God, no wonder Gunn looked at me so strange that night.  He must have freaked."

"Xander, this isn't part of your claim mark," Angel said softly.

"Angel, this has to be part of my claim mark.  Glowing eyes do not run in my family," Xander pointed out as he rolled his eyes.  Angel sighed again.

"No, the demon doesn't show in a claimed human. Something is seriously wrong here."  Angel looked like he had a serious case of constipation, and Xander felt like he had missed all the notes and someone was asking him to take a test.

"Human eyes don't glow; demon eyes do.  It seems pretty clear that the demon is showing in *this* claimed human."

"Xander, the demon in a claim responds to its master, not its host.  Your master isn't here, so the demon should be dormant."

"Should be, could be, might be," he shrugged, "but clearly isn't."  He suspected that Spike had called up his demon when threatened, but he had no intention of sharing that particular theory.

"Is someone going to explain this to me or do I have to start torturing people?" Cordelia asked, and he turned to really look at her.  She certainly seemed familiar, but he couldn't place her. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that made her seem young, but the pencil stuck behind one ear and the laptop sitting in her lap now that she had returned to the floor and the scattered drawings reminded him more of Willow than anyone else. 

"It's a long story," Angel sighed.

"That you'll tell me all about on our way back to the office," Cordelia assumed with a smile as she started collecting the various drawings and shutting down the computer.  "Starting with who the blond is and why you two were fighting."  Spike had made an offended noise when called "blond," but Cordelia ignored it as if he didn't even exist. 

"We weren't fighting; I was just trying to make a point about Xander," Angel explained as she finished her gathering

"And by the way, the next time you're trying to make a point, you keep your bloody hands off me," Spike spoke up as Xander felt the arm slip back into its familiar place around his waist.  Cordelia's eyes widened, but she didn't comment as she thrust the laptop at Angel and took the portfolio with the drawings in her own arms.  Angel ignored both the arm and the complaint.

"I sketched and Cordelia scanned all the symbols," Angel explained as he gestured toward the reddish-brown figures that Xander had avoided looking at.  "Xander, I need you to help me figure out the smell."

"Uh, a really gross cross between industrial ammonia and dead stuff?"

"I need to know what potion they might have used.  If we could head over to Thopis, we might be able to narrow that down more."

"Oi, I don't want him anywhere near that place.  There's mojo enough there to poison an elephant."  Xander had thought that the previous evening had been bad, but he was quickly learning to hate the way these two argued.  He was tired enough to sleep for a week.

"I can't be more specific, Angel," he explained earnestly.

"We can pull out a few ingredients, see if any of the smells are familiar," Angel explained in a hopeful tone.  "This looks like a big spell and a dangerous one at that.  We need information."  Angel gestured toward the strange, ragged figures decorating the walls.

"No bloody chance.  Got places to go, people to eat." 

"William, I catch you killing and I'll stake you myself."

"Right," Spike drawled.  "I figured you'd be more the type to stand back and critique my performance.  You know, 'Kill 'em slower, Spike,'  'Can't you cause more pain than that, Spike?'"  Shit, after a couple centuries you'd think they'd grow up.  This sounded like him and his father before dear old dad had just stopped showing up.

"Spike," Xander used a warning tone of his own as he almost felt the room grow colder. 

"William," Angel growled as the gold reappeared in his eyes.

"Oh for god's sake, dump some testosterone and get a life," Cordelia insisted as she walked between the two and grabbed the strap of the computer, pulling Angel along after her.  "Come on, you can follow us to Thopis."

"Never said I'd go," Spike shouted to Cordelia's and Angel's backs, but the two figures just left without a reply.

"She's interesting," Xander commented.  "And Angel's a stud; you never said he was such a stud."  He waited for the reaction, and three…two…one…

"Bloody hell, you go lookin' at him, and you won't have to worry about havin' eyes—glowin' or not."

"What?" Xander asked with his best innocent voice.  Spike narrowed his eyes and stared while he simply blinked back with wide, naïve blinks.  It was one of his best looks, and he knew it.

"Bloody little shit," Spike complained as he let go and started up the aisle where the other two had disappeared.  "Still never agreed to go."

"Yeah," he agreed as he trotted after Spike.  "But you're the one who said that something's wrong, and you're the one who called Peaches because you thought he could fix it.  I say we go along."

"Hate it when you do the bloody logical bit."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he shot back, suddenly feeling more cheerful than he had since the whole mess had started.  He wasn't the demon-magnet loser; he was Xan-man the glowy eyed…man.  Okay, he really needed to find a better rhyme before he said that one out loud.


Chapter 13

After two hours of sniffing one disgusting concoction after another, he had identified five things that might smell familiar from that evening and developed a raging headache.  The pain could have come from having to smell so many disgusting potions ranging from ground chaos demon horn to burning dried elephant gonads.  It also might have come from the endless bickering the two vampires had engaged in ever since they had reached the magic shop.  Spike had called his sire, a wanker, a poof, a nancy-boy, mighty gel-hair boy, the great poof, a ninny, and a good number of names that he just didn't understand.  From Angel's reaction, he guessed none were of the good.  In return, Angel had threatened to stake Spike, rolled his eyes, sighed, and growled so often that Cordelia had taken to randomly backhanding him across the arm.  Yes, a lovely evening.

"Familiar?" Angel asked as he gestured toward the blue bottle currently sitting on the table.

"Only in that it smells like my laundry after I haven't washed it in two or three months."  Xander put the cork back in and pushed the bottle away.  "Don’t think it was that."

"Oi, he's had enough.  It’s not like he paid attention to the smell that night," Spike complained from the other side of a shelf full of strange artifacts, bones, statues and rocks.

"Yeah, too busy trying not to die."  Xander stood and cracked his back after sitting for the whole two hours. 

"If they were using Org root and ground pa'alash, we need more information.  We could be looking at some sort of thrall spell."

"Well he's helped you as much as he can; I'm taking him and leavin' now." Spike walked up and got into his sire's personal space, and the larger vampire instantly stood and squared his shoulders.  Xander sighed.

"You have no right to order him around and drag him all over town for your personal feud."  Angel snarled as he obviously struggled not to slip into game face.

"Bloody hell, not like you have a vote here.  He already told you off, Peaches."

"William, you are not taking him anywhere, I swear if…" 

Xander could still hear them argue, but he intentionally tuned it out as he walked out of the back room and started browsing the shelves in the front of the shop.  He had just spotted an interesting shelf when a female voice interrupted an internal argument on how to handle the whole attracted-to-an-evil-vampire that he had every intention of killing dilemma.  When had he lost his mind?

"Those two are going to stake each other at this rate," Cordelia sighed as she nodded toward the back.

"Oh, yeah.  I thought me and my dad got into some fights, but those two have us beat."

"Nice work—that." Cordelia gestured toward Xander's hand, which had continued on its pre-Cordelia mission and closed around a stake.

"Yeah, well I just like having some protection.  Well, not protection as in protection," Xander stumbled to correct himself as he realized the sexual implications of his statement.  "Not that I don't do things that require protection…I'm just going to stop now," he finally announced as he studied the lightly carved stake in his hand.

"Well I'm just glad to know you take the whole vampire thing seriously.  Thought you might be one of those idiots who think they can shack up with a demon without suffering any consequences."

"Oh, I know the consequences," he agreed as he thought about Spike's body dissolving into dust.  The earlier screams in his head had reduced to a sort of grumbling complaint, but he did know how hard this would be.  Unfortunately, he couldn't fool himself.  Cordelia was right about not trusting demons, and any concern Spike had shown made sense in a totally selfish, no-problem-killing-the-human-later sort of way.  He had to admit that his own pathetic need for affection had blinded him at first.

"So why work with him?" Cordelia asked with such an honest curiosity that he had to wonder what kind of life she had lived to take the whole situation in stride.

"I could ask you the same thing," he returned.

"Yeah, but it isn't the same thing.  I mean, Angel gets all strange and broody, and he so totally needs to learn how to wear colors other than black, but he isn't a killer.  He's got the soul."

