Twilight Time by Shadow

Chapter 5


A delicious aroma tickled Spike’s nose, coaxing him gradually awake. He yawned and opened his eyes, then grinned.

Xander had just walked into the room and was standing beside the bed holding a tray containing, by the smell of it, a bowl of Weetabix, a plate of buttered toast with marmalade, a hot cup of tea – cream and sugar on the side – and another warm mug of blood. Not your everyday brekkie in bed, but Spike was pretty damned pleased. Xander had obviously been up for some time – he was dressed in sweats and a loose t-shirt and his hair smelled freshly washed, but was dry.

“Awww, you shouldn’t’ve, Pet,” Spike purred, scooting back and pushing pillows behind his back to prop himself up. “Not that I’m complaining, mind.”

Xander grinned, avoiding Spike’s eyes as he set the tray on Spike’s lap.

“I just wanted to, um, thank you for last night,” Xander said quietly.

“What, for the rubdown or for flattening your mattress?” Spike chuckled, stalling.

Xander shook his head, but he still didn’t meet Spike’s gaze.

“You know,” he said, almost inaudibly.

“Ah.” Spike patted the side of the bed; reluctantly Xander sat down. “Have bad dreams often, Pet?”

Xander shrugged uncomfortably.

“That must’ve been a doozy,” Spike said quietly. “You were crying in your sleep. Tears an’ all.”

Xander looked as though he’d rather be anywhere but here, but he said nothing, twisting the covers between his fingers.

Not the first time, then. Figures.

Spike deliberately turned to his breakfast, gulping down the blood before it could cool.

“Dru used to do that sometimes,” he said casually. “Cry in her sleep. Sometimes she’d pull at her hair, too, hard enough to pull some out. Sometimes she’d scratch at herself, hard enough to bleed. I ‘spect it was from some of the things Angelus did to her ‘round the time he turned her. Glad I wasn’t around back then. ‘Course – “ He chuckled ruefully. “He wasn’t all that sweet after I came along, either.”

Xander glanced up at Spike with an unreadable expression.

“Did he ever – hurt you?” he asked hesitantly.

“Hurt me? Lots of times,” Spike said, shrugging. “What, hurt as in rape? Hmmm.” He shrugged again. “Don’t know as that word really applies to a vampire an’ his Childe. It’s different. Hard to explain. Even times you might not really want it, you wouldn’t say no even if you could. Got to remember, Pet, Angelus was my Sire twice over – ‘cause he was Dru’s Sire, and ‘cause she wasn’t usually in no fit state to take care of me, teach me what’s what, so he pretty much took over the job. Gave me his blood, too, time and again, so he might’s well have been the one to turn me. And a master vampire can do what he pleases with his Childer or his minions.”

Xander eagerly seized on a change of subject.

“That’s something I wanted to ask you,” he said. “I mean, what makes a master vampire? And what’s the difference between a Childe and a – a minion?”

Spike started in on his toast.

“Hmm. Answer’s the same, Pet,” he said. “If a vampire’s powerful enough to make and control Childer, he’s a master vampire. Any vampire can make minions. They’re lackeys, expendable troops, errand boys, you name it. Drain a mortal, give him just a bit of your blood right before he dies, then he’ll rise up a minion. He’ll dig his way out of the grave, and the vampire who made him can keep him, or leave him to fend for himself. They’re not all that strong, minions, generally don’t last all that long. They get fried in the daylight or run afoul of a Slayer or whatnot, or other minions stake ‘em just to be rid of the competition for their master’s favor.

“Childer are different. They’re made special,” Spike reflected. “When they’re drained, they’re given more of the master’s blood, and generally after they’re turned he’ll give ‘em more from time to time. Makes them lots more powerful, which is why it takes a master to control Childer. Most often they aren’t left to be buried and rise on their own; the master’ll just keep ‘em in his lair until they wake. The master cares for ‘em, teaches ‘em, keeps ‘em around for fucking and companionship until eventually he either gets tired of ‘em and stakes ‘em or kicks ‘em out, or when they get strong enough to make Childer of their own, they set out on their own, or they fight it out with their Sire for power and one or the other gets dusted. Don’t often see two master vampires together for long; they don’t like to share power. Dru was an exception, like I said, for Angelus and for me, too.”

“So – “ Xander frowned. “Could a master kind of, well, promote a minion to a Childe if he gave it more of his blood?”

“Could.” Spike shrugged. “Doesn’t happen much. Minions are infantry, so to speak. Mostly a vampire isn’t too picky about who he turns for minions. Childer, though, they’re chosen ‘cause the master wants them specially for that.” Childer were often turned Consorts, too, but Spike didn’t want to get into that with Xander, especially right now. Wouldn’t do to have Xander wondering about Spike’s motivations in having him here. Especially since Spike wasn’t all that sure of his motivations himself. Time for his own change of subject.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the whole breakfast-in-bed bit, Pet,” Spike said, sipping his tea, “but what’s the idea waking me up while it’s still – “ He glanced at the clock. God, noon! “ – the middle of the night, vampire wise?”

“Oh. Uh.” Xander looked embarrassed. “I, uh, called Willow, see? To thank her for helping me move in, and for that liniment. And she asked if I wanted to have lunch. So anyway, she’s going to ditch her afternoon classes, borrow Giles’ car and pick me up, and pick up some takeout, and we’re gonna go back to her dorm room and, you know, talk. Anyway, I didn’t want you to wake up and just find me gone.”

“Oh.” Spike stifled his irritation. Of course, he’d known the whelp wasn’t going to stay here with him shut away from the world forever, but he’d hoped for at least a few more days. “Well, have fun, then, Pet.”

“And there’s a meeting at Giles’ tonight,” Xander continued, looking at Spike apologetically. “Willow and I could just come by and pick you up on the way there?”

Oh, bloody wonderful. Sounds more than lunch – sounds like the whole afternoon. Followed by an ever-so-riveting Scooby meeting hosted by this year’s winner of the poker-up-the-arse awards.

Spike sighed.

“Right, then,” he said resignedly. “I suppose if I must.”

“Um. Well.” Xander swallowed, looking at the floor now. “They said I didn’t have to bring you. But, um, wouldyoumind?” he blurted out. “I mean, I know you hate those meetings butI’dfeelbetterif – “

Well, now isn’t that interesting, Spike thought, suddenly interested. The fact that Xander wanted him along for – what, immoral support? – was very interesting indeed.

“Sure, Pet,” he said, more cheerfully. “Glad to.”

Xander looked so utterly relieved that Spike felt another bewildering pang of that anxiety/pleasure. He made a mental decision he’d been putting off.

“Had anything for pain this afternoon?” he asked casually, setting the tray aside and getting out of bed.

“Uh, no.” Xander shook his head. “They make me so sleepy – “

“Well, then, we’ll just give you half, eh?” Spike said cheerfully. “Sitting around a dorm room all afternoon and sitting around Giles’ all evening’s going to be hard on all those bruises. And better put some shoes on if you’re going out.”

Spike broke one of the pain pills in two, then went to the kitchen, remembering that Willow had bought Xander – yeah, there. A big bottle of spicy V-8, probably a Willow addition since Xander never consumed anything that healthy. Spike poured a small glass, then glanced into the living room, satisfying himself that Xander was still in the bedroom, putting on his shoes.

Casually, Spike bit into his thumb, hard, letting a small quantity of his blood drip into the glass – as much as he thought he could get away with taste-wise. He stirred the V-8 thoroughly, then carried glass and broken pill in to Xander.

“There you go, Pet,” he said, handing them over. Xander swallowed the pill and took a sip of V-8 to wash it down, then licked his lips and drained the glass, tapping the bottom to get as much out as possible.

“Willow’s always trying to make me drink that stuff,” Xander chuckled, handing Spike the glass back. “It’s good, though. I’m surprised. Just don’t decide to start reusing the nice glass empties, okay? I’d hate to get it mixed up with your bottles.”

Spike chuckled.

“’s a deal, Pet,” he said cheerfully, taking the glass back to the kitchen. He plunked himself down in front of the telly with his bowl of Weetabix when Xander left, never minding that they’d gone soggy. He chuckled to himself. In this case, at least, what Xander didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

Those first few drops of blood exchanged the night Spike had brought Xander home, that had forged a bond between them – an almost insignificant, tenuous bond, but a bond nonetheless. The additional blood Spike had given the mortal tonight was enough to give him a healing boost, work on the bruises and the cracked bones. If Spike could manage a few additional doses, Xander would be back to fighting trim in no time. He’d have to be careful, though. He didn’t want the Slayer or the others remarking on Xander’s healing speed, and if Xander ingested enough of Spike’s blood, the effects would go beyond accelerated healing and might even set off Buffy’s slayer-sense. But every drop of blood shared between Spike and Xander drew them closer together, and to a point, at least, that was the idea.

Spike smirked and settled back comfortably on the sofa, ready to doze the afternoon away. Matters were progressing swimmingly. He’d rescued Xander and got him settled securely in Spike’s lair. The lad was grateful and obviously attracted to Spike, too, and sooner or later teenage hormones were going to win out over whatever was holding the mortal back. The Scooby gang weren’t going to interfere; rather, they supported Xander’s change of habitat, and for Xander’s sake, at least, were prepared to treat Spike with some increased measure of tolerance. So there was nothing preventing Spike from protecting Xander, courting him, steering the lad toward the inevitable – Spike’s bed. From all indications, Xander wanted to be there as much as Spike wanted him there.

Spike didn’t question the tenderness and affection he felt for the boy, disturbingly like the tenderness he’d felt for Dru . . . yet somehow different, and he didn’t particularly want to examine that difference either. He wanted to protect and fuck the boy, that was all, and he had one and was fast headed toward the other, and that was good enough for William the Bloody.

Spike smiled at the blackout curtains, checked his watch, and turned on the telly. Passions would be on soon, and he’d have time for a nice nap after.

*****

Spike woke, as was his habit, about an hour before sundown. He took a nice leisurely bath, heated another cup of blood and picked out his clothes for the evening – black jeans and a t-shirt, nothing fancy, because he had the suspicion there might be action in the plan if, as he thought, the meeting at Giles’ was over some evil doings in Sunnyhell. He’d just finished up and slipped the last knife into his boot when he heard a knock on the door; he opened it, surprised to see Xander standing there.

“Blimey, Pet, you could just let yourself in,” Spike scolded. “You’re not a vampire, don’t need an invitation. ‘Sides, it’s your place too, now.”

Xander smiled sheepishly.

“I locked the door after me when I left,” he explained. “I couldn’t get back in.”

“Oh.” Spike rummaged through the drawer of the desk beside the door, coming up with the spare key. “There you go, solves that problem.”

Xander stared at the key as if Spike had handed him a sack of gold.

“You – you’re giving me a key? To your place?”

Spike snorted.

“Hearing’s gone wonky, Pet,” he said. “Our place, didn’t I just say? So. Off to Giles’?”

“Uh.” Xander was still blinking at the key. At last he slid it onto his keychain with an expression of wonder still on his face. “Uh, yeah. If you’re ready to go.”

“Pet, I was born ready,” Spike smirked.

He’d worried just a bit about what Xander might have told Willow about him, or rather them, but the red-haired witch seemed no different than usual – chatting amiably, trying to draw shy Tara out about her day in school, bemoaning the fact that they’d all have to walk home after the meeting since Giles would undoubtedly want his car back.

“We could stop and pick up my car,” Xander offered. “It’s better than nothing. Maybe.”

“Didn’t know you had a car, Pet,” Spike said, raising his eyebrows. When he’d stayed in Xander’s basement apartment, Xander had occasionally had the use of his uncle Rory’s car while said uncle’s license was suspended for drunk driving, but Spike had heard nothing about Xander having a car of his own.

“My uncle wrecked his convertible,” Xander said abashedly. “It was never really the same after that, so he sold it to me for, like, practically nothing, since his license was revoked altogether anyway. It runs most of the time.”

“Where is it?” Spike asked suspiciously. From the miserable expression on Xander’s face, he guessed before Xander answered quietly, “At my – I mean, my parents’ house. Not right in front, but across the street.”

“Right. Give over the keys,” Spike said, holding out his hand and taking the keys firmly. “Drop me off half a block or so down, will you, Red, and I’ll fetch it on over.”

“Really?” Xander said, such relief in his tone that Spike felt himself wince inside.

“Well, can’t have your mum and dad seeing the state you’re in and calling the police,” Spike said, faking a bored tone, although he reached over surreptitiously and squeezed Xander’s hand. “They hear how you got pounded, then I’m hauled down to the station to give a statement. Don’t fancy trying to explain little things like my lack of proper ID, or why I’ve got to be out of the bloody station before sunrise.”

