Twilight Time by Shadow

Chapter 1

Spike had always liked Sunnydale’s cemetery in the moonlight. In a sense completely separate from the obvious ironic-humorous one, it felt like . . . home. Well, it was like home. The poor sections of London in his mortal youth had largely been one big charnal pit. The smell, the sense of death and decay were almost comforting in their familiarity. His comparatively brief mortal life had given him a deep and abiding appreciation of immortality. Spike lived on; with a few exceptions, everything else died. He was satisfied with that arrangement, and the cemetery was a pleasant reminder of it.

It was also an excellent place for a midnight, or in this case 10:42 p.m., snack.

He’d taken early leave of this evening’s meeting of the Scooby Gang, earning himself a disapproving glare from Buffy and Giles, not that he bloody cared. Talk, talk, talk. They could have it. When the time came to do something, they’d let him know, seeing as how they seemed to view him as their bloody slave boy. In the meantime, it wasn’t as if his opinion meant anything to them.

It should have. By and large he knew more about whatever supernatural problem of the day than they did, but generally he kept that knowledge to himself with considerable satisfaction. Let them ignore him, let them sneer. He knew, they didn’t, and if one of them got themselves bitten in half by one of Sunnydale’s nasties because of that fact, he’d grin ear to ear and say, “Well, you never asked, did you, ey?”

Not that they showed any gratitude when he did tell, which made his silence all the sweeter. Oh, nooooooo. Far be it for the bloody Slayer and her Slayerettes to say thanks to one of the “slimeball undead.” Noooooo, he was lucky that they were kind enough to occasionally throw him the odd packet of fucking pig’s blood, for Christ’s sake, or a few dollars of pocket cash, and not stake him now that he couldn’t fight back or fend for himself.

Spike smirked. He could’ve told them a thing or two about that, too.

They thought he was dependent on their protection. Not hardly. The chip in his brain only kept him from hurting humans, and apart from the bloody Initiative, which he took precious good care to avoid, most of the threats in Sunnyhell were decidedly non-human. Over considerable protest from the Watcher and the Slayer, Spike had moved out and into Angel’s old basement digs (feeling absolutely no need to ask Tall, Dark and Broody, who had apparently bought the empty building and paid ahead for the utility, for permission for the appropriation). It was quiet, dark, defensible and had a nice secret exit in the basement leading into the sewers – everything a cautious vampire could want. Comfortable bed, too, and a telly to while away the daylight hours when he wasn’t sleepy. And no bloody Watcher telling him he couldn’t put his feet up on the coffee table or lecturing him about leaving a ring of blood in the coffee mug.

They thought he was dependent on their feeding him – and he’d have been in hard fucking times if he had been, seeing as how the meager ration of pig’s blood he was given was enough to leave him half starved. Hah! Spike smirked again. Blood wasn’t so hard to come by as all that. Demon blood, not nearly as nice as human but a good mark above fucking pig’s blood, could most generally be had by a cruise through the alleys or on the wharf. Vampire blood, a nice notch above demon blood, could be had with little more effort; now that Angel was gone, Spike was the only master vampire in town, and the lesser minions were easy pickings, hardly more than a nice bit of exercise. If Spike was feeling lazy or really desperate, a few bills under the counter at Willy’s could get him packaged human blood, no details offered as to where it came from, but Spike didn’t like to do that; bagged blood was always his last choice, and besides, it wouldn’t do to have folks wondering why a master vampire was paying to buy packaged blood, f’r chrissakes. Even fresh animal blood was better than that damned refrigerated swine, and that emergency meal was as close as the nearest family backyard-dwelling Pet.

But there was another treat available, one the Slayer & Co. had doubtless never thought about. If Spike wandered around the favorite vampire haunts – say, this very cemetery – it wasn’t all that rare for Spike to come across a vampire or demon or werewolf or whatever making a meal on a freshly dead, or better yet, dying human. Whereupon Spike could dispatch the predator and earn himself a hefty two-course meal. He could even, if he cared to bother, bottle up leftovers for takeaway. Mostly these days he flushed away Giles’ Porky the Pig Specials, but he didn’t say so (never a good idea to cut off the emergency supply; besides, he liked putting Giles to the trouble). A beautiful full-moon night like tonight, however, practically guaranteed a happy tummy for William the Bloody at the mere cost of a pleasant stroll through the graveyard and maybe a nice workout, just enough to let him feel fierce and feared again.

Let them think him helpless and dependent and controllable as long as they liked. Let them make a habit of it, in fact. Sooner or later he’d be rid of the bloody chip, and then he’d vastly enjoy . . . re-educating them. For example, it might be fun to break one of Buffy’s bones for each and every sarcastic barb she’d flung his way, plus a few extras for the way she’d snubbed him when he’d been crazy enough to think he fancied her. That thought made him smile. Although the human body housed only 200-odd bones; he wasn’t sure that was enough. Of course, he could always finish with his trademark railroad spikes, nail her up to a tree. There were lots of places to drive them through that wouldn’t finish her too quickly.

And Giles? Hmmm. Maybe he’d take the Watcher’s precious stapler, tear out the pages of his precious Watcher’s journal, and staple the pages to the Watcher (all, right, ex-Watcher, but one got into these habits and it wasn’t worth his trouble to break it) – one for every gripe and fucking order the Watcher had made him endure. “Don’t drink blood out of my good tea set, Spike.” “Feet off the coffee table, Spike.” “No, you may not play the stereo while I’m researching.” “Turn the television off, Spike, you’ve watched long enough.” “Oh, do get out of the way for a while, Spike.” Or better yet, maybe he’d just lock Giles away with nothing to eat but the odd packet of pig’s blood now and again. See how he liked the stuff.

Dawn? Truth to tell, he felt sorry for the whiny little bint. Her destiny, plus her relationship to Her Blondeness, plus the loss of her mother (whom Spike had actually liked, sort of) were punishment enough for anybody.

Then there was the little witch and her witchy lover. Spike shook his head. He didn’t really have much animosity toward Willow and Tara. Tara was hardly a factor, so shy as to almost be a nonentity, and Willow, strangely enough, had always been rather kind to him. But then, she was rather kind to everyone. She’d even spoken up on his behalf a time or two when Buffy had gotten too nasty and pushed him around, knowing he couldn’t defend himself against her.

And Xander. Spike shook his head again. Strangely enough, despite all the times he’d tried to kill, torture, fold, spindle or mutilate the dark-haired lad in the past, he felt rather – well, affectionate towards him now after actually spending some time around him and watching him with the gang. Probably because the poor git had a worse lot with the Scoobies than he did, especially since Anya had broken up with him in a rather nasty way, announcing – in front of the Scoobies, mind – that she was leaving Sunnydale to find “a real man that I can have a real relationship with.” After some brief sympathy, mostly from Willow, after that public humiliation, everybody had pretty much gone back to treating Xander like shit. Spike only got contempt, sarcastic remarks, threats, and the occasional punch or kick – nothing more than he was used to in life, and he was, after all, their enemy, which sort of made it fair. Xander got ignored, dismissed, belittled, ridiculed, pushed aside literally or figuratively, and demoted to a humiliatingly menial position in the group. When they bothered with him at all. And they were supposed to be his friends. Shame, really. Looking back on it, Spike could recall plenty of times when the boy had had good ideas, clever thoughts. He had a way of thinking ‘round corners sometimes. And he didn’t look half juicy on the rare occasions when a surprisingly luscious body could be glimpsed despite those horrible clothes his mother picked. Spike couldn’t find it in him to wish the lad any ill when life had already dealt him such a rotten hand of cards.

And speaking of Xander, the whelp hadn’t been at the meeting tonight, rather odd for him, but Spike certainly understood. Why bother, when his supposed friends treated him like that? They’d barely noticed his absence, Buffy merely dropping some crack about Xander probably out applying for Minimum-Wage Job Number 822. Hell, maybe Spike would break a bone or two on the Slayer for a few of the dismissive or contemptuous remarks she’d thrown Xander’s way, too. What was another bone or two? The more the merrier, Spike always said.

He shook himself out of his revery. If he wanted to eat something fresh tonight, he’d best get his mind off revenge and on hunting. He saw a figure moving up ahead and smiled. If he was lucky, there was dinner, right on schedule.

He pursued, frowning as he realized his quarry was human. Well, no matter; humans wandering through Sunnydale’s cemetery at night most always came to bad ends, and Spike planned to be there to pick up the pieces, so to speak. Anyway, this particular human had “Kill me now!” written all over him – he was carrying an overnight bag, and his haste and furtive manner meant for certain he was fleeing something – or someone – already. More, he was limping and moving stiffly as though he was injured, and from far behind him Spike could smell a trace of blood scent. Yeah, that would draw every nasty in the vicinity right quick. All Spike had to do was follow along and let somebody or something else make the kill for him, and if Spike was lucky, he could get to the human just as the last flutter of life slipped away and the blood was still nice and warm. Spike’s mouth began to water, and he could feel the tingle that meant he’d soon shift to his game face. Then more of the scent reached him and –

Maybe he wouldn’t have recognized it so easily if he hadn’t only just been thinking of the Scooby Gang. But the scent was unmistakable, and Spike groaned.


Fuck, that boy was such a bloody danger magnet. What sort of stupid git went walking alone through Sunnyhell’s cemetery in the middle of the night, on a full moon no less, smelling of blood and obviously unfit to fight?


Bloody hell.

Fucking bloody hell.

Groaning again, Spike set off to follow.

By the time Xander reached the middle of the cemetery – despite his haste he really wasn’t moving all that well or that quickly – Spike had stealthily intercepted and quietly dispatched two vampires and one miscellaneous minor demon. Unfortunately the need to look out for the next attacker kept him from lingering to make a meal of any of them. At last the stupid bloody git made it to safety, or at least out of the worst part of the cemetery, and Spike raised his eyebrows when he saw where Xander was heading. It was the big crypt where Buffy had stowed Angel after Soul Man returned from hell. Xander turned out to have the key, too, probably swiped from Giles, and he opened the rusty metal lock, pulled the door open, and slipped inside.

For the first time, Spike allowed himself to wonder, really wonder, what the hell Xander was doing tonight. And where he’d been while his “friends” were eating pizza and swilling pop. He didn’t allow himself to wonder, however, why he’d felt any obligation to protect the whelp who, up till a few weeks ago, would have gladly put a stake through his heart.

Peeking into the large crypt, Spike got his second big surprise of the evening – this was obviously not the first time Xander had been here, not by a long shot. A sleeping bag was rolled up by the fireplace, together with an air mattress to go under it. A few wooden crates served as storage for some tinned food and bags of crisps and the like, and a couple of books and what looked like a big first-aid kit. A bit of firewood was stacked up beside the fireplace in bundles that looked like they’d been purchased at the local market – well, of course; where would Xander get firewood, except maybe the park? and even while Spike watched, Xander laid a clumsy fire and, after several attempts, finally lit it.

Knowing that Xander couldn’t be fool enough to leave the door standing open forever, Spike slipped stealthily inside and concealed himself behind a pillar where he had a good view. It was harder to move around inside with the stone floor; once Xander had the door closed and the night noises shut out, the slightest sound was going to echo around in here. Spike didn’t ask himself what he was going to do about getting out.

As he’d predicted, Xander closed and locked the door as soon as he had the fire going for light. Moving stiffly, he pumped up the air mattress with a foot pump – it was one of those nice ones, an air bed they were called, big as a double bed – spread the large sleeping bag out over it, and sat down on it with a sigh of weary relief. He worked himself out of his jacket with evident pain, and when he turned parallel to the fire, Spike got an idea of why.

Xander was a right mess, and no two ways about it. His face was swollen and covered with bruises; one eye was swelled almost shut. The blood smell had come from a split lip and the slight remaining flow from a bloody nose; more had spattered the front of his shirt. Spike couldn’t see what injuries were hidden under Xander’s shirt to make him move like that, but he could see the shirt sticking to his back in a few places and smelled more blood there, and from that evidence he could make an educated guess.

More than guess.

He could remember.

“Well, you’re a right mess,” he said, not realizing he’d spoken aloud until he saw Xander jump violently, then turn quickly, belatedly groaning at the pain the movement cost him.

“Easy there, Pet.” Spike crouched down at Xander’s side. “Let’s have a look.”

Xander jerked away from Spike’s touch, and this time he went pale when he groaned.

“How did you get in here?” he gasped. “Did you – you were following me, weren’t you?” he accused.

“Yeah, and bloody good thing, too,” Spike said sourly. “Or you’d have been dead three times over at least.”

“I wish,” Xander mumbled almost silently, but not so softly that Spike’s vampiric hearing couldn’t catch the words.

“Nonsense, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “Undead’s not bad, but dead’s no fun at all, especially if it hurts a whole lot getting there. Now let me have a look.”

This time Xander froze instead of pulling away, which was good. Spike ran his hands carefully over Xander’s torso, careful not to press and cause pain – he didn’t especially fancy a headache from the bleeding chip – frowning as he touched Xander’s ribs. Vampire sensitivity magnified his sense of touch enough that pressure wasn’t necessary.

