Twilight Time by Shadow

Chapter 13


“Uh-oh, Pet,” Spike said uneasily. “I think we may be in trouble.”

Xander swallowed.

“They look dangerous, all right,” he said. “Shit. I’m not really up for a fight tonight, you know? Can we just make a run for it?”

“They’re between us and the car,” Spike said worriedly. “And they’ve already seen us. You could run, I’ll hold ‘em off long enough for you to get away.”

“Or you could run,” Xander said fatalistically. “I think they’re more likely to kill you than me.”

“Wouldn’t count on it, Pet,” Spike warned. “Don’t like the look in that one’s eyes.”

They exchanged resigned glances.

“Bluff?” Xander suggested.

“Bluff,” Spike agreed.

They continued toward the car, clutching the shopping bags tightly.

“Hey, Buff,” Xander said cheerfully. “Nice night, huh?”

Buffy, scratched, battered and bruised, not to mention doused in some kind of slime, did not look amused.

“Where have you two been?” she demanded.

“Uh – “ Xander glanced down at the dozen or so bags that he and Spike were laden with, then back up. “Shopping?”

“Shopping,” Buffy said flatly. “We called and called and called before heading down under the crypt without you. Where we fought about a dozen trolls who were trying to get out while we were trying to get in. Also without you.”

“Hey, I needed clothes,” Xander said defensively. “And nobody told me there was anything going on tonight.”

“We tried to call,” Giles said, rather irritably. “Repeatedly.”

“Well, you must not have called before sunset, ‘cause that’s when we left,” Xander retorted. “What am I supposed to do, sit by the phone 24/7? Or should I just check in every half hour?”

“You’re the one who always whines about being left out,” Buffy snapped.

“And you’re the one who told me to stay out of it! Let’s see, how did it go?” Xander said coldly. “’Me Slayer, you bartender’?”

Buffy didn’t answer, just whirled on Spike.

“And what about you? We pay you to help us!”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“And you pay me to get garlic in the face, too, hmm, is that it?”

Buffy flushed.

“I apologized,” she said between gritted teeth. “Not that I wanted to. But still, we give you blood and money.” She hefted her purse meaningfully. “And I don’t introduce you to Mister Pointy.”

Spike sneered.

“Sorry, ducks, must’ve missed the small print in the contract where it said I wasn’t permitted to set foot outside my door without your permission.”

“You liked it better tied to chairs or chained in the bathtub?” Buffy said sweetly. “’Cause we can go back to that arrangement.”

“Over my dust,” Spike snarled.

Buffy smiled and pulled a stake out of her purse.

“Can do,” she said brightly.

“Cut it out!” Xander said, stepping between Buffy and Spike and glaring at Buffy. “Overreacting much? We didn’t know you needed us, we went out, you decided to go on without us. Deal already.”

“Yes, I believe this is getting out of hand,” Giles interjected. His suit was ruined for good and the left lens of his glasses was cracked.

“Yeah, we didn’t really try calling Spike’s place until we were almost ready to leave,” Willow added. She had a big black bruise on one cheek and a bandage tied around one wrist. Tara looked unhurt, but she was definitely the goopiest of the lot.

Xander’s expression softened.

“You okay, Wills?” he said worriedly.

“Yeah, I’m all right,” Willow said embarrassedly. “One of the trolls grabbed me and kind of threw me against a wall, and Tara hit him on the back of the head with a rock, and he started to turn around on her, and I cast this spell, only I didn’t get it quite right ‘cause I was hurrying, it was just supposed to stop it, but instead it kind of, um, blew up. All over Tara.”

“Ewwww,” Xander said, grimacing sympathetically. “Yak much?”

“T-t-twice,” Tara confessed in a small voice.

“Yeah, well, Giles got stepped on and Dawn almost got eaten,” Buffy said impatiently, “and we could’ve really used some extra help, you know? From the people who are supposed to be helping us with this stuff anyway.”

“Most of the time you don’t want our help,” Xander pointed out. “Either of us. Me you just ignore. Spike you insult all the time.”

“Oh, so what now, your feelings are hurt so we can all go get killed? Is that it?” Buffy snarled.

“Oh, so now you’re saying I’m the difference between life and death, huh?” Xander said hotly.

“I’m saying you’re supposed to be one of us, not the bleached wonder’s shopping buddy!” Buffy shouted.

And grabbed the front of his shirt, giving Xander a good shake.

“Back the fuck off!” Spike roared, charging forward, chip forgotten in his sudden red rage. Mine! Touching MY Xander! Threatening MY Xander!

Buffy whirled and punched, and with amazing speed Xander pushed Spike out of the way –

-- and Buffy’s fist connected solidly with Xander’s face, the impact of flesh on flesh very loud.

Spike snapped. He never felt the transition to game face; he howled and leaped at Buffy, intent on gory murder. He plowed into Buffy, knocking her back onto the hood of Xander’s car.

And then the chip kicked in.

Momentum carried him forward; with Buffy out of the path, he plowed into the windshield of the convertible, but he never felt the impact as his brain exploded in exquisite agony. He screamed, blind, deaf and near paralyzed with pain, but he still tried to crawl toward Buffy, fully intent on ripping the offending hand off her arm and shoving it so far up her arse that she could pick her nose from the inside. It was a futile gesture; in his unthinking, unseeing agony he only rolled off the hood onto the pavement, shuddering helplessly, waiting and half wishing for the stake to end his pain.

Dimly the sound of voices intruded into his consciousness; then he became aware of warm hands holding him still, and that one of the voices was addressed to him.

“Spike! Spike, just lay still, it’s okay, hold still, don’t move – “

“Xander – “ something, something, “ – doctor, hadn’t you better – “

“Can’t believe you – “ something “ – how could you?”

“Didn’t mean – “ something, something, “ – accident, I didn’t – “

Something, something, “ – broken, need to – “

“Spike, are you all right? Can you open your eyes?”

Xander sounded funny, his voice thick and liquidy, and that knowledge brought Spike jarring back to the present. He forced his eyes open; little flashes of pain-light were still exploding across his field of vision, but he could see Xander’s face. Blood was running down his lips and chin, his eyes were swelling shut, and Spike could see even at a casual glance that his nose was broken. Weakly and hating his weakness, Spike reached up a shaking hand to touch Xander’s cheek.

“You’re a mess, Pet,” he whispered.

“Yeah, you too.” Xander mustered a bloody grin. “From now on I’m doing all my shopping on the Internet.”

“You got it,” Spike said rustily. Then he made the connection between Xander’s face and Buffy’s fist and he growled, fighting to force himself upright. Hurriedly Xander held him down.

“Don’t, don’t, don’t,” Xander said frantically. “Uh – uh – “ He glanced around as if searching for a distraction. “Why don’t you take me to the clinic, okay?”

Emergency room, rather, Spike thought grimly. He didn’t look at Buffy. He didn’t know what he’d do if he did, but whatever it was, it would delay Xander getting treatment. He forced himself to his feet and helped Xander into the car, even though he was still reeling himself.

“Throw our bags in the back,” he said stonily to whoever might be listening. He heard bags crinkle but never took his eyes off Xander. Not bothering to check and see if anyone was in front of the car – privately he hoped Buffy was, chip and his head be damned, he roared out of the parking lot.

Three hours later Spike was still seething. Xander’s nose was indeed broken – not only was the cartilage displaced, but the bony structure had been cracked and he almost needed surgery; both his eyes were swollen almost completely shut, his lip was cut and several of his front teeth were loosened.

Giles, dressed in clean clothes and wearing his spare glasses, had showed up at the emergency room with the other recently-washed Scoobies in tow. Spike had been astonished to learn that Xander had listed him, not Giles, on his insurance as his medical contact. To Spike’s glee, Xander refused to see anyone but Willow, who was allowed to come back and sit with him while the x-rays were being developed. Willow’s eyes were swollen and red, and she clutched at Xander’s hand as if he was her only anchor to sanity.

“I’m so sorry,” Willow whispered. “Buffy’s sorry too. She didn’t mean to hit you like that. She didn’t mean to hit you at all, I mean, it was – “ She glanced guiltily at Spike.

“Oh, yeah, like that’s so much better, hitting somebody who can’t hit back,” Xander rasped hoarsely; Spike guessed his throat was sore from the blood that had been dripping down the back of his throat from his broken nose.

“I know, I know,” Willow said miserably. “That’s not an excuse, I know that.” She fell silent for a long moment, then asked humbly, “Do you think some more of that liniment might help? You said it was so great – “

Xander grimaced.

“I don’t really think – “

“ – we have all that much left,” Spike finished smoothly. “Good idea, Red. We could use another batch if you don’t mind the bother. Probably put him right in no time.”

“I can do that, I can do that right now,” Willow babbled, looking desperately relieved. “I’ll run home with Tara and have it done in a few hours and – “

“Willow,” Xander croaked.

“Yes? What?”


“Breathe,” Xander chuckled painfully.

“Oh. Okay.” Willow flushed. “I’m just so sorry, Xander.”

Xander grinned bitterly and closed his eyes.

“It’s okay,” he rasped. “It’s not the first bash in the face I’ve ever gotten.”

Willow winced, and Xander’s eyes shot open.

“I didn’t mean that to sound – “

“No, I know what you mean.” Willow squeezed Xander’s hand. “At least this time I can help a little.” She smiled tremulously. “Thanks for letting me help.”

Xander squeezed her fingers.

“Tell Tara her hair still stinks,” he quipped. “I can smell it on your hands, and you always play with her hair. Go on, get out of here. Thanks, Wills. You’re a friend.”

Willow hesitated at the door.

“Buffy wants to apologize,” she said tentatively.

“No.” Xander’s eyes were closed and his voice was flat. “I don’t forgive her, and frankly I don’t even want to hear her apologize for punching me out instead of Spike. I’m tired of her shit and I don’t want to see her, not tonight and not for a good long while.”

Willow sighed softly.

“Okay,” she said, and was gone.

Between x-rays and insurance papers and prescriptions, it was almost dawn when Spike helped Xander into the car and drove him home. There was a sad sort of synchronicity to it – the times Xander had supported a staggering, injured Spike through the door, and the times Spike had brought a wounded hurting Xander home. This time Xander was almost unconscious from pain medications, and Spike forestalled any effort from Xander by simply scooping him up and carrying him inside. He gently stripped off Xander’s blood-spattered clothes and tucked him cozily into the waterbed, then quickly fetched their purchases from the car before the sun rose. After all they’d gone through to buy Xander a few nice clothes, Spike, weary as he was, took the trouble to hang the garments up before he stripped and crawled into bed with Xander.

He roused sometime around noon to a ringing phone. He stumbled out into the living room, picked up the receiver, identified Giles’ querying voice, muttered, “Bugger off,” and stumbled back to the bedroom. He checked the time, shook a pain pill out of the bottle, and took that and a glass of water with a straw in it to Xander’s side of the bed.

“Wake up, Pet,” he said. “Pill time.”

“Whuzzat?” Xander muttered blearily, trying to open his eyes, then wincing as swollen flesh protested.

“Open your mouth, Pet,” Spike said patiently. He carefully slid the pill and the end of the straw between swollen lips. “Swallow.”

Xander swallowed blindly.

Spike thought a moment, then went to the kitchen, fetching one of his empty blood-collecting bottles. He took it back to the bedroom, slid it under the covers, and positioned it carefully, grinning when Xander yelped as cool glass contacted sensitive skin.

“Piss,” Spike instructed.

This time Xander managed to get one eye open, and he used it to glare at Spike balefully, but he pissed. Spike took the bottle to the bathroom, emptied, rinsed and discarded it – he just couldn’t see using it for blood again, no matter how he washed it – then went back to bed, curling cozily around Xander.

“Sleep,” he murmured in Xander’s ear.

Xander slept.

Spike roused again shortly after sunset, this time to a knock on the door. He threw a robe on this time before stumbling out into the living room.

“If it’s that bloody Watcher, he’s doomed,” Spike grumbled, peeping out through the peephole, surprised to see Willow standing there. Oh, right. Liniment. He sighed and opened the door.

“Evening, Red,” he said. The young witch looked like she hadn’t slept. Probably hadn’t. Tara stood behind her, looking just as weary, her hair rather frizzy and dry as if she’d washed it several times in harsh soap. Spike grinned.

“C’mon in, ladies,” he said, stepping aside. “Xander’s still asleep, though.”

“No, that’s okay,” Willow said embarrassedly, pointedly not looking at Spike in his robe. “I just wanted to, you know, drop this off right away. Is Xander okay?”

Spike shrugged.

“He’s hurting,” he said flatly. “Be nice if he had a week when someone or something didn’t pound the hell out of him.”

Willow winced.

“I know,” she said. “Giles is really upset, and Buffy’s not talking to anybody, and . . . well, it doesn’t matter. Just – let me know if there’s anything I can do, okay?”

“Sure will,” Spike said, accepting the jar of liniment Willow was holding out. He liked Willow, but frankly wanted her to go away; he wanted to go take care of his mortal. “Thanks, Red.”

He heard Xander stirring as he walked back to the bedroom, and in fact found the mortal trying to sit up on the side of the bed.