Willow giggled and even Tara smiled; Xander gave Spike a slightly anxious look, as if the insecure whelp actually believed Spike was only thinking of himself, and Spike was forced to give Xander another hand-squeeze and a wink to boot, secure in the knowledge that if Willow was looking in the rearview mirror she couldn’t see a damned thing. Xander smiled then, relaxing.

Willow dropped Spike off at the end of Xander’s street, and Spike took advantage of the shadows to make his way stealthily to Xander’s car. The car didn’t look too horribly banged up – apparently Xander had hammered out some of the worst dents – but it ran with a nasty “money” sound that meant it was probably on its last legs, so to speak. Well, he’d have a look at it. He’d had motorcycles from time to time, loved the damned things, and he’d learned a good bit of mechanics mostly by trial and error. Meanwhile, at least the rattletrap would probably get him to Giles’ and get them home afterwards without them having to risk walking down Sunnydale’s streets after dark. Xander was just starting to heal up; he certainly didn’t need Spike’s good work undone by a run-in with one of Sunnydale’s darkside inhabitants. And while Spike was ready, willing and able to defend the whelp and the witches against any of the ‘Dale’s nonhuman nasties, he was the only real fighter of the four of them; worse, if they ran into the bloody Initiative, Xander was just barmy enough to jump right in to keep Spike from being recaptured.

The car made it to Giles’ house and cut out with what Spike optimistically told himself was not a death rattle. The others were already there, of course, but Xander was dawdling in the doorway, and Spike felt a little frisson of pleasure at the way the mortal’s eyes brightened at his arrival.

“Xander, for heaven’s sake, close the door,” Giles called from inside. “You’re letting in the mosquitoes.”

“Sorry, I was – uh – watching out for the pizzas,” Xander said abashedly. He stepped aside to let Spike in. “Spike’s here.”

“Speaking of bloodsucking pests,” Buffy muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear.

“Nice to see you too, Pet,” Spike said cheerfully. After the look Xander had given him, practically nothing could bother him. He handed the car keys over to Xander.

Willow shoved Buffy out of the recliner so Xander could sit there, although Spike grinned to himself to see Xander moving with much less pain this evening; the bruising on his face was visibly less, too. Buffy apparently noticed it too.

“You’re looking better already,” she said suspiciously. “Want to tell us about your miracle cure?”

Xander grinned happily, squeezing Willow’s hand.

“It’s this fantastic liniment Wills and Tara whipped up for me,” he said. “I’ve got to hand it to you two. That stuff’s incredible.”

Spike smirked. Buffy scowled at him and opened her mouth as if to retort, but Spike interrupted.

“What’s this, then?” he said, poking at a plaster cast of a nasty-looking three-taloned foot.

“Subject of tonight’s meeting,” Willow said, sighing. “Multi-legged, as-yet-unidentified nasty that jumped out of a bush and ate a couple of teenagers making out in the park. As if anybody in their right minds makes out in Sunnydale’s park after dark.” She grimaced. “It left parts. Yucky parts.”

Spike grinned rather smugly, then raised his eyebrow, cocking his head.

“Pizza’s here,” he said, frowning at the rapidity of the delivery. “What, you couldn’t wait for us before you ordered it?”

Buffy smiled sweetly.

“Just thought we’d order ahead,” she said. She collected money from Giles and answered the door, bringing the boxes to the table. “Three extra large, family size order of garlic bread.” She glanced slyly at Spike. “Oops, my bad,” she added insincerely.

Spike fought down a snarl, his good mood eroding. He could smell the garlic from here. He could also smell the pizzas – one cheese, two vegetarian. No supreme or meat lover’s for the vampire, or that Hawaiian crap that Xander liked. Funny, now that he thought about it, how many times Scooby refreshments had fallen into a similar pattern.

“Buffy, Dawn’s the only one who eats plain cheese,” Willow said, wrinkling her brow, “and Spike and Xander don’t like vegetarian. I thought we were going to get – “

“Must’ve made a mistake,” Buffy said cheerfully. “Oh, well. Sorry. You’ll have to try it our way for a change.”

“It’s okay,” Xander said, his resigned expression telling Spike just how often this sort of thing had happened before. “Spike, don’t worry, I’ll call and order something with meat on it for – “

“Got a better idea,” Spike said, looking Buffy straight in the eye. “Got any blood, Giles?”

The Watcher looked relieved at the prospect of heading the conflict off.

“Yes, I was going to give you a few packets tonight.”

“Then how about this, Pet?” Spike said, leaning over the table, putting both hands on top of the pizza boxes. “How ‘bout I take a couple packets of that blood and just drizzle it over those pizzas and you can try it my way for a change?”

Glaring at Spike, Buffy deliberately grabbed a piece of garlic bread from the bag and bit into it.

“Maybe you’d like an appetizer first,” she said, blowing in his face.

Spike had the good sense and quick reflexes not to breathe the garlic fumes in – he didn’t need to breathe, after all, other than to talk or smoke – but garlic vapors bathed his face and eyes in liquid fire, as if he’d been sprayed with acid. Roaring with pain and temporarily blinded, he stumbled backward, tripping over the coffee table and falling. He tried to regain his feet, howling with rage now, hell-bent on ripping the Slayer’s face off, but instantly a warm, heavy body landed on top of his and icy cold liquid doused his face, making him sputter indignantly as he struggled against the restraining weight.

“It’s me, it’s me, don’t move,” Xander said right in his ear, and instantly, confused and angry and still hurting, Spike went still. He didn’t want to set off the chip, but more, he didn’t want to hurt Xander. “Just stay still, relax, if you go after her you’ll set off the chip and then you’ll really be hurting,” Xander continued without pausing. Then, louder, “Willow, get me a soapy wet washcloth and a plain wet washcloth, okay? Hurry. And some water in a glass. Damn it, Buffy, what the fuck were you thinking?”

“He threatened my pizza,” Buffy protested.

“I’ll threaten more than that, princess,” Spike snarled, struggling against Xander’s weight again. The mortal only clung more tightly, his body rubbing against Spike’s intoxicatingly, and the distraction was enough to stop him moving again. Cold liquid was running through his hair and into his ears, and he finally identified the smell – Xander’s coke, which the mortal had apparently flung in his face. Annoying, but good thinking; the soft drink had stopped the burning from the garlic fumes.

“Oh, yeah? You and what Initiative microchip, oh fangless wonder?” Buffy said smugly.

“Really, Buffy, that was quite uncalled for,” Giles said firmly. “Ah, Willow, give me those, please. No, Xander, stay where you are, if you will. I’m going to rinse his eyes, and he may not like it.”

“I’m not a bleedin’ dog that’ll turn and bite,” Spike snarled, realizing that he was showing fangs even as he spoke. He held still as water ran over his eyes, and a soft dry cloth cautiously blotted up the excess.

“Can you see?” Giles asked with at least a trace of sympathy. Spike blinked, and blinked again. He could see – somewhat – although the images were badly blurred. Definitely a few extra broken bones for Her Buffyness, oh yes indeed.

“Some,” Spike said grudgingly. He glared in Buffy’s general direction. “Good enough.”

“Oh, gee, so not intimidated here,” came Buffy’s smug reply, and just when Spike thought he might manage to retract his fangs.

“Um – “ Giles retreated slightly. “I think this alcohol might work better than soap to get any garlic residue off your skin, but it might sting a bit and – er – “

“I’ll do it,” Xander said, taking the gauze pad from Giles. “Hold still, okay? I’ll try to be careful.”

Spike closed his mouth and held still. It stung more than a bit on what were probably open sores, but right now anything that wasn’t garlic felt bloody good. Xander swabbed his face off carefully, then went over it again with the warm soapy washcloth, then the clean washcloth. At last Spike pushed Xander aside – gently – and sat up.

“Thanks, Pet,” he said, trying to sound casual. “Got a towel? Don’t fancy coke running down the back of my neck.”

“Oh.” Xander handed him a towel; Spike only had the blurriest glance of the whelp, but he could almost hear the sheepish smile. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be,” Spike said, shrugging. “Helped a lot. Quick thinking, there.”

“You look awful,” Willow said, her tone concerned. “Buffy, how could you do that?”

“He threatened my pizza,” Buffy repeated. “And he got in my face. These actions have consequences.”

“You rather provoked him,” Giles chided gently.

“Excuse me?” Buffy said smugly. “You chained him in the bathtub for drinking blood out of your favorite mug, and I’m provoking him ‘cause he doesn’t like what I got on the pizza?”

Xander opened his mouth to say something, probably in Spike’s defense, and Spike intervened hastily, laying a hand on Xander’s arm.

“Never mind, Pet,” he said loftily. “Guess I can see Her Blondness’s got no use for vampiric strength, brilliant night vision, or a century’s worth of expertise in fighting unnatural critters, so I’ll just collect my packets of Miss Piggy and slink back to my lair.”

“I’ll go with you,” Xander said immediately.

“Huh?” Spike blinked, wishing to hell his vision would clear enough to see Xander’s expression. He’d counted on Xander wanting to stay here and do the “talk it to death” thing with the Scoobies, where he’d be in danger of nothing more lethal than Buffy’s taste in pizza.

“You can’t drive if you can’t see,” Xander said practically.

“I was planning on walking, so you could drive the girls home,” Spike replied quickly.

“Well, you can’t walk if you can’t see, either,” Xander argued. He fished the keys out of his pocket and handed them to Willow. “Besides, if they don’t need your help, they sure don’t need mine, since I don’t have vampiric strength or night vision or a century’s worth of experience. So I’ll walk you back.”

There was really no protest Spike could make to that without arguing suspiciously in front of the others, so he sighed, waited through Willow and Giles’ perfunctory protests, accepted the mini-cooler of blood packs Giles handed him, and followed Xander out the door.

“I wanted you to stay,” Spike grumbled as they walked away from the house.

“Yeah, I kinda got the message,” Xander said wryly, grabbing Spike’s arm and carefully steering him around what turned out to be a big hole in the sidewalk. “Which means you’re up to something, which means no way am I letting you go off alone.”

“Well . . . “ Spike shrugged. “Could be I planned to walk home through the park.”

Xander stopped, pulling Spike to a stop with him.

“As in,” he said slowly, “’park where necking teenagers were just disassembled by three-toed nasties’ park?”

“That’s the one,” Spike acknowledged with a grin. “It’ll properly put a bug up the Slayer’s butt if poor little chiphead Spike settles the monster without her, won’t it?”

“Uh, Spike?” Xander said even more slowly. “Were you faking? Your eyes, I mean.”

Spike shrugged.

“Not faking, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Vorgosts are actually pretty slow.”

“You know what that thing is?” Xander said hesitantly. “And you didn’t tell anyone?”

Spike snorted.

“Like they was asking,” he retorted. “Like they’d even listen if I did, ey?”

“Well – point,” Xander acknowledged, trailing along when Spike started walking again. “So . . . you think you’re okay to take this thing on when you can hardly see?”

Spike snorted again.

“I can handle it,” he said shortly.

“Well, then, since there obviously isn’t much danger, it can’t hurt for me to go with you,” Xander said triumphantly.

Spike sighed irritably.

“Pet, danger or no, all it takes is one good slap against a tree and those ribs are going to feel a whole lot worse,” he said. He stumbled, and Xander grabbed his elbow again, steadying him.

“Um, Spike, don’t know how to tell you this, but if you can’t handle a broken sidewalk alone, what makes you think you can fight anything?” Xander said hesitantly.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Won’t matter so much when I’m on the hunt,” he groused, but he had a strong suspicion that this wasn’t an argument he was going to win.

“Fine. Then I’ll just be a spectator,” Xander said firmly. “Until and unless you need me to do more than – uh – spectate.”

Spike sighed again, obscurely pleased.

“Right, then,” he said resignedly. He crooked his elbow outward invitingly. “May I invite you, good sir, for a moonlight walk in the park? A bit of brisk exercise of an evening?”

“Why, good sir,” Xander grinned, looping his arm through Spike’s, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Vorgosts of Sunnydale, beware!”

“Have no fear, Spike and Xander are here!” Spike quipped, suddenly strangely happy. “Come on, Pet, I fancy a spot of dinner. Something on the lively side.”

“Yeah, but we’re calling out for pizza for me,” Xander said, wrinkling his nose. “Seeing as I just walked out on my dinner.”

Spike snorted.

“Veggie pizza with the Slayer or Meat Lover’s Special with me?” he prompted. And I’d love to give you a bit of my meat, Pet. Or have some of yours, whichever.

“Hawaiian,” Xander bargained.

“Meat Lover’s with extra ham?”

“And pineapple?”