“Might have cracked one there, Pet,” he said. He sat back, gazing into Xander’s eyes. “What’d your bleeding folks use on you, a fucking baseball bat?”

“They didn’t – “ Xander flushed darkly. “I fell and hit the pool table.”

“Yeah, well, that must be one bleeding feisty table to do all that,” Spike said with a chuckle. “I figure it must be possessed or something. Suppose we just go tell Giles about that demonic table, ey? Might need exorcising, that, before it eats someone.”

“No!” Xander flushed even darker. “I mean – “

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“Well, Pet?” he said, waiting patiently.

Xander dropped his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I really did fall and hit the table,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, when your dad was beating you half senseless with what?” Spike said inexorably.

“Belt,” Xander whispered.

“And?” Spike said mercilessly. Some of those bruises weren’t caused by any belt, or a fist, either.

“Pool cue,” Xander whispered, almost inaudibly.

Spike sighed.

“Right,” he said. “Come on, Pet.” He stood, picked up Xander’s suitcase in one hand, and extended the other to help the younger man up.

Xander didn’t budge.

“Where?” he asked apprehensively.

“Back to mine,” Spike said patiently. “You’re going to need more than a couple of bandaids, Pet. And you can’t stay in the cemetery, not smelling of blood and too beat up to defend yourself.”

“I’m not going to your place,” Xander protested angrily.

“Fine,” Spike said, less patiently now. “Then I’m going straight back to Giles and tell him where you are and what state you’re in and why. Better?”

Xander made a face, but he accepted Spike’s outstretched hand, although he went pale again when Spike carefully pulled him to his feet. Xander silently followed Spike back to Angel’s old rooms, standing awkwardly in the middle of the living room when Spike put the suitcase down.

“Right,” Spike said. He grimaced. “Well, make yourself comfortable. I’m ‘round to the chemist’s for a few things.”

“Chemist?” Xander echoed worriedly, frowning.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“You Yanks say ‘drugstore’,” he said. “Sit down, relax, help yourself to a beer – don’t drink anything that looks like tomato juice, mind, or you’ll have a bit of a shock.”

It felt strange, wrong, to leave somebody else – much less a mortal – running loose in his lair while he went out – now that he actually had a lair of his own again, that is. He found a drugstore and made his purchases; then he looked up an old acquaintance, made another purchase, and hurried back to the apartment. Xander was sitting exactly where Spike had left him, as if he hadn’t moved, but there was an opened beer beside him. Xander looked pale and wan under all the bruises.

“All right, Pet?” Spike asked, carrying his purchases to the bathroom. “Come on, then.”

Hesitantly Xander followed the vampire into the bathroom, keeping his distance.

“You’ve really changed things around here, haven’t you?” he said. “I mean, I don’t remember it being so – looking so – “

“Lived in?” Spike suggested. “Oh, Angel couldn’t pass on a chance at his own misery, had to keep the place like a bloody monastery.” He chuckled, and Xander grinned, too, a little reluctantly.

Xander was silent for a long moment, then ventured another timid comment.

“There were a lot of bottles in the refrigerator,” he said quietly. “I mean, Giles just gives you those packets, doesn’t he? And those are labeled. So those bottles must come from somewhere else.”

Spike snorted.

“You really want to know, Pet?” he said.

Xander swallowed but didn’t retreat.

“Yeah,” he said softly. “I really want to know.”

Spike was rather impressed by the youth’s fortitude. One thing you had to say for Xander, he was no coward. He generally threw himself right into a fight, regardless of the intelligence of his boldness. That was brave twice over when you factored in that he didn’t have Slayer strength or witchcraft or the like going for him, like the rest of the gang.

“Most of that’s either demon or demon leavings,” Spike said indifferently. “Bit o’vampire, too, maybe.”

“Oh.” Xander grinned. “I guess you don’t want Giles to know you’re hunting on your own.”

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“And I guess you don’t want Giles to know your parents are pounding the daylights out of you, Pet,” he retorted. “Fair deal?”

“Fair enough for me,” Xander said quickly. He glanced at Spike rather shyly. “I wouldn’t have told him anyway, though. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be hunting demons and vampires and things if you want to. I mean, it’s not like there’s a law or anything. Heck, they should be grateful for the help.”

Once again, Spike was surprised and impressed. He concealed it quickly.

“Shirt off, Pet,” he said. “Sit down on the loo and let’s get you cleaned up.”

Slowly Xander worked his shirt off with what Spike thought was shyness – until he got a look at Xander’s back. He felt his lip draw up in a snarl as he surveyed the dense pattern of welts, some of them still oozing blood (and had probably stuck to the shirt, hence the care), and heavy bruises that crisscrossed Xander’s back. The marks continued down to the waistband of Xander’s jeans, and Spike realized that the damage was rather worse – and more extensive – than he’d originally thought.

“Right,” Spike said, keeping his voice even – Xander already looked scared, and no wonder, showing bloody welts to a vampire. “Pants too, Pet.”

“Wh-wh-what?” Xander sputtered, whirling to stare at Spike, then groaning belatedly as his body caught up with the motion.

“You’re a right mess,” Spike said patiently. “First off, you’re going to need a soak in a hot tub so I can get some of the lint and shit out of those welts. And even from here I can see that your back isn’t half the package, right?”

Xander’s face flamed.

“Look, Pet,” Spike said as gently as he could manage despite the rage that kept trying to push him into game face – a rage focused entirely on Xander’s parents. “I don’t know what’s running through your head, whether you’re thinking I’m going to bite you or rape you or whatnot, but you ought to know I can’t do any of ‘em, right?”

Xander glanced down miserably.

“I’m not afraid,” he whispered.

“Well, then, what – “

Spike stopped. Xander wasn’t afraid. He was ashamed. Ashamed of what his father had done to him, ashamed that he hadn’t been able to do anything but take it, ashamed that he needed Spike’s help now. Spike sighed mentally. Fear he knew; he’d been on both ends of it often enough in his life. Shame was rather a new one on him.

He forced himself to remember back to certain events he pushed to the back of his mind whenever he could. Days after his own beatings by whatever “uncle” his mother had brought home. Tears of anger and humiliation. All the belittling taunts and barbs and acts that Angelus had enjoyed using on him, knowing damned well that Spike’s pride was, if anything, his biggest vulnerability. Uncomfortably, Spike cleared his throat.

“’S all right, Pet,” he said softly. “Nothing I haven’t seen before. Come to that, nothing I haven’t felt before.”

“Huh?” Xander looked up, startled.

Spike turned his head, fingertips brushing over a slight scar at his hairline.

“One of my mum’s men did this,” he said. “Wasn’t even one of the really bad times. Now go on, get your kit off.”

Xander hesitated a moment longer, then slowly unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them down, groaning hollowly as the effort forced him to bend.

“Hold on there, Pet,” Spike said quietly. “I’ll take care of that, ey?” He crouched down at Xander’s feet, expecting an argument or blank refusal, but Xander said nothing and made no resistance as Spike lifted one foot at a time, removing shoes and socks, giving Xander time to get used to the idea of Spike undressing him. Xander let Spike slide the jeans down over his legs, but when Spike reached for the waistband of Xander’s boxers, Xander grabbed Spike’s hands.

“Wait,” he gasped.

“Look, Pet – “ Spike began, but Xander cut him off.

“It’s not that,” he mumbled, not meeting Spike’s eyes. “It’s just – I mean, I think they’re going to stick to the welts like my shirt. And if you hurt me, that sets off the chip, right?”

Sheer astonishment left Spike wordless – that Xander was worried about Spike and the fucking chip when he was in such a state; hell, that it even occurred to the boy! A pang of some emotion Spike couldn’t identify shot through him, leaving him both inordinately pleased and somehow vulnerable at the same time. He didn’t stop to analyze it; self-analysis wasn’t Spike’s strong suit.

“Right, then,” he said, surprised at the momentary unsteadiness of his own voice. “Just wait a moment, then, and I’ll run the tub. You can get in just as you are.”

“In my boxers?” Xander said, his eyebrows shooting up.

“Right, they’ll peel off easy once we’ve soaked those welts a bit,” Spike explained. He moved over to fill the tub. “No, don’t sit, it’ll hurt more getting up again. This’ll only take a moment.”

He got the water adjusted to what he hoped was a bearable temperature for the mortal – he really needed the water as hot as Xander could take it – and laid a towel down in the bottom of the tub for extra comfort and traction.

“Right, now let’s get you in,” he said.

“It’s not full yet,” Xander protested.

“I know,” Spike said. “Be easier that way, and we won’t splash any out getting you in. Slow and easy now, there’s the ticket.”

Slowly, carefully, they got Xander into the tub; Xander sighed with relief as he settled back, the hot water creeping up his sides as the tub filled.

“Oh, God, this feels good,” he moaned.

“Well, getting you out won’t be much fun,” Spike admitted. “But it probably nets out as an improvement.”

“How am I going to get these boxers off like this?” Xander said, sighing unhappily at the prospect of trying to raise his hips, maneuver the garment down –

“You’re not,” Spike grinned. “I’m going to, and you aren’t to move a muscle, mind?”

“But how – “ Xander started, only to gulp when he saw the scissors in Spike’s hand. “Oh.”

“They’re likely ruined anyway,” Spike said practically. And no great loss, either, he thought, stifling a contempuous laugh at the Roadrunner figures on the cloth. He carefully cut through the boxers up each side, then simply cut the front away, leaving Xander sitting on the back piece. He’d get that later, when it had had more time to soak.

Xander looked surprised, and more than a little embarrassed, when Spike picked up a soft cloth and began to wash him, but once again he didn’t protest. When he started to do Xander’s face, however, Xander stopped him again.

“Better let me do it,” Xander said awkwardly. “It might – I mean, it’ll probably hurt.”

“I’ll be careful,” Spike promised. “Trust me.” He grinned saucily.

As he expected, that cracked Xander up and eased the tension. Xander sat quietly as Spike cleaned his face with tiny, careful dabs of the cloth. When he helped Xander carefully sit up, however, and turned his attention to Xander’s back, the mortal protested again.

“I know this is going to hurt,” Xander said firmly.

“Yeah, well, you can’t do this yourself,” Spike said practically. “Besides, I got a secret weapon.” He picked up the bottle of Chloraseptic and showed it to Xander, then held up the bottle of pills in his other hand.

Xander raised an eyebrow.

“Thought that was for sore throats,” he said. “What are the pills?”

“These are painkillers, the really good stuff,” Spike told him, hefting the pill bottle. “And your Chloraseptic here is a topical anaesthetic. Numbs bloody anythin’, or so I’m to understand. So you’re gonna pop a couple feelgood pills, I’m gonna spray down your back, and then we’re in business.” He shook a couple of pills out into his hand and fetched a cup of water.

Xander looked at the pills skeptically, then grabbed the bottle and read the label.

“Um, no offense, but how did you get these?” he asked. “They’re prescription.”

Spike smirked.

“Let’s just say I’ve got friends in low places,” he said. “Go on, tip ‘em up.”

Xander hesitated a moment longer, then swallowed the pills, washing them down with the water. He shivered when Spike sprayed the Chloraseptic over his back, then sighed in plain relief.

“Oh, man, that feels better,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that for the next – “ His voice trailed off

Spike bit back a snarl. Won’t be any next time, he told himself firmly. I’ll see to that.

To his surprise, Xander didn’t even wince as Spike carefully cleaned the welts, although he was sure it had to hurt at least a bit; even more surprising, the chip didn’t give him any grief either. Apparently since Spike was helping Xander, not harming him, he got a bit of leeway. Or maybe it was because Xander wasn’t showing any pain? Who knew?

The welts were bad, the bruising deep. Xander was going to be hurting for some time. Spike cleaned down as far as he could without leaning Xander too far forward – ribs, after all – then sat back, perplexed. At last he sighed.

“Right,” he said. “Hands and knees, Pet.”

“Wha – HUH?” This time at least Xander only whipped his head around, not his entire body, staring at Spike incredulously.

“Well, you can’t very well clean the stripes on your own arse,” Spike said patiently. “I suppose I could get you out of the tub altogether and you could lean over the sink like, but that’s likely less comfortable and you’d have to stay that way for a bit, and we’ll get water all over the bathroom floor.”

Xander bit his lip but slowly obeyed, letting Spike help him. The towel helped, cushioning his knees from the hard tub bottom. Xander was really flushed now and shaking slightly; Spike figured the vulnerability of his position, plus maybe a little delayed shock setting in, were to blame.

“’S all right, Pet,” he said soothingly, smiling slightly at Xander’s surprise. What was so strange that Spike could soothe and comfort? He’d tended to Dru, after all, for bloody decades of her frigging visions and babblings and whims and mad tea parties with Miss Edith, and hadn’t that been a bloody bore? Spike carefully dabbed Xander’s arse dry, and a mighty fine arse it was when it was at home, wasn’t it? and gave it a good spraying over with the chloraseptic. The damage here wasn’t as bad, probably because Xander’s jeans had offered more protection than his thin shirt, and the soaking before taking off his boxers had kept as much fuzz from sticking; but there was still plenty of deep bruising, and sitting down was going to be no fun at all for some time.