“Hey, hey, easy there,” Spike said, gently pushing Xander back down. “Not ready to go beat the shit out of any more monsters tonight.”

“Willow’s liniment.” Xander grinned slightly at the sight of the jar in Spike’s hand. “If she only knew.”

“Yeah, well – “ Spike set the jar down. “I’ll give you something that’ll help more than that.”

Xander glanced up at Spike.

“You mean – “

“Uh-huh.” Spike pulled out his boot knife. “Want me to mix it in something for you, Pet?”

Xander swallowed, then slowly shook his head.

“Right, then.” Spike helped Xander into a half-sitting position, supported by the pillows. He pushed up his sleeve and cut deeply into his forearm, holding the bleeding cut to Xander’s mouth. Xander swallowed almost instinctively once; then his hands came up to clasp Spike’s arm and he fastened his mouth on the wound, drawing hard on it. Spike didn’t stop him, let Xander drink until he felt the wound closing, then reluctantly pulled away.

“Stop for now,” Spike said softly. He wiped the smears of blood around Xander’s lips away with his thumb, then absent-mindedly licked the blood off his thumb. “More later.”

Xander was panting, gazing at Spike with wide eyes which were already far less swollen.

“Is that – dangerous?” he asked in a small voice. “I mean, can it – “

“Turn you?” Spike shook his head. “Mortals can’t be turned unless they’re bloody close to death already. Nah, worst – or best, I’d say – my blood can do is change you a bit, just as I said, stronger and faster and so on. ‘Course, enough and you’ll start giving the Slayer twinges,” he added reluctantly.

“I don’t care.” Already Xander’s voice was clearer, less nasal. “I don’t want to see her. And I don’t care what she thinks.”

“Don’t blame you,” Spike said mildly. “But you’d better care what she thinks. ‘Cause if she gets the notion I’m turning you or changing you or whatever, she and her stake don’t need no invitation to come bursting in here, and then I wake up with the wrong kind of woody altogether. And wouldn’t be nothing I could do. Get it, Pet?”

Xander grimaced.

“Yeah, I get it,” he said. “I just don’t like it. Wow, I feel funny.” He lay back woozily.

Spike stroked Xander’s cheek absently, watching as the bruising faded, as the swelling eased, as the split in Xander’s lip closed and vanished. The mortal had never had this much of Spike’s blood at once and the effects were understandably stronger. He watched Xander healing before his eyes and felt a thrill at the thought of his blood nourishing and healing his Consort.

Not my Consort. Never my Consort.

Xander’s eyes snapped open as if he’d heard the thought, and he captured Spike’s hand, holding it against his cheek.

“I want you,” he whispered, blushing furiously but meeting Spike’s squarely.

Spike snorted, amused but not surprised. It was the blood, of course. Not to mention teenage male hormones.

“Think you’re up for that, Pet?” he said mildly.

Xander pulled Spike’s hand away from his face and drew it down his body to a firm lump in the covers.

“Does this feel like I’m up for it?” he whispered.

Spike grinned and stretched out on the bed beside Xander.

“And what do you think you’re up for, hmmm?” he teased.

“You.” Xander’s eyes burned. “I want you.”

Spike fumbled with the tie on his robe, flung the garment off the bed.

“You got me, Pet.”

“No, I mean I want you.” Xander’s cheeks flamed. “To – you know. Do me.”

Spike froze.

“Do you?” he said numbly. “As in, er, fuck you, Pet?”

“Yeah.” Xander’s cheeks darkened to an almost alarming shade of red. “As in, um, fuck me.” Then he looked anxious. “I mean, if you want to.”

“Want to? Want to?” Spike almost came at the thought.

Then reality set in and he sighed.

“Can’t,” he said briefly.

Xander’s face lost all expression.

“Can’t?” he repeated softly, worriedly. “Why not? I mean – “ He blushed. “I’ve seen that everything, you know, works.”

Spike snorted.

“Yes, Pet, everything works,” he said patiently. He tapped the side of his head. “The bleeding chip works, too, remember? And the first time I give you the least twinge of pain, you say ‘ouch’ and I say ‘Fucking OWWWWW’, get it? Kind of kills the mood, if you know what I mean.”

Xander’s brows shot up as he understood.

“But – “ He licked his lips. “You wouldn’t hurt me.”

Spike chuckled.

Oh, I wouldn’t say that. But I’d never hurt you more’n you’d like.

“Pet, your confidence is nice, but if you’ve never had nothing up there before, then chances are, you’re giving me too much credit.”

“Oh.” Xander’s face fell, and for the millionth time Spike cursed the damned Initiative who had yet again come between Spike and his rights as a master vampire.

“Pet.” Spike gently turned Xander’s face toward him. “Don’t mean we can’t do something special if you want. Just means you have to be the one doing it.”

This time Xander’s blank expression was almost comical.

“You mean – “ Xander gulped. “Me? Do you?”

Spike grinned and kissed that beautiful gaping mouth.

“Yeah,” he said simply. “You do me.”

Xander blinked.

“Oh.”

“Is that a ‘yes’ oh or a ‘no’ oh?” Spike chuckled.

Xander blinked again, then rolled over on top of Spike, kissing back.

“That’s a ‘hell, yes!’ oh,” Xander said. Then he paused. “But, um, don’t we need, um, something?”

“What, like rubbers?” Spike said amusedly. “Can’t get me preggers, Pet, and if we were gonna give each other something, swallowing each other’s blood would pretty much do the job, wouldn’t it?”

Xander grimaced.

“Not that,” he said. “Um, like, uh, lube or something.”

“Oh.” Spike frowned. That was a poser. When Angelus had claimed his rights as Sire, Spike had been lucky to get anything more than spit and blood as lubricant. It had been so long since Spike had gotten his end down – long before he’d taken over Angel’s building – that he didn’t have anything himself, and he very seriously doubted that Angel would’ve had anything to leave, either.

Then an idea occurred to him and he grinned.

“Right back, Pet,” he said. He fetched what he wanted and returned. Xander stared at the naked vampire, not to mention what was in the vampire’s hand.

“Butter?” Xander said, his voice squeaking.

“Well, it’s that or olive oil, Pet,” Spike chuckled. “And comes to that, I’d rather smell like a scone than a salad. So, Pet, you want to do it, or d’you want to get up, get dressed, toddle on out to the chemist’s for whatever you use in this century?”

“Gimme that!” Xander said, grabbing the butter out of Spike’s hand. Then he sat there, staring down at the waxed-paper-covered brick. “Ummmm . . . so what do I do with this now?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” Spike hopped back up on the bed, knee-walking up to straddle Xander’s hips and pushing the covers out of the way. He unwrapped the butter, pinched off a bit and took Xander’s hand, rubbing the butter slowly over Xander’s fingers. The butter quickly melted on the warm skin. Gazing into Xander’s eyes, Spike drew Xander’s hand around behind him, guiding one slick finger to his target.

“Like this,” he said huskily, pressing the slippery fingertip in. He shivered as the warm finger penetrated, pushing back against it. Xander got the idea quickly and moved the finger himself, sliding it gently back and forth.

“Now another,” Spike whispered, purring as Xander worked a second finger in beside the first. Bloody hell, this was good. With Angelus it had always been about power and submission, pleasure and pain; gentleness didn’t even enter into it. Spike couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually allowed another male to top him; once he’d become a master vampire, it would’ve hurt his status. But this was his Consort, and there was nobody to say how a master vampire and his Consort could please each other.

“More?” Xander asked huskily.

“Don’t have the patience,” Spike muttered. He pinched off another piece of butter and rubbed it up and down the heat of Xander’s erection, moaning as he licked his fingers clean, savoring the intoxicating mixture of butter and precome. Pushing Xander’s hand back and away from him, he scooted forward slightly and lowered himself, groaning as hot, hard flesh pressed, then slid in.

Xander echoed his moan as the mortal’s heat slowly, slowly filled him.

Bloody hell, it was good. He couldn’t remember it ever feeling so good, so easy, so right. Spike sank down slowly, savoring the gradual penetration. Hell, he loved a good hard fuck; he didn’t mind pain – liked it in its place, actually – but there was something to be said for this, nice and slow and easy and loving? relaxed. Then he groaned again as Xander’s pubic bone pressed against him and the hard length filled him completely.

“Oh, God,” Xander whispered, his eyes wide, an expression of utter wonder on his face. “Oh, God – “

“Wrong team, Pet,” Spike purred, and began to rock.

Purrs of delight became whimpers when Spike found the perfect angle to send Xander’s slick cock skidding over his prostate. Whimpers became moans when Xander wrapped butter-slick fingers around Spike’s cock, pumping it in rhythm with their coupling. Moans became cries when Spike deliberately clenched his muscles around Xander’s erection and scratched his nails softly over his mortal’s nipples. Cries became screams when Xander lost control and began slamming upward into the vampire riding him. Spike felt his control slipping, felt the contours of his face change, but Xander apparently didn’t care because he continued without pause. Screams became howls when Spike met Xander’s upward thrust with one last slam downward, burying the hot length deep, deep inside him and felt the hot spurts flooding him, prompting Spike to pump out his own room-temperature jets into Xander’s hand, exercising every last iota of his will to keep from sinking his fangs into the beautifully bared throat below him.

Spike collapsed on his lover, savoring the odors of their rut – his sperm, Xander’s sperm, sweat, lingering traces of Spike’s blood, butter. Drowsily he licked sweat off the side of Xander’s throat, fighting down his own lingering frustration. Damn, it was fucking hard not to bite.

“Spike?” Spike pulled his head back to find Xander watching him, a sympathetic expression on his face. Xander reached over and picked up Spike’s boot knife from the bedside table; before Spike realized what his mortal was up to, Xander drew the sharp tip over his upper chest, opening a fine cut there.

“Is that what you wanted?” Xander whispered, his fingertips unwaveringly tracing the contours of Spike’s game face.

“This is what I wanted,” Spike whispered too, bending over to kiss Xander, plundering the mortal’s mouth with his tongue. Then he turned his head, slowly licking the droplets of blood from the scratch Xander had made. It hadn’t been that long since Xander had drunk his blood, and the cut healed almost immediately, but the small taste was enough. Spike rolled over in the bed, content, pulling Xander over to him to cuddle.

“That was – amazing,” Xander murmured. He laid his head on Spike’s shoulder, absently stroking the vampire’s chest.

“That it was,” Spike agreed, tangling his fingers in Xander’s sweaty hair. He grinned. “God, we’re spunky, Pet. Better have a wash or we’ll wake up glued together.”

Xander grinned and kissed Spike’s shoulder.

“Would that be so bad?”

“Might make patrolling entertaining,” Spike snickered. “And just picture the look on Red’s face, the next time she and her girlfriend visit.”

Xander laughed until he almost choked.

“Wonder if she’d blame it on the liniment?” he gasped.

Spike smacked his forehead.

“The liniment!” he exclaimed. “Should’ve tried that.”

Xander’s forehead wrinkled.

“You mean instead of your blood?”

“Nope.” Spike grinned. “Instead of the butter. That way you’d have had something to put on your toast when you get up.”

“What the hell, I can’t imagine a better way to waste butter,” Xander grinned. “Besides, there’s always your orange marmalade.”

“Oh, no, Pet,” Spike snickered, tracing one finger suggestively down Xander’s chest. “Come to think of it, I’ve got plans for that.”

“Oh yeah? Well, let me tell you a story about Anya, the bathtub, and eighteen packets of Strawberry-Kiwi Jello . . . “




Chapter 14


“I feel like a moron,” Xander grumbled as Spike minutely adjusted the jacket.

“Well, you look like a bloody wet dream come true,” Spike muttered to himself.

Xander blushed but didn’t look displeased. He was giving his new suit its maiden voyage. Xander hadn’t picked the suit; Spike had.

“You’re not wearing a suit,” Xander said pointedly.

Spike snickered.

“Trust me, Pet, I don’t look half silly in one,” he said. “’Sides, I never go anywhere I might need one.”

“And I do?” Xander retorted.

“You go on interviews,” Spike pointed out. “And you’re moving up in the world, eh?”

“I wouldn’t say that too loudly,” Xander said pessimistically, but he was grinning as he said it. His boss had switched Xander over to full-time permanent after two weeks instead of the stated month, and had given Xander more of a raise than he’d expected, too. This unexpected bonus had come after Xander had noticed a serious mistake on the plans that would have cost the company considerable time and money to correct if it had been built in – and, later in the same week, had saved a carpenter’s life by knocking him out of the way when a support board broke and a couple dozen pieces of iron rebar fell (Scooby-honed reflexes, probably sharpened with a dash of vampire’s blood, came in handy at times).

The switch to permanent employment was wonderful; the raise was fantastic; and the praise on his employment record was even better, but best of all was the fact that Xander’s good work had been brought to the attention of the owner of the company as well as the general contractor on the project, and (something that Spike knew but Xander didn’t) to Lissik, the building owner. Spike had little doubt that Xander would be a foreman before the summer was out.