“If you’re adding friggin’ pineapple, Pet, I’m adding blood. Got it?”

“Ulp. All right, no pineapple.”

“Deal.”




Chapter 6


“Easy there,” Spike said hoarsely. “Don’t hurt your ribs.”

“It’s no problem,” Xander said, contradicting himself by panting as he half-carried Spike down the stairs to the door. “You don’t weigh much. Here, can you lean against the wall while I unlock the door?”

“No trouble,” Spike said, wondering to himself if he could in fact manage to stay upright without Xander’s supporting arm. He managed to cling to the wall long enough for Xander to get the door open, but the effort left him exhausted, his head swimming. He was relieved when Xander helped him inside, but balked when Xander steered him toward the bedroom. “Not there. I’ll ruin the bedclothes. Bathroom, all right?”

Xander rolled his eyes, but helped Spike to the bathroom.

“The man’s two steps from dust and he worries about the sheets,” Xander said exasperatedly, his careful assistance as he gently lowered Spike into the tub belying his tone. “I still think we should’ve taken you to Giles.”

Spike snorted derisively. He was, in fact, amazed that the whelp had stood by him this far. He’d lost so much blood that he couldn’t hide his game face; if he’d been any more fit to attack, chip or no chip, Xander might’ve been in serious danger.

“What, and let the Slayer finish the job? Not likely, Pet. ‘Sides, nothing he could do. And showing up like this would’ve ruined the gesture, ey?”

“Well, we were right there,” Xander protested. “And Buffy was probably gone by then. Here, wait, I’ll go get the blood.”

“Never mind the pig,” Spike called as Xander left the room. “Bring in the bottles from the icebox, will you?”

“Uh – all of ‘em?”

Spike sighed ruefully.

“Best do,” he said grudgingly. He hated to admit to Xander just how close he’d come indeed.

Xander came back laden with bottles, which he arranged neatly on the vanity.

“Which one first?” he said. “I’m going to have to cut those clothes off, you know.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured, Pet,” Spike said wryly. “Knife in the left boot if you want. Give me a bottle – um, the one on the left.”

He drank down cold vampire blood and grimaced. Stuff was almost ready to go off; it didn’t keep worth a damn, and he had his doubts that the demon blood in the other bottles would be any better. And he hated cold blood. But it was enough to distract him while Xander painstakingly cut away his ruined clothing. Well, at least he’d had the sense not to wear any of his nicer stuff.

Xander carefully peeled away the last tatters of Spike’s tee shirt and paled.

“God, Spike – “ he said, swallowing hard.

“Yeah, Pet, I know,” Spike said, grimacing. He was hurting – hurting bad, to be honest. The big rip across the midsection of his tee shirt corresponded with an equally big rip in the skin beneath, through which Spike could see things he’d rather not. He could feel the ends of two broken ribs grating together and was thankful that he didn’t have to breathe. Rather nastier was the protruding end of his broken tibia; it hurt whether he bloody well breathed or not. The fracture in his collarbone and his half-smashed shoulder were nothing next to that. Well, he’d had worse, but never when he didn’t have fresh human blood or his Sire’s blood available to heal him. He’d recover, now that he was replenishing his blood supply, but it wouldn’t be fast and it wouldn’t be fun, not on old bottled blood. “Pants, too, would you? And careful on the left, ey?”

Xander apparently didn’t trust his now shaking hands with the knife, and he fetched the scissors instead, handing Spike a second bottle of blood before he started cutting. He had to pause from time to time because his hands were trembling so badly.

“Spike – um – are you sure we shouldn’t call Giles?” he said, very softly, wincing when he uncovered that broken left leg.

“Bloody hell, no,” Spike said, shaking his head. It hurt. “I told you, Pet, nothing he can do. Or rather, nothing he could do that you can’t, if you’ll oblige.”

Xander swallowed heavily again, trading Spike a full bottle for the empty.

“Spike – I mean, you will get better, right?”

“No doubt, Pet,” Spike said, rather more firmly than he felt. Bloody hell, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been done this bad.

“Okay.” Xander took a deep breath. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Right, then. First thing’s to wash off all the blood and Vorgost ichor,” Spike said, grimacing. The stuff stank something awful. “I know, it’s nasty. Use the spray if you want.”

“No way,” Xander said firmly, grimacing too. “Uh-uh, no spray on those owwies. Drink up and take it easy.” He got out every washcloth, hand towel and rag in the linen closet and went to work, replacing the bottle in Spike’s hand whenever it got empty. At last Spike was more or less clean, at least in front.

“Um, shouldn’t you have started healing by now?” Xander said hesitantly as he dropped the last gory rag into the bucket he was using for them. “I thought vampires were supposed to heal really fast.”

Spike snorted unhappily.


“You seen me heal really fast since I got chipped?” he said pointedly.

“Well – come to think of it, no, I haven’t,” Xander admitted. He sat back on his heels, looking at Spike worriedly. Cleansed of all the blood and ichor, the wounds looked even worse.

“Bottled blood,” Spike said sourly. “Most of the oomph is gone out of it. I’d be in worse shape yet if I’d been depending on Giles’ slaughterhouse squeezings – bottled animal blood is about as bad as it gets. Live blood’s the ticket, which is why most of the vampires you’ve seen healed up fast.”

“Why didn’t you feed on the Vorgost, then?” Xander said, wrinkling his brow. “There was blood everywhere.”

Spike snorted.

“Pet, what color’s that stuff?”

“Uh – kind of orange?”

“And how’s it smell?”

“Stinky. Kind of like a broccoli fart,” Xander admitted.

“And what’s that tell you?” Spike said patiently, trying not to laugh at Xander’s comment – laughing would hurt too much.

“It’s not like regular blood?” Xander guessed.

“Not blood at all,” Spike corrected. “Ichor. Look, Pet, can we go into this later? I’m sitting in a tub with me insides on the outside, or nearly.”

“Uh. Okay. Yeah.” Xander turned slightly green. “And I should do what now?”

“Get in the vanity, there’s a leather bag at the back,” Spike told him. “Trot it out.”

Xander pulled out the bag, opened it and looked. He turned a little greener.

“Oh my god,” he croaked.

Spike chuckled slightly, then groaned at the pain it caused him. The bag was Spike’s heavy-duty first aid kit, although he had to admit that he had, in the past, occasionally used the instruments therein for rather darker purposes.

“Don’t worry, you’re not using most of that stuff,” he said. “Just get out the suture kit. It’s right on top there.”

“You want me to – stitch – you – up?” Xander stammered disbelievingly.

“Yeah, and pretty soon,” Spike said wryly. “Get a wiggle on, will you? My liver’s gettin’ chilly here.”

It took considerable prompting, coaxing, and a constant flow of instructions that Spike in no way felt like giving, but Xander did it, and did it pretty well, too, although he had to stop twice to bend over the loo and vomit. At last Xander tied off the knot and ever so gently cut the thread.

“Done,” he said with immeasurable relief.

“Hardest one down,” Spike agreed, probing the stitches gingerly. Damn good job for the whelp’s first time, come to think of it. Maybe it was some leftover memories from that soldier git Spike had heard the Scoobies talk about from time to time.

“Hardest one?” Xander said, some of the relief fading from his expression.

Spike gestured at his leg.

“Planning to leave that as is, then?” he said.

“Oh. I guess not.” Xander shivered. “So what do I do now?”

“Well, first you dig down in that bag until you find a wide wrap, and we wrap my bloody ribs so they stop grinding about,” Spike told him. “Then – “ He glanced around and sighed. “Then we get me out of the tub, which is gonna hurt like bugger-all, and in there in the living room.”

“Okay.” The rib wrapping was accomplished easily if not comfortably, and getting Spike out of the tub was downright awful, but Spike knew that was nothing compared to what was coming. Xander mostly carried him into the living room, putting Spike down where he indicated, against the wall. Spike sat back, a folded washcloth in his hand.

“Okay, Pet, now you sit down facing me – shoes off, right? My bad leg between yours. Good. Now you put your foot here – “ Spike positioned Xander’s stockinged foot against his groin. “Left a bit, don’t want to smash the goodies. Now grab the ankle. Now, in a minute, I’m going to put this rag in my mouth, and I’ll give you a nod, and you brace with your foot and pull with your hands. Pull bloody hard, don’t worry about me.”

God, he hated this. In the old days Angelus or even Dru could’ve done this neatly and competently and with no fuss; either one of them would have given him a good draught of their blood to heal him up fast, or at least they’d’ve brought him good ol’ human hemoglobin on the hoof, so to speak. He’d have been up and around in a few hours. Now he had a bloody amateur, if a well-intentioned one, and bottled blood, and God alone knew how long he’d be crippled up – assuming it was set right and ever did heal up straight. Worse, being lamed up meant no more demon and vampire hunting for late-night snacks. Between his injuries and Giles’ meager all-pork diet, he might very well starve.

Spike looked up at Xander’s anxious face, felt the way the mortal’s hands trembled against his ankle.

“’Kay, Pet,” he said quietly. “Go for it.” He put the washcloth in his mouth, bit down on it experimentally. He gazed into Xander’s eyes and nodded.

Xander took a deep breath and pulled. Hard and sure.

It hurt worse than he remembered, and he remembered pretty damned well. Actually it wasn’t as bad as the bleeding chip, but it was certainly bad enough and then some. He fought to stay conscious, fought to wait until he felt the click that meant the bone was set so he could tell the whelp when he’d got it right, but he was weak and depleted and exhausted from the fight and the blood loss and the pain and the garlic, and just as he felt that click, it was with a certain amount of gratitude that Spike felt the darkness close in, and he surrendered without protest.

Darkness. Peace. Darkness had always meant peace, rest, safety, security, shelter. Darkness was the quiet place where Spike could hide from sunlight, from hunger, from pain, from –

That taste.

He knew that taste. Knew it intimately, knew it joyfully. The taste of hot red vitality. The taste of strength and healing and power. The taste that meant survival. The taste of another life joining with his, however briefly.

The taste that filled his mouth now.

Oh, glorious, hot, salty, sweet, metallic, rich. It zinged through his veins like lightning, like music, like magic. So sweetly familiar, that feeling, that taste –

That very particular taste –

Spike’s eyes shot open, staring over the flesh pressed against his mouth. Staring into Xander’s worried eyes.

Xander could never see the internal war going on, as Spike’s heart and mind howled No! Stop! while every cell in his body screamed Yes! More!, while the needs of his heart warred with his instinct for survival. It was only a second, maybe less, but in that second, for the first time ever, Spike truly glimpsed Hell.

And with a roar of agony, he wrenched Xander’s arm away from his mouth.

Long moments while he shuddered, while Xander’s lifeblood sped through his body, while bones knitted and skin flowed together and torn flesh melded. He whimpered with the rawness of it, his tongue seeking the last traces on his lips and chin and fingers, and finally, finally he felt his game face settle back into its human contours, but he kept his eyes closed. He knew he hadn’t killed Xander, hadn’t seriously drained him; he could hear the whelp’s strong, steady heartbeat from here. No, what Spike was afraid to see was what might show in Xander’s eyes. He didn’t know what he was more frightened of seeing there – fear? Contempt? Disgust? Would it be worse, or better, if he saw instead what had motivated the mortal to cut open his own flesh and offer an evil soulless vampire his blood? At last he could stall no longer, and terrified of what he would see, Spike opened his eyes.

Xander sat there, stunned, staring, his expression a mixture of amazement and relief, and thank God those two emotions eclipsed whatever else might have been there because Spike wasn’t sure he was ready to see that right now. And it didn’t surprise him a bit when he heard the first words that tumbled out of his own mouth.

“You stupid bloody git, what the bleeding hell were you thinking?”

Stunned relief abruptly became stunned disbelief.

“I thought I was saving your life,” Xander said, scowling. “I thought I was helping you. Stupid me, but what else is new? Hey, Xander the fuckup, I’m used to it.”

Spike realized that Xander was shaking like a leaf, and that revelation shook him profoundly.

Over me? Jesus bleedin’ Christ. He was that scared for me. Scared enough to offer me his blood. Hell, scared enough to risk his bleeding life. For a moment Spike couldn’t think, couldn’t react. Angelus had run off and left Spike and Dru to their own devices. Dru had run off to shag some bloated demon when the mood struck her. Had anybody ever been prepared to offer their life for him? Ever?

Spike sighed.

“C’mere, Pet,” he said tiredly, holding out one arm.

“What?” Xander said suspiciously. He was still shaking, and Spike could see the anger and hurt fighting for dominance in his eyes.

“C’mere. Or do I have to go there?” Spike still held the arm out, beckoning wearily.