“Right, now we’re going to get you up while all the medicated parts are already out of the water,” Spike said patiently. “Now, just let me do the work and don’t bother yourself, or those ribs are gonna scream and then I’m gonna scream, get it? I’m plenty strong, so don’t be a brave git, just let me do it.”

To both their surprise, Spike managed it without hurting Xander and setting off his chip, Xander steadying himself on the tub edge but thankfully making no effort to push himself up. When he was standing, Spike made sure none of the welts were still bleeding, decided that letting the wounds get air was better than covering them, and helped Xander into a black silk dressing gown.

“Wait a minute,” Xander said suspiciously, although his words were a little slow and slurred – yep, the painkillers were kicking in nicely. “Isn’t this robe – “

“Yup, used to belong to Mr. Broody himself,” Spike chuckled. “Mine now, innit? He took off with hardly a bloody thing, just a few of his best books, and left it all. The refrigerator was a thing of beauty to clean out, wasn’t it, eh? More mildew than a Tharst demon’s lair. Right. Now, before you get too muzzy, toddle over to the loo and take a piss, all right?”

“Huh?” Xander wasn’t too fuzzy to gape at Spike’s words.

“Want to make sure there’s no blood in your urine, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “All that bruising over your kidneys, might be a problem. Go on now.”

It took Xander a few minutes to relax enough to urinate, and when he did he let out a hollow groan. There was indeed a trace of blood in his urine, but Spike, who over a century or so had become pretty damned familiar with human physiology, could tell it wasn’t serious.

“Well, I’m sure it don’t feel any too good, but you’ll heal up on your own,” Spike said with satisfaction. “Here, you can put these on now.” He helped Xander step into a pair of black silk boxers and carefully pulled them up.

“I ought to put my clothes back on,” Xander said fuzzily. The pills were working fast now that he was standing up. “I should go – “

“Nah, don’t bother yourself,” Spike said. “You’re not going anywhere in such a state, at least tonight. Come on, you’ll have the bed and I’ll take the – “ He paused. “Ah, bloody hell.” He couldn’t take the couch. There were only two small, dirty windows in the basement apartment, but despite the heavy curtains over them, a little light did leak in, just enough to keep Spike from getting any rest. There was a spare bedroom, actually bigger and nicer than the one Angel had set up in, which Spike had used for storage, but it needed cleaning out. It also had a window, which was probably why Angel hadn’t used it, and the curtains in there were no better than those in the living room.

“I’ll take the couch,” Xander offered immediately.

“Nah, not with those ribs,” Spike said. He shook his head. “’S all right, Pet. I’ll just nip back to the crypt and fetch that fancy air bed, it’ll do me fine on the floor in the bedroom.” He grinned at Xander. “Unless it’s gonna give you the willies, the big bad vampire dossin’ on the floor there.”

Xander snorted.

“No offense, Spike,” he said, grinning ruefully. “But right now you’re the least of my worries.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Um. Thanks. For everything, I mean.”

“No bother, Pet,” Spike said easily, although it was a bald-faced lie. The whelp was going to be a hell of a bother, but then again, compared to Giles or Buffy or Drusilla, even, Xander truly was no trouble at all. He kept a hand on Xander’s elbow, steadying him but giving the boy the illusion of walking under his own power to the bedroom, where Xander took off the robe and slid between soft dark satin sheets without any comment whatsoever; he was already half asleep.

“I should help you,” Xander protested foggily.

“Nah, Pet, just doze on off,” Spike said. “I’ve got things to do, may be a while. Sleep yourself out.”

Xander was asleep before Spike finished speaking. Spike grinned and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Back to the cemetery, where Spike resumed his interrupted dinner hunt. There wasn’t all that much of the night left now, but Spike was a skilled hunter and it wasn’t long before he found a weak-assed revenant to provide a hot – well, all right, a fresh snack. After that he headed back to the crypt, bundled up the whelp’s belongings – most of them, anyway – and fetched them back. Glad for the foot pump, he reinflated the air bed and chucked it down in the bedroom. It would be bloody underfoot, but what the hell, it would be comfortable enough with the sleeping bag opened out and spread over the top.

Xander never stirred throughout these preparations, and that gave Spike an idea. Angel had left his Polaroid camera behind, and Spike fetched it, turning the lights up gradually in the room until he had enough light to not need the flash. Xander stirred restlessly but didn’t wake. Spike snapped pictures of the sleeping youth, craning around at awkward angles to capture all the injuries – except those under the boxers, of course, but enough welts disappeared under the waistband that one could get a pretty good idea of the damage regardless. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d do with the pictures, but what the hell – he could always hold them over Xander as blackmail if he had to, threaten to take them to Giles. He hid the pictures and went back to the bedroom. Spike could feel the sun creeping toward the horizon, and he was glad enough to strip off, flop onto the unzipped bag and let sleep claim him.

Chapter 2


Spike was yanked abruptly out of sleep by the forceful connection of a bare foot with his bare side. Shortly followed by a startled yelp and a minor earthquake in the air mattress as the kicker flailed wildly for balance. Shortly followed by a heavy, Xander-shaped weight landing WHUMF! on Spike, elbow in solar plexus, knee in groin, all the trimmings. Followed by a cry of pain which Spike would have made if he hadn’t been too stunned to do so.

Which pain the chip in Spike’s brain interpreted as his fault.

Aching balls and bruised abdomen were instantly forgotten. Spike screamed hoarsely as red-hot pokers thrust through his brain, as acid ate down his spinal column, as electrical bolts sizzled through his eye sockets, as jackhammers split his skull end to end and side to side. He clutched his head as if somehow his hands could contain the pain, hold it in, compress it to some manageable, bearable level.

For long moments the pain just seemed to echo around his head, front to back, side to side. Gradually it slowly tapered down, of course; it wasn’t meant to go on forever. Gradually Spike became aware of the strangest situation he’d ever encountered in his life – he was being held, by God, held in warm unfamiliar arms, while a very familiar voice chanted, “Oh, God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“’S all right, Pet,” Spike croaked. “Not your fault.” Which was another bald-faced lie, of course, because it certainly was the whelp’s fault, but looked at the right way, it was really the fucking Initiative’s fault, and Spike would much rather blame the Initiative when Xander was holding him so nicely and those were tears, by God, dripping down on his face.

“I’m so sorry,” Xander repeated helplessly, sniffling and wiping his tears off Spike’s face. “I didn’t know where I was and I had to go, you know, I mean go to the bathroom, and I just kind of stumbled toward the door and I didn’t see you and – “

“I said it’s not your fault.” Spike sat up, rubbing his head crossly, suddenly angry and embarrassed that the whelp had seen him so helpless. “You all right? Your ribs, I mean, and such?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Xander mumbled. He averted his eyes, and even in the darkness Spike’s eyes picked up his blush.

Then Spike realized what had caused the blush. Xander was pretty much holding Spike in his lap, and Spike, of course, was stark bollocks naked.

Which Xander had only just realized.

“Don’t have a stroke, Pet, you’re the one jumped on me,” Spike chuckled, flipping the sleeping bag over his lower body. “So what’re you doing up? I’d’ve thought you’d sleep twelve hours at least, full bladder or not.”

Xander shrugged awkwardly.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just – I had to pee, and I woke up, and I realized I was someplace strange.” He shrugged again.

“Hmm.” Spike could sense there was more to it than that. “Hurting, eh, Pet?”

Sharp indrawn breath, then a long sigh.

“Kind of.”

“Mm.” Spike scooted around so he was sitting on the air mattress but leaning against the side of the bed. He could smell that the welts were inflamed and heading toward infection despite the treatment, but there was no point in dressing them again; the antiseptic in them hadn’t had time to work yet. He’d probably need to get the whelp antibiotics, but he couldn’t go out in the daylight to get them. He couldn’t give Xander more painkillers, either, not so soon after the first dose. There was something else he could do, but he’d have to work up to it or he’d send the whelp screaming out into the daylight at the first suggestion. “So what happened?”

“What?” Xander looked taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re not gonna sleep, Pet, which means I’m not gonna sleep either,” Spike said patiently. “So you might as well talk. So what was this particular bout of Xander-bashing over?”

Xander squirmed.

“C’mon, I can take it,” Spike chuckled.

Xander grimaced.

“Well, it’s kind of complicated.”

“Mostly is hereabouts,” Spike shrugged. “So?”

“Well, I lost my job – “

“What, they were afraid you couldn’t make the rent on that shitty basement room?” Spike scoffed.

“Well, Dad was pissed about that,” Xander admitted. “Losing the job, I mean. But then I found another job, and Dad was even more pissed about that – “

Spike snorted.

“Nothing like a little consistency here,” he said sarcastically. “I’d think he’d prefer you doing just about anythin’ to bartending.”

“Well, it was still bartending,” Xander said in a low voice.

“What, less pay?” Spike guessed.

“No, actually it was better pay,” Xander said, even lower.

“Well, don’t make me pry it out of you, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “What, then?”

“It was – it was at Glitz,” Xander said, almost inaudibly.

Spike smirked, started to make a smart comment, then registered Xander’s humiliated flush.

“What, so you’re bartendin’ in a gay bar,” Spike said as gently as he could manage. “Last I heard that was no crime. Well, I suppose in your case it is, seeing as you’re not 21 and using a false ID, but anyway.”

“It’s not that.” Xander sighed. “Dad got mad, said he wouldn’t have me working there where everyone would think I was – was a goddamned faggot. And I got mad at him and said, Well, maybe I am!”

Spike winced. Good initiative in standing up to the bleeder, but fucking lousy timing.

“Anyway, that’s when – “ Xander’s voice trailed off.

“Yeah, I get it, Pet,” Spike said softly.

There was a long moment of silence.

“So – “ Xander cleared his throat. “Does that bother you?”

“Which?” Spike chuckled. “That you lost your job, that you got a job in a gay bar, that you’ve got a smart mouth on you big enough to hold your foot now and again, or that you think you might be queer?”

Another long silence.

“The last one,” Xander said, very quietly.

Spike snorted.

“Seems to bother you more than me, Pet,” he said. “Nah, vampires get over fretting over that sort of thing pretty early on.”

Xander’s head snapped up, a shocked expression in his eyes.

“You mean you’re – I mean vampires are – um, like bisexual or something?”

“Hmm. Don’t suppose that much covers it, Pet,” Spike said thoughtfully. “More like trisexual – as in we’ll try just about anything. I’ll give you a clue, though. Sires do pretty much what they like with their Childer, and Dru being a few lumps of coal short of a full cart, Angelus always treated me more or less as his Childe instead of hers.”

“You mean Angel – “ Xander choked.

“Didn’t hear me, Pet,” Spike chided. “I said Angelus, now, didn’t I? Don’t know about the broody one, don’t much care, either. Anyway, most vampires go for male, female, other, you name it.”

“Other?” Xander repeated blankly.

“Hmph. You should see that demon Dru took up with,” Spike said sourly. “Guess you’d understand ‘other’ then. I mean, it had parts I don’t know the names for.”

“Oh.” Xander seemed to be flailing for something to say. “And to think my dad got all bent out of shape for me pouring drinks in a gay bar.”

Spike snorted.

“See, all a matter of perspective, innit, Pet?” he said.

Xander chuckled too, faintly, although it was better than nothing.

“So. Feel better?” Spike asked.

A brief pause; then, surprised,

“Yeah, I do. Weird, but I do, kind of.” Xander grinned. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Pet,” Spike said. “We still need to do something about your back.”

“We do?” Xander said faintly.

Spike took Xander’s hand and guided it around to one of the welts.

“Feel that heat?” he said. “That’s infection setting in.”

“Oh, shit,” Xander sighed.

“Now, I could get you some antibiotics – “

“I don’t do very well on those,” Xander said worriedly. “I, like, break out in hives and things.”

Spike groaned inwardly.

“Right, then,” he said. He got up and helped Xander carefully back up to the bed. “Plan B, then, Pet. Run off to the loo.”

Xander turned on the light this time and hurried off. Spike took the brief respite to inspect his dangly bits for damage. They were unhappy but intact.

Xander returned from the bathroom, and Spike gestured to the bed.

“Stretch out and I’ll . . . put something else on those welts.” He turned out the light, not wanting Xander to see him change to game face.

“Don’t you need the light?” Xander asked, but he stretched out obediently.

“Nah, I can see just fine,” Spike said. He sat down on the side of the bed. “Now just take it easy, Pet. This won’t hurt a bit.”

“What are you – “ Xander began. Taking advantage of the distraction, Spike let his fangs emerge, nipping the inside of his lip slightly, mixing the small amount of blood with his saliva. He bent down, trailing his tongue up one long welt.

Xander froze.

“Wh-wh-wha – what a-a-are you – “

Well, it was better than Spike had expected; he’d pretty much resigned himself to a startled jump and more pain for both of them. He drew back before Xander could bolt upright, laying one hand on Xander’s shoulder to hold him still.

“Easy, Pet,” he said. “Don’t get in a fluster.”

“But – but – but – “

“You sound like a bloody motorboat,” Spike chuckled.

“You were licking me!” Xander said tremulously.

“Yeah, Pet, I was,” Spike admitted. “See, if you remember, Pet, you don’t never see the bite marks when a vampire’s drained somebody they’re gonna turn, right?”