So tonight they were celebrating with a return trip to Leng Chi’s. To Spike’s way of thinking, they had plenty to celebrate – all right, Xander’s job, yes, but there was also the fact that Xander thought of himself as Spike’s Consort, even though that wasn’t exactly true. There was the fact that Spike hadn’t had to see the Slayer or the Watcher for nearly a week, ever since the parking lot incident; that in itself had been a wonderful relief. There was the half-dozen ghouls he and Xander had massacred the night before, all without a scratch taken by either; that had been a fun bit of exercise for them both. Spike’s personal choice for a celebration topic was the aftermath of the ghoul fight, when an adrenalin-pumped and victory-happy Xander had bent him over the sofa back and ridden him hard and fast, testing out one of those wonderful new lubricants, purchased during an eye-opening trip to a sex toy store miles outside of town (at Xander’s insistence).

Spike smiled fondly at that memory.

Got to give the nod to modern technology, he thought with a certain amount of awe. The couch episode, plus the visit to the toy store, had given Spike a couple of ideas he planned to broach to Xander, maybe over supper tonight. He had a couple of other surprises for Xander too for another time, as a nice side effect of a late-late-night visit to the storage locker Angel had rented.

There was something else to celebrate, too. Willow and Tara had stopped by midweek to bring over Spike’s packets of blood and another jar of liniment. If either of them had been astonished to see Xander fully recovered, they’d hidden it well. But as they were leaving, Willow had turned to Spike and said quietly, “I won’t tell Buffy, and Tara won’t, either.”

A sharp pang of fear shot through Spike.

“Tell her what?” he bluffed.

Willow smiled, a small, secret smile.

“That it isn’t the liniment,” she said. She gave Spike a slightly reproachful glance. “You shouldn’t lie about things that are so easy to check. When I made the last jar, I put some on my wrist and it didn’t do anything. I mean, it felt good, but that’s all. And I remembered how your face looked when Buffy grabbed Xander. You looked like I felt when that troll went after Tara. So I got into Giles’ books and did some reading about vampires, and a lot of things made sense. But Xander’s still Xander and I know you couldn’t be forcing him to do anything ‘cause of the chip, so I won’t say anything. You’re lucky Buffy never asked me for any of that liniment since it seemed to work so well.” She sighed, looking suddenly sad. “I wish Xander didn’t keep so many secrets from me. I don’t know why he doesn’t trust me. He used to tell me everything. Or at least I thought he did.”

“Don’t think it’s about trust, Pet,” Spike said, patting her arm. “Think maybe he was just trying to protect you, keep you out of a difficult spot.” He meant keeping Willow out of the middle of the conflict with Buffy, but he realized the same probably applied to the abuse Xander had suffered from his parents. There wouldn’t have been much that childhood Willow could have done.

“Friends protect each other,” Willow chided, but she’d reluctantly accepted that.

So they were out – to Willow and Tara, at least, it appeared, and obscurely Spike was relieved. He didn’t know if he could count on the witches as allies, if it came down to a showdown, but at least he didn’t have to count them as enemies.

He hadn’t been able to give Leng Chi much notice this time, and the fact that the elderly Risza demon seemed not the slightest bit disturbed by that – that, in fact, the old one seemed to have expected his call – disturbed Spike a bit. Didn’t exactly surprise him, just disturbed him.

Fortunately he himself had the perfect clothes for the occasion – his black leather pants again, of course, since he’d loved the effect they had on Xander, but to go over it a black Mandarin silk jacket, embroidered in crimson, that Leng Chi himself had once given Spike. By wearing it, he was sending a subtle reminder that while Spike had a very healthy respect for the ancient Risza, Leng Chi owed him several times over – not least for ridding him of his troublesome local Slayer during the Boxer rebellion.

Xander swallowed heavily when he saw Spike’s outfit.

“Why is it,” Xander said, licking his lips, “that whenever we’re going to go out, you insist on dressing up in outfits that make me want to stay in?”

Spike smirked.

“Nice to feel appreciated, luv,” he chuckled. “Come on, wouldn’t do to keep Leng Chi waiting.”

Xander snatched up a shopping bag from the dresser at the last moment, trying to keep it semi-hidden behind him. Spike grinned to himself and pretended not to notice. His own presents were already stowed in the car in a bag also. Xander kept glancing at Spike’s bag in the back seat all the way to the restaurant. They grinned at each other when Spike parked at the noodle shop and they both grabbed their respective bags.

The noodle shop was busy tonight, but the man behind the counter had apparently been told to expect Spike and Xander, for Spike didn’t have to use his code phrase this time to be escorted back to the door where the stairway led down to Leng Chi’s basement. Once again, Leng Mei was waiting for them.

“Master Spike, most honorable Consort,” she murmured, bowing deeply. “We are deeply honored that you grace our humble establishment with your return. If you will please follow me.”

This time she didn’t take them to the same room, which rather surprised Spike, but led them down another flight of stairs. She paused at the bottom.

“My father asks me to convey his humble request that you join him for tea before your meal,” Leng Mei said politely, although Spike took the summons for the order that it evidently was.

“Our pleasure,” Spike said, flashing Xander a warning glance, a little disturbed by this development. He really had no desire to see Leng Chi himself just yet, and he’d have much preferred to give Xander a little preparation for the meeting, too. But there was nothing to be done about it now.

Leng Mei opened the door and escorted them into a luxurious, dimly-lit room, heavily scented with thick, sweet incense smoke. The room was divided by a thin, translucent curtain backlit by a low fire. Two sets of comfortable cushions had been placed by a small, low table on this side of the curtain. Spike permitted himself a small inward sigh of relief. At least Xander was apparently going to be spared a face-to-face meeting with the ancient Risza demon.

“Please, make yourselves comfortable, honored guests,” a thin, sibilant voice said from behind the curtain. Spike saw a shadow moving there and glanced at Xander. The mortal was staring at the decidedly nonhuman outline.

“Thanks for your hospitality,” Spike said briefly, pulling Xander forward and nodding to him to sit down. Angelus knew all the polite phrases and ritualistic back-and-forths; he himself had never bothered, believing actions spoke louder than words.

Leng Mei returned, carrying a tray with a pot of tea, cups, and a smoking bowl. She set the bowl on the center of the table and served the tea.

“I know that polite conversation is wasted on you, Master Spike,” the aged voice hissed. “So I will come directly to the point. I have information you desire, regarding an opener of gates. The Tiger in Red is the one you seek.”

Spike frowned. It wasn’t like Leng Chi to be so forthcoming, much less so direct.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked suspiciously. “What’s the price?”

“The answers to your questions are the same,” the shadow answered. “The Watcher’s books and the Slayer’s strength and the witches’ Sight will avail you naught. But in their seeking, their path will eventually lead them to my door. I would have it otherwise, but if not prevented, then at least delayed. I cannot tell you how to find your foe, but I can tell you how he may be defeated. And here is my price: When the Slayer stands before me, I will make one request of you, and you will fulfill that request. It will be of no harm to you or those under your protection, upon my word.”

Spike scowled.

“I don’t like making open-ended promises, you know that,” he growled. “What’ve you seen?”

“That creation follows in the wake of destruction,” Leng Chi said smoothly. “Just as the end of a Slayer begins the cycle anew, just as death for you began a new life. And on that note . . . let us discuss your Consort – in spirit, at least.”

Spike glanced at Xander, then froze. The mortal sat exactly as he had before, still, relaxed, but his eyes were glazed, his breathing slow and deep.

“Xander, Pet?” Spike said worriedly. He reached over and took the mortal’s hand, squeezing the fingers. No reaction. Spike whirled to face the curtain in full game face. “What the bloody hell have you done to him!”

A dry chuckle came from behind the curtain.

“I would hardly harm your Consort if I wished to win your aid,” Leng Chi said drily. “The smoke gives him only silence and peace for a time, until he is removed from its influence, so that you and I may speak frankly.”

Spike scowled harder but sat back on the cushions. He could feel Xander’s steady, relaxed pulse, hear his deep breaths. There was no scent of fear about him.

“You should’ve asked me first,” he growled.

“I will look upon your Consort,” Leng Chi said, ignoring Spike’s comment. A clawed, withered – and scaled – hand drew the curtain aside.

Leng Chi hadn’t improved in the century since Spike had met him. A long white braid trailed down his back and dragged on the floor; his thin beard and long drooping Mandarin moustache hung almost as low. His wizened face was that of an ancient Chinese gentleman – if you ignored the scales, or the reptilian eyes, or the long flickering tongue.

His voluminous silk robe hid most of his snakelike torso, although his tail emerged from the bottom and dragged a good fifteen feet behind him and his clawed feet stuck out from under the hem. The robe had been altered to accommodate his six thin, clawed arms, almost sticklike in age. A sweetish, sickly scent of decay emerged from the curtain with him, and the scaly skin was dull and cracked.

Spike shivered slightly, unable to help himself. He’d known the Risza was incredibly old, but it looked like Leng Chi was on his last legs now – all four of them.

One gnarled hand reached out and touched Xander’s chin, tilting his face up; there was no resistance. The reptilian head swept low on the end of a long, supple neck, gazing into Xander’s eyes, smelling his breath, then retreated.

“He is a special one,” Leng Chi said. “His gift is powerful, and already his friends feel its lack, although none know it – least of all him, for it is an unselfish gift. He is stronger than he knows, stronger in heart and soul than the Slayer is in body, or the witches in magic, or the Watcher in knowledge, but you know that already. His love is stronger than any evil. Remember that, nightwalker, when the time comes.”

Spike sighed. Leng Chi loved his riddles. Why the hell can’t the old lizard just say what the hell he means? But if Spike said as much, he knew from experience that he’d get no further information from the ancient Risza, and Leng Chi still hadn’t delivered his information on this Tiger in Red.

“He does not yet trust you fully,” Leng Chi announced, frowning when Spike smirked. “Do not laugh, infant. He trusts you with his life and his soul – perhaps more than he should, since without your mark you are insecure in your claim upon him. That does not mean he trusts you with the lives of others. In time he will offer you a choice you will not like. My advice to you is to accept, for the shackles of love are looser and easier to bear than those of fear and hatred. And in turn you both will face a difficult choice. If the decision is made from love, not fear, you will choose rightly.” Leng Chi glanced at Spike slyly, out of the corners of his long eyes. “And one last bit of advice: When your Consort sleeps a sleep from which you fear his waking, let him wake to the sight of your face, and you will know that all is well.”

“Thanks,” Spike said, fighting not to roll his eyes or make some other sign of his frustration. Leng Chi’s prophecies invariably contained a kernel of vital truth – well hidden inside a labyrinth of confusion. He’d try to sort it out later. “But how about this Red Tiger bloke, eh?”

“So impatient, always so impatient,” Leng Chi chided. He waved his hand; Leng Mei materialized and whisked away the smoking bowl, and Leng Chi withdrew behind the curtain once more. Leng Mei laid a bottle on the table.

“The Tiger in Red cannot cross this essence,” Leng Chi said. “A line will bar him, a circle will hold him, but it is wiser to try to keep him out than in, for given time, he will merely conjure a gate to another plane. But the potion is only a stopgap, not a solution.

“He cannot be defeated or banished by any weapon or magic of this world, for he stands never wholly in it,” Leng Chi continued. “The Tooth of Ryla can destroy him, but I know not its whereabouts. If you find it, only one pure of heart may wield it.”

Spike snorted.

“Where are we supposed to find a bloody virgin in this day and age?” he demanded, then paused thoughtfully. Had Dawn ever done the nasty? Probably not. But did they dare risk her?

“I said pure of heart, not pure in flesh,” Leng Chi scolded, this time with a touch of impatience. “Listen if you would learn!”

“All right, all right, pure in heart,” Spike grumbled; then his eyes widened and he glanced at Xander. “Oh, no, not a chance in bloody hell!”

“That I cannot see,” Leng Chi admitted. “The boy’s heart is pure, although darkened with much sorrow. But there are others who may suit as well. The Tooth will choose, if you find it.” He waved his hand. “I can tell you nothing more, for already I have bored you with my senile meanderings.” He sounded amused. “Go and enjoy the pleasures of my table, where at least I can satisfy you with what I offer.”

“Thanks,” Spike said ungratefully – damn, he’d have gotten more information out of a bloody fortune cookie! – and pulled Xander to his feet. The mortal jumped slightly and turned startled eyes toward Spike.

“I thought we were going to have tea,” Xander said confusedly.

Spike snorted.

“Come on, Pet, audience is over,” he said. “You missed it. Sorry, Leng Chi slipped you a mickey when I wasn’t looking.”

Xander scowled.

“Damn it, that’s not fair!” He whirled around and repeated it to the curtain. “That’s not fair!”

A dry chuckle from behind the curtain.

“Nor is life, infant, but enjoy the delusion while you can.” The silhouette against the curtain disappeared, and Spike heard a door closing.

Leng Mei guided them back to the same room where they’d dined before; Xander followed sulkily. When she brought in the rose-scented water and cloths to wash their hands, she placed an exquisitely glazed porcelain jar in front of Xander.

“From Leng Chi, with his most humble apologies for your displeasure,” Leng Mei said smoothly, withdrawing with her bowls just before the parade of young men and women bearing plates and bowls commenced.