"Are you sure you aren't the one in denial?" he asked as he fingered the spiral pattern on the dark wood.  He tried to sink a fingernail into the wood, but he couldn't even scratch the surface—nice hard wood.

"I've known both Angel and Angelus, and I know the difference.  Of course, I also carry lots of weapons," she assured him with a smile.  "Besides, I need the job.  However, I don't get the feeling Spike pays real well.  He seems like more of a 'letting you live is payment enough' sort to me, so why stay with him?"

"We both want to kill the same man…or rather vamp."


"Oh yeah.  He killed a friend, and I can't say I'm exactly happy about his willingness to share."  Xander's free hand gestured up toward his neck and the red scar visible beneath his collar.  Of course, he didn't mention that the mark had posed no problems until Spike had waltzed into his life and would hopefully pose none when Spike died.  Unless Spike killed him; he suspected that the mark wouldn't bother him much if he was dead.

"Okay, that's just disturbing.  Angel told me about the whole claim thing."  Cordelia leaned back against a shelf and flipped her hair away from her face in a gesture that Xander suddenly recognized.

"Cordelia…Cordelia Chase," he suddenly blurted. 

"Um, yeah.  We've already been introduced."  Xander almost laughed as she rolled her eyes in a look that he recognized well from their days together in junior high.  She used it on him every time she pointed out something stupid he had done in order to embarrass him in front of as many people as possible.

"No, I just recognized you.  Willow and I started the 'We hate Cordelia Chase' club," he blurted a half second before it occurred to him that she might find that information offensive.  "Of course, that was when we were waaaay younger, and you were younger, and different."

"Alexander Harris?  Oh my god." Cordelia suddenly pulled him into a hug, and Xander threw up his arms, only remembering to turn the stake at the last minute.  Boy, wouldn't that be an awkward way to greet an old classmate.

"Cordelia, we weren't exactly friends," he pointed out at as the woman held on to him far longer than he expected.

"Don't turn around.  When I let go, take off running for the back room, and I'll distract them with some holy water."

Cordelia held on for another second as her hand reached into her purse, and Xander closed his fingers around the stake even more tightly.  He knew he should run for Spike, but he couldn't leave Cordelia here to die, even if he had started a whole hate-club and spent one afternoon discussing murder plots with Willow.  When she released him and threw the container, Xander turned to fight rather than run.  He turned in time to see the bottle crash onto the floor and splash up onto three of the largest vampires he had ever seen.   Taking advantage of the momentary chaos caused as the vampires recoiled from the burning water, Xander lunged forward and plunged his stake into the nearest vamp.  He thought he had aimed true, but the vampire simply growled and grabbed his arm in one hand while he pulled the stake out with the other.

"Spike," he bellowed at the top of his voice as he pulled back against the hand which closed like a steel vice.  He threw his other arm in an arc, trying to get enough speed in his swing to make the vampire let go, but his awkward left-handed blow bounced harmlessly off the vampires raised forearm.  Well, harmlessly for the vamp; Xander felt like his arm had hit a brick and the throbbing in his right hand where the vamp gripped too tightly for circulation joined the throbbing in his left which would soon sport a good sized bruise if he was any judge. 

Out of his peripheral vision, he watched Cordelia run from the other two vamps, and he wondered where Spike and Angel had gone.  Oh god, maybe they really had staked each other.

"Leave her alone," he shouted as he swung again at the vamp holding him.  The same swing ended in the same result, but the vamp still didn't do anything but watch the others corner Cordelia behind a bookcase.  Praying for some luck, Xander reached out with his foot and hooked one of the lower shelves of the display unit next to him.  Praying that the case wasn't bolted down, he pulled with everything he had, and suddenly the whole shelf started tilting precariously. 

When the first of the fragile item slid off and shattered on the floor, the Neanderthal holding him looked over, and then threw his arms up to protect his face from the falling shelf.  Xander scrambled away but didn't quite make it.  He felt the shelf fall on his lower leg, and he howled in pain.  Grabbing a bit of wood that had broken off the shelf, he staked the now-trapped vampire and turned with his improvisational weapon in hand to face the other two. 

Both of the vampires turned their backs on Cordelia, but only one survived the mistake.  Xander smiled as he watched vampire number two turn to a skeleton for the brief second it took for the bones to follow the flesh and turn to dust.  He could feel more than hear Spike charging from the back room, and he allowed himself to feel relief for a second, but only a second.  

Vampire number three charged toward him and grabbed his hand, pulling him roughly over the vampire's shoulder face forward.  He struggled to hold on to his weapon, but with the vampire's grip, he couldn't do anything with it.  By the time the vampire had reached the door, he had transferred the makeshift stake to his left hand, but the vampire simply reached up and pulled it out of his hand.  Xander yelped and winced as that forced dozens of splinters into his left hand, but he continued fighting and squirming.   

Hoping to distract the beast, he even held his bleeding left hand over the creature's face, but the vampire simply tossed him.  Xander felt himself flying through the air until he stopped with a thud against the metal of a van.  Oh shit.  The metal of the inside of a van, Xander realized as the vampire jumped in after him and slammed the door.  At that sound, the van leapt into traffic at such a speed that Xander found himself tumbling toward the back doors.  He had just decided to grab a door handle and roll out, risking death by pavement, when a hand grabbed him and pressed him to the cold and uneven floor of the van.

"Not so fast," hissed an angry voice, and he shuddered at the sound.  Even angry, Spike hadn't frightened him as much as that cold voice without any trace of humanity.  Xander felt something cold wrap around his neck, and he reflexively reached up as the lock closed, securing the chain around his neck.  With a jerk, the vampire had pulled him toward the side of the van and fastened the other end.  Xander realized that he was, for the third time in three nights, chained up.  Since he couldn't do anything about it, he leaned back against the cold metal and curled his sore leg under him as he settled in to glare at his captor.  The vampire looked back at him with an ever-increasing growl filling the space.

"You kill him, and the master'll skin you," floated in a voice from the front of the van.  With one last snarl, the vampire crawled up into the front part of the van and allowed the curtain to fall back into place, leaving Xander alone.  He simply sighed and turned his injured hand toward the meager light filtering in from the back windows as he tried to pick the splinters out of his still bleeding hand.  As Spike would say, wankers.

He still hadn't come up with a plan an hour later when he felt the van slow and begin maneuvering around tight turns.  Parking lot?  With his neck chained, he really couldn't see out of the windows, but then it hardly mattered.  He really didn't have any illusions about who had captured him or how ugly this was about to get.  He used his teeth to try and gnaw out one more splinter.  Sucking until he tasted the salty flavor of blood, he used his tongue to find the end before trying to close his teeth around the barely protruding sliver of wood.  When the van stopped and the door came open, he continued his self-treatment.  In fact, he took pride in completely ignoring both the vampires, all the way up until the point his neck was nearly broken when idiot number one used the chain to yank him out of the van.

"Hey, human here," he yelled as he fell to the concrete floor of a warehouse, and for a moment he wondered why that sounded so familiar. 

"Don't break him," idiot number two hissed to the offending vamp, but neither one helped him stand up.  He used the edge of the van door opening to pull himself back up onto his feet.

"Move human."  The chain tightened again, and this time he followed, cursing himself for being so damn weak.

"Boy you two have a lot of explaining, like how two weak little humans managed to kill half of your little kidnapping crew."  Xander waited for a response, but the vamps simply pulled him toward a freight elevator.  He knew he should shut up, but talking gave him at least some illusion of bravado, even if it was just illusion.  "Not that killing you guys is hard.  I mean, I've dusted little girl vamps that fought more than you guys.  Hell, a little girl did take out your buddy in the store."  Xander nodded toward idiot number one:  the one who had come into the store and whose buddy Cordelia had neatly disposed of. 

"Shut up," Idiot number one snapped.

"Yeah, right.  'Cause the boss man won't notice that you lost a couple of guys without *me* pointing it out.  I mean, if Spike had been there, that woulda been one thing, but you lost your buddies to a couple of walking happy meals.  How pathetic is that?  It's like a cop getting chewed to death by a cow."  As the elevator thunked to a halt, a growl threatened bodily harm to Xander.  Oh well, Cassidy would schedule him for bodily harm soon enough, so what did it really matter. 

