Twilight Time by Shadow

Chapter 21

“So let’s try this again,” Xander said good-naturedly, pulling the sweater down over his head. “Think we’ll make it out the door this time?”

“We can give it a try, Pet,” Spike said cheerfully, zipping his black jeans.

“I’m gonna get another can of pop,” Xander said, wandering into the kitchen. “Want anything?”

Spike smirked.

“Had what I wanted already,” he chuckled. “But we could always try for seconds.”

Xander grabbed a can of soda out of the refrigerator. He peeked in the oven, grimaced, and turned the oven off.

“Uh, Spike? Was that almost black thing in the oven once a TV dinner for me?”

Spike snorted.

“Sorry, Pet.”

Xander grinned.

“I’m not.” He walked back through the living room, pausing by the couch. “Hey, what’s this?”

“What’s what, Pet?” Spike pulled on his boots, then walked in to see what Xander was holding. It was the ring he’d found under the sofa. “Oh, that. Just a bit of our treasure. Had Red out today checking the lot.”

“Willow? Checking for what?” Xander said, turning the ring in his hand.

“Checking for magic. Put all the magic stuff in a separate hidey-hole and sent the Tooth on ahead with her,” Spike said, frowning as Xander squinted at the ring. “What?”

“There’s something inscribed in it, but I can’t read it.”

“Lemme see.” Spike held the ring up to the light. “Hmmm. Frisian, that is.” He grimaced; his Frisian was pretty damned rusty. “’Always together’,” I think it is.”

“Is that – “ Xander grinned shyly. “Wow, Spike, I didn’t know you had that much of a sentimental streak. I’m – I mean, wow.” He slid the ring on his finger. “Fits, too. Man, when you said that about picking out rings, I just thought you were, you know, joking. C’mere and let me thank you.”

“Ummm . . . Pet,” Spike began uneasily. He wanted to tell Xander that he hadn’t picked the ring out, that it had just rolled under the sofa, that he’d left it out because paranoia demanded that Willow check it again, just in case it had been missed – but then Xander’s tongue was in his mouth and there was so much emotion in that kiss – bloody hell, the whelp was trembling – that it shocked the thought right out of Spike’s mind.

Xander drew back slightly.

“Always?” he whispered, his eyes searching Spike’s anxiously, and Spike could see that the mortal was fighting back tears.

“Always,” Spike whispered back, and at that moment he realized that he meant it. Forever. He’d turn the whelp and get Red to stick his soul on tight, or they’d find some other way. Wasn’t such long odds. This was the Hellmouth, after all. Hell, who knows, maybe Leng Chi might know something. Somehow they’d find a way.

Spike almost chuckled as a thought tickled the back of his mind.

And especially if Xander wants it, there’ll be a way to find.

“Glad you like it, Pet,” Spike whispered hoarsely. “Now, c’mon, or so help me, you can explain to that lot why we never showed up at all.”

As if on cue, Xander’s cell phone rang. Xander sighed and picked it up.

“Yeah?” he said into the phone. “So sue me already, I had to work late and I wasn’t about to sit there covered in plaster dust all evening. We’re on our way right now.”

“Buffy?” Spike guessed when Xander broke the connection.

“Nah, Giles.” Xander grinned. “I don’t think he’s really mad, but Willow won’t let anybody order pizza till I get there.”

Spike grinned too.

“Bloody good thing, seeing as we burned your dinner,” he chuckled. “Right, then, let’s get it over with.”

He didn’t have to fake his own reluctance. There was nothing he wanted less than to go to Giles’ house right now. Let the others deal with Buffy’s bitchiness. Let the frigging Tooth of Ryla choose some other champion than Xander, preferably Buffy herself. She was, after all, the bloody Slayer; let her do the slaying and take all the chances.

He said none of this; he had no intention of spending the drive over to Giles’ arguing with Xander, and it was an argument he couldn’t win anyway. So he kept quiet and knocked on Giles’ door, ready to push Xander aside if Buffy should choose to assault them with fists, garlic breath, or God alone knew what else. It was Giles who answered the door, though, giving both of them a mildly chiding look.

“Do come in,” he said absently. “I can’t listen to the growling stomachs much longer.”

Spike walked in first, close behind Giles, casting a wary eye for the Slayer. Buffy was packed into the far corner of the couch, barricaded in by Willow, Tara and the coffee table. Willow gave Xander and Spike a brilliant smile when they walked in.

“Hey, guys!” she said. “It’s great to see you. Both of you.” She got up; Dawn immediately took her ‘Buffy blockade’ position. Buffy rolled her eyes as Willow hugged Xander tightly.

“I’ve missed you lots,” she whispered, which of course Spike heard anyway. “I’m glad you’re back. I hope you stay back. We really need you.”

Xander looked both stunned and pleased, but he returned the hug.

“I’ll try,” he whispered back. “That’s all I can promise, okay?”

“I know.” Willow kissed him on the cheek and released him. “Now, I think it’s your turn to order the pizzas, and all I ask is, can we have one without pineapple? Pretty please? I mean, I know we can pick it off, but still, it’s just – “ She shuddered. “Just plain yucky.”