“Uh – “ Xander took a moment to engage his brain again. “Yeah.”

“That’s because of the vampire’s blood. It’s got powerful healing in it. A little bit in my spit’s plenty to take care of these welts, and then you’ll feel a whole lot better. It’ll even help the bruising a bit, maybe.” Spike patted Xander’s shoulder. “No harm, Pet, I promise.”

Xander shivered.

“Yeah,” he said, very faintly. “But do you have to, you know, lick me?”

Suddenly Spike placed that intoxicating scent he was detecting. Arousal. He fought down a chuckle. God, he loved horny teenagers. Harmony had been a bloody Energizer Bunny.

“Whassamatter, Pet, don’t you like it?” Spike purred in Xander’s ear. Daringly he licked another long welt, sending a shudder through the mortal.

“Don’t,” Xander whispered helplessly and as insincerely as Spike had ever heard.

That husky, quavery tone that said “Don’t” and begged “Please do” was the most arousing thing Spike had ever heard, and he trailed his tongue lingeringly up another welt, his hands on Xander’s shoulders, holding him still for insurance. He needn’t have bothered; other than shivering uncontrollably, Xander made no move to escape; indeed, Spike could feel the slight, almost indiscernible press of Xander’s body as he arched slightly upward against Spike’s mouth.

The natural anticoagulant in Spike’s saliva made the welts bleed slightly before they healed under the influence of his blood, and the forbidden, intoxicating taste of live, fresh human blood drove Spike to a near madness of delight. And ah, the things he could taste in these tiny droplets of Xander’s blood – fear, wonder, arousal, need, hunger, desperation, pleasure, loneliness, hope – such a maelstrom of feeling.

Spike’s tongue dipped low to attend to a welt at Xander’s lower back, and Xander moaned tremulously. Daringly, Spike slipped one hand under Xander, touching the hot, hard length under the silk boxers. Moaning again, Xander raised his hips slightly, and Spike took advantage of the motion to slide the boxers down and out of the way. Xander froze again.

“What are you – “

“Shhhh, Pet, just relax,” Spike murmured. He licked along another low welt, simultaneously caressing the hot erection with just the tips of his cool fingers; he didn’t want the whelp coming too soon. Biting the inside of his lip for more healing blood, he unhurriedly traced each remaining welt with his tongue, feeling the inflammation begin to subside, the healing begin. Xander was whimpering continuously now, and Spike could feel pre-come trickling down the hard length.

“Over now,” Spike said, guiding Xander to turn on his back. “Slowly, Pet, don’t hurt yourself. Just close your eyes, relax, feel good, eh?”

Before Xander could say anything, Spike bent down and took the head of Xander’s throbbing erection in his mouth, and then all Xander could do was moan incoherently. Spike sucked slowly, gently, his fangs carefully retracted now, not pushing Xander too quickly toward orgasm, alternating shallow suckling with deep swallows with long, teasing licks up the length, savoring the heat, the flavor. Somebody, Spike had no idea who, had once mentioned that semen was pretty damned close chemically to blood, but any vampire could have told you that without worrying about chemistry. It was all there, the vitality, the energy, the taste of salty rich life.

Xander, as Spike had expected, couldn’t last long through this kind of sweet torture; all too soon Spike could feel the tensing as the fluids gathered. He pulled back slightly, enough that he could taste the offering when the mortal gave it up, the hot liquid filling his mouth in powerful pulses. Xander cried out hoarsely, his entire body shaking, but fortunately the pleasure was enough to overcome whatever protests his ribs might have made, and at last the mortal slowly, slowly relaxed, muscle by muscle, back down to the soft sheets.

Spike grinned and pulled the sheet up, covering Xander warmly.

“All better?” he asked with a chuckle.

“All – what?” Xander sounded wearily incredulous. “You – you – “ A bewildered pause; then: “Why did you do that? Just to – to make me feel better?”

“’Course, Pet,” Spike said cheerfully. “Why else?”

“I – uh – “ Spike could hear disappointment in Xander’s voice. “Nothing, I guess.”

“Go to sleep, Pet,” Spike told him. “We could both use it.”

“Yeah.” Xander’s voice was dull now. He said nothing more, and slowly Spike heard his breathing even out in sleep.

For Spike, however, rest came less easily. Why the hell should the whelp be disappointed? His welts were all healed, he was comfy, and got a nice blowjob in the deal too. You’d think he’d be bloody grateful.

Spike grimaced. Why had he taken it into his head to suck off the mortal? All right, it was fun, it tasted nice, but now he had a bloody hardon and nothing but a wank to offer it, and the whelp was probably going to go round and round and round about the whole thing. Mortals made such a fuss about sex, couldn’t just enjoy it. One of the reasons he never played with mortals himself; one of the reasons he’d thought Angel so daft for doing it.

But now he’d done it, and why? To make Mr. Sugary Goodness happy? And what was that about? He’d blown (ha-ha!) his entire night nursemaiding one of Her Blondeness’s Slayerettes, tending his boo-boos and swaddling his butt in Spike’s comfy bed. What had gotten into him?

Spike grimaced. Two reasons, plain enough: He was lonely, and he was randy as hell. He couldn’t exactly call the Scooby Gang his best mates, eh? And when was the last time he’d gotten his end down? He didn’t want to try to calculate; it was just too depressing. He supposed he was nostalgic for the good old days when Dru needed him to take care of her, when he was getting it regular from her or his minions or at least bloody Harmony or somebody or something. He wasn’t used to feeling neutered and vulnerable, he wasn’t used to being alone, he wasn’t used to going without regular shagging, and he was bloody sick of it, too.

All right, so he was looking for somebody to take care of and fuck. So why’d he made such a barmy pick of it? Buffy and Giles wouldn’t take kindly to Spike showing any interest to one of “her” Scoobies. And gay bar or not, Spike would bet a lifetime on pig’s blood that his mouth on Xander’s cock had been the first experience the whelp had ever had with another man. What made him think that Xander had any interest in becoming Spike’s Pet and playtoy and all-around bouncy-bouncy partner?

Which brought up another troubling thought. What was he going to do with the whelp? Couldn’t send him home, that’s for sure. Couldn’t send him to doss with Giles or Buffy if Xander didn’t want them to know about his happy family. What, then? The boy obviously couldn’t afford a place of his own. Spike grinned. The situation was obvious; he’d simply have to keep the whelp. No alternative, eh? Just the way he liked it.

Closing his eyes, Spike yawned and let sleep take him.

Spike jolted abruptly out of sleep – again – at a clatter from the kitchen. He yawned, stretched, pulled on a pair of boxers and wandered into the kitchen, to find Xander poking through the cupboards.

“Looking for something, Pet?” he asked mildly. Xander apparently hadn’t found the robe, or hadn’t bothered with it. He looked yummy in the arse-hugging black silk boxers, despite the heavy bruises mottling his torso, arms and legs.

“Uh – “ Xander followed Spike’s eyes and blushed furiously. “Coffee?”

Spike snorted.

“Sorry, Pet, I didn’t come from the coffee side of the ocean. Choices are tea, stout, and blood.”

Xander gulped.

“Uh. Guess I’ll go with tea.”

Spike pulled out the kettle and, under Xander’s startled gaze, made the tea. Xander watched with a kind of horrified fascination as Spike poured himself a cup of blood and microwaved it.

“Yuck,” Xander said faintly when Spike sipped his blood.

Spike snorted again.

“Pet, a bloke who eats week-old cold pizza, drinks flat Pepsi and eats chocolate covered donuts with those little colored sprinkles all over has no lookout saying ‘yuck’ to anything.”

Xander had the good grace to look sheepish. He stared down into his cup, apparently unwilling to meet Spike’s eyes. Spike checked the refrigerator and the cabinets, then frowned.

“Sorry, Pet, I haven’t exactly stocked the shelves,” he said sheepishly. “There’s stuff for toast, two boxes of Weetabix, and not much else. Suppose we’ll have to make a run to the grocer.”

Xander looked up, startled, then blushed and looked down again. This time Spike guessed he wasn’t going to get out of the conversation.

“So,” Spike said casually. “Way I see it, you should stay for a while.”

“Wha- -- “ Xander glanced up again, his eyes wide and startled. “Stay – here?” He blushed.

“Well, where else you think?” Spike said, shrugging. He let Xander figure it out for himself, watched the thoughts flit across Xander’s face, watched the frown lines deepen as Xander realized just how limited his options were. Giles: Nope. Willow, Buffy: Nope. Own apartment: Nope. Other options: None.

“I’ll go home,” Xander said, very softly.

Spike felt his jaw drop. A flash of anger – how dare the stupid git prefer going back to his fucking parents over staying with Spike! – turned instantly to something Spike was totally unprepared for: Hurt. Immediately he translated it back into anger.

“Not bloody likely,” he snarled. “You think I’m letting you go back to them?”

“Spike – “ Xander took a deep breath, clenching his fists tightly, but still not meeting Spike’s eyes. “Don’t, okay? Just . . . don’t. I can’t stay here. I can’t.”

Spike snorted. Hurt and anger chased tails inside him until he didn’t know which was which.

“Over me blowing you, eh?” he said scornfully. “Got to get out of here ‘cause you hated it that much, right?”

“No,” Xander said inaudibly. “That’s not why.”

Spike clenched his own fists, feeling his nails cut into his palms.

“Why, then?” he said, hating the trace of hurt that came out in his tone.

When Xander answered, it was the barest whisper, so soft that even Spike barely heard it.

“ . . . because I didn’t hate it.”

Spike stopped. Counted to ten. Counted to ten again in four demonic languages: Phrygic, Pyyrhic, Xecltic and Meshril.

“Run that one by me again, Pet,” he said, keeping his voice level with surprising difficulty.

Xander stared down into his now-cold tea.

“Look, I don’t know why you – why you did that,” he said in a low voice. “And, okay, I liked it, maybe that’s what you were trying to do, make a point or something, I don’t know. But, see, the thing is, it really doesn’t matter why you did it because I liked it, because there’s no way I can stay here and not think about it. It’ll drive me nuts, okay? And I can’t get involved with you, I know that, and I can’t not get involved with you either because I’m so fucking tired of being used as Cordy’s closet boy-toy and Anya’s sexual experiment and Faith’s human dildo, okay? I just can’t do that anymore. So I can’t stay here.”

Anger. Hurt. Anger. Hurt. All liberally mixed with something else, or maybe several something elses – a desire to protect Xander, shelter him; a kind of fierce possessiveness, loneliness – Bloody hell, at this rate I’ll end up on Oprah talking about my emotional fucking needs!

“Fine,” Spike said, angry and hurt and confused. “Go, then. Have it your way.”

To his astonishment Xander just nodded, got up and left his teacup where it was and walked away. Before Spike got over his amazement enough to move, Xander had already pulled on a pair of pants and a shirt – Spike noted with a grimace that they were the same ones he’d come in, and realized he hadn’t showed Xander where he’d put his things – and was headed for the door.

Spike didn’t think; if he had, he’d have doubtless talked himself out of doing anything, especially as the living room was dappled with a few patches of sunlight that made it past the heavy curtains, and Xander already had the door partway open, too. Spike charged through the living room and grabbed Xander, yelping with pain as sunlight sent a puff of smoke from his singed hand, but he never let go; he pulled Xander back to the couch and pushed him down, thankfully not hurting him; another go-round with the bleeding chip in his head was just about all he needed now.

“Sit!” he ordered.

Xander, who was already on the couch thanks to Spike’s shove, sat.

“You mean to tell me that you’d rather go back and let your dad pound on you some more than stay here if I can’t come up with a bloody declaration of undying love here and now, ey, is that it?” Spike demanded. “You telling me that after one night and one blowjob, those are me choices, hey?”

Xander had the good grace to look slightly abashed.

“Well – “

“And as far as using goes, let me tell you something here, Pet,” Spike snarled. “After I follow you through the bleeding cemetery beating up Sunnyhell’s baddies to keep them from jumping you, after I bring you home and clean you up and put you in my bed, after I take care of your welts and fucking blow you and offer you room an’ board, and mind you I haven’t asked for one bloody thing in return for any of it, and you’re getting ready to walk out the door ‘cause I don’t hand you a bleeding engagement ring or summat, I’d like to know who the bloody ‘ell’s getting used here!”

They both stared at each other; Spike didn’t know who he’d astonished more with his outraged spiel, Xander or himself. Then Xander’s lip quivered, and for a moment Spike was afraid the git was going to cry, and then he’d probably – well, who the hell knew what he’d do, he’d certainly lost his dignity already! Then Xander’s lips quivered some more, and Spike realized Xander wasn’t going to cry, that he was in fact fighting back laughter, and that did it, Spike bit his lip hard to keep from grinning.

Then Xander lost the battle and snorted, a big loud snort like a fucking pig, for chrissake, and that did it; Spike threw back his head and howled with laughter, and Xander did too, and they both laughed like bleeding idiots until the tears running down Xander’s cheeks were as much from the pain of his ribs as from the laughter itself.

“Right, right, enough of that,” Spike said, forcing down the remainder of his semi-hysterical laughter. “Have a lie down, let those ribs have a breather, eh?”