He hadn't come up with any more insults before he found himself in a huge room that looked like the set from a renaissance fair.  Heavy red fabric draped the windows, chains hung from wood columns, and a dark-haired man sat on something that looked suspiciously like a throne.  He wasn't surprised to find himself forced to his knees before the vampire with the illusion of kingship.

"You do know you can get therapy for this whole delusion thing, right?" Xander asked as he gestured toward the ornate paintings and carved tables.

"Silence!"  The vamp on the throne bellowed, and he felt an answering bellow within his own chest.  Oh shit no.  He concentrated on singing the Rubber Duckie song in his head over and over until he had forced out that flare of joy at seeing *master*.  He didn't realize that his internal singing had become a cappella until he noticed the strange looks the various vamps were giving him. 

"What?  Didn't you ever watch Sesame Street?"

"How dare you speak."  The dark-haired vamp stood and descended the two steps to the main floor.  Yep, that was definitely a throne, and a god-awful ugly throne with gold gremlin thingies carved on the back and a red seat.

"And you would be Cassidy, the vamp who would be king."    That stopped the vampire.  Cassidy stood motionless for one moment before closing the distance with alarming speed and snatching up the chain that now dangled from his neck.

"What do you know, human?" Cassidy demanded as he bent over him ominously.

"That you have bad breath?"  He never saw the fist, but he sure felt it as it hit his ribs just above his waist.  He tried not to cry out, but his gasp sounded distinctly pained, and he collapsed in agony once Cassidy released his chain.

"Strip him," ordered the calm voice, and Xander tried not to panic as many hands suddenly reached out and grabbed at pieces of fabric, pulling the clothing apart rather than removing it.  He would have fought, but he found himself naked before he could gather his wits.  He remained sitting on the cold cement floor, aware of the fact that this really only had one outcome for him.

"Kneel before your master, slave."

"You do know you aren't a king, right?  Not a king means no kingdom, no subjects, no slaves.  Of course, you do look a little like one of the Edward kings—pasty complexion, little squinty eyes, and sort of a flat-faced dopey look.  Girlfriend accused me of looking like him once, but I think I have more of the Henry the fifth look—eyes a little too big, nose a whole lot too big.  Whadda you think?"  He really couldn't help noticing three things: the steadily rising volume of growling, the nervous shifting of various minions, and the desperate moaning inside his own mind. 

He expected swift retribution.  Instead Cassidy walked over to an ornate armoire and opened it.  Remembering what Spike had kept in his cabinet, he wasn't surprised when Cassidy returned with a variety of toys.

"Remove the chain," Cassidy ordered even as he walked up with a steel collar and manacles.  "You can save yourself pain by submitting to me.  You are mine, and you will kneel at my feet."  Xander tried not to shake as he felt Cassidy close the collar around his neck before reaching down for each hand in turn.  The truth was, he found himself fighting a need to do exactly that, so much so that he didn't have time to come up with a snappy response.

He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the hands that pulled him up and chained him facing one of the square wooden columns.  He tried even harder to ignore the need to throw himself at Cassidy's feet.

"Let's try this again now that you're more cooperative.  What do you know?"

"If you try to flush your mom's dry Thanksgiving turkey down the toilet, you'll clog the plumbing," he finally choked out, knowing what would happen.  Sure enough, a half second after he said the words, he heard the crack.  It took his body another second after that to register the line of fire going from his right armpit to his left side.  He gasped in pain

"What do you know?"

"Spike listens to this really crappy music."  He clenched his fists until the whip had dug into him again.  This time he couldn't contain the scream.

"What do you know?"

"Storm has got to be the sexiest woman ever."  The little ritual continued until Xander hung by his arms, his back numb and his brain barely registering the question.  An hour?  Two hours?  Five hours?  He had no idea.

Suddenly, he felt cool hands at his wrists, and he fell to the ground.  He didn't even think about the concrete versus knees issue until he found himself curled on his side trying to rub the pain out of his knees without disturbing his back.  Of course, that required bringing his arms down, which seemed to cause a special brand of pain all its own.

"Do you think he's coming for you?  Do you think he can protect you from me?"  Xander pried his eyes open and looked at Cassidy's leering face.

"He's stronger than you," he whispered in a voice nearly gone from screaming.

"I don't think so; I took his Dru. He actually cared for his Dru, and he couldn't save her.  Now you, he dangled you like bait and then left you while he and his sire played in the alley."  Xander nearly laughed at the thought of Spike and Angel playing.  He thought it more likely that they had tried to pull each other's heads off although that did explain the slow response.

"He could have chased the van, but he stayed with his sire. No, he used you to try and pull my empire apart, and now that you've done your job, he's just as happy to let me take over."  He flinched as he felt Cassidy's hand move down his side, avoiding the whip marks with surprising accuracy.  "You know that, don't you?"

Xander tried to deny it, but in his heart, he knew the truth.  Spike himself had called him a pet, an inferior who would never be a lover, essentially a lower life form.  He dropped his eyes, refusing to allow Cassidy to see his despair.

"Poor little human.  I left you alone for so long that you had to seek comfort from that second-rate vampire, but he didn't claim you.  He didn't want you."

Xander closed his eyes as he tried to close out the words.  How many times had he felt this nagging emptiness as someone who had promised to love him walked away?  The night Spike had chained him, he had told himself the truth then.  Spike didn't need him to walk around smelling of Cassidy; the damage had already been done.  No, he couldn't fool himself any more, Spike didn't claim him because Spike didn't want him.  He couldn't even sort out the pain on that one.  Was that his demon roaring with loss and anguish or his soul?  Oh god he was so screwed up; he just wanted to be left alone.  Surprisingly, Cassidy did just that.  With a final pat on a naked hip, Cassidy locked his collar to a chain at the base of the column and walked away.  Xander didn't open his eyes, but he could see the lights go out even from behind his closed lids.

Waking up proved even more difficult than finding a sleeping position that minimized pain had been the night before. Muscles had stiffened into awkward positions, and the cold of the concrete had seeped into his bones.  Xander couldn't physically move off the floor, so he laid there until some minion noticed and mentioned it to Cassidy.  He shivered as he felt Cassidy's think fingers trace along the whip marks from the previous night's entertainment.

"Hurting boy?" Cassidy whispered in his ear, the vampire's dark hair brushing across his face.  "Submit and I'll call up your demon.  I'll make the pain go away."  Xander closed his eyes again and simply refused to answer.  "Then suffer,” Cassidy finally decreed.

Cassidy had obviously called the 'court' back into session because dozens of vamp feet hurried by him, not bothering to pause when he finally lost control of his bladder and left an ever-widening yellow puddle on the floor.  He seemed to remember peeing sometime during the whipping, but some minion had cleaned that mess; this time he lay in it as the vampires walked around.

"Tell Wolfram and Hart to get that sacred candle here or I'll start taking late fees in lawyer blood!"

"Yes master," murmured an obsequious voice before another set of feet rushed by him.  God, this guy really did have a power trip going, didn't he?  Xander tried to shift, but his back simply refused to oblige.  For a moment, he concentrated on the sore muscles, trying to will them to shift his ass out of the pee, and he would swear he felt a tingling all along his backbone. 

It might have just been coincidence, but he suddenly felt strong enough to shift over and escape the humiliation of lying in his own waste.  Of course that also gave him the final piece of the puzzle.  Cassidy said that he could call up the demon to heal him only if he submitted.  Angel said the demon doesn't respond to a host.  Spike had shown such surprise that he could *come* for the blond vampire.  Xander finally figured out who the demon had submitted to, and he couldn't restrain a giggle.  The stupid demon had submitted to its own host.  He called up the demon's sights, he called up the demon's healing, and he called up the demon's attraction to Spike.  Nice, he figured out that he actually wanted the damn son of a bitch just when he figured out Spike didn't want him.  Just his luck.

"And what is making you so happy this evening?"  He opened his eyes to see Cassidy standing over him with a thick, three foot rod in his fist.