Spike snorted at the idea of any of the Scoobies calling pineapple “yucky” after some of the things they’d seen and done, but Xander just grinned and grabbed a piece of paper.

“I think I can be magnanimous,” he chuckled. “So what’s everybody want?”

Spike pulled up a chair, wishing he dared sit with Xander on the love seat. But nobody except Willow and possibly Tara had any inkling as to Spike and Xander’s real relationship, and hashing it all out right now with the Slayer and the Watcher would probably end up revealing Spike’s chipless condition. So he sat in his chair and gazed moodily at the box he’d packed the Tooth of Ryla in, now sitting on Giles’ desk, open.

Giles apparently noticed the direction of his gaze.

“That was a good idea, Spike, sending the Tooth over with Willow,” he said. “Her own magical protections may have concealed it, and of course it was much safer moving it by daylight. And thank you for sending the journal with it. That was an unexpected bonus.”

“No problem,” Spike said shortly. Actually he’d forgotten that he’d tucked the journal into the box, but it didn’t matter; he’d planned to let Giles translate it anyway. “What’d it say? Anything useful?”

“Unfortunately not much helpful information about the Tooth of Ryla itself,” Giles said regretfully. “Dorissant, we know, took the Tooth from Padma, daughter of Andreas the Black, when he killed her. As far as I can discover, Dorissant himself never attempted to use the Tooth – he certainly would not have met the ‘pure soul’ qualification. He did give a fair description of the battle with Padma – apparently he took what seemed at the time to be a minor wound from the Tooth, but the wound refused to heal and remained troublesome until his death, or at least the end of the journal – and mentioned that he’d allowed a favorite subordinate to attempt to use the Tooth, and the man died in horrible agony within hours, despite Dorissant’s most powerful spells and potions. Beyond that, there’s no indication of what the nature of the curse might be.”

“What, other than horrible agonizing death?” Buffy said wryly.

“Correct,” Giles said, shrugging. “He did say that perhaps his mistake lay in not allowing the Tooth to choose its wielder. He also recorded a few of his observations about the Tooth, but little beyond a description.” Then he frowned. “Oh, did you perhaps happen to find a small book of spells anywhere in the vicinity?”

“Yeah, we did,” Spike said, shrugging. He jerked his head at Willow. “Gave it to Red.”

Giles raised his eyebrows.

“That’s an interesting coincidence, actually,” he said. “According to Dorissant’s journal, that book belonged to Padma.”

“Why’s that such a coincidence?” Xander said, pulling up a chair next to Spike’s. “The Tooth belonged to her too, didn’t it? Come to think of it, that little spell book came out of the same vault where the Tooth was hidden, didn’t it?” Xander added, glancing at Spike for confirmation.

“Yes, well . . . “ Giles cleared his throat. “The coincidence actually lies in the rather talented drawing of Padma which Dorissant rendered in his journal.” The Watcher retrieved the moldering journal from his desk, carefully paged through it, then laid the open book down on the coffee table. “See for yourself.”

Xander glanced at the picture, then gasped, a sound that was echoed by Buffy, Dawn and Tara. Willow made a muffled squeaking sound. Spike looked, and his eyebrows shot up.

The paper was old and deteriorating, and of course the drawing was pen and ink, but allowing for that – well, the skillfully rendered picture on the crumbling page could have been Willow’s twin. The hair was longer, and judging by the pen strokes was probably black; the dark eyes held a fierce, resolved expression and none of Willow’s sweetness, and a narrow scar ran across the bottom of her jaw, but there was no denying the uncanny resemblance. In the drawing, Willow/Padma held the Tooth of Ryla as if prepared to throw it in battle, arm drawn back, other hand extended – and that hand drew Spike’s attention.

“Oi, Rupert,” he said absently, ignoring Giles’ grimace. “Got a magnifying glass?”

“Yes, here.” Giles handed it to Spike, who grabbed the book, ignoring growls from Xander and Buffy and a faint protesting noise from Willow. Vampiric vision, aided by the magnification, picked out what the others probably hadn’t noticed – that on the figure’s free hand were several rings, and the one on her fourth finger was a wide band with what looked like a twisted rope down the center.

The same ring that Xander now wore.

“What are you looking at?” Giles said, bending over his shoulder.

Spike hurriedly took the magnifying glass away.

“Just looking at the detail on the Tooth,” he said casually. “Looking to see if maybe he hid any clues in the drawing.”

“Did you find anything?” Xander asked anxiously.

“Nope, sorry,” Spike said. He handed the book back to Giles, then reached over to put the magnifying glass on Giles’ desk. He didn’t want to say anything about the ring; that would raise a whole lot of questions, such as where had they gotten it and why was Xander wearing it, that he wasn’t prepared to answer right now. So far nobody’d noticed it on Xander’s finger – no surprise there; the Scoobies never had seemed to notice much of anything about Xander, including the bruises and stiffness from all those mysterious “accidents” Xander used to have. Spike fought down a growl at that thought. Revenge would have to wait. Right now it was just as well that the Scoobies were used to overlooking Xander – and overlooking the dead sorceress’ ring he was wearing.