Xander scootched around obediently, wheezing in relief.

“So – “ He glanced up tentatively. “So, if you did all that, I mean, all those things you said, and you aren’t going to let me go back to my parents’ house – “ He bit his lip. “I guess that means you kind of care about me, right?”

Spike snorted again, feeling the laughter barely confined before a new outburst.

“Guess you could deduce that, Pet,” he admitted sourly.

“Then I guess – “ Xander took a deep breath – as deep as his ribs would allow, anyway. “I guess I’m staying here then. I mean if the offer’s still open,” he added hastily.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t never say it wasn’t, did I?” he said.

“Well – “ Xander bit his lip. “I mean, I’ve probably lost my job, since I didn’t show up today or call in or anything. So I can’t really pay any rent until I get another job.”

Spike shrugged.

“Didn’t ask you for money, did I?” he said. “Doesn’t worry me, Pet.”

Xander dropped his eyes.

“And can we – can we – “ He hesitated. “Can I not sleep with you for a while?”

Spike rolled his eyes again.

“You didn’t sleep with me last night, Pet,” he said patiently. “What, you want me on the couch now?”

“No, I – “ Xander grimaced. “I’ll take the air bed and put it someplace else, okay? I just mean I don’t want to – um – “

“Right, I get it, Pet,” Spike said, shrugging. “No fucking. I’m not a bleedin’ idiot, all right? You don’t want it, I get it.”

“It’s not that, it’s just – “ Xander shrugged helplessly. “I mean, can we wait a little while while I, um, kind of figure this out? I mean, this just kind of, um, came out of the blue, and I’m, like, really confused.”

You and me both, Pet, Spike thought sourly. Celibacy had certainly never helped him figure anything out, but what the hell.

“Fine,” he said. “Haven’t neither of us died from not getting it regular yet, I don’t expect we will now.”

Xander sighed with evident relief – then his brow furrowed.

“Oh, shit,” he said. “Giles and Buffy and everybody. What am I going to tell them when they find out I’m staying here?”

Spike, who had once been William the Bloody, would hardly have survived a century as a vampire if he hadn’t had the ability to think on his feet.

“Got it,” he said. He picked up the phone and dialled. “Hey, Rupe. You might want to grab your patch-up stuff and hoof it over, mate, and have a look at the whelp ‘ere. Yeah, Xander. Right. See you in a quarter hour or so, eh?”

Chapter 3

He hung up to find Xander staring at him in trepidation.

“What the – “ Xander blinked. “What did you do that for?”

“Well, first off, if you’re gonna tell a lie, tell it straightaway,” Spike told him. “Wait till you’re caught out, you look guilty right off and your story’ll sound thinner.”

“But what am I going to tell them?” Xander said desperately.

“You’re not,” Spike said firmly. “I’m gonna tell ‘em, ‘cause you can’t lie worth a shit, Pet. Now do me a favor and sit tight a minute while I arrange the evidence.”

Xander shut up and stared as Spike hurriedly moved boxes out of the bedroom he’d used for storage. He moved the air bed in there and made it up with fresh sheets, then mussed it up as if someone had slept there. He tucked Xander’s bag out of sight in a closet. As an afterthought, he pulled all the bottled blood out of the refrigerator and hid them, too.

“Right, that’ll do,” he said with satisfaction, just as Giles’ car screeched to a stop in front and Giles, Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Tara burst through the door, regardless of sunlight and its possible effects on Spike.

Xander patiently endured Giles’ examination of his injuries; worried at first, the mortal looked confusedly at Spike’s reassuring smirk. Spike wasn’t worried. With the welts healed, the bruises and abrasions that were left would fit his story nicely.

Right on cue, Giles asked, “Xander, whatever happened to you?”

“Bloody whelp couldn’t mind his own business,” Spike grumbled. “I had a bit of a run-in in an alley with a pack of human toughs, and they were having a jolly old time seeing as I couldn’t fight back, so what does this idiot do? Wade in after me.” He frowned sulkily. “I was doin’ just fine on my own, thank you very much,” he added.

“My mistake,” Xander said, with just the right amount of sarcasm.

Who knows, the whelp may have potential.

“Anyway,” Spike continued, “when they started whaling on him for busting up their fun, I grabbed him and we got out of there.”

Giles glanced at Spike.

“So you brought him back here?”

Spike shrugged.

“Owed him,” he said, rather embarrassedly. “Cleaning him up a bit was the least I could do, innit?”

“You did a good job,” Giles admitted. “Excellent, actually. I suppose you could tell his ribs were cracked but not broken?”

Spike shrugged again.

“Do enough damage to people, you learn a bit of what’s what,” he smirked.

“Who’s staying here?” Buffy said. She was standing in the door to the spare room, staring at the air bed.

“Well, I couldn’t very well put the whelp on the couch, not with cracked ribs, could I?” Spike said negligently. “’Sides, we’ve come to an agreement.”

“You have?” Giles said, his brow furrowing.

“We have?” Xander echoed. Then he hurriedly revised, “We have.”

“What agreement?” Buffy asked suspiciously.

“Well, the whelp was looking for low-rent digs so he could move out of that basement,” Spike said, giving Xander a glance. “I figured I could use somebody around in case I had a run-in with humans again, like that Initiative, maybe.” He gave Buffy a glare. “I figure it wouldn’t be so bad to have somebody around who could answer the door during the daytime and suchlike. And to maybe actually see to it that I get enough blood sent over to live on, like I was promised.” Giles had the good grace to look slightly abashed at that last dig.

“Here?” Buffy said incredulously, staring at Xander. “You want to live here? You want to move in with SPIKE?”

“Buff . . . “ Willow darted Xander an unconvinced ‘I’ll talk to you about this later’ look and laid her hand on Buffy’s arm. “It’s not very nice for Xander at home, y’know? His parents fight a lot. And drink a lot. And Spike can’t hurt him, you know that. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea. We didn’t like the idea of Spike running around with nobody watching him, but he is useful. He deserves some protection, doesn’t he?”

“I’ll tell you what he deserves,” Buffy said darkly, scowling at Spike, her hand touching the pocket in her purse where she kept Mister Pointy, her lucky stake. “But Xander’s a big boy. He can make up his own mind, I guess.” She glanced at Xander. “Next time, though, call me, okay? Don’t try to play hero. It’s what I do. You know, me Slayer, you – um – bartender.” Spike barely stifled a growl over that one. “Anyway, you need to stay out of situations like that.”

“Believe me,” Xander said sincerely, “I plan to make sure I’m never in that situation again.”

“Well – good, then,” Buffy said, mollified, looking rather surprised at Xander’s failure to defend his own alleged heroism.

Spike smirked, but inwardly he was grimacing. What the hell was he doing? He’d just made himself look like a helpless weakling to save the whelp’s pride. What the hell was that about?

Okay, not to save his pride. To keep his secret. Because I know how bad shame tastes in your mouth. I know how much more bitter it gets every time you have to spit it back up and chew it over again, the way I’m always stumbling over the damned chip in my every thought. I remember how it felt the first time Angelus fucked me raw in front of Drusilla and Darla, made me crawl, made me scream, made me plead, made me beg him not to stop – how I hated him afterward, how I wanted him, how he smirked and knew it.

And if Xander’s dirty little secret got out, why, then there’d be police and trials and newspapers and whatnot, and he’d have to chew it over again and again and again. And in the end what’d it get him? Fine, his dad’s in jail, and Xander’s out on his own. Well, never mind that. Xander’s free of ‘em, and someday, somehow, I’m gonna find my way around this fucking chip and give his dad something one whole hell of a lot worse than jail.

So I guess it wasn’t just for his pride, all right. Fine, I lost a little dignity. Isn’t as if they had any respect for me in the first place. And it’ll help keep them underestimating me, thinking I had to be rescued by Xander, of all the wimps. Got me one more thing, too. Got me the boy to stay here. And how pathetic is that, then, that having the whelp taking up my room is a fucking reward? Well, never mind. I wanted him, and looks like I got him. That’s what matters, innit?

“There’s nothing much more I could do for you,” Giles said, pulling Xander’s shirt back down. “Your ribs don’t need taping, although I’m certain they hurt abominably. Spike has more or less treated everything that could be treated.”

“I found a recipe for some liniment in this old herbal,” Willow offered. “It’s supposed to speed up healing. I’ll make some and bring it over.”

“I wouldn’t say no to that,” Xander said ruefully. Then he blushed darkly. “Ummm – could I get a favor, Will?”

“Sure, Xan, anything,” Willow said anxiously.

“Would you mind – um – “ Xander took a deep breath. “Would you mind going to my place and loading up my stuff while my parents are at work? If they see me like this – “ He waved a hand at his injuries. “ – I mean, hospitals and police reports and things are probably a bad idea, ‘cause it might be hard to explain about Spike and all.”

“Oh, sure,” Willow said hastily, accepting the key Xander handed her, and Spike wondered if she’d guessed rather more of the real story than the rest of that ignorant lot. “No problem at all.”

In point of fact, he was fighting mad. Best he could figure, this had been going on for a long time. Probably years. Now that he thought about it, he could remember plenty of times Xander had shown up at Giles’ moving stiffly, sitting gingerly or showing bruises here and there. He scowled. He himself had written off the stiffness and bruises to prior battles with local nasties, or Xander’s unconvincing explanations about straining something at his construction job or running into doors, or just the whelp’s uncanny bad luck. But Spike could be excused for that. He was supposed to be the git’s enemy, fer chrissake. He wasn’t supposed to be looking out for him. But at least he’d seen the clues and noticed them, even if he hadn’t done the math out to the proper sum. What the bloody hell were his “friends” thinking all that time? That Xander was a masochist with a door fetish?

Well, it didn’t matter. There weren’t going to be any more “accidents” for Xander to lie over. Spike smirked. Although if he had his way, and he was going to, mind, there would certainly be mornings when Xander would be sitting gingerly.

After a little more fussing around, Giles took the rest of the gang away with a stern admonition to Xander to rest. When the rest of the gang was gone, Spike picked up the phone and called Glitz. As he had expected, the manager was livid at Xander for not showing up at work, since he was supposed to open the bar today. Spike quietly explained that a gang of toughs had seen Xander coming out of the gay bar, waylaid him and beaten the snot out of him, and that it would be some time before Xander would be able to come in to work. Whereupon the manager said he’d need to see a doctor’s note. Whereupon Spike told him what he could do with a doctor’s note, a bottle, and one of his bar stools. Whereupon the manager told Spike that he could pick up Xander’s final paycheck, or it would be mailed to him. Spike said to mail it, and gave the address.

Xander gave Spike a rueful look when the vampire hung up the phone.

“Gee, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “Another brilliant career opportunity gone. Although the part about the bar stool was creative, I admit that.”

Spike shrugged.

“You thought you were fired already,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, but he would have let me stay when he heard your gay bashing story,” Xander argued.

“And where’d you have come up with a doctor’s note, Pet?” Spike said practically. “Never mind, wasn’t a good job for you anyway, working nights and all.”

Xander sighed.

“There doesn’t seem to be a good job for me,” he said sourly.

“You seemed to do okay at that construction stuff,” Spike pointed out. “Hours are good, pay’s good, they seemed to like your work. Why’d you quit, anyway?”

“I didn’t quit.” Xander stared at the floor. “There was a couple of times I, um, had to call in for a few days, and they got tired of me doing that.”

Meaning he’d either been too beat up to do his job or too marked to show his face. Spike wondered whether Xander’s father had beaten him for losing that job, too. He decided he’d better not ask; he was holding his game face back by an effort of will already.

“Ought to see if you can’t get back into that sort of thing,” Spike said idly. He went back to the kitchen to brew Xander another cup of tea. “Nice regular daytime hours, good pay, and the tanned muscle look’s a good one on you.”

“Wha-HUH?” Xander’s jaw dropped comically.

Spike smirked.

“Oh, come on, Pet,” he chided. “You’re a lovely piece of work under those mum’s-boy clothes. Nice shoulders, good hard chest, tight tummy, righteous arse – “

“God, will you stop it?” Xander said through gritted teeth, hiding his face in his hands. “Look, you got what you want, okay? I owe you for saving my life, I owe you for fixing me up, I owe you for keeping my secret, I owe you for giving me a place to stay when I don’t have anywhere else to go, I owe you for the goddamned blowjob, okay? I get it, okay? You don’t have to play this game. Just . . . whatever you want for all that, fine, it’s yours.” His voice was dull, tired.

Spike froze in his tracks.

He’d been so busy trying to figure out exactly why he was doing all this for the whelp, it had never occurred to him that Xander was probably wondering the same thing. He wasn’t surprised Xander had reached the conclusion he had. From the viewpoint of a lad who wasn’t used to receiving kindness, consideration or respect even from his friends, there could only be two real reasons Spike might have gone to all this trouble: As some kind of mind-fuck, or to get something from him. Those were the only two reasons, after all, that anybody but Willow had ever done anything for him. Also, to be quite fair, Spike hadn’t exactly earned a sterling reputation with the whelp for altruism.