Xander hesitated a moment longer, then scooted over under the arm. Spike gave him a brief one-armed hug.

“Give over, Pet.” Spike firmly took Xander’s hand, examining the still-bleeding shallow cut on Xander’s forearm, comfortably far from the major blood vessels. Glancing up into Xander’s eyes, Spike lifted Xander’s arm and deliberately licked, collecting the droplets of blood running down his skin. He cleaned Xander’s arm with little cat-licks, careful not to hurt. When he’d finished, he bit into his lower lip, tasting his own blood, and licked over the cut again, feeling the edges of the skin seal under his tongue. Xander gasped. Regretfully, Spike savored the last traces of Xander’s blood and released his arm.

Xander shivered, staring at Spike, his eyes wide and dilated. Then, silently, he folded Spike into his arms and held on tight with fear or desire or both, Spike didn’t much care which at the moment, held on as if he’d never let go.

“’S all right, Pet,” Spike soothed, stroking Xander’s blood and ichor-mucked hair. “’S all over. It’s all right, I’m all right, all done.”

“I need a shower,” Xander choked, and Spike could hear that he was right on the edge of tears. He didn’t know if he could cope with Xander’s tears right now – he felt rather fragile himself at the moment – so he tried to lighten the mood.

“Glad you’ve finally got the mood, Pet,” Spike quipped. “’Course, you’d have to do it now when I’m not real fit to do anything about it. Then again, I could just let you do all the work this time, seeing as it’s your turn.”

Xander almost jumped back, his face flaming; then he saw Spike’s grin and grinned himself, still blushing.

“Well, it is kind of getting to be a habit, you stark naked and me holding you,” Xander chuckled.

“At least this time you didn’t bloody jump on me.”

“Yeah, well, you had enough broken bones to start with.” Xander’s expression turned serious again. “Spike, I – I mean – “

“Hush up.” Spike laid one finger over Xander’s mouth, shivering at the feel of those lips. “You did good, Pet. Real, real good. You took good care of me. I won’t never forget it.”

Xander shivered too.

“I won’t either,” he whispered, his breath fanning Spike’s finger. “Um, Spike – I want – can I – “

God, those eyes. They were almost luminous.

“What, Pet?” Spike murmured. “What d’you want?”

Xander licked his lips. His tongue brushed Spike’s finger; Spike felt that light touch through his entire body.

“Can I kiss you?” Xander asked, very quietly. “Can I kiss you and – and nothing else?”

Spike smiled.

“’Course you can, Pet,” he said, hearing the huskiness of his own voice, and when Xander leaned forward, Spike met him halfway.

God, those lips. Xander could hide behind jokes and clownish behavior and self-effacing wisecracks and clothes that hid that edible body, but there was nothing but truth in his kisses. He opened his mouth to Spike more intimately than anyone Spike had fucked had ever opened their bodies to him. Kissing Xander was like plunging his fangs into a vein, naked and wet and powerful and focused.

When Xander drew back again, the sensation of loss was tangible and immediate, and Spike fought down the urge to pull Xander back to him. Xander’s eyes were dilated, his lips swollen and moist, and he was still flushed, but Spike could smell that embarrassment had bloody little to do with it.

“Can I wash you?” Xander murmured. “Just that and nothing else?”

“Sure, Pet,” Spike said, shivering. “Don’t worry, Pet. ‘S not like I could do much right now anyway.” He was half hard, but despite the infusion of Xander’s blood, after all the damage and healing he was amazed he’d managed even that much. He needed rest now, deep restful sleep, more than anything else.

Xander got up, returned with a blanket, which he wrapped around Spike.

“Just sit still a minute,” he said. “I’m going to clean the tub, and then I’ll be back for you.”

“Thanks, Pet,” Spike said, wishing he could spare Xander that gory tub, but too drained to do more than sit there and enjoy the lack of pain. There was some residual ache, but Spike would wager even that would be gone after a good day’s sleep. He could’ve done with some more blood, but he’d make do with Giles’ packets when he woke up. And then he’d see about getting something fresher.

He must have dozed a bit, because it seemed only a moment later that Xander took the blanket away and carefully helped Spike to his feet, supporting the vampire while he tested the leg. It felt wobbly, and Spike could feel that the bone hadn’t totally firmed up yet, but it would do just fine.

In deference to Spike’s weakened state, Xander had apparently opted for a bath instead of a shower, for the tub was full. Xander settled Spike comfortably in the large tub, then washed him gently with the last of the clean washcloths.

“Don’t suppose you’d care to join me?” Spike quipped.

Xander glanced down at the pinkish/orange-tinged water and grimaced.

“No thanks,” he said. “I’d rather not sit in my dirt. I’ll take a shower when you’re done, then clean the tub again. Yuck.”

The water darkened considerably when Xander washed Spike’s hair, and Xander squeamishly drained and refilled the tub before he finished washing the vampire. Spike enjoyed the washing, but was glad enough when it was over; healing sleep was calling to him, and he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. When Xander helped him out of the tub and tenderly patted him dry, however, he steered Spike not to the vampire’s bedroom, but toward the new waterbed. This time Spike didn’t even bother with innuendo; he was simply too tired.

“’S up, Pet?” he yawned.

“You’re still stiff and sore, I can tell by the way you’re moving,” Xander said, helping Spike into the waterbed and tucking him in cozily. “The warm waterbed will feel good. Go on, just go to sleep. I’ll take the phone off the hook so Giles doesn’t wake you up when he finds the surprise you left on his doorstep.”

Spike chuckled.

“I’d give a good bit to see his face when he goes out for his paper and trips over that Vorgost head,” he said sleepily.

Xander chuckled too.

“Yeah, I think they’ll get the point,” he agreed. “Although I think the railroad spikes through its eyes are a little bit over the top, don’t you?”

“Good artist always signs his work,” Spike yawned. “G’day, Pet.”

“Sleep tight,” Xander murmured, and Spike thought he felt the gentle press of those lips against his cheek, but he was asleep too soon to be sure.

*****

Spike woke slowly, groaning happily. The bed was warm and comfortable, the flat was nice and dim, and there was a warm, solid body spooned up tightly behind him, a strong arm thrown over his waist. Spike yawned, stretched, grinned, and contemplated simply going back to sleep. Even the aching hunger in his stomach wasn’t enough to roust him out of his comfortable nest.

Warm lips moved against the back of his neck, softly kissing the tender skin there, and that was worth waking up for. Spike rolled over to look at his companion.

Xander looked drowsy, but he’d obviously been up sometime already; he was wearing a pair of sweat pants instead of the pajama bottoms he’d slept in, and his breath smelled of that tomato soup he liked.

“Morning, Pet,” Spike yawned.

“Try evening,” Xander corrected, yawning too. “I was starting to worry.”

“Day and a bit of the night’s not so bad as these things go,” Spike said drowsily, making no move to scoot away from Xander’s warmth.

Xander chuckled.

“Try day, night, day and part of the evening,” Xander said. “You’ve been asleep for almost 48 hours.”

“God, no wonder I feel so bloody hollow,” Spike grumbled. “How much blood have I got left, Pet?”

“Just the packets Giles gave you,” Xander said apologetically.

“Shit.” Spike grimaced. “Well, needs must, I suppose.”

Xander gingerly extended his arm.

“You could – “

“No, Pet.” Spike shook his head. “Thanks. It’s a nice thought. But before, see, I’d had plenty to drink already, and I was weak enough you could’ve stopped me if I got greedy. Now I’m bloody hungry, and even though I’m not all fit yet, I’m strong enough to be dangerous.”

Xander hesitated.

“Then how about if you drink enough pig’s blood that you’re almost full?” he suggested.

Spike glanced at Xander, surprised. He hadn’t expected the whelp to offer again; he’d taken the gesture for a life-or-death sort of thing. But he wanted that hot red elixir, of course he did, and he wasn’t fool enough to turn it down when it was freely offered and it didn’t seem likely he’d drain the whelp dangerously. And maybe he could take advantage of this opportunity.

“Right, then,” he said softly. “If you don’t mind, then.”

Xander shook his head, flushing slightly.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “Come on into the kitchen, I’ll start heating up your breakfast.”

To Spike’s relief, he was steady on his feet, still a little weak, but a good meal would take care of that. He let Xander wrap him in a robe and lead him to the kitchen, but when Xander would have installed him in a chair, he shook his head and pulled out the spicy V-8 while Xander poured blood into a mug.

“If you’re going to feed me, you’ve got to take care of yourself,” Spike said innocently, turning away to pour the liquid. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure Xander was occupied in what he was doing, the vampire bit into his thumb and dripped a little blood into the glass, swirling it to mix with the V-8.

“Trade you,” Xander said, and Spike turned, holding out the glass and accepting the mug in its stead. They sat down at the table and sipped their respective breakfasts. Spike fought down a smirk as he watched Xander drain the glass. The small dose of his blood would help Xander regenerate the blood he lost, but more importantly, it would help strengthen the bond between them, which had already grown exponentially with the quantity of Xander’s blood Spike had ingested.

Spike went through four packets of pig’s blood before he nodded to Xander. Xander vanished momentarily into the bathroom, then reappeared with, to Spike’s surprise, one of the scalpels from Spike’s bag. Xander turned up the underside of his forearm, then hesitated, glancing at Spike.

“Was it right, where I did it before?” he asked.

“Not bad, but here’s better,” Spike said, drawing an imaginary line with his fingertip along the fattier part of Xander’s forearm. “Nothing goes under here, tendons or veins, but it bleeds nice.”

Xander swallowed, took a deep breath and cut carefully with the scalpel, grimacing but, to Spike’s surprise, not wincing.

Jesus, the whelp’s got a high pain threshold, Spike thought, impressed. Then he grimaced himself. Figures, don’t it? Suppose he’s felt a good deal worse.

Xander laid the scalpel down and extended his arm, his eyes on Spike rather than the wound. Spike grasped Xander’s wrist lightly and bent his head, rumbling happily at the back of his throat as his tongue took that first intoxicating taste of Xander’s blood.

He licked at the wound but didn’t draw upon it, careful not to cause Xander any additional pain. When the welling blood slowed all too soon, Spike sighed regretfully. He should’ve given Xander the spiked (heh heh) V-8 after he’d had his taste, not before. Right now, under the influence of Spike’s blood, Xander healed up a lot faster. Spike bit into his lip and licked the wound once more, finishing the healing before Xander could suspect that anything was amiss.

“You didn’t take as much that time,” Xander ventured when Spike raised his head, licking his lips clean.

“Didn’t need as much today,” Spike said, shrugging. He met Xander’s gaze and grinned. “Doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, Pet. Lots.”

Xander smiled shyly.

“You know,” he said, “I haven’t gotten my pizza yet. I was promised pizza in exchange for Vorgost-slaying.”

“No, you were promised pizza in exchange for spectating,” Spike retorted. “And seems to me I recall you charging right on in with this bloody big hunk of wood, which isn’t something a vampire exactly likes to see coming at him, if you get my meaning.”

“It wasn’t for you, it was to bash the Vorgost,” Xander argued. “And seems to me I recall that at that particular time, the darned thing had just laid your belly open with its claws and was trying to gnaw your leg off.”

“I was doing fine,” Spike grumbled.

“Oh, yeah, Mr. Who Needs Eyes,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. “The thing got the drop on you within fifteen seconds. I counted.”

“Didn’t know it could jump so high,” Spike mumbled.

“Or land on you,” Xander retorted. “Anyway, if it wasn’t for me and that ‘bloody big hunk of wood’, we could’ve been poking through its poop looking for your leg. Or your head.”

“All right, all right, what d’you want, a bloody medal? Fine, you rescued me.” Spike groused, although he grinned despite himself. Xander had actually looked pretty fine, charging right at that Vorgost, big old branch in his hand and an expression of utter fury on his face. The avenging warrior. Under better circumstances he might have enjoyed being rescued. Not to mention carried off and ravished.

Then an amusing thought caught his attention.

“Wonder if Giles ever found his little present,” Spike chuckled.

Xander laughed.

“He sure did,” he said. “I called him around noon yesterday so the gang wouldn’t bust down the door looking for us. As if.” For a moment his smile faltered; then he laughed again. “Actually it’s even better than that. Buffy found it.”

“You don’t say!” Spike said, raising his eyebrows. “Better yet, but how’d that happen?”

“Well, turned out that Willow was really pissed at her, so she and Tara took off with my car,” Xander grinned. “They took Dawn home, but left Buffy at Giles’. I guess he’d had a couple of beers and decided he’d better not drive, and he’s not insane enough to let Buffy use his car, so she had to sleep over on the couch, and he was going to take her back to the dorm in the morning. Anyway, she was the first one out the door.”