Right, okay, so what about the bloody ring? Well, if this Padma bird was wearing it, can’t be too awful, can it? On the other hand, her wearing it kind of raises the odds that it’s magical – no, damn it, Red checked everything.

Unless it was out of sight under the couch there, a little voice nagged.

No. No. It wasn’t out of sight. I saw it, didn’t I? Anyway, it’s just a ring. She wore lots of rings. Doesn’t mean a thing.

But adrantium’s a sorcerous metal, the little voice persisted.

“But – um, I mean, I know the Tooth is the important thing,” Willow stammered. “But why do I look like her?”

“Coincidence? Reincarnation?” Giles said helplessly. “I don’t know, Willow.”

“Well, did the journal say anything about this Padma lady?” Xander asked, a split second before Spike could ask the same question. Willow nodded vigorously.

“Only a little,” Giles said regretfully. “That she was rather a fledgling sorceress; that a Frisian overlord took her on as a student, and in time became her lover as well.”

Immediately Spike felt better. Right, then. The ring was just a love token. Always together, right. Made sense.

“Ummm, not to sound ignorant, but what’s ‘Frisian’?” Buffy asked.

“Frisia is one of the nether planes,” Giles told her. “Its inhabitants, while technically demons by definition, are actually rather peaceful. Coincidentally, adrantium comes from that plane. You’ll notice that the Tooth contains only two metals – adrantium and gold, representing the nether and terrestrial planes. In biplanar sorcery, gold also represents the material body and adrantium the soul.”

“But I thought demons and – “ Dawn’s eyes darted to Spike, then away. “ – and things like that don’t have souls.”

“Yes . . . well . . . “ Giles frowned. “You’re right, that makes little sense. However, you must remember that most of the material I’ve found on adrantium was written by inhabitants of the nether planes. Perhaps they believe they have souls, or perhaps our translation is slightly skewed – they might mean something more in the nature of ‘astral self’ or some such. At any rate, it’s not important.”

Spike agreed – or rather he could care less. The ring was a bloody engagement ring or something, nether planes and Earth, right, he got the message. He would have sighed with relief, but that might have raised questions.

“Right, then,” he said impatiently. “So, boys and girls, shall we get on to the good part where we figure out exactly who’s gonna throw the bloody spear? Hmmmm?”

Giles looked rather taken aback.

“Well – I’d thought that perhaps later – “

“Um, if you don’t mind, I’d kind of rather do it sooner than later,” Xander said. “I mean, it’s gonna be kind of hard to eat our pizza with it hanging over us, isn’t it, wondering, like, who’s the purest-souled of them all?”

Spike snickered.

“Yeah, right, laugh it up,” Xander said sarcastically, although the look he gave Spike was affectionate. “We know you’re not in the running, okay?”

“Well, I don’t know that it’s a matter of whose soul is purest,” Giles cautioned. Like Spike, apparently he was taking no chances; he lifted the Tooth out of the box with tongs. “My understanding is that anyone with a pure soul can use it, but Dorissant did mention the Tooth choosing.”

“Yeah, Leng Chi did, too,” Spike agreed. “Only he never said anything about pure souls. He said pure heart.”

“Well, as both Angel’s research and my own mentioned souls, we’ll assume that the two are equivalent for purposes of the Tooth,” Giles said. “In any event, since everyone in this room except you has both a heart and a soul, and since you would doubtless be disqualified on either count, the difference is irrelevant. I think we can assume that if the Tooth itself chooses a wielder, that that wielder has the required purity, whatever form it may take.”

Spike couldn’t dispute that, so he kept quiet and cleared the box and other obstacles off Giles’ desk; he didn’t fancy the thing being laid on the coffee table where they were going to eat. Giles nodded his thanks and laid the spear down on the desktop.

“Ummm . . . so how does this choosing thing work?” Xander asked hesitantly.

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Giles admitted. “As we’ve observed, what little information there is regarding the tooth seems to be only second- or thirdhand, never one of its wielders. I suggest all of us who are eligible approach it, being careful not to touch it, of course – “

“Bloody hell, why don’t you just say ‘everybody but Spike’ and be done with it?” Spike growled.

Giles blinked.

“Actually I consider myself to be an extremely unlikely prospect as well,” he said, shrugging sheepishly. “I doubt that after some of my exploits, either my heart or my soul would be considered pure.”

“I don’t see why we should bother with all this,” Buffy said, scowling. “I’m the Slayer, I should do any slayage.”

“There you go,” Spike encouraged, inwardly cheering. He had his own personal doubts about the purity of Buffy’s heart, soul, or any other part, for that matter, but it would be a laugh to see how the curse worked, wouldn’t it?

“Er, I think it best to at least see if the Tooth will in fact choose its own wielder first,” Giles suggested hastily, probably coming to the same conclusion about Buffy’s purity as Spike had.

“S-so we all just – just kind of gather around?” Tara said, following Willow to the desk. Dawn hung back slightly, glancing at Buffy, but at last stepped up to the desk too.