“What’s this?” Xander said distrustfully, but he lifted the porcelain lid and glanced in. Then sniffed. “Tea?”

Spike sniffed, closed his eyes, and purred.

“Mmmm, Pet, if you rate a whole jar of Leng Chi’s special tea leaves, I’m gonna beg him to smoke you again,” Spike chuckled.

“Good stuff?” Xander asked, thawing slightly.

“Well, picture this, luv,” Spike said, dishing up food. “If you were a filthy rich, millenia-old demon with access to just about anything in China that you could ever want, and this is the best stuff that he keeps back for really special occasions, you think maybe it’s ‘good stuff’?”

“Oh.” Xander grinned. “Okay. I get it.”

“And this is good stuff too.” Spike spooned samples onto a mound of steaming fragrant rice on Xander’s plate. “Now stop sulking and suck up all the nummy food.”

Xander raised his eyebrows.

“’Nummy food’?”

“Oh, bloody ‘ell,” Spike groaned. “Not bad enough that the whelp’s shagging me, eating up my Weetabix, leaving his dirty socks on the bathroom floor for me to slip on, clogging up the tub drain with concrete dust, and tracking demon goo into me kitchen, now ‘e’s got me talking like ‘im too.” He leaned over and kissed Xander hard to take the sting out of his teasing.

“These are good,” Xander said, popping a round tidbit into Spike’s mouth. “What are they?”

Nope, nope, not gonna tell the whelp they’re larb eyes.

“Happier if you don’t ask, remember, Pet?” Spike said cheerfully.

“Oh. Right,” Xander said, nibbling from another dish. “Ignorance, blissful, got it.”

Spike stifled a snicker. Blissful, indeed – he knew enough about demonic cuisine to realize that most of what they were being fed had reputedly aphrodisiac properties. Somebody was doing a bit of matchmaking back in the kitchen. He suspected Leng Mei had had a hand in choosing the menu this time; she’d never liked Dru or Angelus (Thankfully she’d never met Harmony; Spike could just imagine) and thought Spike should seek a mate who “more appropriately balanced him.” He grinned broadly, suddenly realizing that Xander had this evening gotten the nod of approval from both Risza. Strangely that knowledge relieved him considerably.

Xander stopped, chopsticks halfway to his mouth, gazing suspiciously at Spike’s grin.

“If you’re gonna keep doing that,” he warned, “I’m gonna have to ask what I’m eating.”

“Not that, Pet,” Spike chuckled. “Just realized that you passed muster with the in-laws, so to speak.”

“I did?” Xander blushed. “Cool. But aren’t, um, Angel and Dru more the in-laws?”

Spike shrugged.

“If you’re worried about what Dru thinks, wait ten minutes and she’ll have changed her mind,” he said. He remembered his telephone call to Angel. “And I’m not looking forward to Angel finding out, but I think he likes you well enough. Likes you enough that even as mad as he is at me, he rushed me access to all my stuff so’s I could get you a lawyer.”

Xander’s jaw dropped.

“You mean you told him – he knows about – “

“Hold it, hold it, Pet,” Spike said, holding up a hand to forestall the explosion he could see was coming. “Didn’t tell him nothing but that you were living with me and needed a lawyer and I needed my stuff. That’s all.”

“Oh.” Xander took a deep breath. “Okay. Somehow I don’t think he’d like the idea of, you know, you and me together very much.”

Spike grinned.

“Don’t doubt it, but it’d be because of me, not you,” Spike said, then shrugged. “Don’t matter, Pet. He wouldn’t interfere. Give me a hard time, but he wouldn’t interfere.” Not himself, he added mentally. Angel wouldn’t interfere. By vampiric custom, he couldn’t come between a master vampire and his Consort. If Xander was really my Consort. But of course Angel knows he’s not. On the other hand, there was nothing stopping Angel from informing somebody. Such as Giles, or Buffy. And that was a worry.

Xander gave Spike a worry-filled glance that told Spike Xander had probably figured out what Spike wasn’t saying, and Spike looked for a distraction.

“So . . . going to show me what’s in that bag, Pet?” he said lightly.

Xander looked as relieved by the change of subject as Spike felt.

“Uh . . . yeah,” he said, blushing. “Are you going to show me what’s in yours?”

“You first,” Spike said.

“Uh-uh, you first,” Xander said, blushing harder.

Spike considered.

“How many you got?” he asked.

“Two.”

“Me too.” Spike pulled out a small box. “Take turns?”

“Works for me,” Xander said. He accepted the small box and opened it, glancing up. “Film?”

“Special film,” Spike told him. “The kind you wanted. For pictures of me. It’s for your new camera.”

“Cool!” Xander sparkled. He reluctantly put the film away, taking a large box out of his bag and handing it over. “I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t think of this sooner.”

Spike opened the box and stared down into it, blinking.

“It’s a Kevlar vest,” Xander said abashedly. “Not a real heavy one, but it’s only got to stop wood, not metal, so I figured this one would be less bulky under your clothes. I had some extra reinforcement added over your heart, front and back.” He didn’t meet Spike’s eyes. “I just figured it might be handy if Buffy gets pissed.”

Spike ran his fingers over the vest, surprised and touched. Body armor against stakes. God, what an idea. Simple, elegant, but who’d have thought of it? Nobody but Xander. His Xander.

“Thanks, Pet,” he said, swallowing hard. “Bloody brilliant idea, this. Expect it’ll keep me from a good dusting sometime.”

“Promise you’ll wear it?” Xander said softly. “Every time you go out of the house?”

The vest touched him, but it was the worry in Xander’s voice that made Spike’s voice unsteady when he answered.

“Promise,” he said. Then he grinned. “Just picture the look on the Slayer’s face, eh? I’m tempted to provoke her, just to see her snit when she smashes Mister Pointy.”

Xander’s face broke out in a huge grin.

“Oh, wow,” he said. “That’d be something to see.” Then he blushed again. “Your turn.”

“Oh.” Spike hesitated. “Well – sure you don’t want to do yours first?”

Xander nodded firmly.

“Right, then.” Spike shrugged uncomfortably, handing Xander another small box. “See, I had this idea.”

Xander opened the box, then blushed crimson as he picked up the small butt plug inside.

“I can’t wait to hear this one,” he said weakly.

“I had this idea,” Spike repeated, mumbling now. “About – you know, what you wanted. Me doing you.”

Xander froze, his eyes wide. Spike would have blushed if he could have. Xander had never brought the subject up again, but Spike hoped the occasional wistful glances he’d gotten from Xander meant that Xander hadn’t changed his mind about wanting it.

“I thought you couldn’t – “ Xander said hesitantly, but to Spike’s relief the expression in his eyes was undeniably hopeful.

“Well – “ Spike hesitated. “Still not positive it’ll work. But here’s what I’m thinking. Maybe we kind of work up to it, you know?” He grinned. “Can’t let all those toys in the box go to waste, now, can we? And when you can take something me-sized without it hurting, then we’ll know you’re ready, right?”

Xander blushed, but he was smiling.

“Okaaaaaaay . . . and you know what you’re doing, right?”

Spike snorted.

“Not hardly,” he admitted. “Got to remember, Angelus was more the ‘hop on top and take it’ type. Breaking in virgins was his game, not mine. But we’ll muddle it out, all right?” That last came out much more anxiously than he’d meant, but to his relief, Xander just smiled.

“Why not?” Xander said, still blushing. “It’s a little late for me to be worried about ‘kinky’ now.” He swallowed. “And speaking of that . . . “ He pulled the second box from his bag and handed it to Spike.

Spike opened the box, surprised to see another box inside – this box, however, was beautifully carved and inlaid ebony. Spike ran his fingers over the smooth wood, marveling at its silky feel. He found the clasp at one side and opened it, then stared.

On a bed of red velvet was a knife – easily the most beautiful knife Spike had ever seen. The blade was long and tapered, sharp on only one edge, but that edge, Spike’s testing finger told him, was amazingly sharp. The hilt was black wood also, exquisitely formed, unadorned except at the end, where a circle of dark inlaid garnets formed a ring around its circumference.

“Bloody hell, Pet, it’s beautiful,” Spike said in a hushed voice. It was. If he’d seen this in a shop, he’d have bought it in an instant. If he’d seen somebody else with it, he’d – well, he’d have given the bloody chip a serious test. “Where’d you come by this?”

“Actually it’s, um, kind of custom made,” Xander said abashedly. “I found it on one of Willow’s witch-supply web sites.”

“And what am I supposed to do with it?” Spike asked, but he already had an idea of what Xander had in mind, and the thought had him instantly and achingly hard and a breath away from game face.

“You don’t,” Xander said simply. “I do.” Xander slipped off his jacket, wrestled free of his tie and tossed it aside, and took the knife from Spike, his eyes on the vampire’s. “I do this.”

Eyes half closed, Xander trailed the blade down his cheek, sharp edge carefully away from his skin. His tongue flickered out to taste the shining metal, and the flat of the blade caressed the curve of his lips. The point of the blade barely touched his tongue.

Spike stared hypnotized as the knife traced a curving path down Xander’s throat, up, down, across – if Spike had needed to breathe, he’d be in serious trouble now. Then the knife dipped lower, the tip slid under Xander’s collar button. A single flick and the button fell, the collar gaping slightly open. Holding Spike’s gaze, Xander lowered the knife; another flick, another button fell, the shirt opened a little wider.

Spike watched spellbound as button by button, Xander opened the shirt. Two side flicks and the sleeve buttons fell. Xander relinquished the knife for the few seconds it took to slide the shirt off; to Spike’s surprise, he slid his pants off too, leaving his boxers on.

But hopefully not for long.

Spike sat frozen as he watched the shining blade of the knife trace slowly down Xander’s shoulders, over his arms as if following the path of his veins, back up, sllllooooooowwwwwly down his chest, tracing spirals around the suddenly rock-hard nipples, over his abdomen – Spike heard himself groan as he saw the blade, blunt back carefully against Xander’s skin, slide under the waistband of Xander’s boxers. Then the boxers tented up (more than they were already, rather) and the silken fabric parted smoothly as the blade sliced upward, cutting the garment from Xander’s body down one leg, then the other, the fabric falling aside.

Spike realized that he’d slid into game face, and also that his mouth was hanging open, when Xander gave a throaty chuckle. Spike closed his mouth.

“I like you watching me,” Xander whispered, and Spike’s eyes helplessly followed the knife blade as it swept in patterns over the insides of Xander’s thighs.

Spike opened his mouth again to speak, but nothing but a dry squeak came out. He swallowed, cleared his throat and tried again.

“I like watching you,” he said hoarsely. “But is watching all I’m gonna get to do here?”

“Oh, no, not hardly,” Xander panted, and Spike almost came in his pants as the tip of the knife cut a fine line across the tender skin inside Xander’s right thigh. “No . . . I want you to do a lot more than watch.”

The knife moved up, made a mere scratch across Xander’s belly, just enough for a few precious droplets of blood to well up.

“A lot more.”

Up farther, and the knife tip traced a thin scarlet line just above Xander’s left nipple, right over his heart.

“I want you to do so many things to me.”

Up again, and the knife traced a final line, barely breaking the skin, down the side of Xander’s throat.

“But right now you could start by coming here.”

Control forgotten, Spike howled and pounced. By the time he’d landed, he’d already flung the silk jacket aside and the pants were down to his knees, and thank goodness Xander had gotten rid of the knife somewhere or Spike would probably have landed on it. Hot skin pressed against his own and he could smell precome and sweat and that beautiful tang of blood and feel the blood pulsing just under the skin so close to his fangs. Someone was saying something, he didn’t know what and he ignored it and bent down to –

SMACK!

Spike rocked back, not hurt enough to matter, just surprised, and that moment of delay was apparently all Xander needed.

“Spike. Spike! Listen, will you? I’m here, I’m all yours, okay? But you’ve got to settle down a little bit, get a grip, all right, vampirically speaking. I’m sorry I teased you so much, guess I should have known better, all the other times you’d just drank lots of blood already, but listen, if you bite me you’re gonna hurt, remember? Chip? Head? Much pain? You with me here?”

Spike ground his teeth and reined himself in with difficulty. Right. Chip. Couldn’t bite Xander.

Fuck, fuck, fuck that was close. Bloody hell, I could’ve killed him, or fried me own brain, or both. Shit, I keep forgetting he’s not my Consort, without my mark the fucking demon thinks food, and as long as he’s not marked I could go too fucking far. Could drain him.

Spike shook his head, not in negation but trying to shake some of the red haze away from his vision. He pulled back slightly, gazing into Xander’s eyes. Not trusting himself to speak, he nodded, just once. Xander relaxed slightly and nodded back, then reached up to trace a gentle fingertip over Spike’s lips, gently outlining the ridges of Spike’s game face.

“You don’t have to take,” Xander whispered, his eyes hot. “Not when I want to give.”