Spike almost howled with laughter as he imagined the Slayer’s expression. God, he hoped she’d slipped in the big puddle of ichor leaking out of the severed head.

“Well, way I understand it, women aren’t averse to getting a little head now and again,” he said wickedly, prompting Xander to tip his chair over backward as he shook with laughter.

“Guess she got a good headstart on her day,” Xander giggled.

“Ooooh, Pet, you’re bloody wicked,” Spike laughed.

“She and Giles can study it, get ahead in their research,” Xander wheezed.

Spike poured Xander a glass of water and handed it to him, waiting until Xander choked off his laughter and swallowed some of the liquid.

”Come on, Pet, let’s get dressed,” Spike said serenely. “Night’s wasting.” He waited until Xander took another sip. “And I’m bloody eager to head on out.”

He turned toward the bedroom, grinning wickedly as the water came spurting out Xander’s nose.




Chapter 7


“Oh, yuck,” Xander said, shaking his head as he closed the door behind them. “That was so yuck.”

Spike snorted.

“Worse than the Vorgost an’ my trailing entrails?”

“Okay, point,” Xander admitted. He carefully did not look in the direction of Spike’s shoulder bag and the bottles therein. “It just seemed so . . . so cold-blooded.”

“Can’t argue that, Pet,” Spike said, grinning. He patted Xander’s shoulder. “Pet, nothing I could do for ‘em. We couldn’t have even got ‘em to a hospital in time for a transfusion. Too late to do anything but turn ‘em, and I wasn’t about to do that. So no point in wasting what’s left.”

“I know, I know, but . . . ugh.” Xander shivered. “At least we got both of the vampires.”

“Yeah, got ‘em right here,” Spike quipped, patting the bag, drawing a reluctant grin from Xander.

“You’re sure perky,” Xander said, sighing.

“Well, lessee,” Spike said, counting the points on his fingers. “One, I’m back in fighting trim, thanks to you, by the way, Pet, and don’t think I’m forgetting it. Two, I got a nice fresh meal, always happy for one of those – “ He gave Xander a speaking glance. “ – although it wasn’t nothing as nice as what I had earlier. Three, I got to beat the snot out of something, always fun. Four, got to stock me fridge again, nice to have food in the house. And five, it’s only half eleven, night’s still young.” And I’ve got a righteous woody, plenty of good food and a good fight’ll do it every time. Wish Xander was up for a bit of bouncy-bouncy. But I’ve got to go slow with him or he’ll spook, he’s that timid. Wonder what that’s about. Certainly wasn’t shy with his demon girlfriend.

A nasty suspicion began to form in Spike’s mind, and he mulled it over as he put his bottles in the refrigerator.

“Hungry, Pet?”

“Not really,” Xander said, but he pulled out the cereal and milk and prepared a bowl anyway. “I’ll just munch.”

Spike opened a bottle of stout and sat down at the table too, wondering how to broach the question that he wanted to ask. At last he sighed mentally; there was just no good way to ask.

“Pet – Xander.” Xander looked up, startled at Spike’s use of his name. Spike grimaced at the uncertainty in those warm brown eyes. “Um, don’t know quite how to say this, Pet, but . . . your dad, besides whaling the hell out of you, did he ever do anything else? Y’know, anything like – well – “

“What, you mean molest me or something?” Xander looked astounded and queasy, but there was the briefest flash of something in his eyes that told Spike there was something there. “God, no. Mom smacked me a lot, and Dad – well, you know. Especially when they’re – they were – drunk. But nothing like that.”

“Someone else then?” Spike said plainly, and he saw that flash in Xander’s eyes again, quickly suppressed. Gotcha.

“Look, I don’t know what you think you’re getting at here,” Xander said uncomfortably. “But I really don’t want to – “

“Pet, you know I’m gonna have it out of you sooner or later,” Spike said gently. “Might as well give it up.”

Xander rolled his eyes.

“Spike – “

Spike said nothing, just gazed at Xander pointedly. Xander was silent for a long moment; then he sighed, gazing down into his cereal.

“It wasn’t anything like . . . like you’re thinking,” Xander said, shrugging uncomfortably, still not raising his eyes. “My uncle Rory, he was always nice to me. Always liked me. A lot.”

Bit too much, sounds like, Spike thought, clenching his hands.

“I don’t really remember how old I was when it started,” Xander said softly. “Pretty young, I guess. We called it the horsey game. I’d sit on his lap and he’d kind of, you know, buck, like he was trying to throw me off, and I’d try to stay on.” His face was crimson. “I thought it was fun. Just a fun game. Later on he’d kind of, you know, rub against me. Through our pants, I mean. And after a while he’d take my hand and put it on him, and I’d rub the way he wanted me to. Always through his pants, though. I hardly ever saw his cock.”

“’Hardly ever’,” Spike repeated. His mouth had gone dry.

Xander swallowed, still not looking up.

“A couple of times when Mom and Dad weren’t home, he had me take my clothes off,” he said. “He said I looked so beautiful, that he loved to look at me. He never touched me then, though. Never. Just looked at me and jerked off. That was all, just that and the stuff when we were dressed. I didn’t mind. He said it made him feel good, and as I got a little older, it made me feel good too. He said I was a good boy, that I made him happy.” Xander probably didn’t realize that he’d fallen into an almost childlike speech pattern, but Spike noticed. At that moment, Xander sounded disturbingly like Drusilla.

Spike ground his teeth together, fighting hard to keep from slipping into game face. It was all he could do to stay silent, to stay where he was. It was all he could do not to fold Xander into his arms and stroke his hair as he’d stroked Dru’s while she wept. He didn’t want to hear another word. He listened.

“He was really good to me,” Xander said, still in that little-boy voice. “He told me he loved me, and he never ever hurt me or said mean things to me. And I used to think that maybe someday, if I made him really happy and he loved me lots and lots, that he’d take me away with him and I could live with him instead of Mom and Dad. For years I used to dream about that, that Uncle Rory would take me away with him. I thought the white knight always came to the rescue, and the good guys lived happily ever after, you know? That was the way the story was supposed to go.”

Slowly Xander’s voice was deepening again.

“He came to visit when I was about twelve, and he’d gone out drinking that night. Mom and Dad had been drinking, too, but they’d stayed home. I don’t remember what I said or did to get Dad mad. It didn’t really matter. Sometimes just my being alive was enough. Anyway, he was whipping me with his belt. It was bad. The buckle end caught me a few times and I could feel the blood. I didn’t scream because he hit me worse if I screamed.”

Xander spoke in a monotone now, matter-of-factly, still staring down into his bowl of cereal.

“I guess they thought Uncle Rory would be out later. But he came home early, and he walked upstairs. I was the first one to see him, ‘cause Dad was looking at me and Mom had her back to the door. I saw him, and I remember feeling so happy, so relieved. I knew I was saved. I knew he’d rescue me and take me away ‘cause he loved me and he thought I was beautiful and I made him happy. And I wanted for him to come running in there and stop my dad from hurting me ever again.

“But he didn’t,” Xander said, very softly. “He just stood there for a minute, watching my dad beat me. And then he turned around and walked back downstairs and got in his car and drove away. He visited again a few times after that, mostly when he’d lost his license and needed somebody to drive him around, but he never touched me again. I always wondered what I could have done to be better. To make him want me enough.”

Now Spike had no trouble keeping quiet; he was, quite frankly, struck silent. Ironic that Xander, who had never told his dearest friends, was now confiding this story to an evil, soulless vampire. On the other hand, he doubted that any of Xander’s friends would have been able to understand. They’d have seen the terrible beatings compounded by the presence of a child molester. They’d have thought how lucky Xander had been to have escaped Rory’s attentions.

But Spike had grown up in turn-of-the century England. He’d gone to public school (courtesy of his mum’s latest gent, who was rich enough and kind enough to pay for his mistress’s son’s schooling) where headmasters whipped students as savagely as they pleased, where dreamy, poetic William Barstow had known he was damned lucky that he’d only been buggered a few times by boys his own age and not the headmaster. Where the beautiful lady he’d loved had scorned him, but a mad soulless vampire had thought him beautiful enough to share her immortality with him.

He understood that, to Xander, the beatings themselves hadn’t been as horrific as the callous cruelty that prompted them. That the pain hadn’t been nearly as terrible as the shame and the humiliation. That the few stolen caresses and illicit endearments from his uncle had been the only positive attention, affection and tenderness Xander had ever received from his family. That the monumental betrayal had not been the seduction, but the abandonment. That the scars on Xander’s soul had not come from being desired inappropriately, but from not being desired . . . quite . . . enough.

Spike stood slowly, holding out his hand.

“C’mere, Pet.”

Xander glanced up warily, and that trapped-animal look in Xander’s eyes went straight to Spike’s heart. Hesitantly, Xander took the outstretched hand, letting Spike lead him into the master bedroom. He didn’t question even when Spike drew him into the closet, the vampire sitting down on the floor and pulling Xander down with him, the mortal sitting back with his back against Spike’s chest. Spike pulled the closet door shut, enclosing them in darkness, and wrapped his arms around Xander, leaning back against the wall. It smelled rather nice in here, like the leather of Spike’s boots and duster and suchlike. Spike said nothing, just held Xander tight in the darkness of their makeshift den, and slowly, slowly Xander relaxed back against him, his head leaning back against Spike’s shoulder.

“Dru had a soft life before Angelus took a fancy to her,” Spike said idly, leaning his chin on Xander’s shoulder. “Sometimes when Angelus had been especially hard on her, or me, we’d curl up in some little place like this, and I’d stroke her hair and make up bad poems for her, or she’d rock me and sing to me, crazy little tunes she’d made up. Angelus would hurt us when he’d a mind to, yeah, and he’d humiliate us when he pleased, but we never felt ugly or unwanted. We knew he thought we were beautiful, that he wanted us, else he’d have staked us or ignored us at least. In his own way, all the attention, however bad it got, was his way of showing his favor, and we knew it.”

He was silent for a long moment.

“Don’t think it wasn’t that your uncle didn’t want you, Pet,” he said softly, allowing one hand to stroke Xander’s stomach gently. “Probably lots of things went through his head. Guess he needed your dad when he couldn’t drive, else he wouldn’t have visited so much later on – guess maybe he was afraid of losing your folks’ help. Maybe he was afraid your dad might suspect what he’d been up to with you. He probably knew there wasn’t a whole lot he could do either. He could’ve called the cops, maybe, but even if your dad went to jail, he wouldn’t have got you, not with his record. Maybe that was what he was thinking. Or maybe he was just a bloody coward without the spine to stand up for you. Me, I’d’ve ripped the bleeder’s head off. Still will, if ever I can get around this fucking chip in my head.”

Xander gave a watery little chuckle.

“Which bleeder?” he asked.

Spike considered it.

“All three,” he said cheerfully. “But your dad last, ‘cause I’d want to take my time with him.”

Xander shivered slightly, but Spike couldn’t sense any real distress about him.

“That should bother me,” Xander said, very quietly. “Because I know you mean it. But to tell the truth, it makes me feel kind of good. Not because you said you’d kill them because of me. But because I know you really would.”

“Not would,” Spike corrected. “Will. Assuming pickled livers don’t get there ahead of me.”

Another long silence.

“How long were you and Dru together?” Xander asked at last.

“Since 1880,” Spike said, realizing what Xander was really asking; the thought both terrified and exhilarated him. “And she was the one to leave, remember, Pet. Bloody broken up about it, I was. Remember?”

Xander chuckled again, more strongly this time.

“You know, I’d never have imagined a drunken, maudlin Spike,” he said. Then he paused and the humor went out of his voice. “I couldn’t believe you wanted to kill yourself because of the chip,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it could really be that bad for you, not being able to kill humans. But that wasn’t even it, was it?”

Spike shook his head against Xander’s shoulder, not surprised that Xander had seen through to the heart of it.

“You’ve got to understand, Pet,” he said. “I went from a starving, lonely poet to being Dru and Angelus’s plaything. That’s how it was for a lot of years. Then suddenly Angelus is gone and Dru and me are on our own and I’ve got to manage to protect her, take care of her. I . . . grew up, I suppose, Pet. Became more. I became a master vampire, yeah, and I worked fucking hard to get there. It meant something, to have minions of my own, power, see? First time ever I’d had respect, had control over me life. And God, I was good at it. I was a legend, Pet. I was feared. I’d killed two Slayers. I came here and knocked over the Anointed One. I made Sunnydale my own. Me, Spike, William the Bloody. My Hellmouth. All right, I had this little problem with the Slayer and all of you, but then so did everybody else. And they got slain, and I, Spike, I didn’t. I couldn’t get the Slayer, but she neither couldn’t get me. So I was still head ‘an shoulders above the rest.”