“That would seem logical.”

Xander gave Spike an unreadable glance and stepped up to the desk. Spike closed his eyes, feeling a pang as sharp as a stake through his heart.

“So what do we – “ Willow began, then yelped. Spike opened his eyes just in time to see the short spear shoot up from the desk and directly at the slender redhead. Instinctively, Willow threw up both hands to protect herself – and the shaft of the spear smacked solidly into her palm.

“ – do now?” Willow finished, gulping, staring at the hand holding the Tooth of Ryla as if she’d never seen it before.

“Well, I’d suggest you get started learning to throw a short spear,” Spike chuckled, so relieved – it’s not him! It’s not him! – that for a brief instant he could have hugged them all – even Buffy. “Since it looks like history’s decided to repeat itself.”

“This isn’t right!” Buffy exploded. “None of you are supposed to have to do this stuff. I’m the Slayer. I’m supposed to fight the bad guys. You’re all supposed to be at home living safe, boring lives, not out casting spells and throwing spears and maybe getting hurt.”

Spike fought down the urge to agree. Strange feeling, agreeing with the Slayer.

“It’s true, none of the prior Slayers to my knowledge have ever had a – a team of helpers,” Giles acknowledged.

“So there,” Buffy said, nodding.

“However, there are two facts that perhaps I should point out,” Giles said gently. “First, there have always been others besides the Slayer who fight the forces of darkness. Padma was certainly no Slayer; at least there’s been no mention of her in the Watcher journals.”

“See?” Willow said, still gazing askance at the Tooth. Giles gestured at the sack-padded box, and Willow carefully but hurriedly placed the spear inside, folding the cloth over it and closing the lid.

“And secondly,” Giles said quietly, “very few Slayers have ever survived to your age, Buffy. So it would appear that perhaps we’re doing something right.”

“Oh,” Buffy said in a small voice.

“And thirdly,” Xander suddenly said, “It’s not exactly safe around Sunnydale for bystanders anyway. Our friend Jesse managed to get himself vamped with no Slayer help at all. Mantis-teachers and enchanted candy bars and hyena spirit possessions and monster Mayors going on killing sprees at graduation can happen even to non-Scoobies. So maybe our safe boring lives weren’t all that safe or boring to begin with anyway. Maybe, who knows, maybe we’re safer out doing something about it than sitting home waiting to be done to.” At that moment, Xander looked sad and very young, and Spike thought about what his Consort wasn’t saying – that Sunnydale’s worst monsters weren’t necessarily creatures of the night.

“Well, that’s probably true,” Buffy said, brightening. “That’s okay, Willow. I’m good with spear throwing. We’ll practice together, ‘kay?”

Willow looked slightly queasy.

“Ummm . . . we’re talking targets, right? Dummies and things like that?”

“Or vampires,” Buffy said, smiling. She glanced at Spike and raised an eyebrow. “Of course, who says there’s a difference? Don’t worry, we’ll get you in shape for the big event.”

“Okay, that’s it,” Xander said, flushing darkly.

“What?” Giles said absently, still staring perplexedly at Willow.

“That’s it. The final insult, the straw that broke the elephant’s back, whatever,” Xander said angrily. “I told Spike one more word from Buffy and we’re out of here, that’s it, that’s the word, we’re gone. Have fun, enjoy the pizza, and good luck with the latest apocalypse and all future apocalypses.”

“Xander, what’s the matter with you?” Buffy scowled. “We hunt vampires. Always have, always will.”

“I think his problem’s the same as mine is,” Willow said softly.

“What?” Buffy turned to Willow. “Look, Xander’s just being – “

“Xander’s just being right,” Willow said quietly. “Spike went to Angel to get information for us. He didn’t have to do that. Angel might’ve hurt him or even staked him. He got the Tooth of Ryla for us, and we know it was dangerous for him to even have it, and it was probably hard to get, too. He didn’t have to do that either. He didn’t even have to tell us the stuff that this Chinese guy or demon or whatever told him. Xander’s right, Spike’s been nicer than you have lately.”

“It probably means he’s up to something,” Buffy said sourly. “I don’t trust him when he acts nice.”

“But we’re supposed to trust you when you’re acting mean?” Willow said. “You know, Buffy, I don’t think I want you to teach me anything. Giles can teach me. Or I bet – “ Her eyes flashed. “I bet Spike knows how to throw a spear.” She turned to Xander and Spike. “Don’t you?”

Spike smirked. And to think I was dreading this. This might be the high point of my whole week.

“Sure, Pet,” he said. “Suppose I could give you some pointers.” He chuckled. “So to speak.” Frankly at this moment Buffy’s little jabs couldn’t even bother him. It wasn’t Xander. Xander wasn’t the one who’d have to use that damned spear. Spike could have walked on clouds at that moment.

“Willow, you can’t be serious!” Buffy protested.

“S-she’s serious,” Tara said softly. She got up and took Willow’s hand and, after a brief hesitation, Xander’s. “And I’m serious too. If you can’t be nice to the people who help you, you could at least be p-polite.”