"I've heard of phallic symbols and compensating, but that's just a little ridiculous," he snorted as he looked at the weapon.  As the Cassidy raised the stick, he closed his eyes and waited for the darkness to take him again.  It didn't matter anyway, he decided as he felt the heavy impacts on his side and legs.  He had betrayed Gunn by helping a vampire.  He had been abandoned by the vampire he had chosen over Gunn.  The only job he had ever shown talent in involved letting men touch him.  He barely even made it out of high school.  How many times did he have to fuck up before he just admitted that he needed to walk away from this life and hope for a better one on the other side.  As the rod continued to fall, he decided that he had reached the time to find out.

Again, waking up involved stiff muscles, cold through to his bones, and hard concrete.  Fuck.  Why couldn't he just die?  As he struggled to sit up, he realized that much of the physical damage had faded.  He panicked for just a minute, until some dark corner of his mind provided the answer:  Cassidy's blood.  The taste of it still filled his mouth.  Xander scooted back on the concrete until he leaned against the pillar, the deep bruises and lash marks reduced to mere soreness and aches.

"Up again so soon, boy?" He looked over and made eye contact with Cassidy, who leaned over a heavy table with three or four others, making small markings on whatever they had laid on the table, some sort of paper maybe.

"I'm actually getting more sleep than usual, must be the accommodations," he returned with a smile.  If he had to die, he was going out with style.  Even as the thought flashed across his mind, an answer came back.  Cassidy wouldn't let him die.  Cassidy would keep him alive until he could show the vampire community that he had taken back his possession.  He needed for everyone to see Xander huddled at his feet, and then Cassidy would kill him.  Perfect way to stay alive until a rescue, he thought for the two seconds before it occurred to him that no one would rescue him.  The most he could hope for was an accidental rescue from Spike showing up to kill Cassidy.  Even then, he wasn't sure Spike would save him once he had his revenge.  He tried not to be bitter considering Spike had never actually lied and declared undying love, but it was still hard.

"If you're enjoying them that much, we'll have to extend your stay." Cassidy slowly walked over and loomed over him.  The vampire stood there with a slightly confused look as he clearly sniffed the air.   "You are mine, you know.  You will submit."

Xander considered that.  Should he submit?  It would be a way to escape the beatings.  If he had any hope of rescue, maybe he'd fight, but he couldn't come up with any good reason to keep fighting just to continue the pain.  Xander consciously released his hold on his own dark thoughts.

"I know," he whispered as he felt the demon's presence rush by him like a wind, "master."



Chapter 14

He only distantly realized that he had shifted to his knees; after all, they weren't his knees any more in any significant sense.  Spike had once told him that the demon would simply influence him, but he found that he could simply hide and allow the demon to move his limbs while he watched.  It wasn't him that Cassidy smiled at as he unlocked the chain, leaving the heavy metal collar in place as a reminder of his new status.  It wasn't him who knelt beside Cassidy as the vampire planned a final victory.  The only him that existed hid in a dark corner of his mind and cried as Cassidy described the ceremony that would force all vampires in the city to submit to him as their master.  Some law firm wanted Angel brought under control, and Cassidy just plain wanted control.  Xander almost screamed at the thought of this disgusting piece of vampire waste forcing Spike to submit, but it didn't really matter any more, so he slid back into his space of half-dreaming.

A day passed, but he knew only when he lay down to sleep on the floor next to Cassidy's bed.  He had hidden in the darkest corner of his mind, expecting rape with a side order of torture and sodomy, but Cassidy seemed content to allow him to publicly grovel.  He couldn't even bring himself to care when, as Spike had once told him, he discovered that he was expected to eat off the floor.  That was the only time the demon had earned a beating, but the whip marks healed in hours, which surprised even Cassidy. 

Xander had resigned himself to this half-life until such time as Cassidy finally killed him.  Until, of course, a minion burst into Cassidy's room on night two, nearly falling over Xander to get to the bed.

"Master, you must wake," the dirty-blond vampire begged as he stood next to the bed.  Evan or Eli or Eddy, he couldn't remember the vampire's name, but he didn't really try too hard as he felt his arms gather and fold the single blanket Cassidy allowed him as he knelt on the hard floor in the corner formed by the wall and the bed. 

E-something vamp didn't cause Xander's re-emergence, but his next words sure did.

"Master, the guards have captured Master Spike."  At those words, Cassidy flew from the bed.  For the first time since releasing the demon, Xander felt himself truly wake up, but he also found himself unable to take back control.  He raged and swore and insulted Cassidy's lineage until he nearly drove himself mad, but his body remained kneeling, his head bent as he waited for Cassidy to dress and signal him to either join him or wait.  When the signal came to follow, he wanted to sigh in relief, but he couldn't even manage that.  Instead he meekly followed Cassidy into the throne room where four or five vampires struggled to hang on to the chains that imprisoned Spike.  After a brief struggle, he forced his eyes to dart over to see that Spike had only minor wounds, but then the eyes returned to the floor as he settled in on his knees beside his master's throne.  The rattling of the chains grew suddenly quiet so that he could hear Spike gasp and growl.

"Bloody wanker,” Spike hissed, and he could tell just from the sound that Spike had on his game face.  Unfortunately, his eyes remained fastened to the floor several feet in front of Spike, so he couldn't see for himself.

"Yes, I've reclaimed your little trophy.  I'd planned to kill him once I'd finished with him, but now I'm thinking of keeping him."  He felt Cassidy's fingers run through his hair, and he cringed as some part of him all but purred and leaned into the caress.  Using the demon's pleasure as a distraction, he grabbed back a bit of control and glanced up.  Spike had an expression of pure fury as gold eyes and white teeth both flashed in the low light.

"I'll rip your bullocks off and make you eat 'em," Spike promised with a snarl.

"Now, now.  You had your chance to claim him, and you lost.  Seems like you're good at losing, you've done it enough."  Cassidy released his hair, and he went back to a full kneel with is hands palm up on his thighs as he waited unmoving.  "He really is quite a find.  With very little training, he's become a court favorite."  Cassidy gave an imperial wave toward Spike that he could see out of the corner of his eye.  "Fasten him to the pillar," Cassidy ordered.

Xander watched as the minions pulled the still hissing Spike over to the pillar and chained his hands above his head by using a pulley that pulled him up until Spike stood on his toes.  Other minions fastened his leg chains to the pillar so that the vampire would not even be able to kick.

"Oi, you lot follow him and you'll end up dust, every last one of you nancy boys'll die, I promise that." 

"You should have stayed away, Spike.  Drusilla with her magic and visions had to die, but I would have left you alone as long as you stayed out of my city and didn't try to save Angel.  You could have lived a long and healthy unlife."  Cassidy descended the steps and walked toward the now chained Spike, and with a small gesture, ordered Xander to follow.  He followed with his head still bent and knelt at Cassidy's side as Cassidy stopped inches from the imprisoned Spike.

"But now you'll have to die, and for what?"

"He isn’t yours," Spike snarled in an accent so think that it took a moment to decipher. When Xander realized the implications, he teetered between joy and confusion.  Spike had come for him?

"Funny, he smells like mine."

"Yeah, well he's a bit different; smell lies when it comes to 'im." 

"And I suppose that you think he's yours?"  Cassidy laughed at that one, and Xander struggled to force his eyes upwards.  For the one brief second he caught Spike's eye, he saw hope and pride and a fierce desire to kill, but then his own eyes dropped back down without his consent, and he could hear the clatter as Spike jerked in his chains.  "You do, don't you?  Well, I promise you that my pet is firmly in hand.  I heard about the incident with the Slacktha demon over at Bulad, and I promise you that he has shown no such behavior here because he is with his true master."  Xander shivered at those words.  "He's been a perfectly behaved pet," Cassidy commented as Xander felt the touch on his shoulder—or should that be his demon's shoulder now because he had no control over it.  Either way he knew the signal to be a command to stay, so when Cassidy moved away, he remained kneeling in front of Spike and waited as he felt Cassidy return.