He grimaced.

“Then the Initiative and their bloody chip. It’s not the blood, Pet. You’ve seen I can get blood. But now I’m nothing. No minions, no power, no respect. The bloody Slayer could take me out any time she likes – hell, any of you could. I can prowl in the park and the alleys and beat up some demons – as long as none of ‘em figure out all they need is to get a few human gits to hold me down for ‘em. So here I am, William the Bloody, the bloke who gave railroad spikes a bad name, reduced to the Slayer’s neutered mascot, alive only ‘cause they pity me too much to stake me when I can’t do nothing to protect myself. So yeah, Pet, there’s mornings when the sunlight or the end of a stake looks awfully tempting.”

In the darkness, Xander folded his arms over Spike’s around his waist.

“If it helps,” Xander said wryly, “I still think you’re a pretty scary guy.”

“Oh, yeah?” Spike grinned. “Do say.”

“Well, I mean, I whacked that Vorgost with the biggest piece of wood I could pick up,” Xander said ruefully, “and all it did was make it give me a nasty look. You’re the one who crawled out from under it, chewed half to pieces, and still tore its head off with one good twist. And the way you howled when you jammed those spikes in its eyes – man, I was – well, impressed as hell, let’s just put it that way.”

“Mmm. Was a good bit of work,” Spike acknowledged smugly. “But if you hadn’t distracted it for that moment, Pet – what was it you said? We’d be poking through its shit looking for my leg?”

Xander snickered.

“Well, that didn’t have anything to do with your chip,” he said triumphantly.

Spike snorted.

“No, it had more to do with the bloody Slayer breathing a mouthful of garlic in me eyes,” he said ruefully. “Should’ve listened to you, I guess, Pet. Don’t know, it’s just after that, I needed to feel like – “

“William the Bloody?” Xander suggested. He turned his head, nuzzling Spike’s cheek ever so slightly.

Spike smiled.

“Yeah,” he said. “Something like that.” He chuckled. “Want to know what I’d like to feel now?”

“Huh?”

While Xander was still trying to switch gears, Spike slid his hand down Xander’s belly and between his legs, rubbing slowly.

Xander went rigid. All over, but especially there. Spike could hear his heart beating like a triphammer, smell the anxiety and arousal fairly pouring off him. Could feel the fear, the exhilaration, the desire through the growing bond between them.

“Spike – “ Xander gasped.

“Shhhh, ‘s all right, Pet,” Spike soothed, stroking Xander’s belly with his free hand while his other hand caressed more boldly. “Won’t do nothing you don’t want, all right? I’ll stop if you really want. But I don’t want to stop, ‘cause I want you, Pet. Want you bad.”

Xander took a long, shuddery breath, his head falling back on Spike’s shoulder. Spike could feel the muscles of Xander’s arms clench and unclench, as if he was fighting to keep from pushing Spike’s hand away. Spike kept up the same slow, caressing strokes, feeling the erection behind Xander’s sweats pulse ever harder.

“Easy, Pet,” Spike murmured, nibbling softly on Xander’s ear while he slid his hand under the waistband of the sweat pants. “Nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t hurt you if I wanted to, remember? And I don’t want to. I’d like to make you shiver, yeah, make you scream even, but not with pain, hmmm, Pet.” His hand clasped hot pulsing flesh, and he stroked it boldly. “Ah, yeah, that’s nice, innit?”

A long hesitation while Xander sat there trembling. Then Spike felt Xander nod, just once.

“Mmm, good. Love the way you smell,” Spike whispered. “Want me to stop?”

Another pause; then Xander’s head shook once, side to side.

“Tell me,” Spike whispered in Xander’s ear. “What d’you want, Pet?”

Xander was still trembling; his answer, when he spoke, was barely audible.

“T-t-touch me?”

“I’d be delighted, Pet,” Spike purred, tracing a long wet lick up the side of Xander’s throat; Xander’s moan, however, was all desire now, anxiety slowly fading. “Tell me how you want it, Pet. I’ll do just what you say, all right?”

“H-harder?” Xander whispered.

“Mmm, love to,” Spike murmured, increasing the intensity of his strokes. Xander shuddered, his legs involuntarily spreading a little wider. “Like me to suck you again, Pet? I’d love to taste you.”

Xander moaned again, but tensed slightly.

“But . . . what about you?” he barely whispered.

Spike grimaced. He almost suggested making the blowjobs mutual, then reconsidered. Xander had never done that, and now wasn’t the time to make him try. But leaving Spike unsatisfied was going to do just as much damage to Xander’s ego, and after what Xander had just told him, asking Xander for a wank was just not on, at least not now. Right, then.

“’Kay, Pet,” Spike said soothingly. “Turn round then, hmmm? Yeah, like that.” Xander squirmed around awkwardly to face Spike, and Spike slid them down to the floor despite the rather cramped quarters, Xander’s confused half-cooperation, and the boot solidly in the small of Spike’s back.

When Spike had them down, his knees bracketing Xander’s hips, he stroked down over Xander’s back and gave his buttock a teasing pinch. Xander yelped with outrage and bucked against Spike, then moaned as the motion sent his erection skittering over Spike’s through the layers of their clothing.

“Ohhhhhh, yeah, Pet,” Spike breathed. “Got the idea?”

Xander moved again, more solidly this time, and gasped.

“Uhhhhhhh – “ Xander shuddered, moving again, more eagerly. “I – think – so.”

“Mmmm, good, Pet,” Spike encouraged. “I like that.”

“Me – uhhhh! – me too,” Xander panted. He had a rhythm going now, more confident in the face of Spike’s evident pleasure. Spike whimpered at the wonderful, long-missed sensation of a lover pleasing him; he clutched at Xander’s back, reminding himself sternly not to grab too hard, and let himself thrust back against Xander, helping to set their rhythm.

“Wait – “ Xander gasped, and Spike froze, miserably certain he’d done something wrong.

“What, Pet?” he said softly, trying not to let his frustration show in his voice.

“Let me – “ Then it was Spike’s turn to gasp in surprise as he felt Xander’s fingers fumbling with the buttons of his jeans, opening them, then pushing them frantically downward.

It was awkward as hell in the cramped closet in their position, although Spike arched and squirmed as best he could to help. Then the jeans were down around his ankles, and that was bloody good enough, and he grabbed Xander’s buttocks and pulled him down hard, arching up against him impatiently, never mind that the whelp was still wearing his sweats.

Apparently that little detail didn’t bother Xander either, and it was a bloody good thing, because Spike wasn’t in the mood for any more waiting. The first stroke of the soft fleece over his aching erection made Spike howl, and Xander gave an answering moan, rocking against him confidently now, shamelessly savoring the friction between them. Spike squirmed one foot out of his jeans and wrapped his legs around Xander’s hips, and that made the angle even better, and Xander cried out and pumped hard against Spike. Spike let go of Xander’s shoulders before he could dig furrows there, threw his head back and let his game face emerge, thankful for the darkness so Xander wouldn’t see, and he jammed the back of his forearm in his mouth and bit down hard as he howled and came. A split second later Xander screamed, and Spike felt the soft fleece become warm and wet; then Xander collapsed on his chest, breathing hard.

For a long moment they were both silent, Xander panting and exhausted, Spike tasting his own blood as his forearm healed and his face slipped back into its human contours. Then Xander chuckled tiredly and broke the silence.

“Thanks,” he said. “I needed that.”

“You?” Spike chuckled too. “If I told you how long it’s been for me, guess I’d have to learn to blush again.”

Brief pause.

“Spike – “ Xander said hesitantly. “I – uh – “

“C’mere, Pet,” Spike said softly, and he pulled Xander’s head down so their lips met.

Tender kiss, almost chaste after such raw intimacy. Spike felt Xander’s tongue tentatively flicker along his lips, and he opened, inviting a deeper exploration. No hesitation this time; Xander kissed him slowly and deeply, that incredible focused emotion, and Spike curled his fingers through Xander’s hair and tried to show with his mouth all the emotions he didn’t yet have words for.

Finally Xander pulled back slightly.

“Did you – bite yourself?” he asked confusedly.

Spike smirked.

“Better me than you, Pet,” he said, chuckling. “The bloody chip going off would’ve done bad things for my afterglow.”

“Oh.” A long pause, then Xander chuckled too. “We’re a mess, you know.”

“Don’t I just,” Spike grinned. “And there’s a boot in me back, too.”

“Ooops.” Xander didn’t move. “Guess we should get up.”

“Guess we should, before we both need traction,” Spike chuckled. He hesitated before he spoke again, surprised to find himself having to force a casual tone. “Don’t suppose I can wrangle another day of cuddling in the waterbed?”

A sigh, and Spike was surprised to feel a slight tension in the body above him ease.

“I’d like that,” Xander admitted. “I kind of like having you there.”

Spike bit back an automatic humorous retort that Xander could have him anywhere he pleased.

“I kinda like having me there too, Pet,” he said, craning his head up to kiss Xander’s chin. “C’mon, Pet, let’s crawl out, and when you’re climbing off, mind me bollocks, please.”

Xander winced and blinked when Spike pushed the closet door open and light flooded in, but he climbed out carefully and thankfully didn’t crush anything tender. He turned around, holding out a hand to help Spike out of the closet, then suddenly burst out laughing.

“Oi, thanks, Pet,” Spike grumbled, trying to untwist himself. “Glad I’m so bloody amusing.”

“Sorry,” Xander gasped. “But your jeans are all tangled and you’ve still got socks on and you’ve got come on your tee shirt and your legs are all over the place and – “

Spike snorted, trying to look annoyed and failing as the humor of his situation sunk in.

“Right, right, laugh at the pretzel-twisted vampire in the closet,” Spike grumbled. “And by-the-by, Pet, you’ve got come on your tee shirt too, most likely mine, since yours is mostly soaked into the front of your sweats, which, I might say, makes you look like you pissed yourself, while we’re so bloody amused here.”

Xander snickered and helped Spike out of the closet, breaking out in fresh giggles when he saw the boot print in the small of Spike’s back. Spike glared, then sent Xander into hysterics when he nearly tripped over his trailing jeans. Then, slowly, the laughter tapered off, and Xander stood there looking very shy and unsure.

“Um . . . so what happens now?” Xander said, very softly.

Spike kicked off the offending jeans, pulled off the spattered tee shirt, and tossed his socks after them.

“Well, Pet, you’ve washed me and I’ve washed you,” he said. “So as I see it, us washing each other isn’t all that big of a step, hmm?”

“Uh. No, I suppose not,” Xander said awkwardly, trying unsuccessfully not to stare at Spike’s nudity.

“Then I figure we’ll go back and get you that snack you never got to eat,” Spike said, grinning, enjoying the way the whelp’s eyes traveled hungrily down his body and back up again.

“Okay.”

“And then I thought maybe we’d curl up on the couch, catch a late movie.”

“Okay.”

“And then I figure we’ll curl up in that nice sloshy waterbed and sleep late.” Spike gazed into Xander’s eyes. “And tomorrow – “

“Tomorrow?” Xander asked faintly.

“Tomorrow I’ll still be here,” Spike said firmly. “And in the meantime, Pet, I want you to remember something for me, okay?”

“Um, okay.” Xander swallowed.

“He didn’t take you away, Pet, but I did,” Spike said, reaching out to cup Xander’s chin. “You didn’t get your white knight, but maybe a black knight’ll do, hey?”

Xander’s lips were trembling slightly, but he grinned shakily.

“I guess a black knight’ll do just fine,” he said, dipping his head shyly. “And who knows, maybe there’s a happily ever after.”

“Could be, Pet,” Spike grinned, sliding his arm around Xander’s waist and guiding him out of the room. “Could be, after all.”




Chapter 8


“Really, they’re in there somewhere. I swear.”

Spike dug deeper into the cardboard box.

“Don’t see ‘em, Pet. So tell me again why you’ve got to have these particular boots tonight?”

“Because my sneakers are scented with eau de Vorgost,” Xander said wryly. “And we’ve got to go to Giles’, and when they all jump on you for that Vorgost head thing, I’d just as soon let you suffer alone.”

Spike snorted.

“Thanks, Pet. Still no boots, but – “ He found a hinged wooden box, about the size of a shoe box. “Hmmm, what have we here?”

“Uh – no boots there. Really. Don’t worry about that,” Xander said hastily, diving for the box. Spike grinned and held it out of reach.

“Hmmm, looks interesting, Pet,” he said innocently. “Now whatever could it – aha!” Evading Xander’s grab, he flipped open the catch and grinned at the contents. “Found the goody box, didn’t I?”

“Oh, fuck,” Xander mumbled, turning cranberry red.