And that was all Spike needed to hear; he moaned and bent down, trailing his tongue over the cut in Xander’s thigh, kissing the ruby droplets away. Before licking the cut on Xander’s belly he paused to suck Xander’s cock down, all the way, GULP!, holding the mortal’s hips down while Xander bucked and screamed but pulling back before he could come. The flavors of blood and precome mingled intoxicatingly on Spike’s tongue, and he paused again to lick and nibble at the hard little nipples, lapping up the blood that had trickled down Xander’s chest. Then he was there at Xander’s throat, and the touch of lips on skin was nothing short of worship. Xander must have felt it too, for the second Spike’s tongue flickered out to taste, Xander groaned richly, arched his back, and came.

Spike grinned, licked up the last droplets of blood, bit his lip for the blood to heal Xander’s cuts, and slid back down Xander’s body to lap up dessert. By the time he’d finished – Bloody hell I love hormonal teenage boys! – Xander’s cock was showing signs of renewed interest.

Oh, it’ll be plenty interested by the time I’m done, Spike thought smugly.

Xander was pliant and relaxed with satisfaction, but he wasn’t too out of it to murmur with faint surprise when Spike pushed his legs up, draping them over Spike’s shoulders – followed by another twitch of definite interest from his cock – when Spike sucked his balls into the cool mouth, one at a time, then licked and nibbled over Xander’s perineum.

“Spike?” Drowsy, pleasure-filled murmur. “Need this?” A movement by his head, and Spike glanced over, raising his eyebrows and grinning when he saw the little bottle of lube.

“Ready for anything, eh, Pet?” Spike murmured, returning to licking the creases of Xander’s groin.

“Well, considering what happened – uhhhhh! – last time, and what – oh, oh shit – I was planning on doing with the knife, I kind of – ahhhhhh! – figured you’d – oh, oh do that again! Yeah, that! – you’d want me to – to – whoooOhGod!”

That last exclamation, accompanied by a violent jump in Xander’s now totally one hundred percent reawakened cock, resulted from the experimental application of Spike’s tongue to Xander’s cute little pucker (although Spike made a mental note to himself to refrain, at least in Xander’s hearing, from verbally describing it as cute; didn’t sound very complimentary, somehow). The total amazement in the exclamation, together with the sudden violent resurrection of Xander’s erection, clued Spike in on two good-to-know facts: First, that Xander had most likely never experienced anything of the sort; and second, he was loving the hell out of it.

Spike grinned to himself and decided to probe a little deeper into the subject at hand.

Spike was far from inhibited or finicky where sex was concerned; there wasn’t actually a whole lot that he hadn’t seen, done and most likely enjoyed. He hadn’t done a lot of rimming since Angelus; it wasn’t the sort of thing a master vampire did. But Dru had always enjoyed his mouth, and he’d prided himself in keeping his tongue in prime form, thank you very much, vampires being rather orally inclined to begin with. And at this moment, he had every intention of convincing Xander that his arse was the happiest part of his body and would demand a great deal more attention in the future.

And judging from Xander’s moans, shudders, whimpers, pleas and screams, his plan was working.

He waited until Xander was totally incoherent before flipping up the top on the bottle of lube and awkwardly squeezing an over-liberal quantity out onto his fingers. Quickly, in what Spike thought smugly was a pretty smooth move, Spike withdrew his tongue, substituted his slick finger – yup, prostate was right where he remembered it – and gulped down Xander’s cock again without even pausing.

Xander let out an unearthly howl, went totally rigid, came in a surprising quantity considering he’d just come a few minutes before –

-- and passed out.

Spike might have felt a bit frustrated and left out (he was, after all, still fully dressed, not to mention fully hard), but he was feeling magnanimous after that lovely knife show Xander had put on for his pleasure; and besides, the whole sweaty, sated, passed-out Xander bit was just too wonderful. Spike yanked his jacket up and his trousers down and put his lubed hand to good use; he was so worked up that it only took a second, which might’ve been a bit embarrassing if the whelp had been awake to see. He groaned with satisfaction, thoughtfully wiped his come on Xander’s belly, and lazily licked it off again, enjoying their mingled flavors. By the time he’d finished, Xander was groaning and stretching happily under Spike’s mouth.

“Have a heart,” Xander muttered sleepily. “Recovery time needed here.”

“’Have a heart’?” Spike chuckled. “Don’t use the one I’ve got, Pet. There, all nice and clean, and I’d like to know what you think you’re wearing home, seeing as you’ve trashed your shirt and your shorts.”

Xander yawned, stretched and sat up.

“Spares in the bag,” he grinned. “The shirt just needs the buttons sewn back on. Except I can’t sew. Clothes, that is – I think I did okay on you.” He glanced at the box with the slender butt plug in it. “Was that your finger? Well, I know it wasn’t your finger at first, I mean. I can’t believe you – I mean, wow. That was. Ummm.” He blushed bright red.

Spike snickered.

“Liked that, ey, Pet?”

“Gee, how could you tell?” Xander chuckled weakly. “Was it the screaming thing, the coming thing, or the passing-out thing? Can we do it again?” Then realization struck and he looked guilty. “Um, sorry, did I kind of leave you high and dry there?”

Spike held up his hand and waggled his fingers in answer.

“Funny thing, Pet, I thought I’d be doing less of that nowadays . . . “

Xander groaned.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“’S all right, Pet,” Spike said, rolling over and kissing Xander soundly. “Bloody near came in my trousers during that little knife dance of yours anyway.” He paused, shaking his head. “Beautiful. Just beautiful. Don’t suppose you might do that again sometime?” he added hopefully.

Xander smiled shyly.

“If you’ll keep me supplied with buttons and boxers,” he said, sliding his hand into Spike’s.

“It’s a deal,” Spike promised. “Come on, Pet, better toddle off home.” He sighed. “Then, much as I hate it, suppose we’d better give the Watcher a call.”

“About what?” Xander said, pulling clothes out of his shopping bag.

“Tigers,” Spike sighed. “And teeth . . . “




Chapter 15


“Oh, come on,” Xander protested. “There’s got to be something.”

“No, I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve found so far,” Giles said, shaking his head. “The single reference to the Tooth of Ryla mentions it as a prize seized in battle by Andreas the Black in 862 A.D. And that was in what would now be Austria. I can’t find any description of it, nor any mention of it before or since, nor any reference to this Crimson Tiger – “

“That’s not it,” Spike growled. “It’s the Tiger in Red.”

“Pardon me, Tiger in Red,” Giles said patiently. “Really, Spike, if you could give me a little more information about the source of these enigmatic statements, or a bit more context to the remarks, perhaps I might be able to deduce some cross-references . . . “

Spike considered, then shrugged.

“Old friend named Leng Chi,” he said. “He’s a – “

“Risza demon?” Giles said, his jaw dropping. “Leng Chi, did you say? My God, do you know there’s mention of him in the first Watcher chronicles, the very first ones? Dear God, what can he be doing here in Sunnydale? Is it the Hellmouth? He’s written to be a powerful sorcerer. Are you certain he’s not the one who – ”

“Look – “ Spike cleared his throat awkwardly, wondering what can of worms he’d opened now. “Leng Chi isn’t your problem. He’s old and tired and no threat to anybody.” That was an out-and-out lie; Spike had no doubt that even on his deathbed, Leng Chi would be more than a match for any or all of the Scooby Gang, on the magical front at least, if not physically. “And whatever he says, you can count on it being worth listening to.” That much at least was true. Leng Chi loved his games and riddles, or maybe his visions simply were that vague, as Dru’s had often been, but they were always worth taking seriously.

Giles gazed at Spike skeptically.

“And you don’t think this Risza demon might wish to . . . er . . . disinform us? For his own purposes?”

Spike smirked.

“You, yeah,” he said. “Me, no. He owes me big. So where do we check next, the Watchers’ Council?”

Giles shook his head, sighing.

“Remember, I no longer have any standing with them,” he said ruefully. “That’s cost me a good deal of my information resources.”

Spike sighed.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said ruefully. “Well, only one thing for it, then.”

“What, consult another demon?” Xander said, looking unhappy.

“Worse,” Spike said, shuddering.

“What could be worse?” Xander asked worriedly. Then his eyebrows jumped. “Oh, no – you don’t mean – you can’t mean – “

Spike nodded dismally.

“’Fraid so, Pet,” he said.

“What?” Giles said blankly. “Or should I say who?”

“Angel,” Spike and Xander said together.

Giles’ eyebrows shot up.

“And why, pray, is asking Angel’s help so terrible?”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Oh, there’s just the little matter that last time he saw me, I was sticking hot pokers through him, trying to get him to give me the Gem of Amara,” Spike said sarcastically. “But I’m sure he won’t hold a little thing like that against me.”

“Oh, dear,” Giles said unhappily. “I remember now. Perhaps it would be best if I contacted Angel?”

“Nah.” Spike shrugged fatalistically. “I’d have had to work our little spat with him out again sooner or later. Guess I might as well get it over with.”

“Get what over with?” Buffy’s voice came from the doorway. “Me staking you?”

“No, luv, studying up so I can beat your English Lit scores,” Spike said smoothly. “Hard cheese, but I’ll manage, seeing as I’ve at least read some books without pictures.”

Buffy flushed and Spike smirked to himself – vampiric hearing could be fun, especially when listening to the Slayer moan to Willow about her grades.

“Hey, maybe I should delve more deeply into English poetry,” Buffy sneered. “Why don’t you show us some of yours? I’m sure we could all use a good laugh.”

Spike kept his expression composed – with difficulty. Damn, he wished he’d never told Buffy that bit about Cecily and his horrible poems. It was one of the few memories of his mortal life that still had the power to hurt him. Desperately he flailed for a witty comeback.

“Yeah, I’m sure that would be pretty entertaining,” Xander said, to Spike’s astonishment. “But you’ve got Spike beat on the amusement front, hands down, with that poem you wrote to Angel. Let’s see, how did it start? ‘Fallen Angel, where do I begin? I long to feel your lips upon my skin – ‘”

Buffy went pale.

“How did you know about that?” she whispered, her fists clenched.

“Oh, c’mon, Buffy,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. “Who was the smitten schmuck who always picked up your notebooks and papers when you threw them down to battle the demon du jour? Good ol’ donut boy Xander Harris. I Xeroxed that one, too – it was sooooooo cute, with all those little hearts in the margins. I bet Angel would just love to see it. And what a coincidence, just so happens we’re going to have a little chat with Deadboy himself.”

“Xander, why are you acting like – “ Buffy began, angry and bewildered, then stiffened. “Angel? He’s coming here?”

“We don’t know that yet,” Giles interjected quickly. “We merely need to consult with him on some information that Spike uncovered. Perhaps a phone call would – “

“Bugger that,” Spike growled. “I’m going there.”

“We are?” Xander said, surprised, then hurriedly modified, “I mean, you are?”

“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?” Buffy said, raising her eyebrows.

“Well, how’s he going to get to LA?” Xander returned, flushing. “Would you let him borrow your car and take off with it? I think not.”

“He can take the bus,” Buffy suggested helpfully. “How about the nine a.m. bus? All those nice windows.”

“To what do we owe the pleasure of your company anyway, Pet?” Spike asked as politely as he could manage. He’d called ahead and set up the meeting with Giles at the Magic Box specifically tonight to avoid the blonde, who supposedly had an evening tutoring session with Willow and Tara. To work on the aforementioned English Lit grades.

“Not that you care, seeing that you and Xander don’t give a damn whether the rest of us live or die these days, and for your information we’re getting beat up a lot lately,” Buffy retorted, “but Willow thinks she and Tara can do a kind of tracking spell. So the next time we run into some nasties that we think came out of a portal, we can track them back to where they came through, and hopefully find out more. Except that Willow’s magic isn’t exactly up to par lately, and she has to redo her spell, so she needed a few refills.” She handed Giles a list.

“That’s not fair,” Xander protested hotly. “Spike and I have been patrolling almost every single night, just not with you.”

“Yeah, and what’s with that, Xander?” Buffy returned. “Now you’d rather hang around with the Fangless Wonder than us?”

“Not ‘us’,” Xander retorted. “Just you. At least Spike only beats up on unhelpful nasties, not Scoobies.”

Buffy flushed and glanced away.

“I didn’t mean to hit you,” she said, her voice suddenly subdued. “You know that, Xan.” She looked at him again, almost pleadingly. “Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know,” Xander said, softening slightly. “But beating on Spike isn’t any better, not when he can’t even defend himself. You guys want to trade insults all the time, fine, that’s relatively harmless and even kind of entertaining. But this ‘I can’t wait till you’re dust and I’d love to help you get there’ thing coming from you all the time’s getting old, Buff, especially since Spike’s going out every night and risking his life – or whatever you’d call it – to make us safer. Even saving our lives sometimes – even yours. I mean, I’m sure Spike really would probably kill you if he could, but at least he doesn’t go around saying it constantly, and it’s kind of bad when an evil soulless vampire’s more polite than you are, okay?”

Buffy’s lips tightened and she turned away dismissively, walking off to join Giles, who had prudently withdrawn to pull jars from the shelves.