"I know one sure way to convince you just how wrong you are."  Xander looked up as he felt Cassidy's fingers under his chin.  Cassidy's face had an almost angelic smile and the vampire held out a sharply pointed stake.  Xander felt his hand curl around the stake even as his mind began screaming against the order he knew would come.

"Kill him," Cassidy ordered as his smile grew even wider.  Xander struggled to regain control even as he rose to his feet.  When he stood before Spike, one part of his brain noticed the look of pain and horror on the blond vampire's face even while another part struggled to gain control of the hand that slowly rose holding the deadly stake.  Spike pulled at the chains holding him once before settling again, but Xander barely noticed as he spent every ounce of strength he owned trying to regain control over his arm. 

In desperation, he resorted to his most powerful weapon:  singing Rubber Duckie in an effort to drive the demon back into the space from which it had come.  Spike twitched his eyebrow and cocked his head in a familiar gesture of confusion even as Xander felt the arm begin to twitch. He realized that he had broken through when he heard his own voice humming.  Xander turned and saw the confused look on Cassidy's face in the moment before he drove the stake forward and turned Cassidy into a pile of dust. 

"Oi, you show 'em pet, perfectly behaved except for an odd spot of staking," Spike crowed from his shackles.  "Told you lot you were in for it!"  Xander started backing away, an odd feeling of panic growing in his chest.

In the background he could hear Spike yelling insults as minions ran, but he soon grew far too concerned about the howling in his own head.  The pain mounted, grew, threatened to overwhelm him as he realized that he had staked Cassidy.  Part of him, okay all of Xander-him reveled in turning the arrogant son-of-a-bitch into dusty bits, but the demon-him howled in such pain that Xander squeezed his eyes shut and backed into a corner, struggling to catch his breath.  He could hear new voices, demands for release, breaking furniture, but he must not be getting enough oxygen because his brain could not put all the pieces together.  A voice finally pulled on his consciousness, demanding his attention.

"Pet?"  Xander opened his eyes to see Spike crouched on the floor before him, bouncing on the balls of his feet just like he had seen so many times before.  "Pet, you okay?" the quiet voice came again.

"What did you do to him?"  demanded an angry voice, and Xander flinched.  *Enemy* the voice in his head insisted.  *Enemy.  Kill.  Hide.  Escape.*  He  struggled to pull enough air into his lungs even as he pressed himself into the corner, but then Spike's voice returned and he held onto that lifeline.  The voice in his head was confused about Spike.  *Enemy* and *Clan* chased each other around in his head, but he knew that he could trust Spike.  Spike had come back for him.  Spike had stood, waiting for death with nothing more than a look of sadness.  Spike hadn't cursed him or blamed him or called him weak.

"Peaches, if you don't back off and give him space I'll stake ya myself," Spike quietly declared in the same tone most people use to discuss the weather.  Xander realized that Spike didn't want to scare him.  Spike hid his anger with his sire because Spike wanted to protect him. 

"Spike?" he whispered, the voice in his head finally starting to quiet. 

"Yeah, pet?"

"I killed him."  He flinched at his own words.

"Yeah, did a good job.  He was going to kill me, so it's a good thing you did, innit?"

"Spike?"  He held out his hand until he could curl his own fingers around Spike's arm, and the bouncing stopped.


"I don't feel well."  In reality, he felt like he was going to throw up his own intestines, possibly his liver and his soul as well. 

"Right, we're outta here."  Xander felt strong arms lift him, and he wanted to object that he wasn't an invalid, but the fact remained that he couldn't have walked if his life depended on it.  At the physical contact, the chorus of *Enemy* *Clan* grew louder until Xander started quietly singing to himself.

"Bloody hell, not the llama song, do the one from earlier," Spike complained.

"You like Rubber Duckie more than the Llama song?"  Xander almost laughed at that, but then his insides froze as Angel stepped in front of them.  Before he hadn't exactly liked Angel, but he never felt this level of hatred for him before, either.

"William, you are not taking him," Angel growled softly.

"Not your business, mate," Spike snapped back as he slid into game face.  Xander could hear a feminine gasp that he guessed would be Cordelia.  He turned and saw her with another man, slender with eyes that seemed to catch everything.

"I won't let you take a life."

"Good, because this isn't him taking anything," Xander said as he struggled to ignore the internal voices.  "I'm giving."  He saw Angel step back; he heard Cordelia gasp again.

"You have no idea what you're saying.  I can get you to a doctor—one who knows how to treat this sort of problem."

"No, Angel, you can't.  There's only one person in this room I trust, and unless you plan on forcing me the same way Cassidy did, I won't go with you, and I suggest that you check the bottom of your shoe for what's left of Cassidy before you try that."  Xander tried to make his voice firm, but he knew that it trembled.  Even worse, Spike still held him as if he were a child, but maybe he could make Angel see that he had a right to make choices even if he didn't have the strength to enforce his choices right now.

"Oi, that's that then," Spike announced as he started forward again, ignoring Angel and clearly expecting the older vampire to move.  "How many times does he have to bloody tell you to mind your own business, Peaches?"


"No.  Not havin' this discussion with him so bloody hurt he's humming soddin' children's songs in my ear.  Now back off.  We'll talk later."

"And will he be human then?" Angel demanded without moving so that Xander found himself inches away from Angel's chest.  He knew that the humming gave away his discomfort, but he didn't know how close these two were to meeting a demon loyal to Cassidy that just wanted to kill Angel, even if its feelings towards Spike were a little more confused.

"Not your business," Spike snarled in return.

"It is my business, William."   Xander now added the words, chanting them to himself as he tried to force the panicking demon back into the darkness of his mind.

"Bleedin' hell.  Peaches, move or I'll put him down and fight you right now."  Xander looked up even while continuing to sing about his bath time friend.  For a moment, it appeared that Angel would stand his ground, but then he stepped aside and Spike rushed him into the wide elevator and started them back down.

In the garage, Spike put him in a Mustang before ripping off the plastic dash and playing with wires.  Soon, they sped toward the room that Xander now thought of home, and he let himself fall back to sleep still quietly humming.

Xander was quickly learning to dread mornings: the cold realizations, the colder floor, the pain, the humiliation, the chains.  So when the morning came, he ignored his body's various signals and tried to keep sleeping.  Unfortunately sleep could only last so long, so he eventually felt himself unwillingly drifting toward consciousness.  This time was different, though.  He found himself warm beneath a sheet and heavy quilt, and he couldn't feel the smooth hard touch of steel anywhere on his body.  Reaching up, he realized that Spike had even removed his collar. 

"'Bout time, pet.  Slept the best part of two days."

"Two days?" he asked as he slowly sat up, pulling the sheet up to cover the delicate bits even though dozens if not hundreds of vamps, including Spike, had seen him parade around in nothing more than a collar.

"Yeah.  Startin' to get worried about ya.  Ya aren't going to start singing the kiddie songs again, are ya?"

"No, no singing for me," he answered quickly, hoping that he spoke the truth.

"Want to tell me what that was about, pet?"  Spike had been sitting in the chair, but now he rose and dropped the headphones on the chair as he relocated to the bed next to Xander.

"Kinda complicated," Xander hedged.  He sure didn't want to tell Spike that part of him still craved Cassidy.  Yeah, not of the good.

"Try me.  I know something's wrong.  You smell more like Cassidy than ever, yet ya staked him for me.  Shouldn't happen like that.  You should’ve staked me." Spike moved closer, and he couldn't help noticing the intense expression on Spike's face:  confusion, but also something closer to wonder.

"I liked you better than Cassidy."  He shrugged, not knowing how to explain his inner conflict.  "I even missed your stupid music."

"You *liked* me?" Spike's eyebrow rose into his hairline.  For the first time, he realized that Spike hadn't actually spiked his hair, it hung down and tried to form little curls.  He reached up and touched one.

"*I* liked you," he confirmed.  Spike must have heard the emphasis.

"*You* liked me, but someone in there didn't?" Spike asked while reaching up with a finger and tapping him on the head.  "How many you got up there?"

"Just two."  Xander had to smile at the irony of that statement.  His need for a team of therapists had just turned into a need for a team of full-blown psychiatrists.  "The demon isn't just a piece," he admitted.