“That seems to be the general idea,” Spike chuckled. “My, my, Pet. Got quite the assortment here, haven’t we? You’re more creative than I give you credit for.” He pulled out a vibrator, holding it up and raising his eyebrows. “Always figured I’d try one of these someday.”

“They’re Anya’s toys,” Xander said weakly, blushing even more darkly.

Spike smirked, but privately he didn’t doubt that for a minute.

“Never tried ‘em on you?” he guessed.

Xander was doing the avoid-the-gaze thing again, which Spike took to be a warning sign.

“She wanted to,” Xander said, busying himself with the crate he was looking through. “But I wouldn’t let her – I mean, we weren’t – I didn’t – “

Didn’t trust her that much, Spike finished mentally. He chuckled. “Bet Red and her girlfriend got an eyeful when they packed these up.”

“Hah!” Xander eagerly seized on the change of subject, which had been Spike’s goal. “Willow is polite enough not to dig through my private belongings.

“Polite,” Spike sniffed dismissively. “Nosy’s more fun.” He waggled the vibrator, grinning lecherously. “Wanna play, hmmmmm?”

“Spike – “ Xander, now totally crimson with embarrassment, threw a pillow at him. “Come on. We’ve got to leave for Giles’ in a few minutes, and I’m still bootless.”

Spike took pity on Xander and put the vibrator back in the box, closing the catch – although he tossed the box onto the bed, winking at Xander, instead of tucking it back in the crate. He found Xander’s “better” shoes – he wouldn’t go so far as to call them “good” – and held them up.

“How ‘bout these, Pet?”

“Uh-uh,” Xander said, shaking his head. “What if we go out on patrol again and I get some kind of noxious slime all over them? Those are my last semi-good shoes, and I’ve got to start job hunting again.”

Spike grumbled but dived back into the stack of not-yet-unpacked boxes, crowing triumphantly when he located the desired boots.

“Got ‘em!”

“All right!” Xander said relievedly, but once again Spike evaded his reach. “Awww – what now?”

Spike dangled the boots temptingly.

“What do I get for ‘em?” he asked smugly.

“Uhhh – big kiss?” Xander suggested shyly.

“Hmm. With tongue?” Spike bargained.

“With tongue,” Xander agreed, blushing again, but this time it was a happy sort of blush.

Spike pretended to consider.

“That’ll do. C’mere, Pet.”

Xander went willingly. Spike pulled him close, exploring that luscious mouth at considerable length, rejoicing that Xander seemed ever so much more comfortable with him today. Whether it was that tasty bit of dryhumping in the closet the night before, or finally being able to tell someone else his deep, dark secret, there was a new relaxation in Xander as he let Spike plumb his mouth, a new confidence as he wrapped his arms around the vampire, stroking his back as they kissed. Finally, reluctantly, Spike pulled away.

“’Nuff, Pet,” he said a little shakily. Bloody hell, that mouth. “Any more of that and we’re gonna miss Giles’ little tea party.” Or I’m going to be tempted to go for something you’re not ready for yet.

To his delight, Xander actually considered the tradeoff for some moments before sighing and agreeing that they’d better call a halt while they still could. Progress. Just wait, Pet. I’m gonna have you telling Giles what he can do with his bloody summonses.

They walked, since the girls still had the car. Spike wasn’t entirely thrilled about that. He was ready, willing and able to protect Xander from any non-human nasties that might bother them, but there wasn’t much either he or Xander could do if a big gang of those Initiative blokes jumped out of the bushes. And he had little doubt that Xander would get himself hurt or killed trying to defend Spike in that case. Well, tomorrow he’d see about fixing that car, and in the meantime they’d just stay in well-lit public areas and get to Giles’ as quickly as ever they could, even though he had no particular desire to go there. Oh, well, at least the impending row with Buffy should be amusing.

When they arrived, Spike saw Xander’s car parked out front – but not in the same place, which, Spike hoped, meant it was running soundly enough to get them home. The porch step was scrupulously clean and looked recently scrubbed, and smelled of ammonia. Spike and Xander exchanged mischeivous glances before they knocked.

Buffy answered the door, but to Spike’s surprise she barely glared at him, only moving aside to let them into the house.

“Giles needs to talk to you,” she said briefly, glancing at Xander. Xander gave Spike a worried look and stepped in.

Spike wasn’t encouraged by what he saw. The rest of the Scoobies were arranged as usual on the couch and chairs; Giles was leaning against his desk, sipping what smelled, to Spike, to be scotch. Even the expression of foreboding on everybody’s face wasn’t altogether unusual, although Spike would’ve expected a bit more relaxation considering that he’d already killed the bloody monster.

What was unusual was the way every eye in the room immediately jumped to Xander, then skittered away again, as if the others were embarrassed. Giles took a deep breath.

“Xander – “

Willow interrupted him.

“Xander, a man from the sheriff’s department came by today,” she said, her face flushed. “He wanted to serve some papers from the court, only he wouldn’t let me sign for them, he wanted somebody older, so we had to come over here and have Giles sign for them. I’m sorry, I – “

“Papers?” Xander said, his brow furrowing. “What kind of . . . papers?”

Giles picked up a folded document from his desk, sighing pensively.

“It appears you’re being sued,” he said quietly. “By your parents. I’d really like some explanation of this, Xander, and of why Willow told me I wasn’t to give the gentleman your address.”

Xander ignored the question, taking the papers and scanning over them. Spike read over his shoulder, surreptitiously giving Xander’s arm a supportive squeeze.

“They’re suing me for breaking a lease agreement!” Xander said disbelievingly. “WHAT lease agreement?”

“And running out on rent due,” Spike added, pointing to the next paragraph. “Also conversion of property.”

“What fucking property?” Xander said blankly. “My clothes? What?”

“Dunno, Pet,” Spike said, shrugging. “They didn’t list it.”

“There’s no way,” Willow said hotly. “I packed every single thing up myself. There wasn’t one paperclip in there that wasn’t your clothes, your toiletries, or stuff I know you bought yourself.”

Spike remembered the wooden box and smirked, wondering how thorough Willow had gotten in her sorting.

“Anyway, I knew you wouldn’t want anything of theirs – “

“Let’s back up just a moment, please,” Giles interrupted, glancing at Willow, who blushed and retreated to the sofa with Tara. “I was certainly never given the impression that your parents didn’t know where you were – and why you don’t wish others to know where you are now. Or why you would have moved under such circumstances to give rise to a lawsuit.”

Spike saw Xander’s face flush, watched him flail for some kind of explanation. Spike thought fast.

“Like to talk to you just a minute,” he said to Giles, as casually as he could manage. “In private.”

Giles glanced at Spike enquiringly, then nodded after a moment’s hesitation, following the vampire into the den. Spike listened a moment, then opened the door, confronting Buffy.

“Back off,” he said simply. “Giles can tell you all in a minute. And don’t pester the whelp.” He slammed the door, grinning as he heard the thump and the yelp on the other side, even though it cost him a brief spear of pain from the chip in his brain.

“Right,” Giles said patiently. “Would you care to tell me what this is all about?”

“Not really my secret to tell,” Spike said, shrugging. “I’ll give you one more clue, though, on top of the ones you’ve already got and should’ve gotten yourself over the past few years: Xander didn’t get those bruises rescuing me. Now go on. Apply that famous Watcher deduction.”

He watched Giles, watched the expressions flit across his face, watch the slow realization dawn. Then the horror.

“Oh, God,” Giles whispered. “You don’t mean – surely – “

“I’m here to tell you I bloody well do mean,” Spike said, meeting Giles’ eyes squarely. “And I’ll tell you what else. Willow and Tara know – or guess – and now you know, and nobody else. Got it? Nobody else.”

“But – “ Giles swallowed convulsively. “But we should report – “

“No thank you,” Spike said flatly. “Xander’s old enough to decide that, and he’s decided. You don’t have to like his reasons, or know ‘em.” Spike himself had a sneaking suspicion that one of those reasons had something to do with police investigations into his past home life . . . and the presence of his uncle. “Besides, what do you expect the Slayer would do if she knew?”

“Buffy?” Giles looked startled. “Why, she’d – she’d – “

“She’d go over there directly and break them into eight-six separate little pieces,” Spike said, shrugging. And she’s not to do that. Not until I get this bleeding chip out of my head. And the Harrises are mine. Nobody else’s. Mine.

“I suppose there’s that,” Giles said reluctantly. “But I really think I should talk to Xander about this.”

“I really think that seeing as the lot of you have managed to turn a blind eye for the past few years, you should manage to keep doing it,” Spike said sarcastically. “If Xander wants your bloody help, he knows where you live. In the meantime, if you want to do something for Xander, let it go.”

Giles hesitated.

“I don’t know if I can agree to keep this to myself,” he said slowly. “But I’ll consider it, and in the meantime I’ll see what I can think of regarding the lawsuit.”

“You do that,” Spike said sourly. Well, he supposed it was the best he was going to get. He grabbed the Watcher’s arm, opened the door and pulled Giles back out with him.

“ – and then those Initiative gits ring on the Harrises’ door, looking all nice and official-like,” Spike said, as if continuing, “and the Harrises tell ‘em where we are, and then next thing you know they’re at my door, see? Just when I’d found myself a nice quiet place. And then they come busting in, and most likely the whelp gets hurt too. He’s going to get a post office box for his mail, and there’s no need for anybody to put it about just where he is, see?”

“Yes, well, that makes sense,” Giles said hastily, although he looked rather taken aback. “I suppose that for the present, Xander can use this as his permanent mailing address for legal purposes.”

“Works for me,” Spike said, shrugging. Great. Let the Watcher deal with the delivery boys. He’d see to the lawsuit himself; or rather, he’d see to someone who could see to it. He might be harmless to humans, but he still had connections. He wasn’t really worried about that. What worried him was the stunned and shattered expression on Xander’s face as he stared at the papers, and the fact that here and now, in front of the Slayer and the Watcher and the rest, Spike couldn’t do much about it.

Suddenly Xander stuffed the envelope into his pocket and the all-too-familiar Xander-mask dropped into place, the “Zeppo here, ignore me” mask.

“Well – later for that,” he said cheerfully. “So, apart from my family woes, what creepy mission awaits the Scoobies tonight?”

“Not much,” Buffy said casually, although she gave Xander a rather suspicious look. “We just need to go out and kill the other three-clawed creepy-crawlie.”

Xander froze and Spike groaned inwardly.

“O-other?” Xander said slowly. “There’s another one?”

“Yeah, unless the one Spikey killed managed to regrow its head and march to the other end of the park to leave tracks and pieces of a disemboweled policeman all over the place,” Buffy said sarcastically. “But we figured that since the Great White Hopeless managed the first one so easily, it shouldn’t take long for us to get the other one.”

Xander and Spike exchanged glances. Frankly, Spike didn’t give a shit if Buffy or Giles got pounded and/or ripped to pieces by an angry Vorgost. But Willow and Tara and Dawn would be with them. Now, they had the advantage of being able to see, which would’ve been nice when Spike had fought the huge demonic beast. On the other hand, only Buffy had better-than-human strength and reflexes, and the rest of them –

“So you think you’re ready to take on a Vorgost?” Spike said, leaning casually against Giles’ desk despite the Watcher’s glare.

“Vorgost?” Buffy repeated, smiling brightly. “Wow. You know what it is. Wonder how come you didn’t mention that before.”

“Dunno, Sweetums,” Spike said, smiling back just as brightly. “Could’ve had something to do with a mouthful of garlic sprayed in my face. Trifle distracting to a vampire, you know.”

“Yes, and I believe you had something to say about that, didn’t you, Buffy?” Giles said firmly.

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed.

“Have to?” she pleaded. “Fangless is being exceptionally assholish this evening.”

“Buffy,” Giles said implacably.

Buffy sighed again.

“Sorry,” she said grudgingly. “For the garlic thing, I mean. Spraying you in the face with garlic breath was maybe a little excessive for threatened pizza desecration.”

“I’m sorry too,” Willow piped up, looking truly contrite, unlike the Slayer. “I shouldn’t have let Buffy order before you two got here, and if we’d waited like we should have, there wouldn’t have been any garlic bread, so there wouldn’t have been a problem at all. So I guess it’s all kind of my fault,” she concluded miserably.

Xander snorted before Spike could; the mortal sat down on the edge of the sofa to give Willow a one-armed hug.

“Willow, if there’s anybody in this room whose fault it’s not, it is so you,” he grinned, and Spike was thankful to Red once again, for at least putting a crack in Xander’s bad mood, although he could see that the mask was still in place.

“Anyway,” Xander continued, in character and right on cue, “what might be good now is if Spike filled everybody in on Vorgosts, maybe?”