Spike swallowed, impressed and a little disturbed by Xander’s semi-public defense. It galled him plenty that he couldn’t do anything material about the Slayer’s constant threats, barbs, and outright assaults, and he knew it bothered Xander too – hence the Kevlar vest that Spike was wearing even now – but he’d never really realized how offended Xander had gotten on his behalf. Or that plain old mortal Xander – Waitaminnit, didn’t Leng Chi say something about him having a gift? A powerful one? And he’s not just ‘plain old mortal Xander’ anymore; he’s had some of my blood almost every day, and at least I can tell – would stand up to the Slayer to defend Spike’s honor, so to speak.

And verbally, at least, beaten the Slayer to a standstill.

“Looks like our exit cue, Pet,” he said aloud.

“Guess so,” Xander said, scowling. “Tomorrow’s Friday, we can leave at sunset, okay?”

“Yes, of course,” Giles said, walking back over. “Shall I call Angel and tell him you’re coming?”

Spike sighed.

“Suppose you’d better,” he said grudgingly. “Don’t know whether it’ll give him time to calm down or get madder. Oh, and do me a favor? Book us a nice room somewhere, won’t you? Someplace with a refrigerator, preferably in a basement. Wouldn’t want to rely on the Broody One’s hospitality.”

“Yes, I’ll do that,” Giles said, troubled. “You don’t suppose he’s angry enough to – well – “

Spike grimaced. He couldn’t explain it to Giles; he frankly doubted that a mortal could understand. It would take a lot more than a few pokers shoved through him to make Angel stake his Childe, just as Spike hadn’t really been trying to destroy Angel at the time. Killing one’s Sire or Childe was what a vampire did when the choice came down to stake or be staked. All right, Angel had a soul, and that changed the equation – he’d staked Darla, true. So in that sense he’d have less inhibition against staking Spike. At the same time, that very soul would make it harder for Angel to contemplate staking Spike when Spike was chipped and harmless, at least to humans. Additionally, Spike had a particularly potent advantage over Angel – Angel’s guilt. They both remembered how Angelus had treated Spike, and Spike knew Angel had probably been tearing himself up over it ever since he’d gotten his soul back.

On a purely physical standpoint, Spike honestly didn’t know how he’d fare against Angel. Angel was older and theoretically stronger. On the other hand, Angel had been underfeeding and living on animal blood for a long time now, while Spike was dining fairly abundantly on demon, vampire and even human blood, usually with a chaser of fresh Eau de Xander. Spike figured he stood a pretty fair chance against Angel now, if it came to that.

“He’s probably pissed enough,” Spike said, shrugging. “But ‘e won’t do it. And once I tell him what’s happening here, he’ll have other things on ‘is mind.”

He hoped he was right. He was actually more worried about Angel’s sidekicks. This fellow Gunn hadn’t been around at the time, nor had Wesley, but Cordelia had, and if the bleedin’ prom queen came at him with a stake, there wasn’t much he could do but turn tail and run. He personally planned to keep Xander’s Kevlar vest on all the time, and never once turn his back on that one. He privately thought Cordy could probably give Buffy a good run for the Bitch of the Year award.

Giles gave Spike a skeptical look, but nodded.

“Why don’t the two of you sit down for a moment,” he suggested. “I’ll get Buffy what Willow needs and send her on her way, call Angel, and then pull a couple of books I’d like to send with you.”

Xander was still glaring at Buffy. Spike laid a hand on his shoulder and firmly guided the mortal over to the table.

“Sit,” he said.

Xander sat – then shuddered. Spike frowned, raising an eyebrow enquiringly. Xander unaccountably blushed and looked away.

Awright, what’s up now?

Spike inspected his lover more closely. Xander’s eyes were dilated, his palms were sweaty, and he smelled of arousal. Yup, definite arousal. Spike was flattered – he very much doubted the arousal was directed at either Buffy or Giles – but rather puzzled. Then Xander shifted slightly in the chair, and something about the pattern of his movements gave Spike the clue. And a bolt of pure desire that shot straight to his groin.

He sniffed again, concentrating harder this time. Yes, there it was, the scent of silicone and lubricant.

“Bloody ‘ell,” Spike whispered, amazed and aroused. “You mean to tell me you’re wearing that plug? Now?”

Xander went a positively alarming shade of red.

“Actually,” he barely whispered, “no, I didn’t mean to tell you.”

“What the bloody ‘ell did you wear it here for?” Spike whispered.

Xander looked everywhere, everywhere except at Spike.

“I didn’t know we were coming here,” Xander whispered back. “When I changed clothes after work, I thought we were just going to get a sandwich and then go home again. You didn’t tell me we were coming here until we got in the car.”

“So what?” Spike whispered disbelievingly. “Made more sense to go to a restaurant with a sex toy up your arse?”

“No!” Xander said, then hurriedly lowered his voice. “No. I mean – I mean – “ He swallowed. “I thought maybe if I wore it for a while ahead of time, you know, when we got home and went to bed, maybe I’d be stretched out enough that we could – you could – “

“Oh, hell, Xander,” Spike murmured, amazed and touched. Things had been progressing nicely in the bedroom. Xander had moved up from the first slender plug to a slightly thicker one, but he was nowhere near ready for fucking. Moreover, just to be safe, most of the time Xander put in the plug himself, just in case it hurt. Although so far, they’d both been careful enough that it hadn’t.

“Sorry, luv, that’s not the way it works,” Spike whispered. “Isn’t a matter of stretching, it’s all about relaxing. And you’re not ready yet, it’s that simple.”

“But I want to,” Xander protested almost silently.

Spike chuckled.

“Yeah, I can tell,” he smirked. He glanced over, saw Giles talking to Buffy – more like arguing, from the look of it. He stood quickly, pulling Xander to his feet and steering him around behind a bookcase. He pushed Xander firmly back against the bookcase, crowding up against him, sealing his lips to the mortal’s for a long kiss before he pulled back far enough to speak.

“You’re a naughty bit, aren’t you,” he whispered, loving the heat in Xander’s eyes. He slid his hand around to Xander’s arse, his fingers trailing down the back seam of Xander’s jeans. “Coming here like that, smelling all hot and bothered, teasing me half out of my wits.” He rubbed firmly, pressing against the base of the plug, and Xander gasped; Spike muffled Xander’s moans with his own mouth.

“You know what I’m gonna do to you when I get you home?” Spike murmured hotly in Xander’s ear. “I’m gonna sit you down in the rocking chair, unzip those jeans and pull out your cock and lube it up. Know what I’m gonna do then?”

“N-n-no,” Xander whimpered as Spike continued to rub the base of the plug, moving it inside him.

“I’m gonna climb aboard and ride you like a fucking rocking horse,” Spike whispered, rubbing his groin against Xander’s as he manipulated the plug. “Gonna ride you long and hard until you’re begging to come. And every time I sink down on your cock, that plug’s going to push up inside you. And all the time you’re fucking me, you’re going to feel it fucking you, and you’ll think about what I’m going to feel like someday, thrusting deep inside you.”

“Oh, God,” Xander whimpered, and Spike claimed his lips just in time as Xander gave a hoarse moan and came, shoving his hard cock brutally against Spike’s equally hard erection. Spike chuckled softly and held Xander up, caressing him gently through the last tremors of his climax. He licked the sweat from the side of Xander’s throat, relishing the taste of him.

“Shiiiiiiiiiit,” Xander breathed shakily. “God, Spike, I don’t believe you did that to me.”

“Guess you’re gonna have to wait in the car, luv,” Spike chuckled. He glanced around the corner; Buffy was still arguing with Giles. “Go on, you can slip out now, before Her Buffyness sees you with wet jeans.”

“I’m gonna get you for this,” Xander murmured, blushing, but he darted quickly out the door.

Bet on it, Pet.

Sighing resignedly and adjusting himself inside his trousers, Spike walked back to the table to wait.

*****

“Mmmmmmm.” Xander rolled over, curling into Spike’s cool body, resting his head on Spike’s shoulder. “That was wild.”

Spike smirked. The rocking chair had been a damned good idea. They’d barely managed to stagger to the bed afterward. If he’d been mortal, he wouldn’t be sitting for a week. As matters stood, he could still feel a delicious soreness when he clenched his buttocks, although that would be gone in no time.

“Was, wasn’t it?” he said, vastly pleased with himself.

There was a long moment of silence.

“Spike?” Xander whispered in the darkness.

“Hmmmm?”

“I love you.”

Spike’s eyes jolted open, staring up at the ceiling. He didn’t move.

“Spike?” The whisper was hesitant now, downright fearful.

Oh, bloody hell. Spike gave in. He couldn’t even remember why he’d been fighting it.

“Yeah, I do,” he whispered back.

Silence.

“You do what?”

Spike rolled his eyes.

“You know.”

“You do? Really?”

Spike sighed.

“Never took a Consort before,” he said briefly. “Tells you something, don’t it?”

A long silence this time. Xander propped himself up on one elbow and turned on the light. Spike blinked, dazed by the sudden brightness.

“But I’m not your Consort,” he said quietly. “Not really.”

Spike shrugged resignedly.

“Sorry, Pet,” he said. “If I could, I would. You know that.”

Xander rolled over on his back, staring at the ceiling for a long moment

“Spike?” he said at last. “If you could get rid of the chip, what would you do?”

Spike sighed again.

“What d’you mean, Pet?”

“Would you still – “ Xander swallowed. “Would you still want me? As your Consort, I mean?”

Spike snorted.

“Pet, the bloody chip’s got nothing to do with that,” he said. “Yeah, of course I’d still want you as my Consort. More than ever.”

Another long silence.

“Would you still want to, you know, hurt Buffy?”

Spike laughed.

“Pet, hurt is too nice a word for what I’d do to Buffy.”

“Oh.” Xander took a deep breath. “What about the rest of them?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t mind force-feeding Rupert a few bags of pig’s blood,” Spike said idly, folding his hands behind his head. “He’s been relatively decent lately, though. I’d probably leave it at that. Dawn’s not worth the trouble. Wouldn’t hurt the witches, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“It wouldn’t work that way, though,” Xander said. He rolled on his side again, gazing into Spike’s eyes seriously. “I mean, say you killed Buffy and started killing humans for food again. Then the others – Willow and Tara and Dawn and Giles, and probably Angel and his people too – would come after you. They’d have to. How could you keep from killing Willow and Tara then? Unless you left town.”

Spike shrugged.

“Don’t know,” he said. “Guess I’d have to stay out of their way.”

“What about me?” Xander pressed. “My friends would be hunting the man I love. And I’d have to try to keep on loving you, knowing you’re killing innocent people. How am I supposed to live with that?”

Spike shrugged again, uncomfortably. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was all theoretical anyway.

“Never thought about it,” he said briefly. “You know, Pet, it is a vampire you’re cuddled up to here. Evil, soulless, all that good stuff. Kind of a package deal.”

“What if – “ Xander took a deep breath; to Spike’s amazement, the mortal was trembling hard. Hell, this is really eating at him! “What if you just went on as if the chip was still there. I mean, Buffy and the others would never know that you were dangerous, so there wouldn’t be any problem. You still couldn’t hunt humans for food, except the way you’ve been, um, getting leftovers, but at least you’d know you could defend yourself. That you could if you had to. And maybe – maybe for my sake – “ Xander swallowed again. “Maybe you could, like, limit yourself to killing in self-defense and, like, evil people. Like, only ones I could live with myself if you killed.”

Spike frowned.

Not kill? Even if he could? It made no sense. He was a vampire. He killed for food, he killed for power, he killed because he bloody well felt like it. Master vampires did as they chose.

On the other hand, he could choose to please his Consort. He had no delusions of keeping Xander’s love if he went back to his pre-chip antics. Either Xander would leave him, or stake him – however much it would hurt him to do so – or tear that beautiful pure soul to bits trying to reconcile the man he loved (and didn’t that thought make Spike feel happy and amazed and scared positively shitless all at the same time?) with the vampire he would come to hate. And Xander would probably hate himself a little more with each kill he didn’t prevent.

And would it cost him so much to indulge his Consort? Humans lived such bloody short lives, it wouldn’t inconvenience him for all that long – and he found he hated that thought even more than the idea of such restraint. But there were only two outcomes, weren’t they? Xander could live a long, long time with regular infusions of Spike’s blood, but that was still only postponing the inevitable. Someday either Spike would turn him, or Xander would die.

It was a fair question Xander was asking, after all. Spike didn’t blame him for wanting to know how matters stood before he committed himself any more firmly to Spike.

Funny, innit? Spike mused. Leng Chi said something like that, didn’t he? About Xander trusting me with himself, but not with others? And what else? That bit about shackles and hard choices.

Xander was still staring at Spike fearfully, and suddenly Spike recognized that look. Xander was waiting to be hurt.

Again.

And it was that thought that made Spike’s decision for him.

“Ever see the movie Pinocchio, luv?” he said softly.

Xander nodded, looking startled at the change in subject.

“Remember Jiminy Cricket?” Spike said. “Pinocchio’s conscience. Think you’d fancy a job like that?”

“Huh?” Xander said, blinking confusedly.

“Well, suppose I could get rid of this chip,” Spike said. “Suppose I agreed to let you be my conscience. I wouldn’t kill no humans – even Buffy – without your permission. Except to defend myself, or you, let’s say,” he added. Then he frowned. “Two exceptions, though. Those Initiative gits – I ever see any of ‘em again, they’re mine. And your parents. Someday, somehow, they’re mine too. Don’t mind waiting – time’s something I’ve got lots of. But someday they’re gonna pay, and I’m gonna collect, with interest.”