"So you got a whole demon in there?" Spike's eyes narrowed and the head turned to the side.

"Think so.  It took over.  With Cassidy," he explained carefully.  Then the floodgates opened.  "I didn't think you'd come for me; I didn't think you wanted me and I hurt and Cassidy wouldn't let me die and the demon wanted Cassidy so bad and I thought Cassidy'd let me die if I just let the demon give him what he wanted but then the demon took everything and I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop him from hurting you." Xander realized he had reached the limit of even his babble-ability when he had to actually catch his breath.

"You didn't think I'd come for you, pet?"

"You wanted to get Cassidy, but I didn't think you wanted me; you didn't claim me even when you could have."

"Oi, that's a demon talkin' if I've ever heard one.  Human would have appreciated not bein' thrown down and claimed."  Xander suppressed a shudder that went through him at Spike's words, and the vampire's eyebrows reached new heights.  "That what you want, pet?"

"I don't know what I want.  I don't want just one thing; it's like I have thoughts in my head and I can't sort out which are mine and which aren't.  God, I'm so screwed up I don't know why you didn't just dump me on Angel and forget about it."

"Luv, compared to Dru you're not just sane, you're nearly borin' in your saneness."

"I want to be wanted.  I want to be respected."  Xander began.  He drew a breath, not sure how to really express the next one.  "I don't want to have to fight myself anymore; I want all of me to want the same thing."

"Alright, pet.  I do want ya; wouldn't have threatened to fight the pouf if I didn't.  Have to say, if you have a demon in there and still managed to fight it down, that deserves a bit 'o respect.  Means a lot that you did that for me; I've never had anyone put me first before."  Spike looked away quickly.

"Spike?" He waited until the vampire turned back to him.  "Didn't Dru…"

"No, luv.  I was just her second choice behind Angelus.  Got her full time after he went all soul-boy, but I always knew she'd pick her own sire over me, and I never made a childe before because she took all my time."

"A childe?" He felt the panic now.  The demon roared to life, but visions of Gunn tracking him down and staking him sent his heart into overdrive.

"Innit what you want, pet?  Innit what you're askin' me to do?"

"No.  No vamping the Xan-man,” he felt his heart beating so loudly that he was sure Spike could hear echoes off the cement walls.

"You wouldn't be a minion, luv.  I'd make you a full childe and keep ya safe, teach ya to be a master and we'd hunt together, equals," Spike used his best comfort voice, which seemed even more upsetting given the words.

"No, no, not liking that plan."  Now his arms had joined the panic, shaking hands making it hard to keep the sheet in place.  Oh lord, why hadn't he listened to the little warning bells in his head?  He now realized why Angel had asked about whether he would be human; at the time he simply thought that the jerk was trying to drive a wedge between him and Spike.

"You'd like it once I turned you."

"But it wouldn't be me.  I *know* I don't want to be turned, and any creature who does want to be turned *isn't* me.  I want someone who wants the me with bad clothes and babbling and a habit of attracting psycho demons—I want someone who wants Xander Harris, not someone who wants a demon in my shape."  Xander felt the tears start.  "I'd rather you kill me, Spike.  I'd rather be dead than know that you never chose me but wanted the demon Cassidy put in me or the demon you'd put in me…please, Spike."

"Oi, not fair using logic; thought you said you were a stupid git.  Liar."

"Please."  At the quiet plea, Spike reached out a hand and pulled him into an embrace.

"Won't do it if you don't want.  Didn't work so well last time a vamp tried pushing you around.  I just thought that if I could push the soul out, you wouldn’t have anything holding you back, and you'd want me."  Xander had to stop and think about that before he realized where Spike had gone wrong.

"My demon doesn't want you, Spike," he admitted slowly.  The hand that had been rubbing his back in sympathy stopped.  "My demon wants Cassidy, but I'm stronger than the demon, so I'm forcing the demon to want you.  The demon's being torn apart by wanting two different masters, hell two different *clans* at once.  And I want you, the soul-me wants you.  At least I think I want you; I can't tell with all these feelings stirring around in here."

"So if I get rid of the soul, you'll want Cassidy, or since you dusted him, his clan?"  The rubbing began again.

"I don't know; I think so.  The demon wanted Cassidy so much that it hurt.  I had to resort to Sesame Street songs just to keep it away from the controls.  Cassidy's minions thought I was nuts."

"Might agree with 'em.  This is the strangest conversation I've ever had with a human.  So your soul'd pick me if the demon didn't keep pulling for Cassidy's side?"  Spike stood suddenly. 

"I don't know.  I just don't know anything anymore.  Spike, what are you doing?"  He watched suspiciously as Spike went over to the cabinet and returned not with the more familiar manacles, but rather with heavy leather restraints.

"Well, if I were a good person, I'd back off and give you time to sort out your own thoughts, but I'm not.  I'm evil, pet.  So, since you have a bit of a dispute, I figure I'll show your demon who's in charge.  Figure the soul's on my side, so I'll just make sure the demon is too."

"Oh god, please Spike, no."  He could feel the fear crawling up his backbone like a little live animal chewing its way up.

"Pet, I won't hurt you, won't *ever* hurt you."  Spike dropped the restraints and sat next to him on the bed, pulling him into strong arms.  "It's the only way to make you whole, innit?  The only way to make the demon want what you want?"  Xander felt his breathing slow as he realized the truth of Spike's words.  "Trust me?" Spike asked, and Xander saw that he had the restraints in one hand.  The demon and the soul wrestled for a moment and then Xander held out his wrists, trying to control the shivers that ran down his arms.

"You're safe, luv.  You're always safe with me," Spike promised as he closed the buckle and pulled the cuffs together.  "Just gotta listen to me on this one."  Spike reached up and tied the end of the connected leather leash to the ring before running hands through thick, brown, curly hair.  Xander tried to control an even harder shiver as he felt the fingers wander down to the skin of his neck and his scar.

"So glad I don't smell Cassidy on this," Spike whispered while touching Xander's cock even while pulling his body down so that he lay flat on the bed with his hands over his head.  "Trust me," he asked, and Xander realized that he did, even if that made him the fool.



Chapter 15

Xander felt Spike settle in so that the vampire's knees were outside his own; as Spike lowered his weight, Xander felt utterly trapped.  The panic started building so much that he returned to humming again, but a cool hand across his forehead made him open his eyes again.

"Demon needs to fight luv, needs to know I'm stronger."  Xander looked into calm blue eyes with no hint of anger.  "It’s all right, let it fight 'cause I am stronger, pet.  You can't toss me on my arse no matter what you do."  He could feel Spike's weight anchoring his thighs and cool hands hold his shoulders.  Suddenly he could feel the panic and anger swell up.

"Get off," he shouted without consciously forming the words.  He arched his back and pulled against the restraints as he tried to curl to one side, but calm hands simply pressed him back into the mattress as if he were no more than a child.

"Off!" he roared as he used the restraints to pull himself toward the headboard, dragging Spike along with him until he found enough slack in the leash to reach down to grab at Spike's hair.

"Oi, not so fast whelp.  Soddin' strong for a human," Spike complained as he braced his feet and pulled so that Xander felt himself sliding back down again, the leash forcing his hands over his head.  Changing tactics, he rhythmically rocked, throwing Spike up into the air as he arched his back and struggled to get his feet under him.  He could feel Spike slipping down and settling in closer to his pelvis than his knees, so he brought both of his knees up as hard as he could, slamming Spike in the back and throwing Spike off balance so that the vampire landed, chest first, on his face.  Without even thinking, he bit as hard as he could, hard enough to smell unfamiliar blood.

"Bloody hell," Spike swore, as he sat up and stripped off his shirt.  Within the space of a second he had spun and now sat so that Xander could only see his back, but when he felt soft fabric around his ankles, he screamed and kicked, trying to keep his feet far enough apart that Spike couldn't finish tying them.  Unfortunately, he didn't have the strength of a determined 120-year-old vampire, so he quickly found his feet tied tightly with Spike's shirt.  When Spike turned around again, he could see the trickle of blood from where he had bit Spike through the shirt.