Buffy threw up her hands.

“What is this, a Scoobie mutiny?” she shouted. She whirled on Dawn. “Who’s next? You?”

“What did I do?” Dawn said blankly.

“Buffy, this is getting quite out of hand – “ Giles began, and Buffy immediately rounded on him too.

“Right, of course you’re joining in,” Buffy snapped. “Why not? You’ve got plenty of people here to fight against the darkness, huh? Well, fine! Looks like you don’t need a Slayer, do you?”

She strode to the door and yanked it open, badly startling the hapless pizza delivery boy who stood there, fist raised to knock. She shoved the delivery boy out of the way and stomped out the door, leaving the pizza boy to juggle his precariously balanced boxes.

“Uh – four large pizzas for Xander Harris?” the pizza boy stammered helplessly. Giles sighed and took the pizzas, handing the confused boy some money and closing the door after him.

“Maybe I should go after her?” Dawn suggested after a brief hesitation.

Giles sighed again.

“No, don’t. She’ll find something to slay in the cemetary and work out some of her frustrations, and I’ll talk to her tomorrow when she’s had time to think. Please, try not to judge her too harshly. She’s behaved badly, of course, but Buffy lives under a great deal of constant pressure. She’s forced to carry a burden that no one so young should be expected to bear, and sometimes it’s difficult for her to realize that she’s not carrying it alone. Please do try to be patient.”

“I’ve been patient for four years,” Xander muttered.

“Yes, you have, and far more so than I would have been in your place,” Giles said quietly, patting Xander on the shoulder. “You’ve offered your help and support so selflessly that it’s easy to take for granted, easy not to show our appreciation. I’m no less guilty of that than Buffy. But we do appreciate – and need – your help, Xander. I hope we can count on you during this crisis.”

Xander sighed and Spike grimaced – he knew Xander couldn’t stand up under that, and he was right.

“Yeah, okay,” Xander said resignedly. “What’s a little more verbal abuse? But bottom line, G-Man, if she even tries to lay a finger on me or Spike again, or even acts like she might let him get hurt, that’s it. Really.”

“Yes, I quite understand,” Giles said hurriedly, although he looked rather startled and glanced at Spike uncertainly. “In any event, there’s little to do now until we can find some way of discovering where this Tiger in Red is hiding.”

“What happened with your tracking thingy?” Xander said, glancing at Willow, who grimaced, blushing.

“It didn’t work,” she confessed. “I don’t know whether my spell wasn’t right, or whether there were protections against that sort of thing, or – I just don’t know.” She sighed, then gave Xander a hopeful glance. “Maybe if Tara and I try to cast it again, you could come and kind of lend moral support?”

“Hey, you girls gonna be starkers when you cast it?” Spike said, interested. “Can I come too? I can lend immoral support.”

“You can come too if you want to, Spike,” Willow said, blushing. “But we won’t have to be naked for that. Anyway, we kind of need to be in the cemetary, and we need to have something to track, a demon or something.”

“Well, since the Slayer’s off throwing a wobbly,” Spike grinned, “looks like I’m your best bet for catching something that’s still kicking so it can scamper off home. When d’you want to do the job?”

“Uh – well, I kind of want to try a stronger tracking spell,” Willow said sheepishly. “And Giles had to order some of the ingredients at the shop, so it’ll be a few days at least. But I’d probably better start spear practice pretty soon.” She looked unhappy. “I guess it’ll have to be at night.”

Spike shook his head.

“Not a bit of it,” he said. “Got an hour or two between classes, come on over. We got the building upstairs pretty much blacked out, plenty of room. I’ll set up some boxes or something for a target.” He turned to Giles. “Got something a little less magical for her to practice with? Wouldn’t want to go dulling the Tooth of Ryla smacking into walls and things.”

Giles brightened.

“Yes, I believe I can find something suitable among my collection,” he said. “That’s a good idea, Spike. It’s probably safest to keep the Tooth locked away until we need it.”

“Um, sorry to interrupt, guys,” Xander said apologetically. “But the pizza’s getting forgotten, and the growling sound you hear isn’t a Vorgost, it’s my stomach.”

A few minutes later they were all gathered around the coffee table, munching on pizza and ignoring Giles protests about would they please eat off plates and stop dripping sauce and cheese on his carpet, and “For God’s sake, Spike, must you put your feet up on the table when we’re eating from it?” But everyone had relaxed a bit and it was one of the most amiable Scooby gatherings Spike could remember of recent months. Of course, he realized, he hadn’t been around back at the beginning – but then, neither had Dawn and Tara. Never mind; things changed, and that wasn’t always bad. Why, hadn’t been so long ago that he’d have killed Xander without a second thought. And look what he’d have missed out on.

Spike chuckled and helped himself to another slice of Carnivore’s Special, extra cheese, hold the garlic.

“Deep thoughts, Spike?” Dawn said.

Spike chuckled again, glancing at Xander.