Spike finished brewing Xander’s tea, put in lots of sugar the way the mortal liked it, and carried it in, setting the cup on the coffee table in front of Xander. He sat down on the couch next to Xander, sighing pensively.

“Look, Pet,” he said quietly. “I’m gonna tell you this straight up, all right? There’s no game, no strings. I wish there was; then I guess I’d know what to make of myself right now. Thing is, I haven’t thought much about why I did any of those things. I did ‘em ‘cause it seemed the thing to do at the time. Maybe I’m just – “ He grimaced. Sigh. “ – all right, lonely, all right? I’m not used to being on me own. Never have been since I was turned. First there was Angel’s whole little family when Dru turned me. Then there was Dru. Then minions and Childer of me own. Then me own nest here in the ‘Dale.”

He shrugged.

“Now I hunt me own kind, or avoid them,” he said flatly. “I can’t be around ‘em. Once word gets out that William the Bloody can’t so much as put a bruise on a human, I’m screwed, Pet. I’m dust. All any demon or vampire or ambitious minion has to do is get a couple of humans to hold me while they poke a stick through me heart. Or maybe something slower if they’re in a mood for it. So I’m fucked, royally fucked, see? Can’t go to Dru; even if she’d take care of me, she’s no saner’n she ever was. She’d blurt it out to somebody, or wander off to shag some demon and leave me again. Can’t go to Angel, even though he’s more or less my Sire; he’d as soon stake me as look at me. So there’s nobody. Nobody at all. Just the Slayer and her pack who all hate me.”

Long silence. At last Xander spoke softly.

“I don’t hate you,” he said.

Spike grinned wryly.

“I know that, Pet,” he said. “I don’t hate you either. You’ve been decent, you and Red an’ her girlfriend. If that weren’t the case, I might’ve still followed you through the cemetery, but it’d most likely have been to pick up the leavings when some demon did you in. No matter what a fine arse you’ve got.”

Xander blushed faintly.

“So you want me here for company?” he said skeptically. “Because you’re lonely?”

“Suppose so,” Spike shrugged. He grinned. “’Course, can’t say that’s all I’d like.” He met Xander’s eyes squarely. “But just because I’d like it don’t make it part of the rent or anything. You get me, Pet?”

Xander blushed again, but this time the comment seemed to please him.

“Okay . . . “ He glanced at the spare room with the air bed. “So – I sleep in there?”

Spike gave an exaggerated sigh.

“If you want,” he said. “Might feel good, anyway, the air mattress, with all the bruises and your ribs. But we’ll see about getting you a bed. Don’t expect Red can pack yours up for you.”

Xander looked uncomfortable.

“I told you, I don’t have any money,” he said. “At least until I find another job.”

Spike shrugged.

“Not to worry, Pet. I’ve got some. Not lots, but enough. Call it a loan if it makes you feel better.”

Xander looked surprised.

“Where do you get money?” he said. Then, hastily, “or do I want to know?”

“Depends, I suppose,” Spike grinned. “Lots of demons and vampires and the like have money, money they’ve made themselves, or that they’ve nicked off humans they’ve done. So I do them, I take the cash. Fair’s fair. Got a nice little nest egg now.” He grimaced. “Got more than that, but I can’t get at it.”

“Huh?” Xander said blankly.

“Oh, Angelus was big on saving up,” Spike said sourly. “So I’ve got money in banks. Don’t even know how much, but it’s bound to be lots. Trouble is, Angelus set it all up, so it all takes him to get it back out. Chance’d be a fine thing, eh? Trouble is, I never cared about it when I was with Angelus – he took care of all that. And then when I was with Dru and all, never needed the stuff.” He shrugged. “We just took what we wanted.”

He shook his head.

“Anyway, I’ve got money. Some credit cards I’ve nicked, too, but I can only use those for a bit before they get cut off.”

Xander gaped.

“You use somebody else’s credit cards?”

Spike shrugged.

“Sometimes,” he said. “Not ones taken off humans; those are trouble. The other ones, though, that I get off demons and the like, those are good for about a month. Couple times I got those bank machine cards and managed to – “ he grinned. “ – persuade the bloke to give me the code. One Revogsh demon had it written on the card, stupid git. Not that I minded.”

“Wow.” Xander grinned reluctantly. “Monster slaying for fun and profit.”

“Don’t forget food,” Spike grinned. “Nobody ever said it had to be drudgery, Pet. Well, all right, the Watcher’s probably said it. He would, though.”

“Wow,” Xander said again. He finished his tea and put the cup down. “So, um.” He cleared his throat. “Where’d you put my clothes? I probably ought to, you know, take a shower, get dressed.”

“You know where the shower is, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “I’d not bother dressing, though. Shorts and a robe would feel better on all those bruises, and you’re not going anywhere looking like that, are you?”

“Willow will be bringing my stuff over,” Xander reminded him.

“Well, she’s already seen you in a robe, hasn’t she?” Spike said practically. He shrugged. “Do what you want if you don’t mind her knowing you brought clothes with you. Kind of ruins the ‘chance encounter’ story.”

Xander sighed and trooped off to the shower without fetching clean clothes. Spike, who was still grimy from the battles of the night before (not having had a nice tub bath like Xander), and who would have thought the bleeding git would at least let him have the first shower in his own home, grimaced and went to make the beds. Both of them. And wash the bloody (one literally) cups, too. Hopefully Xander’s guilt over letting Spike support him would manifest itself in Xander being willing to take over most of the chores. Spike wasn’t used to cleaning and so on; he’d always had minions about whom he could make do whatever menial work needed doing.

Xander stepped out of the bathroom, thankfully with just a towel around his hips – at least the whelp had sense enough not to put a silk robe on his wet body. Spike fought down the urge to leer at the almost-naked body and strode by gruffly instead.

“Suppose there’s no hot water left,” he said sourly. Vampires weren’t supposed to care about that sort of thing; heat and cold didn’t really bother them either way. But Spike had grown up in an era when a hot bath meant hauling in buckets of murky, bad-smelling water, heating it on a stove or hearth, pouring it in a big tub, and carting it all back out afterward; not exactly the sort of luxury poor street children or starving poets saw often. One of the loveliest things about this century, to Spike’s way of thinking, was going into the bathroom, turning a tap and seeing sparkling clear, hot water fill up the tub, soaking in that wonderful hot water and plenty of nice-smelling soap, and then just pulling a plug to be rid of it afterward. Bloody wonderful. Showers were nice, too, although it felt somehow wrong to stand under something so much like rain and it be hot, but Spike just loved that tub too much. Most vampires, all caught up in immortality and blood and hunting, seemed to forget about human pleasures as if their mortal lives had never happened. Like Dru, however, Spike had never lost his taste for mortal comforts. He even had some nice cedar-scented bubble bath hidden under the vanity for those nights when he was feeling really self-indulgent and wanted a long, slow wank in the tub.

And today he definitely needed that wank.

He filled the tub, glad to find that there was plenty of hot water left, relishing the cedar scent that immediately filled the air when he poured in the bubble bath. He stripped and settled back into the bubbles with a sigh. Didn’t take much to get him hard as a rock, just a brief memory of Xander walking by in that towel. One of the nastier facets of the bloody chip in his head was that the necessity for avoiding too much contact with his own kind, or others who might discover his vulnerability, meant that he hadn’t gotten laid in too bloody long. Spike was as unaccustomed to celibacy as he was to solitude; he’d had far too much of both during his mortal life. From the start, he’d been something of a favorite with Angelus, and of course there’d been Dru. Then he’d been a master vampire himself. Why would a master vampire ever need to go without? Master vampires were powerful enough to take whatever they wanted from whomever they wanted. And even if rape wasn’t to a master vampire’s taste – and unlike Angelus, it had never been much to Spike’s taste, for the same reason that flogging would probably never be to Xander’s taste – there were always minions or Childer or younger vampires simply dying (so to speak) to fuck their way into a master’s favor. So it had literally been decades – hell, more than a century – since Spike had found himself doing without. It was an unpleasant reminder of his wretched mortal life.

And he hated it.

He stroked himself slowly, teasingly, the way he liked it best, remembering the feel of Xander’s body under his hands, the taste of blood licked from the long welts. Ahhhhh, the firm length sliding between his lips, the sweet/sour/salty nectar of Xander’s precome, mmmmmm, the way he moaned when Spike –

Tentative knock on the bathroom door.

“Uh, Spike?”

“What, Pet?” Spike said, not pausing in his strokes, eyes closed. Mmmmmm, heated pulse of blood just under silky skin, the way Xander’s thighs trembled . . .

“Ummm, where’d you put the pain pills?” Xander asked apologetically.

“Oh, right,” Spike said, stroking harder now. “They’re in here in the medicine cabinet. Help yourself.”

“Thanks,” Xander said, opening the door. He was dressed in his old jeans now, no shirt. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to – “

Xander’s jaw dropped. He stared.

“Bottom shelf,” Spike said.

“Um – “ Xander swallowed hard. “Um – you’re – uh – “

“Having a wank,” Spike supplied helpfully. He focused on that gorgeous mouth, added it to the fantasy image. Mmmm, just imagine those lips on my skin. “Gonna watch, leave, or join in, Pet?”

“Uh – “ Xander flushed crimson and fled the bathroom without going anywhere near the medicine cabinet. Spike grinned, mentally replayed that glorious moaning scream Xander had made when he came, added in the hot salty gush of Xander’s come, and came himself with a groan of satisfaction. He savored the afterglow until the water began to cool, then quickly washed up and got out of the tub. He dropped his dirty clothes into the hamper and walked back out just as he was, causing Xander, who was sitting in the living room nursing a cup of tea, to spit his tea at least six feet.

“Clean that up, would you, Pet,” Spike said as he passed, too relaxed to mind that Xander had just spit tea all over his living room. Modesty and privacy were two concepts Spike had never really grasped well. In his youth, they’d been more or less unavailable; when he’d become a vampire, they’d been virtually unknown. Master vampires did what they liked, when and where and with whom (or what) they liked. Angelus had certainly applied all possible permutations of that power with Spike. He’d done him alone, with Dru, with others in varying numbers, in front of others, on whatever surface had happened to be handy. Spike had done the same when he’d become a master. But there had been a difference – Dru. Dru didn’t like an audience, and she did like a comfortable bed. Angelus hadn’t humored these preferences; Spike did. When Spike and Dru had sex together, whether alone or whether they were sharing another, they went off to the nicest bedroom Spike was able to fix up for his dark princess wherever they happened to be at the time. Dru had rarely expressed any appreciation for this consideration, but Spike knew it had been one more small way in which he’d been able to keep his lady happy and content. He wondered, with a flash of hurt, whether whatever bloody demon Dru was shagging nowadays paid any mind to Dru’s love of these human creature comforts.

When Spike finished dressing, he came out to find Xander mopping up the floor with paper towels.

“’Y all right, Pet?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Xander mumbled, low enough that apparently he was only talking to himself. “The man invites me into the bathroom while he’s jerking off, walks out stark naked, and now he wonders if I’m all right.”

“What I mean is, you oughtn’t be down there doing that, not with your ribs,” Spike said patiently. “That’s what the bloody mop’s for.” He held out his hand to help Xander up. After a long hesitation, Xander took the proffered hand, letting Spike help him up to his feet.

“Sit,” Spike instructed. He picked up the paper towels Xander had been using and threw them away; the floor looked okay. He poured Xander another cup of tea and carried it in to him. “Try to get this one down, Pet. And here.” He handed Xander a pain pill. “Forgot this.”

“Duh, I guess something kind of distracted me,” Xander said, grimacing.

“Been known to do that now and again,” Spike smirked.

Xander glanced up at him, blushing.

“Are you always going to, um, flaunt yourself like that?”

Spike snorted.

“Far as I know, no laws against having a wank in the bathroom,” he said. “You gonna tell me how I’ve got to dress in my own home now?”

Whatever reply Xander might have made was cut off by a knock at the door. Spike ducked into the kitchen to avoid the sunlight as Xander opened the door. Willow trooped in carrying two grocery bags, followed by Tara, similarly laden.

“Rosenberg Relocations,” Willow said cheerfully. “Where do we put everything?” She headed for the room with the airbed.

“Hang on, hang on, we need to get the whelp a dresser or some such, so don’t clutter it up in there,” Spike said impatiently. “Just pile it all along the wall over there, we’ll shift it ‘round later.” He laid a hand firmly on Xander’s shoulder when Xander would have gotten up to help. “No, you sit and supervise. Those ribs won’t thank you for moving around.”

“Yeah, consider us menial labor,” Tara laughed, stacking boxes.

“And Good-Idea lady present too,” Willow grinned, bringing in a long bag. “Spike, why don’t you go in the bedroom and shut the door for a few minutes? I think we’ve got your sunlight problem fixed.”

Spike frowned suspiciously, but went; he was uneasy enough in the living room with that open door anyway. He’d rather hoped the girls wouldn’t come until after dark, but there were still a good three hours of daylight left. Still, he felt more comfortable with just Willow and Tara in his home than he’d been with Buffy, Dawn and Giles too.

He listened from the bedroom, hearing shuffling, scraping sounds, chatter – Xander laughing, “Hey, Will, that was a great idea!” and, by God, a drill? No, electric screwdriver. God alone knew what they were doing to his flat.