Xander’s eyes were suddenly suspiciously shiny, and his voice was a little unsteady.

“You mean you’d give up on your revenge against Buffy,” he said softly, “but not against my parents?”

“Hell, Pet, of course,” Spike said indignantly. “Buffy, now, she’s the Slayer, eh? She’s supposed to want me dead, and failing that, to make my life miserable, and vice versa, right? Just the natural order. Don’t hold it against her, excepting that she’s such a bloody bitch about it. Pisses me off when she badmouths you, though. And I didn’t say I’d give up on revenge,” he added, grinning. “Just that I wouldn’t kill her, see.”

Then he shook his head.

“But your folks – no excuse for them. Even the Vorgosts in the park, they’re just being Vorgosts, see? Your parents, though, they’re more evil than most evil I’ve seen. That one I won’t give up, not even for you. ‘Cause if you’re my Consort, well, then, they hurt my Consort, and damn if I’ll let that pass.”

Xander blinked and wiped his eyes.

“I should want you to,” he said softly. “I should want you to let them live. I should hate the thought of you killing them. I guess I’m not quite as much one of the good guys as I should be, huh?” He swallowed. “But you’ll wait? You’ll wait, and be careful, and when – if – you ever did it, you’d be sure that, well, it wouldn’t be something that would make the gang have to come after you, right?”

Spike smiled and reached up to comb his fingers through Xander’s soft dark hair, still damp with passion sweat.

“Promise, Pet,” he said simply. “You’ve got the word of William Barstow, or William the Bloody, or Spike, or all of the above. If I ever manage to get rid of the fucking chip, you’ll have it your way. Feel better now?”

Xander sighed, letting his forehead drop to Spike’s chest, all the tension flowing out of his muscles as if he was truly relaxing for the first time in a long, long time.

“Not yet,” he murmured. “But I think I will.”

Spike grinned, ruffling Xander’s hair.

“Better get some sleep,” he advised. “You’ve got to be up for work in about five hours, and then we’ve got the drive to LA.”

“Yeah.” Xander raised his head slightly and smiled at Spike. “Um . . . do you think you could say it? Just once, tonight? I’d really, really like to hear it right now. Please?”

Spike sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Do I have to, Pet?” he grumbled.

“Please?” Xander repeated, gazing at Spike with those melting puppy-dog eyes. Spike groaned, helpless before the assault.

“All right, all right, turn off the bloody eyes, will you?” Spike growled. “I love you, whelp, all right? Happy now?”

“Happy now,” Xander smiled. “Love you too, Blondie.”

Spike growled again and whapped Xander carefully on the back of the head, but when Xander turned out the light and rolled over on his side, pulling Spike’s arm around his waist, when Spike decided that dozing next to his lover was preferable to getting up and watching old movies or pounding the shit out of something in the graveyard – even though it was right in the middle of his “day” – Spike knew that he wasn’t the only one wearing a silly, sappy grin in the darkness.




Chapter 16


“So what’d you do, forget something?” Spike asked, turning where Xander pointed.

“Ummmm . . . not exactly. Just need to stop for a few minutes, okay?” Xander said, rather anxiously.

“Sure, Pet.” Spike gazed sideways at the mortal, a little worried. Xander had been nervous ever since he got home from work. Very nervous. Downright jumpy, in fact, not to mention preoccupied. He’d had to repack his suitcase twice, having forgotten his boxers the first time and his socks the second.

Spike could understand Xander’s worry. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to meeting with Angel himself. Still, he wasn’t really worried that Angel would actually try to stake him, and he thought he’d managed to pass some of that assurance along to Xander. But Xander was still jumpy, and now he’d made this rather bizarre request to stop at the construction site on their way out of town. Maybe there was a problem at his job. Spike hoped not; it would mean some under-the-counter dealings with Lissik, which would be hard to keep hidden from Xander. But Xander seemed to genuinely like what he was doing, and it looked like he might actually have a future in it, and if somebody was making trouble for him, Spike was ready and willing to take care of the matter. Or have it taken care of, if necessary, he added mentally, once more cursing the fucking Initiative who’d stuck him with this chip.

A security guard stopped the car at the site entrance, inspected Xander’s employee ID, then waved them through. Xander showed Spike where to park the car. Most of the workers had gone home, but there were still several people on the site, including a middle-aged man who waved to Xander from the second floor of the building framework.

“Hey, kid!” the man yelled down. “Clocking some overtime?”

“Nah!” Xander yelled back up. “Hi, Mark! Just wanted to show my friend around a little. Care if we go around back?”

“Okay, but get your friend a hard hat. And be careful back there, it’s a mess. We’re running cleanup tomorrow.”

“Will do! Thanks, Boss!”

Xander led a bemused Spike into a trailer and grabbed a hard hat for each of them, then led him around the building skeleton to the far section, where one of the old buildings that had occupied the property had been demolished. Spike was puzzled, but more worried; Xander seemed to get more tense with every moment, although apparently the problem hadn’t been with his job, as Spike had originally thought, based on the reactions of the man Xander had spoken to.

“C’mere a minute, okay?” Xander said. He led Spike over to two big stacks of concrete blocks, which served as a stand of sorts for a big metal disc suspended from the pulley of a crane set up nearby. Xander leaned against one of the brick piles. “I need to talk to you for a minute.”

Spike shrugged.

“Sure, Pet,” he said. “Why here, though?”

“I just – “ Xander flushed. “Um, Spike? Those things you said last night, about the chip and everything – did you mean it? I mean, are you really, really sure?”

Spike chuckled.

“Is that what this is?” he said wryly. “Think I’ve got morning-after cold feet, eh? Well, I got news for you, Pet. The feet are cold, sure, along with the rest of me, but that don’t mean I changed my mind. Promised, didn’t I?” He ran a fingertip down Xander’s cheek. “Wasn’t just pillow talk. I know you don’t have any reason to believe it, but a promise means something to me, Pet.”

“I hope so.” Xander’s dark eyes were intense. “Spike, do you trust me?”

Spike shrugged again.

“’Course, Pet,” he said. “What d’you mean? I’d’ve been dust if it hadn’t been for you, time or two now, innit? Hard not to trust somebody who’s stuffed your guts back in where they belong.” He offered a grin, which Xander didn’t return.

“Okay.” Xander took a deep breath. “Then I need you to, um, do something for me. Would you mind – wow, this is going to sound weird. I need you to – shit. Okay, let’s just do it this way. Take off everything you’re wearing, okay?”

Spike’s eyebrows shot up.

“Got a bit of a fantasy going, have we?” he grinned, already peeling off his duster. “Bold, Pet, very bold, but what happens if your boss catches us?”

“Then I’m in a lot of trouble,” Xander said under his breath. He gave Spike a weak smile. “Just humor me, okay?”

Spike snickered and stripped. Now that he thought about it, the idea was pretty damned hot – mixture of roleplaying and exhibitionism all in one! Hard Men in Hard Hats, Volume I – he stifled a chuckle. Xander collected everything up and rolled it up in the duster.

“Ummm . . . “ Xander’s eyes raked Spike’s naked body up and down, but to Spike’s surprise Xander still looked more worried than horny. “Oh! Watch.” He held out his hand.

Spike shrugged and took off his watch, a bit uneasy now.

“Right, Pet. So what’s up here?”

“Just trust me, okay?” Xander was almost pleading now. “Back up a little bit – yeah, under there. That way my boss won’t see you – us.”

“Ooookay.” Spike backed up, glancing up warily at the heavy metal disc above him. Nah, it looked secure enough on the cement blocks; wasn’t likely to drop. “Now what?”

“Now – “ Xander took a deep breath. “Wait right there. Just stay there, okay? I’ll be back in just a minute. Just stay right there and don’t move an inch.”

Xander scampered off with Spike’s clothes and belongings. Spike frowned and crossed his arms. Xander was behaving more than a bit peculiarly tonight, and that bothered him. He’d been fine the night before, other than all the questions, and Spike had found those understandable. Sounded like something had happened at work to set him off, maybe. But he obviously hadn’t been fired. Spike would have to pry a little when Xander got back.

Spike cocked his head at the growing humming sound above him. He glanced up distrustfully at the disc. It wasn’t moving, just humming slightly. No sign that it might fall; still, Spike had no desire to become a vampire crepe.

Chink! Plink! Spike jumped slightly. A couple of small objects had just shot up from the ground beside him and collided with the disc. Spike glanced around, but nothing else happened. Then the humming above him abruptly cut off and –

“Owww!” Spike rubbed his head where something had hit it. He reached down and picked up the offending projectile – a small rusty bolt that had apparently fallen down on him. “Fuck, Xander, some bloody fantasy you’ve got going here.”

“Sorry,” Xander said, appearing around the corner of the cement block piles. He stopped beside Spike, looking, if anything, even more anxious than before.

“So what now?” Spike said patiently. He was willing to humor his lover, but this was getting boring.

“Now . . . “ Xander took a deep breath and held out his clenched fist. “Squeeze my hand, okay?”

Spike sighed exaggeratedly, took Xander’s hand and gave it a good squeeze, not hard enough to make the bones creak – he didn’t want a bloody migraine – but good and hard nonetheless, raising his eyebrows when Xander whimpered slightly and bit his lip.

“Okay,” Spike said, releasing Xander’s hand. “So what was that about, eh?”

Xander took another deep breath.

“This,” he said, opening his hand –

-- and showing Spike the thumb tack driven into his palm.

Spike yelped and grabbed his head.

And froze.

And waited.

And finally, his voice shaking, said, “What the FUCK?”

Xander pulled the thumb tack out of his hand, wincing. He handed Spike the thumb tack and held out his hand again.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Poke me again.”

Spike didn’t even bother with a retort. With trembling fingers, he took Xander’s hand in his own. Gingerly he poked Xander’s fingertip with the tack.

Nothing.

Harder.

Nothing.

Harder.

“Ow!” This time a ruby bead of blood welled up, twin to the one on Xander’s palm from the first wound.

Nothing.

“Bloody bleeding hell,” Spike whispered, staring. He raised his eyes to Xander’s. “What the fuck happened?”

Xander smiled tremulously.

“Electromagnet,” he said. “Remember when you first brought me home, and I went over to Willow’s for the afternoon? Well, we were talking, see, and I asked her about your chip, what might get rid of it or make it not work or whatever. I mean, I put it in the hypothetical context of, like, I’m living with Spike, what if he figures out something to do about it? How much danger is there that he’ll find a way to get rid of it?

“So anyway, Willow told me all about computer chips,” Xander continued, averting his eyes. “And it turns out there’s all kinds of ways to screw them up. Electricity’s the most common, but short of giving you like electroshock treatments or something I couldn’t figure out a safe way to make that work – without maybe frying your brain in the process. Extreme heat and cold can do it too, but that’s got the same problem. But then there’s magnetism. Computer chips are real sensitive to that, which is why you have to be careful what you put on or around your computer, or you can wipe the whole thing. And anyway, we had this lifting crane here on the site with an electromagnet, and we were using it to load up debris and stuff. And I thought if that wasn’t strong enough to zap your chip, probably nothing would be, and – “ Xander took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew it worked. That way you wouldn’t, you know, get your hopes up and be disappointed. Are you real mad at me?”

Spike blinked. Mad? He was too fucking confused to be angry. So the chip was gone? Or not gone, just not working anymore. And Xander had been the one to neutralize it. And Xander had known how to do that for some time and hadn’t told him.

Trusts you with his life but not those of others. Right. You fucking old lizard, you and your riddles. Spike heard a sound and realized it was laughter, a short, barking laugh. Further, he realized it came from him. And it felt bloody good, so he laughed again. And then some more.

“Ummm? Spike?” Spike opened his eyes, still laughing, to meet Xander’s worried gaze. “Umm, waiting here to find out if I’m (a) in danger of imminent death and/or torture, (b) kicked out of home and bed, or (c) forgiven?”

Spike threw back his head and laughed again – hell, bloody howled with laughter. Just for good measure he grabbed Xander and swung him around, laughing harder. Then pulled the worried mortal close and kissed him hard enough to bruise those pouty lips, and he could bruise those lips, and he did it again just for bloody good measure.

“Uh, feels like forgiven, maybe?” Xander said tentatively.

“Forgiven?” Spike grinned broadly. “Pet, the two things I want to do right now are spank you till you can’t sit, and fuck you till you can’t sit.” He grabbed Xander and spun him again. “Know what? I love you, whelp! Hear me? I – love – you!!!”

“Uh – thanks, and thanks for announcing it to the world at large,” Xander panted when Spike let him down again. “I take it this means you’re not going to hurt me?”

Spike abruptly pulled Xander close, kissed him hard and deep again, then licked the length of his throat.

“Can’t promise that, Pet,” he breathed against the hot skin. “But I promise you this: I’m gonna hurt you in ways so hot and so good you’ll be getting hard at the memory for the rest of your life.” He’d slid into game face without even knowing it, and it was dizzying, the scent of Xander’s blood pumping fierce and hot under his skin, the hot hands that strove not to push him away, but to pull him closer, and he licked the sweaty skin again, just for good measure.