“Oh, very deep,” he said, grinning as Xander hid his blush behind another slice of pizza. “Very deep indeed.” He gulped down the last bite of his pizza. “Tasty as this is, though, I’m feeling the need of something a bit, hmmm, saucier, if you get my drift. Had about as much of this evil-fighting stuff as I can stomach for one night, anyway. You mind, Pet?” he said casually to Xander. “Ready to go home?” ‘Cause we’ve got some heavy-duty celebrating to do. Not quite pure enough for the bloody Tooth of Ryla? Never mind that. Gonna take you home, Pet, strip you naked and show you there’s a whole lot of ways that naughty’s better than nice.

Xander looked at him, and what Spike saw in those eyes was so simple and so profound that if he’d been the breathing sort, it would have taken his breath away, and for the second time that night, with a sort of wonder, Spike thought, Forever.

“Yeah,” Xander said, grinning. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter 22

“They stood up for me,” Xander repeated as he stepped through the door, his tone soft and wondering. “They stood up for me. Against Buffy.”

“They sure did, Pet,” Spike said. He slid his arm around Xander’s shoulders and squeezed. “See? They do appreciate you. They just took their bloody time figuring it out.”

“Giles said they needed me,” Xander said, very softly. “And Willow wanted moral support.”

Willow probably wanted something from Xander a little more potent than moral support, but of course Spike couldn’t say that; Xander didn’t realize just how powerful his “moral support” could be.

“’Course they need you,” Spike said. He licked the side of Xander’s throat, making him shiver. “You’re a very needable sort, luv.”

Xander turned to glance at Spike, his expression slightly anxious.

“Do you need me?” he asked.

Spike grimaced. Bloody hell, he hated this kind of conversation. It belonged on Oprah or Jerry Springer or something, not in a relationship between two men – a vampire and his Consort, no less.

“Look, Pet,” he said. “I’ve been walkin’ the earth for round about a century and a half, wreaked lots of lovely bloody havoc over most of Europe and killed two Slayers. In all that time I didn’t never take a Consort, never even thought about it. You think I ever agreed to let any mortal dictate when and who I could kill? Much less agreed and meant it? Can you even imagine me doing it?”

Xander snorted.

“Jeez, Spike, I can barely believe you did with me, and I was there.”

“Well, there you go, then,” Spike said patiently. Hopefully they could leave this ludicrous conversation behind in favor of something more interesting. And sticky. “What’s that tell you?”

Xander sighed.

“I know, I know,” he mumbled, dropping his eyes. “It’s just – never mind.”

Spike sighed too.

“Yeah, but you just got to hear it, don’t you?” he said resignedly. “Just gotta drag a confession out of the vampire, eh?”

Xander gave Spike a sideways glance and grinned abashedly.

“Do you mind?” he said apologetically. “Just this once?”

“Seem to get a whole lot of ‘just this onces’,” Spike grumbled. “C’mere.” He grabbed Xander and pulled the mortal to him, crushing Xander’s groin to his with almost painful force, letting Xander feel firsthand, so to speak, that Spike was getting pretty damned tired of talking. He buried his face in Xander’s throat, nipping sharply at that spot just under Xander’s ear that always made him moan.

“I love you,” he whispered in Xander’s ear, loving the way Xander’s cock jumped at the nip. Just for laughs, he added a nip to the mortal’s earlobe just for punctuation. Boing! “And I need you, all right? Got that? Can we get horizontal now?”

“Got it,” Xander gasped. “And, uh, yeah, horizontal is good, or vertical, or sideways, or upside down, anything you say.”

Spike snickered and stepped back, leaving Xander to support himself on his own now wobbly legs.

“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Spike said smugly. “Now, seeing as we’re celebrating – “

“We are?” Xander said, looking glazed and puzzled at the same time.

“Celebrating you not having to throw the fucking spear, all right?” Spike said impatiently.

“Oh. That. Okay,” Xander said, still glazed, but now less puzzled.

“Anyway, seeing as we’re celebrating,” Spike said firmly, “got a bit of a surprise for you, Pet, so you just park your bum on the couch for a minute till I call you in. ‘Course, you can strip off while you wait,” he added suggestively.

Xander had sat down at Spike’s words, but he bounced to his feet again, already pulling his sweater off over his head.

“Stripping’s good,” he said, his words muffled by the fabric.

Spike had hidden part of Xander’s surprise under the bed, and the rest of course was in the closet, so he didn’t have to try to sneak past his Consort or order Xander to the bathroom. He stripped hurriedly, got everything set up, flipped off the lights, and flung himself on the bed, arranging himself artistically.

“Come on in, then, Pet,” Spike called. “Shut off the lights out there first, would you?”

“Uh . . . okay.” The lights shut off and Xander appeared in the doorway. There was a tiny gasp, almost silent, as Xander froze there.

The portrait had been in less than perfect condition when Spike had retrieved it – no surprise, the way it had been shuffled from one storage hole to another, many less than environmentally perfect for hundred-some-year-old oil paintings – so Spike had had to take it to be restored. He’d purchased a stand to display it to best effect, and right now it was displayed the way it was meant to be, by the light of two candelabra placed on small tables on either side of it. It was a thing of beauty, Spike had to admit.