“Okay, you can come out now,” Tara called. “We’ll turn the lights back on in a minute.”

Spike gingerly peeked out the bedroom door, raising his eyebrows when he realized the flat was almost pitch dark. He came out, grinning in approval.

“Hey, Red, I like it,” he admitted grudgingly. “What’d you do?”

Willow pulled one of the heavy velvet drapes aside over the small street-level window, grinning reassuringly when Spike almost leaped for the bedroom.

“Sorry,” she said, grinning apologetically. “Blackout curtains over pull-down shades. The really heavy ones. These are even rated for photo darkrooms. You can just flip ‘em up at night. And the curtain liners take care of any light leaking in around the edges. You know, if you put up an awning outside over the door, or even just put a big metal plate or a sheet of plywood across where the stairs come down, sunlight wouldn’t come in when you open the door.”

“Good idea,” Spike said, grinning. He shrugged. “Sorry, can’t offer you girls much but tea or beer, I’m afraid. Guess we’d better hit the grocer’s first thing tonight.”

“Well, some of this isn’t Xander’s, or I mean, it wasn’t Xander’s,” Willow said. She and Tara carried several of the bags into the kitchen; Xander and Spike trailed after them. “I mean, since Xander’s moving out into his own place – sort of – we thought we’d – “

Willow blushed.

“I mean, ordinarily we’d throw, like, a housewarming party or something, see? But we thought maybe, you know, Xander wouldn’t want to see anybody right now, and Buffy’s all miffed anyway about Xander moving in with Spike – I mean, she didn’t even offer to help, and Xander needs this stuff now, so we just went ahead and . . . well.”

“What Willow means,” Tara said gently, patting her anxious girlfriend on the cheek, “is we bought stuff to stock the cupboards for Xander. The sort of stuff a vampire probably doesn’t keep around the house.”

They had, too: Kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies (Spike was vaguely offended at that one; did they think he didn’t clean?), Xander’s favorite junk foods and beverages, bread, crackers, peanut butter, fresh fruit, canned foods, TV dinners, frozen pizzas.

“Hey, Tara, I forgot something,” Willow said. “The jar in the front seat – do you mind?” Tara smiled, kissed Willow on the cheek and exited. Willow blushed but turned to Xander.

“I, um, didn’t know whether to leave a note at your place, I mean your folks’ place,” Willow said quietly. “And then I thought, if I didn’t leave something, your dad would probably call Giles. And Giles would tell him – well, you know. So I left a note saying if he needed to reach you, to call me. Is that okay?”

Xander’s eyes widened, then filled with tears as he realized Willow knew, or at least guessed. He swallowed hard, nodded once, then turned away, and Spike could fairly taste the emotions pouring off him – love, gratitude, sorrow, shame.

Spike shifted awkwardly. He wanted to comfort Xander, but he didn’t know whether the whelp would welcome it or just feel more ashamed; Willow’s presence made it twice as awkward. Thank God, Willow came to the rescue, stepping around Xander and firmly pulling him into a hug.

“I won’t ask,” she whispered in his ear, but Spike heard it easily. “I won’t say anything to anybody, either. But I wish you’d told me a long time ago. I’d have done something, or tried. Really. I should’ve seen. I was stupid, I guess. Forgive me? Please?”

That did it; Xander broke down, sobbing helplessly on Willow’s shoulder. Spike bit his lip hard in frustration and resentment. At last he stalked out of the kitchen and sat down on the couch. Xander hurriedly fled to the bathroom just as Tara came back in holding a clay jar, which she handed to Spike after a brief sympathetic glance at Xander’s retreating back.

“I fixed this liniment while Willow packed up Xander’s stuff,” the witch said quietly. “I’ve never made it before, but there’s nothing dangerous in it, so I guess it can’t hurt. It smells kind of nice, actually. I rubbed some on my arm and nothing happened, although it warmed up on my skin.”

Spike took the jar.

“Thanks,” he said grudgingly.

“Thank you, for looking out for him,” Tara said softly. “Willow feels really bad. She thinks – well, never mind. It’s not our business unless Xander says it is. But we’ll help if we can. Anything. Willow really loves him a lot, you know. It’s just – well, I suppose she thought that if something was, well, wrong, he’d have told her, if nobody else.”

Spike shrugged, not answering. To him, it had been bloody obvious – at least in retrospect. But, then, he was pretty damned experienced, ey? Willow was a bit naïve, he had to admit. Naïve enough to actually believe all the stupid lies Xander had told to cover up the limp, the ache, the bruise. He supposed he had to give her that much benefit of the doubt.

“You know, if somebody ever, well, hurt Xander,” Tara said deliberately, “We’d have to do something. Willow and I would. There’s ever so many spells, nasty ones.”

Spike bristled, for a moment thinking he was being threatened – then he realized that Willow and Tara had no idea that anything had transpired between him and Xander; Tara was obliquely referring to Xander’s father. He grinned slowly.

“That bears some thought,” he said. “Problem is, you’d have to queue up for the privilege, see?”

Tara smiled slightly.

“I sort of thought that,” she said. “We’d have to work fast, before Buffy just rammed a stake through Mr. – well, whoever.” She glanced at the kitchen. “I think Will’s had enough time to get herself back together,” she said. “We’ll let Xander rest.” She raised her voice. “Come on, Will. Time to go.”

Willow nodded and followed Tara to the door. The red-haired witch’s eyes were red and swollen, but she gave Spike a tremulous smile.

“Thanks,” she said in a small voice. “For taking care of him.”

Spike, surprised at himself, managed a smile for her too.

“Thanks for helping,” he said simply.

That looked like it would break Willow up again, but Tara firmly steered her out, closing the door behind her. Spike glanced after them, obscurely pleased that he’d previously decided to let the witches off easy when he got rid of the chip.

All right, so I’m getting soft, he thought, mentally shrugging. But it’d be a lark to see what sort of spell those two might come up with . . .

Chapter 4

When Spike heard Willow drive away – from the sound, she’d borrowed Giles’ car – he glanced at the closed bathroom door, sighed, and knocked.

“Come on out, Pet,” he said patiently. “Just us, witches have gone home for the night.”

Silence. Spike could hear sniffling, but no reply.

“C’mon, Pet,” Spike said, a little louder. “I’m not movin’ your bed in there, and I think you’ll find sleeping in the tub cold and crampy. Trust me, been there, done that.”

Hoarsely: “Leave me alone.”

“Not by half,” Spike muttered, and gave the doorknob a good wrench. The cheap interior-door latch yielded immediately. Xander was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet, mopping his eyes with a wad of soggy tissues. He jumped up when Spike opened the door, his eyes flashing with outrage.

“Look, I can see that the whole privacy concept boggles you,” Xander growled, spoiling the effect by then sniffling, “but you actually told me to walk in on you. What part of ‘Leave me alone’ didn’t you understand?”

“The part where you keep saying what you don’t mean,” Spike said deliberately. He grabbed a handful of fresh kleenex and thrust them into Xander’s hand to substitute for the soggy mass Xander was already holding. “Blow.”

Xander blew several times. Spike extracted the kleenex from Xander’s grip and threw it away, then took Xander’s arm and firmly escorted him to the kitchen.


Xander sat, looking subdued. Spike brewed more tea, poked through the supplies Willow and Tara had left, and picked out a can of tomato soup – it was the right color, at least, of Spike’s favorite food. He heated up the soup and placed the bowl, spoon and crackers in front of Xander. He stuck his finger in the soup pan, tasted. Not bad; not bad by half, although he could dispense with the Yank cracker thing. He helped himself to a small cup.

“Eat.” He poured Xander a cup of tea and set that down too, then opened a bottle of stout for himself. “Go on now.”

Silently Xander ate – lethargically at first, then with more interest as the warm soup filled him. Spike reflected that the fact that Xander hadn’t eaten anything in probably 24 hours hadn’t done anything good for his mood.

“Comfort food,” Xander said, staring down into his bowl.

“Hmmm?” Spike said, glancing up from his beer.

“Comfort food,” Xander repeated. He sighed. “I was never much of a cook. But I’d make myself canned soup when I was, you know, blue.” He glanced up at Spike. “Did you have any comfort food? I mean, besides blood. When you were mortal, I guess.”

Spike snorted.

“Pet, most of my mortal life, if I had any food, that was bloody comforting,” he said.

Xander looked embarrassed, but he pressed, “Come on. I mean, isn’t there anything you get nostalgic about? I mean, you eat those Weetabix, and you drink tea and English beer and all.”

Spike snorted.

“Here’s one for you,” he said. “D’you know why American beer is like having sex in a canoe?”

Xander looked confused.

“Uh . . . no.”

“’Cause they’re both fucking close to water.” Spike grinned. Then he shrugged. “Yeah, there’s things I remember and miss a bit. Mmm. Winkles. Used to love those, and that tripe stew the street vendors sold – you could get a mug of that, hot, for a ha’penny.” He sighed. “Hot roasted chestnuts, those were the best. I always used to put back a penny out of whatever I earned, keep it back if I could. On the really bad days when it seemed like nothing couldn’t never be good again, I’d take a penny and go get some roasted chestnuts. You don’t just buy ‘em and eat ‘em, mind. First you stand around the cart for a while, just smelling them roasting and imagining how good they’ll taste. Then you buy ‘em, and it’s likely cold and wet out, and you hold the paper cone in your hands and feel the heat come through, and you stand around the hot cart if you can while you eat ‘em, making ‘em last as long as ever you can.”

Spike sighed, then glanced up, surprised at the expression in Xander’s eyes. It was – understanding. Sympathetic, not pitying. For some reason, Spike felt both embarrassed and pleased.

“Soup’s like that for me,” Xander said awkwardly. “I mean, once I moved into the basement, rent pretty much cleaned me out most of the time – when I had a job, I mean. But I could always buy cans of soup, and the way it smelled heating up . . . you know, I always thought someday I’d learn to make chicken soup. Real chicken soup, you know, from scratch? My grandma used to make it, and I thought it was the most wonderful soup in the world.”

Spike only shrugged, but inwardly he grinned. He could give Xander a surprise – a good surprise, too.

Xander sighed and put his spoon down.

“I guess I’d better go put my stuff away,” he said regretfully.

“Ha.” Spike shook his head. “Sorry, Pet. Nowhere to put it yet.” He glanced at the window; the sun would be down soon. “Here’s the choice. Either we can both go out with you looking like that, or I can go by myself and pick out some stuff for your room.”

Xander looked uncomfortable.

“I don’t like you having to buy me stuff,” he mumbled.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Pet, I’m not talking about buying you a bloody car, all right? Just a dresser and a nightstand and a bed.”

“Just a dresser,” Xander argued. “I can use the airbed, and I don’t need a nightstand with that.”

Spike sighed irritably.

“Fine. Just a dresser, then, if that makes you happy.”

“A cheap dresser,” Xander warned.

“Excuse me, Pet, I buy, I choose,” Spike retorted. “Some cheap thing won’t match the décor.”

“And some fancy thing won’t match the air mattress on the floor.”

“Which is why I should buy you a bed and a night table to match,” Spike said triumphantly. “Anyway, it’s not my money, it’s on – “ He pulled a handful of credit cards out of his pocket and flipped through them. “ – Dirk Farnsworth.”

Xander threw up his hands.

“Fine! Get whatever you want,” he said resignedly. “But then it’s your furniture, and whenever I go, it stays.”

“Works for me,” Spike said cheerfully. That hardly mattered, since Spike would make sure Xander didn’t leave until Spike was ready for him to go.

He went out, rented a U-Haul truck and a handcart, then loaded up “Dirk Farnsworth’s” Visa Titanium, buying Xander a positively decadent king-sized waterbed (he remembered hearing Xander once wistfully wishing for one when talking to the Scoobies) with mirrored canopy, matching dresser and night table, bed linens and a cozy comforter, then splurged on a bigger-screen telly and stereo surround sound system for himself. Of course, all that meant he had to unload the bloody truck by himself, but he didn’t want delivery men knowing where he lived, or associating “Dirk Farnsworth” with his address.

Vampiric strength turned out to be a good thing to have, he acknowledged to himself, when moving furniture alone. When Xander protested being confined to the sidelines, Spike firmly guided the boy into his own bedroom, closed the door and jammed it shut until he’d finished unloading. The waterbed frame, of course, required assembly, and Spike let Xander out of the bedroom before he started putting it together.

Xander stood in the doorway of the room, staring blankly.

“What’s that?” he asked, wrinkling his forehead.

“Waterbed,” Spike said shortly. “Thought I remembered you wanted one.”

Xander’s jaw dropped.

“You don’t?” Spike said, wondering why he cared what the whelp wanted anyway.

“No, I did – I mean I do,” Xander stammered. “It’s just – I mean, we talked about that a long time ago, that Oz had had one and I liked it and – I mean, that was a long time ago, and just a couple comments, and you remembered that?”

Spike smirked.

“Benefit of being a vampire, Pet,” he said. “You don’t forget much of anythin’. Brain cells don’t die, see. Hand me that electric screwdriver thingy, will you?”