"Had enough?"

"Off," he snarled in return, and he saw Spike's eyes flash gold at the rebellion.  He tried to repeat the knee slam, but Spike had too much weight on his legs and having them tied made it awkward, so he bucked again, arching his back.

"Enough of this," Spike whispered, and then he felt his head forced to the side.  He turned to bite the hand, but Spike's thumb pressed into a soft spot on the bottom of his jaw.  He felt his mouth fill with saliva, and he tilted his head up to relieve the pain.  Just then he felt the strike, the two points of pain as fangs entered his neck for the second time in his life.  He gave a muffled howl and tried to bring his knees up since Spike had shifted off his legs, but the blond simply worked his own leg into the crevice formed by Xander's tied legs and placed a knee in Xander's crotch.  He quickly abandoned the kicking plan since he really didn't want to permanently damage himself. 

His neck burned with pain and he squirmed, unable to really fight back, but then the pulling sensation slowed and the burn turned to a warmth that made him shiver.  He still squirmed, but he could suddenly feel the need to fight slip away like a mountain magically turned to sand.  The squirming became something else as the burn continued to fade until it became a warmth that spread through his whole body, like every sexual moment he'd ever had all rolled into one.  Xander Jr. suddenly look notice of the proceedings, and he squirmed even more as his cock pressed against Spike's knee.

"Spike, please," he moaned as he tilted his head back more.

"You done then?"  Spike asked as he raised his head and Xander could see what he had chosen for a lover:  a demon with yellow eyes and ridges that he longed to reach out and touch, he hands closed into fists with frustration at being unable to reach out.

"Oh god no, not done," he sighed as he squirmed under Spike's weight.  Spike must have realized his problem because the knee suddenly moved to the other side of his body so that Spike was straddling him again. 

"What?  Don't want ta stop, then?" Spike asked with a sly smile as he lowered his weight, his jeans pressing into Xander's cock, and Xander moaned again.  He could feel Spike's cock twitch under the denim, and he longed to tear the clothes off Spike, but he could only undulate his body so that he rubbed against Spike, causing Spike to softly laugh.  "You want something there, pet?"  Xander felt a cool hand rest on his hip and slowly start circling in a maddening pattern.

"Please," he begged as he tried to twist so that that wonderful hand touched his cock, but Spike just stood, leaving him naked and tied hand and foot.  Xander struggled to breathe as he watched Spike strip off his jeans and drop them to the floor before walking over to the cabinet.  He could hear himself whine in frustration as his cock reached full size and a single drop of pre-cum gathered at the head.  "Please." 

"Oi, not gonna hurt ya like that," Spike commented as he returned with lube in one hand and his other hand holding his own fully erect cock.  He could feel a tingle throughout his whole body as Spike settled down, straddling him again, but this time the two cocks mere inches from each other.  He bucked. 

"Stop," Spike commanded in a quiet tone as Xander felt the hand press down on his stomach to prevent another movement.

"Please," he repeated again even as it occurred to him that he really needed to develop a larger vocabulary.

"Wish I had time to play, time to taste ever inch of ya and sink my fangs into your thigh," Spike said wistfully before dropping the lube on the bed and allowing hands to explore, starting on his outer hips and moving inward to tease the inner thighs.  He whimpered and struggled to open his legs for Spike, but his legs remained tied and the vampire still straddled him, holding him still even as talented fingers made increasingly vigorous caresses. "Unfortunately, I think you'd explode, wouldn't ya, pet?" Xander only answered with another whimper. "Have to save that for another time."

Spike easily lifted his upper body and shifted him up so that his hands had more slack, and he struggled to touch, but Spike only chuckled and moved out of range before arranging the extra pillows and flipping him over.  Xander couldn't help whimpering again when he realized how vulnerable he was with his hands and feet tied and his butt stuck up in the air, although thank god for that because if he laid on Xander Jr. right at that moment, he would have crippled himself for life.

He could feel hands exploring his back, moving in a seemingly random pattern until he realized that Spike could somehow feel the remains of the whip marks, his hands following from one side to the other. He hadn't thought they left scars, but Spike could either see or feel them anyway. He relaxed into the touch, trusting Spike to never put such marks on him or allow anyone else to either. Without a word, the hands moved over the butt and down the legs until he felt the fabric at his feet worked free.  He didn't wait for an invitation; he opened his legs as far as he comfortably could.

"Impatient?  Thought that was my flaw," Spike laughed as fingers obligingly explored the newly revealed skin, tracing from the back of the balls up to the hole and then up the crack to the backbone.  He howled as he then felt a cool tongue tracing that route back again—backbone to hole to balls. 

"God, let me touch, Spike," he begged, but Spike simply continued with the impromptu bath, licking, sucking and then nipping various spots until Xander thought he would explode in desire.

"Don't you dare," Spike commanded as his breath ghosted over his left cheek.  "You don't come 'til I do, you hear?" 


"Pet," Spike cut him off, "you don't come 'til I do, hear?"

"Yeah, I'll try."

"Don't try, do." Spike ordered, allowing one hand to rest on the small of his back with the other circled his hole.  Spike's hand withdrew for a moment before returning, the cool, wet digit definitely closing in on its objective with ever smaller circles.  He tried to push back into the caress, but the hand at his back held him down as the finger teased.  He could feel his cock twitch and the pressure build as the finger finally stilled on the outside edge of the hole.  "Relax, luv," came the request just as the finger pushed in, the still unfamiliar motion of someone else's body in his own. 

Xander struggled to rise to his knees or rock back or something, but the hand held him firm.  "Settle, pet," Spike ordered in his thick accent.  The finger moved in and out, and he tried to just breathe without choking on his own tongue.  When the finger withdrew, he felt oddly cold, but then the hand returned, and two fingers worked their way in slowly, he felt them push until he could feel the rest of Spike hand pressed up against his body, and then the fingers pulled back, pressing against the side of his channel more firmly.  He squirmed in discomfort, but the fingers simply closed and thrust back in before repeating the process of widening and stretching.

"Relax, pet.  I'll take care of it, but you have to relax," Spike cajoled him as a third finger joined.  Almost at once, Xander could feel the pain, but the fingers stopped, barely in him, and Spike's other hand rubbed his back.  "So beautiful, you know.  Bite like a soddin' vampire, fight like demon when you're riled, feel like heaven under me. Chose me, you did, and now you're mine.  Course, I'm yours, luv.  Never leave ya.   Can feel your heartbeat, Xander.  I can feel your heart beat and your blood flow right under my fingers.  I can't bloody wait to push into myself, to feel your hot flesh closing around me." 

He lost himself in the words and didn't even notice the fingers until he felt the rest of Spike's hand press up against his backside. 

"Tell me what I need to hear, luv," Spike ordered, and then Xander felt the fingers inside him curl and press into his prostate.  He wailed and tried to push back into that heaven, but the hand on his back held him.

"Tell me," Spike repeated as he stroked the prostate again.

"Spike," he gasped, unable to even form words in his mind as Spike stroked the spot a third time.  He felt his balls draw up in preparation, but the hand from his back darted between his legs and gave them a sharp tug.  "Damn it," he yelped in surprise.

"Didn't give you permission to come," Spike announced calmly as the hand returned to the back.  "Tell me, pet. If you want to come, tell me."

"Damn it," he swore again as Spike returned to tenderly stroking his prostate, leaving him panting and struggling to thrust back, to make the strokes deeper, firmer.  "I don't know what you want me to say."

"Demon knows, pet.  Let the demon have what it needs, luv."  Spike continued the soft stroking, pulling the three fingers almost all the way out to add lube at one point.  Xander felt like his genitals would explode or he would turn into a puddle of lust, maybe both.  He heard himself begging please and harder over and over, but Spike simply continued until the pressure in his balls was such that he was sure the skin itself would split just to allow the come to escape its prison.

"Let the demon go, pet," Spike suggested as he continued, unaffected.

"Spike, please.  It's really starting to hurt," he complained as he writhed ineffectively against the hand on his back.  "Please, master."  As the last words passed his mouth, Xander felt a quiet in his mind that he didn't remember ever possessing before.  The fingers withdrew.