At the moment, however, he wasn’t sure whether it was the portrait itself that so captivated his Consort, or the other spectacle presented to him. The bed was different, of course, but Spike had gone to considerable effort to duplicate everything else: The wine-colored velvet hangings and bedspread, the black velvet cushions, and of course Spike himself.

His old nightshirt hadn’t been in the best possible condition either after all the years, but enough had been left of it for Spike to get another one made while the portrait was being restored, and Spike had arranged it and his pose to perfectly duplicate the portrait as he lay back half reclined among the cushions. Of course, his hair had been a good deal longer back then, and it hadn’t been bleached; Spike had briefly considered getting a wig just to complete the effect, then dismissed the idea. He’d never really liked his long hair; it provided altogether too much leverage. He’d never particularly minded when Angelus used it to hold his head still while the older vampire fucked his mouth, but all too often Angelus had used it instead as a handy grip to bang Spike’s head into walls or floors.

Xander was still standing in the doorway, jaw agape, eyes wide, cock wet and bobbing, and Spike licked his lips.

“Know you like to look, Pet, and I’m glad you like what you see,” Spike purred. “But there’s four other senses we can play around with if you’d care to get a little closer, hmmmmmm?”

“Wubba,” Xander said, licking his own lips just before the drool spilled over.

“Or if you’d rather,” Spike said slyly, “You could do some naughty art of your own.” He jerked his head at the nightstand, where he’d placed their camera – loaded with film specially enchanted to photograph vampires.

Xander glanced at the camera. At the portrait. At Spike.

“Gerflitz,” he said.

“’smatter, Pet?” Spike purred. He stretched languidly, raising his arms and crossing them behind his head. That made the linen nightshirt, which ordinarily hung almost to his knees, slide up his bare thighs allllllllmost high enough to give Xander a real spectacle. He wiggled his toes, relishing the soft velvet against his skin. “Cat got your tongue?”

“Glug,” Xander whimpered, and grabbed the camera, lens and cock pointing at Spike with equal greed.

Spike grinned.

For the next few minutes he posed for Xander, his postures ranging from demure to naughty, teasing his Consort with glimpses of naked skin but never allowing the nightshirt to ride up quite high enough. He reduced Xander to drooling idiocy by rolling over on his stomach, flexing one leg to the side, and letting the nightshirt creep up just enough to expose the lower curve of one buttock.

“Gggggggg,” Xander said, not bothering to wipe away the drool now.

Spike grinned saucily and rolled onto his back. He trailed his fingertips up the insides of his thighs, sliding the bottom of the nightshirt up as he did. He planted his far foot flat on the bed, flexing his knee up, his grin widening as he saw Xander’s eyes riveted on his fingers and their path. Slowly, sloooooooowly he pushed the bottom of the nightshirt up until the bunched folds just brushed the bottoms of his balls . . . then, a hairsbreadth at a time, on up, up, up, exposing the length of his erection.

“Wubba,” Xander whimpered, forcing the camera up again. His fingers seemed to lock on the camera as Spike slowly, lazily stroked his erection, gazing directly into Xander’s eyes. Well, through the camera, at least.

Xander lowered the camera, his mouth working but no sound emerging. Slowly, carefully he placed the camera on the nightstand.

Then he pounced.

“Oof!” Spike grunted as he suddenly found himself flattened under a very muscular, very warm, very horny Xander. Funny, he didn’t remember Xander having more than two hands, but he could swear the critter fighting to touch, explore and caress every inch of his body had to be part octopus.

“Easy, easy, luv,” Spike laughed. He rolled them over, shamelessly exploiting the advantage of vampiric strength, to straddle his lover. He started to pull the nightshirt up. “Want me to take this off?”

“Don’t you dare!!”

Abruptly, vampiric strength be damned, a very startled Spike found himself back on the bed under Xander, Xander’s hips still between Spike’s legs, Xander’s weight on his hands pinning Spike’s wrists to the bed.

Spike shivered. He’d forgotten his Consort was a hell of a lot stronger than an ordinary mortal these days. And all that lifting and carrying at his job didn’t hurt, either. He licked his lips, gazing up into Xander’s hot, dark eyes, making no effort to free himself.

This could get interesting.

“What’ve you got in mind, Pet?” Spike purred.

“I want to fuck you in that nightshirt,” Xander said hoarsely.

Spike pouted in mock disappointment.

“That’s it?” he said.

Xander blinked.

“What do you mean, that’s it?” he scowled.

“I mean – “ Spike writhed a little, just enough to make Xander’s hands tighten on his wrists. “ – after all that trouble and teasing, that’s as perverted as you’re planning to get? Me in a nightshirt? You can do better’n that, Pet.”

“Oh, yeah?” Xander panted. Abruptly he released Spike’s wrists – just long enough to reach over to the bedpost and pull free one of the thick silken cords Spike had used to tie the hangings back. Spike grinned as Xander carefully wrapped the cord around Spike’s wrist several times before knotting it, then stretched Spike’s arm out to tie the free end of the cord to the bedpost. “I can do better, huh?” He grabbed another silk cord and imprisoned Spike’s other wrist. “How about if I do worse?”