“Yes, that might be wise,” Giles agreed. “I still hadn’t identified the creature, and while I know I’ve come across references to ‘Vorgosts’ once or twice, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any in-depth information.”

Spike shrugged.

“Big, clawed, six legs, scales, lots of teeth,” he said. “Generally they’re fairly slow-moving, but they can strike fast if they want – and jump,” he added. “Bloody strong, 360-degree vision. Hmmm, what else?”

“Any known vulnerabilities?” Giles prompted hopefully.

“Oh, yeah, that,” Spike said. He glanced at Willow. “Wouldn’t bother with the mojo, Red,” he said. “They’re pretty much immune. Steel and lead don’t bother ‘em and magical weapons don’t help. Wood, iron, stone or your bare hands, that’s about it. To kill ‘em you either have to take off the head or damage the brain. And there’s only three vulnerable spots – right behind and under the ears, the throat just under the chin, and – guess what? – eyes.” He glanced at Xander and sighed.

“Oh, one other thing,” he said. “The one I got was a male. Usually they’re solitary. If there’s another in the park, that means it’s a female and it’s nesting, ‘cause that’s the only time you’ll have a pair. Female Vorgosts are a bit larger than the males and twice as nasty. Plus you’ll have to cut open the female and see if she’s dropped her eggs yet. If she has, you’ll want to find the eggs and smash ‘em.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow.

“If these things are so tough, how come we’ve never heard of them before?” she challenged. “And why aren’t they in Giles’ books?”

“Easy, Pet,” Spike shrugged. “Aren’t usually found aboveground. Hardly ever found even belowground – I’ve only seen one once before, but I’ve heard. Bad news, Pet – they’re hellspawn, native to the nether planes.”

“And that’s bad news why?” Buffy asked, turning to Giles, but it was Xander who answered.

“Bad news because if they’re native to the nether planes,” he said, “then there’s got to be a hole open through which they got from there to here, right? And bad news also because if they’re normally underground nasties, there’s a reason they’re living in Sunnydale’s park. Like, there’s something even nastier underground, making it a bad place to nest.”

Spike stifled a proud smile with great difficulty. That’s the way, Pet! Show ‘em those Xander Harris smarts. Let ‘em know just how badly they’ve underestimated you.

Willow turned to Giles.

“Xander’s right,” she said. “The Hellmouth couldn’t have opened again, could it?”

“No, I doubt we could have missed that,” Giles said drily. “However, it’s always possible for smaller portals to be opened, permanently or temporarily. If those Vorgosts came through it, that would seem to indicate that the portal was open for some time – or still is. The presence of such a portal most likely means one of two things – “

“A powerful demon,” Xander suggested. “Or a powerful spellcaster.”

Giles looked faintly surprised; Spike didn’t know whether to feel annoyed by that surprised expression or proud of Xander. He settled on pride with a small side order of annoyance.

“Yes,” Giles admitted. “There are other possibilities, of course – an old portal inadvertently triggered, some powerful magical item misused, or merely an accidental upsurge in magical energy. But none of those would make the underground passages so – uncomfortable – that the Vorgosts would be forced aboveground.”

“Sounds like a challenge for research people,” Buffy said, shrugging. “It seems to me like the now job is Vorgost slayage, before eggs hatch or whatever.”

“Yeah, better to kill one Vorgost tonight than ten next week,” Willow agreed, nodding vigorously. Then she looked anxious. “Ummmm . . . Spike, do you know how long it takes their eggs to hatch?”

Spike shrugged.

“Sorry, Red, never nest-sat for any of ‘em,” he said. “Doubt if it would be this soon though.” A thought struck him, and he added, “Eggs haven’t hatched yet if they’re leaving their victims all strewn about. If there was young to feed, they’d take all the bits back to the nest.”

“Oh. That’s good then,” Willow said relievedly, then wrinkled her nose. “Uh. Relatively speaking, I mean. Then I guess Buffy’s right, we should go out and take care of it.” Then she hesitated. “I don’t suppose it would let us just send it home?”

Spike smirked.

“You could ask it, Pet, but I’d stand well back or you’d find yourself inspecting its tonsils,” he said.

“Like I said,” Buffy said impatiently. “Slayage. Prompt slayage.”

“Can’t argue you there,” Spike said, although he exchanged a worried glance with Xander, knowing the mortal was thinking the same thing he was. The male Vorgost had almost made vampire hash out of Spike. The female was larger and faster and, especially if she had eggs to defend, meaner.

“Then I guess we’d better get going,” Xander said, standing up.

“What’s this ‘we’ shit, kemo sabe?” Buffy said, raising an eyebrow. “You’re cracked rib boy, remember? If Spikey could manage one of these things all on his own, we can manage just fine.”

“Are you going?” Xander asked Spike.

Spike shrugged.

“Guess I will,” he said more casually than he felt. “Bet I can take that Vorgost down faster’n her. Anyway, I can use the exercise.” He didn’t particularly care if Buffy became Vorgost chow – well, actually, he did, simply because he was still counting on bone-breaking day someday – but Willow or Tara might just as easily fall prey if the Vorgost was faster than their spells, and if they were hurt or injured, Xander would never forgive himself for concealing the real difficulty of the previous Vorgost fight.

“If you guys are all going, then I’m going,” Xander said firmly.

Spike was dismayed; he’d really hoped the others would out-and-out forbid Xander to accompany them on such a risky hunt. Shit. Now his downplaying of the fight was working against him. That, or they just didn’t care all that much about Xander’s condition.

“Don’t imagine there’s much point,” he said, trying to convey his warning to Xander with his eyes. “Don’t think pelting the Vorgost with donuts will do much good.”

“Spike!” Willow protested. “That’s mean.”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Your point being?” he said sarcastically. “Evil soulless vampire, remember?”

Xander shrugged.

“I’m going,” he said flatly, but Spike could see a hint of hurt deep down in the brown eyes, and now he wished like hell he’d picked a different line of attack to get Xander to stay behind. It was just possible that after receiving the lawsuit from his parents, Xander possibly wasn’t in the best frame of mind for even a fake insult.

The others didn’t even grace Spike with an argument. Spike shrugged unhappily in response to the Watcher’s reproachful gaze, and followed the others out the door.

*****

The argument at Giles’ house took more time than it took for their hunt to go to hell in a handcart.

Giles had looked through his armory. There wasn’t much that could pass the Vorgost’s defenses. He had one obsidian knife, an antique stone handaxe, and a quiver of flint-tipped arrows which Spike very much doubted anybody was going to hit with. Willow and Tara declined any of the weapons, saying that even if they couldn’t use their magic on the Vorgost directly, they’d try something indirect rather than rely on their weak fighting skills. Giles had kept the bow and arrows, Dawn had taken the knife, and Xander took the handaxe. Spike had given Buffy one of his iron railroad spikes, privately hoping she’d get close enough to the Vorgost’s mouth to try to use it. Spike had grabbed a conventional steel axe.

“Thought you said that wouldn’t work,” Buffy said suspiciously.

“Won’t – on the Vorgost,” Spike returned. He didn’t bother to explain. But later, at the park, he picked out a stout sapling and cut it down, quickly stripping off the branches and cutting one end to a point. Letting the others fan out ahead of them, Spike dropped back to hand Xander the makeshift spear.

“Keep that,” he said briefly. “If you have to, jam it in the Vorgost’s mouth. Won’t hurt it, but it’ll slow it down some, at least.”

Xander took the spear.

“Thanks,” he murmured. “Good idea.” He hesitated. “You didn’t have to say that. About the donuts, I mean.”

“Didn’t mean it, you know that,” Spike said softly. He glanced sideways at Xander, scowling. “Don’t you?”

Xander said nothing for a long time. Then, at last:

“I know you didn’t mean it.” Barely whispered. “But maybe it’s true anyway.”

Spike snorted.

“You’re worth the lot of them,” he said.

“But you didn’t want me to hunt with you,” Xander whispered, hurt. “I helped before, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Spike agreed. “Only this time when the Slayer does something stupid, she might just get you killed. Stay back, all right? Be ready to get the witches out when the Slayer fucks it up.”

Not if.

He’d been right.

There’d been no trouble tracking the Vorgost down. Gravid Vorgosts didn’t hide their nests, they defended them. Buffy and the others simply followed the trail of body parts to a rooted-up hollow in a glade.

And into a trap.

Spike hadn’t known that Vorgosts could climb trees. He should’ve figured it out. They lived underground; they climbed rocks, so why not trees? But he hadn’t figured it out, not until the Vorgost dropped out of the tree above them.

The Scoobies did their best, Spike had to admit. Buffy’s fast reflexes kept the Vorgost from landing on Dawn, and she kept it distracted long enough for the younger girl to scramble to safety. Unable to strike at the Vorgost directly, Willow and Tara had chanted up bolts of force to fling rocks and even trees over on the Vorgost. That had at least kept it distracted, but it made fighting as hazardous for the human – and vampiric – fighters as for the demonic beast itself.

Dodging projectiles, Buffy fought desperately but couldn’t get near the creature’s vulnerable head. Even Slayer strength couldn’t drive the iron spike through the Vorgost’s scaly hide. Willow and Tara were tiring, Buffy was showing signs of fatigue, but the Vorgost wasn’t even breathing hard. Desperately Xander waded into the fray, axe in one hand, spear in the other. Immediately Spike leaped in after him, more terrified than he’d ever been in his life.

Spike managed to get in one good jab with a railroad spike, almost but not quite close enough to the brain, before the Vorgost roared in fury and flung them off like so many fleas. Buffy flew through the air, hit a tree and collapsed, unconscious. Dawn was knocked into a thicket by a flying log and Giles dived to her rescue. Willow and Tara leaped to defend Buffy if necessary, but there was no need. The Vorgost had turned on the most visible and available target.

Xander.

Spike screamed and fought desperately, trying vainly for the Vorgost’s eyes, but its head was too far forward; it was all he could do to hang on desperately as it charged. To his consternation, Xander didn’t flee as any sensible mortal would have; instead he braced the end of the spear on the ground against his foot, angling the point upwards. Abruptly Spike realized what he was doing.

That’s my brilliant Pet!

With all his strength, Spike wrenched the Vorgost’s head back as it leaped forward. Back, back he pulled as the creature came down –

-- and abruptly the sharp pointed wooden end of Xander’s spear emerged from the top of the Vorgost’s head, half an inch from Spike’s face.

Carried by its own momentum, the dead Vorgost collapsed forward. Thunk.

For a long moment Spike could only cling where he was, staring at the wooden point in front of his face. Then a horrible thought occurred to him.

“Xander! Xander, Pet, where are you, are you – “

“Ummmmf. Down – shit! – here. Some help would definitely be of the good.”

Relief so great that it was tangible, almost painful. Spike slid off the Vorgost’s corpse and saw Xander’s predicament. He was trapped half under the Vorgost, the prop of his spear all that had kept the massive bulk from collapsing upon him entirely.

“Got you, Pet,” Spike said. He dragged Xander out from under the Vorgost, then gave the spear a good kick. It broke, allowing the creature to fall. “Bloody good thought, that,” he said, grinning at Xander. “Wouldn’t have thought of that myself.”

“Not doubting that,” Buffy said wryly, rubbing a bruise on her forehead as she stepped over to join them. She gave the Vorgost a poke with her toe. “Ugh. Dead much? Dawn? Giles? Everybody still living?” She gave Spike a dismissive glance. “Or whatever.”

“Er, quite.” Giles helped Dawn out of the bush she’d fallen in. “Did anyone see the nest?”

“Right over there,” Buffy said, pointing to another thicket of bushes. “Willow and Tara are in there making scrambled eggs.”

In fact Willow emerged from the bushes, Tara close behind. The redhead gasped at the sight of the dead Vorgost.

“Buffy! You got it!”

“All dead,” Buffy said cheerfully, not correcting Willow. “No more Vorgostlings?”

“No more,” Tara said softly, grimacing as she scuffed greenish goo off her shoes.

“Celebration time,” Buffy said simply. “This calls for much chocolate. And pizza.” She led the Scoobies off, back toward Giles’ house.

Shaken, bruised, and covered in Vorgost ichor, Xander and Spike exchanged glances. They looked after Buffy and the others. They looked back at each other.

“Home?” Xander said finally. “I vote tomato soup. And beer.”

Spike grinned. Home. Xander said ‘home’.

“Home,” he agreed. “Weetabix and blood.” He held out a hand; without hesitation, Xander took it.

“Okay, so separate meals,” Xander said. He grinned. “But I know one thing we both will agree on.”

Pause. Sniff.

“Shower,” they both said at the same time.



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