“Go on,” Xander whispered. “Go on, you can, you can mark me now and I want you to, please, okay? Please.”

Spike groaned and shuddered, bending his head, his fangs touching hot eager flesh and –

Oh fuck.

Spike groaned again and pulled back slightly, resting his forehead on Xander’s shoulder.

“What’s the matter?” Xander’s hands pulled at Spike’s shoulders. “Don’t stop, come on, want you to – “

“Can’t, Pet,” Spike sighed miserably.

“WHAT?” Xander pushed back, gave Spike a little shake. “Of course you can! We just established that! Do we have to do the thumb tack thing again? Come on already! Ready here, all nerved up, good to go!”

“Xander.” Spike grabbed Xander’s shoulders and gave him a shake. “We’re going where tonight?”

Xander frowned.

“To LA.”

“Why?”

“To ask Angel about this Red Tiger thing.”

“Tiger in Red,” Spike corrected. “And we’re visiting who again?”

“Angel,” Xander said confusedly. Then he realized, and groaned. “Oh, fuck. Angel.”

“You damn well better not,” Spike chuckled. “But right, Pet. Angel. Who will know right away that I’ve marked you. And then what happens?”

“Uh – “ Xander swallowed. “Bad things?”

“I think we’re safe to say that,” Spike said, nodding. He sighed.

“But you can defend yourself now, right?” Xander said worriedly. “I mean, I know you’ve got your vest and all, but still, that’s why I did it tonight, really, because I wanted you to be able to defend yourself. I mean, Cordy hates you, and Wesley, and I don’t know about Gunn, and there’s street gangs in LA and everything.”

“Yeah, I can defend myself,” Spike said patiently. “You gonna tell me it’s okay for me to kill Cordy or Wesley when they come at me with stakes, hmm?”

“Oh,” Xander said in a small voice. “Didn’t think of that.” He sighed. “I guess we wait, huh?”

“Guess so, Pet,” Spike said reluctantly. They both sighed simultaneously, exchanging resigned looks.

Spike dressed and they walked back to the car, both silent; they were hardly out of Sunnydale before Xander laid his head on Spike’s thigh and fell asleep, having probably exhausted himself worrying about the whole chip thing. That suited Spike; gave him some time alone with his thoughts while he drove.

Free again. Free to kill, free to maim, free to bathe in a river of human blood.

And not free. Bound only by his word, true. It was also true that he lied pretty much at will. But he’d meant it when he made his promise to Xander, meant it for reasons that hadn’t changed in the past hour. He could accept the boundaries imposed by the promise he’d made, or he could give up Xander. And right now giving up Xander didn’t even sound like an option. He’d tasted freedom and solitude when Dru had left him. He didn’t want to be alone again. Freedom wasn’t worth it.

All right, it was frustrating to have those limitations, but even so, it was still an improvement. He could defend himself now. He could command the respect he was due as a master vampire. And he hadn’t promised Xander he wouldn’t hurt people. Just that he wouldn’t kill them. All right, that should be enough leverage to deal with anybody who wanted to test or annoy him.

He could finally truly claim his Consort, not to mention deflower the most gorgeous arse he’d probably ever seen, and those thoughts returned the broad grin to his face. He was fretting too much. Keep this up and I can start giving Angel brooding lessons, eh? I’m no worse off, lots better in some ways, and besides, it’s not forever and I know it. Either I give up on the whelp and can go do what I please, or I turn him and get a Childe who has to do what I say. And in the meantime I’ve got a hot, beautiful Consort – or I will, anyway. And won’t it be a chuckle next time Buffy’s working my nerves, knowing I could wipe that smirk right off her face, knowing she’s got no idea? Now that’s a good one!

The drive to LA didn’t take long, not as long as Spike would have liked. Driving along in the convertible, Xander’s warm cheek against his thigh, cool night wind ruffling his hair, Spike felt good. He felt . . . at peace. Happy.

Because of Xander. Because of my Consort-to-be. If I get to claim him before something kills him, that is. Like this bloody Tooth of Ryla shit. God, it’s good to be out of Sunnyhell, away from all that drama. Imagine if we really could get away from it. Just me and Xander someplace else. Fucking anyplace else.

Xander stirred.

“There yet?” he murmured sleepily.

“Almost. Turnoff’s coming up.” Spike reached down and stroked Xander’s hair. Suddenly he blurted out, “What if we just go on?”

“Hmm?” Xander yawned, stretched.

“What if we don’t take the turnoff. What if we don’t go back to Sunnydale.” Spike spoke fast now, letting the words spill out. “Suppose we just go on, find someplace. I’ve got money now, you’ve got some too. Suppose we get the hell away from Sunnyhell and everything to do with it and make a start someplace else.”

Xander sat up and gave Spike an incredulous expression.

“What? You mean just . . . take off?”

“Yeah. Just take off,” Spike said, eyes on the road. “Or we could travel, see the world. London. Paris. Dru loved Paris. No demons and Initiative and Slayers and a new armageddon coming up every month. Bit of breathing room, a few laughs – “

“Spike, where’s this coming from?” Xander asked, perplexed. “You want to avoid Angel that much?”

“Got nothing to do with Angel,” Spike snapped, exasperated. “Why does everybody think every fucking thing revolves around Angel?”

“Okay, okay, not about Angel,” Xander said quickly. “I guess . . . there’s not much in Sunnydale for you anymore, is there? I mean, to start with, you came there to kill Buffy, and then there’s been other things to keep you there – looking for the Gem of Amara, or trying to find a way to get the Initiative chip out and things. I guess – I guess there’s nothing for you there, huh?”

Spike glanced at him sideways.

“’Cept you, and you don’t want to go, do you?” he asked quietly.

“Not now,” Xander admitted. “Not while there might be serious trouble. I couldn’t leave them to cope with that.”

Spike grinned unwillingly.

“Pet, it’s the Hellmouth. When is there ever not serious trouble?”

“There’s times in between,” Xander protested. He smiled shyly. “Maybe after this latest problem, we could, um, take a vacation. Just you and me?”

Spike sighed.

“I’d like that,” he said briefly. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it would do. And he couldn’t explain to Xander that he wanted the mortal out of Sunnydale, out of danger. If his own fragile mortality wasn’t enough to keep the boy from charging headlong into every dangerous situation that came along, Spike’s overprotectiveness wasn’t going to do it either. All he could do was protect the boy the best he could – keep him safe when he could, and offer him the added strength and durability and speed of Spike’s blood.

There was something else that worried him, too: Angel, although not for the reason Xander thought. Spike was pretty sure he could mend his bridges with the vampire who for all intents and purposes was his Sire. But he wanted more. He wanted to tell Angel about Xander, wanted Angel to know and understand and approve of Spike taking Xander as his Consort.

Not bloody likely. He actually might stake me over that. Or just tell Buffy, which would’ve been about the same thing before Xander fried the bloody chip. Spike shook his head angrily.

It wasn’t bloody fair. As Spike’s Sire, Angel should have acknowledged Spike’s Consort – given his blessing, as it were – and extended his own protection to his Childe’s Consort. Sure, it was only a formality, but it was Spike’s right, damn it! It was Spike’s right as a master vampire to take a Consort. It was his right to have his Sire acknowledge the bond between them and welcome Spike’s Consort into the family. But because Angelus had to go and get himself stuck with a friggin’ soul, Spike was more likely to get staked for his trouble. It just wasn’t bloody fair.

Angel’s building. Spike sighed and parked.

“We’re here,” he said glumly.

Xander looked as unenthused as Spike felt.

“Do we just go up to the office?”

Spike considered, then shook his head.

“Uh-uh. Don’t know whether Angel’s told the others we’re coming. He might not, might want to keep things peaceful. Anyway, office wouldn’t be open right now, don’t imagine – it’s almost midnight. Don’t fancy a stroll through the sewers – just cleaned the boots, after all – so I’ll just ring the pouf up and tell ‘im to let us in. That way if he’s got anybody around, he can send ‘em off.”

Spike held out his hand, and Xander handed over his cell phone. Spike glanced down at the display, grinning at the “ROAM” signal that meant he was going to rack up roaming charges, and smirked as he punched in Angel’s private phone number. The cell phone had been given to Xander – or rather been given to Spike to give to Xander – by Giles. In the aftermath of the “Where the hell have you been” dispute in the parking lot, Tara had apparently come up with the helpful suggestion that all the Scoobies have cell phones so they could always be reached. Giles had pointedly told Spike that although he had set up the accounts and therefore had to pay the first month’s bill, after that first month Xander would be responsible for his own charges. Xander had, with difficulty, prevented Spike from immediately dialing Bangladesh or Australia.

Apparently anticipating Spike’s irresponsibility with a cell phone, not to mention the small fact that Spike didn’t legally exist, Giles had purchased a pocket pager for the vampire instead. Spike had sneered and handed it back.

“Phone’s one thing,” he’d growled. “But you’re not keeping me on a bloody leash.”

Whereupon Buffy had suggested that they cut off Spike’s packet blood supply unless Spike carried – and responded to – the pager. Whereupon Spike, still chipped, had threatened to sneak into the Magic Box some night and piss on all the books. Whereupon Giles had hurriedly intervened and said that since Xander had the cell phone, and Spike and Xander had been patrolling together, he didn’t see any need for Spike to carry the pager.

Angel answered on the third ring.

“Angel.”

“’S me,” Spike said briefly. “We’re right out front. Want to let us in?”

Brief hesitation.

“I’ll meet you at the door.”

Spike half expected Angel to keep them waiting, but surprisingly they’d barely walked up to the front door when Angel appeared. For a moment he just gazed at Spike, those calm eyes always giving Spike the unsettling impression that he was being weighed, measured and found wanting. Spike had to fight the instinct to tilt his head back. He was long past baring his throat to his Sire.

Silently Angel opened the door, standing aside.

“Come in, Will, Xander,” he said levelly, his eyes still on Spike, and Spike got the message. By inviting Spike in, Angel was agreeing to at least a temporary truce. He was telling Spike that there was at least the hope of a resolution of their differences – if Spike behaved himself. Spike unclenched his hands, surprised at himself; he hadn’t realized he’d been so tense, fearing Angel’s rejection.

Angel gave Xander a long look as he entered, then sniffed. Frowned. Sniffed again. He turned to Spike.

“No bags? Planning to drive back tonight?” he asked Spike calmly, but his eyes sent a different message – We need to talk.

Spike shrugged uncomfortably.

“Giles got us a hotel room,” he said.

“No,” Angel said flatly. “I want you where I can keep an eye on you. You’ll stay here. I have an empty room – there’s no bed, but I’ll get a couple of cots.”

Spike scowled.

“No thanks,” he said. “Brought our air mattress.” At Xander’s surprised expression, he shrugged. “Hotel rooms have windows. Figured I might have to doss down in the bathroom if we couldn’t get it dark enough.”

“Fine,” Angel said, his eyes still on Xander. “Let’s get your things.”

Angel helped them carry in their bags: Suitcase; patched air mattress; cooler with blood, beer, pop and snack foods; bag of books. Spike admired Angel’s setup as he followed the older vampire down the stairs. Good security, good sun protection. He could go straight up to his office, do business during daylight hours if he wanted – and apparently he did – without danger. It occurred to Spike that if he took the notion, he could do something similar with their building, although it was a lot bigger and would be harder to secure. Still, it was a halfway decent thought. Would give him something to do with his spare time, if Xander wouldn’t leave Sunnydale permanently.

He was amused by Angel’s basement flat. God, the pouf’s living like a bloody monk still. Barely any furniture, nothing comfortable, nothing stylish, just dark and plain and broody-looking. All that’s missing is a bloody hair shirt and a flail for him to whip himself twice a day.

“Wow,” Xander said, glancing around. “About as homey as my old basement.”

“Guess we used the same interior decorator, then,” Angel said humorlessly. He opened a door, indicating an empty room with a shabby dresser in it and a few boxes stacked in one corner. “Will you both be all right in here? Or – “ He glanced at Xander. “There’s the couch.”

Xander blushed crimson, and Spike intervened before Xander started stammering out some idiotic cover story – or, worse, agreed to the couch.

“We’ll be fine here,” he said.

“Mmm.” Angel gave Spike another long look – long enough that Spike wasn’t surprised in the least when Angel said, “Xander, why don’t you go ahead and inflate the air mattress, find yourself something to drink? I think Spike and I need to go up to the roof for a little talk.”

Xander’s eyes widened and he glanced uncertainly at Spike.

“Um – I – “

“’S all right, Pet,” Spike said, giving Xander a reassuring grin. “Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be back soon.”

“Uh – okay,” Xander said hesitantly. He glanced down at Spike’s chest and back up again, and Spike knew he was taking comfort from the knowledge that Spike had put his vest back on. Spike didn’t tell Xander that the vest wouldn’t do him much good if Angel simply ripped his head off and threw it at him.

Angel held the door open, glancing at Spike pointedly, and Spike sighed and nodded.

Time to face the music.



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