Xander helped as much as Spike would let him, handing tools and parts, although Spike wouldn’t let him lift so much as a splinter of the bed itself. It was more trouble than Spike had thought it would be, and he hadn’t had the foresight to buy a hose to fill the mattress and had to make another trip out to get that. Hardly mattered, though, since he had to take the truck back anyway, and finally the damned thing was slowly gurgling full. Xander looked at it and sighed.

“Can I use the airbed tonight?”

Spike snorted.

“Won’t take that long to fill, Pet.”

“Yeah, I know,” Xander said patiently. “But it’s full of cold water. Which might feel nice on my bruises for a few minutes, but then I’m going to fucking freeze until the heater heats all that water up.”

“Oh.” Spike hadn’t thought of that; modern technology largely eluded him. He shrugged. “Well, you can have the air bed, then.”

Xander’s brow wrinkled.

“I don’t think it’ll fit in here with the bed and stuff.”

“Then you can put it in my room,” Spike said. He grinned. “Or we could just share my bed. Don’t mind a bit.”

Xander flushed.

“I – uh – I’ll take the air bed,” he mumbled.

“Suit yourself.” Spike moved the air bed into his room, glanced up to make sure Xander wasn’t looking, then poked a sharp fingernail into the corner seam of the air bed where it would produce a slow leak. He walked back out. “Take it easy, I’ll pop something in the oven for you.”

Xander mumbled something that was probably thanks, and Spike put a TV dinner in the microwave. When he returned, he found that Xander was almost finished putting his clothes away in the new dresser and the closet.

“All settled in, eh?” Spike said with satisfaction.

“Yeah.” Xander smiled slightly. “The waterbed was full, so I shut off the water and turned the heater up a little.”

“That’s good. C’mon, eat your supper,” Spike urged. “You look knackered.”

“I am tired,” Xander admitted. “Don’t know why, I haven’t done anything all day.”

“You’re beat up, stressed out, and drugged,” Spike shrugged. “Does that to you. Eat your supper and you can go to bed.”

Xander ate, probably more to please Spike than from any actual appetite, but that was good enough for Spike. Spike tossed the dinner tray, washed the fork and cup while Xander was in the bathroom, then met the youth in the bedroom.

“Right,” he said. “Drop the boxers and hop on the bed.”

A flush suffused Xander’s face and his eyes widened.

“Huh?” he said. “I thought we weren’t going to – “

Spike smirked and held up the clay jar Tara had given him.

“Liniment, Pet. Remember? Witchly therapy for bruises and aches.”

“Oh. That.” Xander looked sheepish. “Uh, okay.” He stripped off his robe and stretched out on the bed on his stomach.

“Boxers,” Spike reminded him.

This time Spike could see the blush continue on down Xander’s back.

“Uh, do I have to?”

Spike chuckled.

“Seen it before, Pet,” he smirked. He grabbed the sides of the boxers and pulled, startling a yelp out of Xander as that gorgeous (albeit multicolored) arse was abruptly bared. “Easy, Pet. I’m not gonna attack you, more’s the pity.” He stripped down to boxers himself; no point in getting liniment all over his clothes. Besides, who knew what he might be able to make of this opportunity.

He scooped up a gob of the liniment, rubbing it between his fingers. Slippery, warmed up nice and tingly but not enough to burn in tender spots. A bloke could have some fun with this stuff.

He dabbed the liniment generously over Xander’s back and started rubbing it in, very gently at first, mindful of the whelp’s bruises. Xander let out a long, shuddery breath and slowly relaxed.

“Feels good,” he murmured.

“Does indeed,” Spike chuckled. In fact he was enjoying the hell out of the gorgeous sight of Xander Harris stretched out starkers on his comforter, bruises notwithstanding, and the warm firmness of the skin under his hands. Mmmm, someday he’d have to do the lad with lots of massage oil on an oilproof sheet. He could think of lots of fun things to try with a slippery Xander. Damned if he wasn’t going to have to have another wank after this.

“Mmmmmmm . . . “ Xander moaned with drowsy pleasure as Spike’s hands worked the kinks out of his lower back. “That’s wonderful.”

“Could make it a whole lot better, if you weren’t so hell-bent on celibacy,” Spike suggested slyly.

Xander sighed, not with pleasure this time.

“Don’t,” he said softly. “You agreed – “

“Agreed I’d accept it, Pet,” Spike corrected. “Didn’t agree to like it. Don’t recall any rule that I couldn’t talk about it, either. Hey, there.” He paused thoughtfully. “How come you’re trying to set up all these bloody rules in my flat, eh? Can’t have a wank in the tub, have to put on clothes to walk out of the bath, and now I’ve got to watch what I say, too. Now that you’re out of the parental basement, I’d think you’d want less rules. ‘Course, all the rules you keep making only seem to be for me,” he added, smirking.

“You can make rules,” Xander said weakly, involuntarily squirming under Spike’s slow massage. Spike could smell Xander’s arousal growing.

“Hmmm. First rule, you never wear clothes or a towel coming out of the bathroom,” Spike said, grinning. “That way, if I can’t touch, at least I get to look.”

Xander snorted.

“Forget it,” he said.

“Hey, it was worth a try, Pet,” Spike chuckled. He continued his slow massage down over Xander’s buttocks, letting his thumbs dip teasingly into the crease. Xander was almost trembling now, and Spike could smell the arousal seeping out of his pores. God, his blood would be delicious now, heady with arousal and pleasure.

“Uhhhhhhhh – “ Xander groaned. “How am I supposed to keep myself under control when you do things like that?”

Spike laughed.

“Asking the wrong vampire, Pet. I want you to lose control. You want to talk about self-control, talk to Soul Man. He’s the expert, not me.”

“I’m tired of not being in control,” Xander said, very softly, and Spike felt a brief flash of – what, hurt? No thanks, not this vampire! – before he realized what Xander meant. By all accounts, Cordelia had picked him up, used him, then dumped him. Anya had done the same. Faith had simply used him briefly and then tried to kill him. From what Spike had heard, Xander had had an interest in a couple of other ladies, one of whom had turned out to be a big man-eating bug and another who had turned out to be a life-sucking mummy. Such was life on the Hellmouth. Or maybe it was just the fact that Fate seemed to have taken a big, runny, stinking crap on Alexander Harris, as far as Spike could see.

“Well, Pet, there’s all kinds of shagging that isn’t using somebody,” Spike said, continuing his massage down Xander’s legs. “Sometimes it’s like meeting somebody and having a nice dance – you meet, you have a bit of fun together, you grin and say, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll see you here again’ and that’s that. Or there’s friends who share a good shag now and again just to be friends and make each other feel good. Nothin’ wrong with that. It’s only just when one person has his heart in it and the other doesn’t, that’s when it gets bad.”

“I know that,” Xander protested, his voice muffled by the fact that he was resting his face on his folded arms. “I’m not stupid.”

“Didn’t say you were, Pet.” Spike suddenly realized he’d put his foot in it. Xander had had his heart in it with Cordelia and Anya, at least a bit, whether or not it had been love or just the teenage hormonal thing. They hadn’t been a casual fuck or a shag between friends. And what Faith had done to Xander fell on the shady side of sex versus rape, even if Xander probably didn’t think of it that way.

“Right, then,” Spike said decisively. “Over, Pet.” He anticipated Xander protesting, probably because of the hardon the whelp was undoubtedly sporting now – Spike could smell the precome – so Spike simply rolled Xander over. Then abruptly he rolled them both over so that Xander was stretched out full-length on top of the vampire. In this position Spike felt the mortal’s firm warmth, and was increasingly aware of Xander’s larger frame, and that gave him a peculiar thrill.

“There you go, Pet,” Spike grinned. “Now you’re in control. So now you’ve got me, what do you want to do with me, eh?”

Xander flushed bright red, and Spike could feel the wave of heat travel down the mortal’s body. Bloody ‘ell, the boy didn’t have half a lovely spike on him, eh? Slyly, Spike wriggled a bit, rubbing his erection against Xander’s through the thin fabric of his silk boxers. Xander inhaled sharply.

“So – “ Xander steadied his voice. “So – if I’m in control, what if I want to do – this?”

And he bent his head down and kissed Spike, slowly, deeply, no tongue but that was probably the only bloody thing he held back.

If Spike had needed to breathe, that kiss would have rendered him breathless. If he’d been wearing socks, it would have knocked him out of them. If he were capable of raising gooseflesh, he’d have goosebumped top to toe. As it was, it shook him all the way to the tips of his toes. And while it didn’t raise gooseflesh, it certainly raised some other flesh.

“Bloody ‘ell, Pet,” Spike gasped, wondering why the hell he was gasping when he didn’t need to breathe. “You don’t do nothin’ by halves, eh? So what’re you gonna do now?”

“Go to bed,” Xander said, grinning as he rolled off Spike.

“Huh?” Spike gaped, dumbfounded. He was hard as a rock, Xander was hard as a rock, and the whelp wanted to stop? Just like that?

“Hey, you got to first base without even taking me out on a date,” Xander said, a little awkwardly. “Don’t complain.” He glanced over the side of the bed at the air mattress, now more than half flat, then back at Spike.

“You did that, didn’t you?” he said, sighing. “I know you did that.”

Spike rolled his eyes. Well, if he wasn’t going to get any tonight, he might as well be by himself where he could have a wank without the whelp bitching about it.

“Fine,” Spike said exasperatedly. “You sleep here, I’ll take the bleedin’ couch.”

“You can’t take the couch,” Xander protested. “Sunlight.”


“You won’t get any sleep, really sleep.”

Spike growled.

“Fine, then. I’ll sleep in the bleedin’ waterbed. Cold don’t bother me.”

Xander took a deep breath.

“Can you – can you sleep in here and not, you know, make a pass at me or anything?”

Spike sighed mentally. Another wankless night. Why the hell was he putting up with this?

“Sure, Pet,” he said. “I’ll go get you a pain pill, you’ll drop right off. Want your shorts back?”

“Ummm – “ Xander flushed. “Do you mind if I get my pajamas?”

Spike shrugged.

“They’re your jammies, aren’t they?” he said resignedly. He fetched the pain pill and a glass of water for Xander, almost dropping them when he stepped back into the bedroom. Xander was wearing a pair of flannel pajamas, tops and bottoms both, okay, but with teddy bears all over them. Blue teddy bears.

“Well, that’ll do it, Pet,” Spike snorted. “If I’d had any idea of ‘making a pass’, as you put it, those would’ve done the trick putting it right out of my mind. Here, take your pill and let me put the lights out so’s I won’t have to look at those anymore.”

Xander grinned abashedly and took his pill, scootching over to the far side of the bed precariously near the edge. Spike sighed pointedly and gave the bed a mighty heave with vampiric strength, scooting the whole thing over against the wall with a tremendous screech of protesting metal as the un-wheeled legs scraped over the floor. Xander jumped about a mile and glared at Spike in outrage.

“What the hell did you do that for?”

“Well, Pet, if you’re gonna scrunch away like I have lice or summat, least I can do is see that you don’t finish the job on those ribs falling out of bed,” Spike said irritably. He grabbed the blanket and pillow from the now-deflated air mattress, switched out the light and slid into bed, curling up in the blanket. If the whelp could barely share the mattress with him, he certainly wasn’t going to be much good for sharing the covers.

There was a long silence. Then:

“Sorry,” Xander said, very softly.

“For what, Pet?” Spike said absently, wondering if he could manage a wank when the whelp drifted off to sleep.

“It’s not . . . you, okay?”

Spike hesitated, feeling that bewildering mixture of anxiety and pleasure.

“I know, Pet. ‘S all right. Get some sleep.”



For the second night (morning) in a row Spike was wakened out of a sound sleep, this time by a shaking of the mattress and a sound that it took Spike some moments to place.


Quiet – almost silent – sobbing.

“Pet? Xander?” Spike said softly, but the sobbing continued unchanged, and Spike realized to his amazement that Xander was crying in his sleep. Dru had done that sometimes.

God, the beating he took on the outside ain’t nothing to what he’s taken on the inside, Spike thought, grimacing, briefly entertaining a very satisfying image of using his trademark railroad spikes on Xander’s parents. Slowly, quietly, he slid over to Xander’s side of the bed.

“Shhhh, Pet, ‘s all right, you’re safe,” he murmured in that low, soft voice that had always soothed Dru. Lighter than breath, his fingers stroked down Xander’s arm in a slow, hypnotic rhythm. “C’mere, Pet, you’re all right, I’ll chase the nasty dreams away, I’m bigger ‘n meaner, you’re all right.”

Xander gave a final sniffle, then, without waking up, rolled over against Spike’s side, pillowing his head on the vampire’s shoulder just as Dru had always done. The mortal snuggled in closer, still making little unhappy noises, and Spike carefully wrapped his arm around Xander, avoiding the tender ribs.

“That’s it, that’s a good Pet, rest easy, only nice dreams now,” Spike murmured, stroking Xander’s hair. Slowly Xander settled, his breathing evening out as his sleep deepened.

Spike, however, lay awake for a long time, his face all vampiric angles and planes, golden eyes glittering in the dark. Images of blood and vengeance filled his mind.

He stroked Xander’s back very softly, very gently, and smiled