"Whatever you want, luv," Spike murmured against his back as the vampire settled in behind him and pulled him up to his knees.  He trembled with unreleased need as Spike settled in, and then he felt something pushing against his hole.  Rather than wait, he pushed backwards, and Spike allowed him as he impaled himself on Spike, feeling the welcoming burn of the large cock.  He tried to rock, but Spike wrapped an arm around his waist and held him still.

"What do ya need, luv?"

"You, master," he said, and he realized it was true.  "I need you so much."  This time Spike initiated the movement, rocking back and forth in small motions designed to tease more than satisfy.

"Whose are you, pet?"

"Yours master," Xander agreed happily. 

"You're mine, pet, only mine," Spike said as the rocking increased. 

"Yours master."

"You'll obey me."

"Yes…" Xander suddenly froze in the midst of the easy answer.  He braced himself and thrust back as hard as he could even while he amended the answer that his tongue struggled to give.  The motion hit his prostate and he lost all coherent thought for a heart beat's time.  "I'll obey when I agree with you," he finally answered.  He could feel as Spike lost the rhythm for a moment.

"Bloody hell, you're arguin' now?" Spike complained, but he thrust more aggressively now, and Xander felt a mouth start exploring his newly opened scar as Spike rested on his back.

"You're mine," Spike growled as he thrust and nipped the scar at the same time.  Xander nearly lost his balance and had to grab the sheets in his still tied hands.  Pleasure, pain, safety, lust, pleasure, pressure.  Thoughts chased through his head until he almost lost track of the question.

"Yours," he finally answered.  He felt himself nearly lunge off the bed when Spike bit down again, this time with dull human teeth, even as a hand reached around and grabbed his erection.  He bucked and thrust wildly, seeking his own release and simultaneously driving himself back onto Spike.  His body stiffened with the beginning sequence of his own release, and it felt as if Spike suddenly grew to a monstrous, wonderful new thickness as he tightened his ass muscles.  When he felt Spike stiffen and begin coming, his own release started in earnest.  The pain in his genitals flared as he shot his first load, and then the release of pressure and the pleasure and the sudden freedom from pain and the lust and the feeling of Spike's release tangled around each other until he wanted only to live in that one moment, never come out the other side, but exist in that instant of ecstasy forever.

His arms and legs collapsed, sending him crashing to the bed, once again in the wet spot, and he didn't care.   Spike seemed equally reluctant to move.


"Bloody hell, pet, what?  Can't a vamp get a little sleep?"

"Um, if you get off me, maybe.  Better yet, how about getting out of me?" he suggested with a wiggle.

"Do that again and we'll be startin' up again a mite sooner than I expected," Spike commented dryly.

"Um, move?"

"Oi, fine we'll have this discussion now.  How's the conversation in your head pet?"

"Ooookaaaay," he drawled.  "But you just lost me somewhere."

"Not movin' 'til I know the demon's learned his place.  Handy thing about vamp anatomy; long as I got enough blood in me body, can keep goin' as long as I want."  Xander forced himself to try and relax at that bit of news.  He wasn't uncomfortable, but he couldn't exactly call the position comfortable either with his legs spread and Spike's continued erection pinning him to the bed.

"Demon's fine, Spike.  Honest.  Hasn't been this quiet up here in years," he promised as he awkwardly gestured toward his own head.  And are you serious, about the whole hard forever thing?"

"As long as I have enough blood in me."

"Okay, and that's just a little gross to even think about.  Can we not discuss your feeding habits while bodily attached to each other 'cause I don't really want to know whose blood you're using to pin me here."

"Pig's blood," Spike admitted with a snort of disgust.

"Pig?"  Surely he didn't hear that right.

"Wanker of a sire wouldn't help me if I hunted, and I needed help finding you, so I drank soddin' pig's blood."

"You drank pig's blood?"

"I already said it twice, don't ever bloody ask me about it again or I'll deny ever doin' somethin' so un-vampirely."

"That's romantic; you drank pig's blood for me, and how disturbing is it that I suddenly find pig's blood romantic?  I mean I don't expect hearts and flowers kind of romance from a vamp, unless it's the actual heart-type heart as in human hearts, not that I would find that romantic, so don't go there, Spike."

"Well, I can see we didn't damage your ability to babble yourself into oblivion, pet."

"Will you move now?  I'm getting pressed into a wet spot here."

"Mite worried about the demon, pet.  Don't want your soul and your demon to get into some sort of disagreement when I'm asleep."  Spike shifted slightly and Xander felt a weight on his shoulder, a fuzzy weight that tickled his skin.

"You think I'd hurt you?"  He felt a weight far heavier than Spike's body descend on him.  "You really think I'd stake you in your sleep?"

"Pet normally declares allegiance to a master, but you seemed to hedge a bit, luv.  Somethin' about obeyin' when you agree."  He felt fingers run through his hair before reaching up for his shackled hands.  With one hand, Spike freed the buckle that connected the two cuffs, and Xander began to unbuckle the rest himself.

"I can't just agree to whatever you want," he explained.  "I'm not going to help you start killing soccer moms."

"Oi, you think I'd go after soccer moms?" Spike asked in his best offended voice.

"Spike, you know what I mean.  I'm not going there, even if I do love you."

"Do you?" Spike asked with such sincerity that he wondered where Spike had been for the last hour or so.

"Um, yeah.  Don't normally do this with people I don't love," Xander gestured with a now free hand.  "Why are you suddenly questioning whether I care for you?"

"Called me 'master' before." 

"Oh hell, the demon still thinks of you as master, and quite frankly the demon would have promised to help you wipe out every girl scout in the country if that's what it took to get claimed, but I'm not the demon, Spike.  Don't expect me to go crawling like I did…" He froze, not even wanting to conjure that memory when in bed with Spike, especially with Spike still firmly implanted in him.  "That wasn't me," he finally finished.

"I feel like this whole thing isn't my life.  Do you know what I mean?"  Xander almost whispered, unsure how to explain his feelings.

"Yep.  With Dru for over a hundred years, don't feel quite normal to be with someone else, so I know the feeling."

"You wish you had her back," Xander tried not to feel pain at that, but he did anyway.

"Wish she wasn't dead, least not by Cassidy.  Sent soddin' humans after her—whole bloody mob.  Wish I could bring her back, dump her on Angel and let him deal with her bleedin' tea parties.  Then I'd shag you again," Spike finished, and Xander felt loved—all of him, demon and soul.

"It's like everything changed with Cassidy, like my life is the second verse of some song when everyone else is singing the first verse."

"Prefer you not singing at all, pet.  No offense."  Silence fell for a moment, but he could feel Spike's need to ask.  "Sorry?  I mean, about the first bite and all?"

"Some parts, but not you.  I'll keep singing the second verse forever to stay with you," Xander admitted, knowing he sounded like a girl, but needing to say it and suspecting that Spike needed to here it.

"So you're gonna stay in charge now?" 

"Yep, the badly dressed Xan-man, who chose you back when the demon still lusted over Cassidy.  That's the me that's large and in-charge," he joked, trying to act normal despite the unusual position. "In fact, the demon's gone mighty quiet in here,” Xander suddenly realized.  He closed his eyes and tried to feel those dark corners he had so long fought to bury.  "He's happy," he finally announced in surprise.  He had grown so used to that squirm of discontent and pain in his subconscious that he didn't quite know what to do with a happy brain.

"And are you?" Spike asked as he felt the vampire slowly pull out.  He hissed in discomfort and tried to relax as he felt the tugging at his muscles.  The weight returned, this time much lighter as the vampire lay half on the bed and half on his left side.

"Yep, right where I want to be."  Xander announced.  "Wet spot excluded of course."

"You'll live," Spike said as Xander felt and arm slip around his waist and pull him off the wet spot and into Spike's chest.  Spike curled around him and Xander felt more than heard the vibrations start.  After a moment, he recognized the sound.  He closed his eyes, comfortable and safe, unsurprised when his own demon responded, a soft purr coming from his own chest as he drifted off to sleep.




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