“Oooooh, Pet, didn’t know you had it in you,” Spike purred, giving the cords a surreptitious tug. He wasn’t entirely surprised to feel the sturdiness of the knots Xander had used. The whelp was a construction worker, after all, and he’d had more than a bit of experience with rope-tying with the Scoobies, too – including a few times he’d actually tied Spike up. Spike could probably get loose – well, all right, maybe – if he was willing to work damned hard at it, but he hadn’t the slightest doubt that Xander would have him untied in seconds if he showed any real reluctance.

Thing is, he didn’t feel any reluctance at all. Quite the contrary, which was a bit of a surprise. Angelus had tied him up on occasion, and those were some of the fonder memories – Angelus never bothered tying him up to hurt him, only when he intended to tease his Childe half insane with pleasure. But his Sire tying him up was one thing; letting a human restrain him was something else altogether. Buffy and the others chaining him in the bathtub or tying him to a chair – those were some of the most humiliating moments of Spike’s unlife.

Strangely enough, Spike couldn’t even bring to mind those other times when Xander had bound him. This was different. This was his Consort, his beautiful Consort looking down at him with that fire in his eyes and that hot throbbing cock that was hard for him. This was an opportunity for Spike to do something he hadn’t done in a long time – completely let go. When was the last time he’d been able to enjoy being out of control? Not since Angelus, probably. And unlike his time with Angelus, this moment, here and now with Xander, was all about pleasure. No doubt, no dread, no fear. Just delicious anticipation.

Just letting go.

“Sooooo . . . “ Spike purred. “Ever dream about having your way with a vampire in a nightshirt tied to the bed?”

Xander licked his lips and grinned.

“By some strange coincidence,” he said, his eyes dark and hot, “that just became my favorite fantasy.”

He slid his hands under the nightshirt and Spike moaned. Xander’s hands were roughened by his work, and the contrast of that roughness against his smooth skin and the softness of the nightshirt and the velvet bedspread, Xander’s heat against his coolness, was intoxicating. Xander ran his hands over Spike’s body, not so much caressing as exploring, hands greedily claiming every inch of him. Spike whimpered as those long fingers slid up his chest, around his ribs – whimpers turned to moans as Xander thumbed his nipples, not too gently.

“Oooh, you like that, don’t you?” Xander breathed. “I like this too, having the big bad vampire at my mercy. You can’t touch me, but I can touch you however I want to, can’t I?”

“That’s the fun of it, luv,” Spike gasped, feeling unaccountably short of breath as Xander’s hands stroked over his skin under the nightshirt, sliding around to his back, then down to cup his buttocks. Spike threw his head back in a mute gesture of vampiric surrender, baring his throat to his lover, thrusting his hips up unashamedly and whimpering again as the soft linen nightshirt slid over his hypersensitive cock.

Then Xander grinned wickedly and flipped the nightshirt up, up – covering Spike’s face with the fabric. Suddenly Spike was effectively blindfolded, and he yelped in protest. He’d been enjoying that hungry expression on his Consort’s face. Then he yelped again, this time not in protest, as a warm, wet tongue stroked quickly up the underside of his erection, swirled briefly around the leaking head, and then just as abruptly withdrew. Spike moaned, shuddering and spreading his legs wider in mute invitation. God, his Consort was positively evil to tease him like this – and Spike adored it.

Not a word in response to Spike’s various nonverbal cues, but that warm mouth fastened on his skin again, this time high up on the inside of Spike’s thigh, sucking wetly, then nipping hard enough to leave a bruise. Then the lightest trace of Xander’s lips across the tender skin behind Spike’s knee, then another warm, sucking kiss in the opposite crease of Spike’s thigh.

Spike was moaning freely now, delighted by this unforeseen streak of tender cruelty in his Consort. Bloody hell, the next few centuries were starting to look like a lot of fun!

That hot, voracious mouth enveloped one of his testicles, then the other, then oh bloody HELL nibbled up the underside of his cock and Spike was whimpering needily now, almost fucking begging, and it was hot as hell, unable to touch Xander, unable to see Xander, never knowing what was coming next – Well hopefully it’s me – and he never ever wanted it to end.

Then the hands cupping his buttocks lifted him higher and he was propped momentarily on the tops of Xander’s thighs; lubed fingers seemed suddenly cold after all that heat, but Spike could have cared less and he opened for them greedily, striving to push down against that probing touch. Then Xander was lifting his hips again, God, supporting Spike’s entire lower body, and Spike might have thrilled at his Consort’s strength if Xander hadn’t chosen that moment to drive home within him in one good hard push.

Spike howled in pleasure and tried to clamp is legs around Xander, but Xander was having none of that; his arms supporting Spike’s hips were between Spike’s legs, leaving those legs nothing to do but jerk helplessly in midair while Xander thrust into him. Spike howled again in frustration and ecstasy and relaxed, letting Xander plunder him however he liked, gripping the ropes tied to the bedposts tightly, staring blindly up into the blank screen of his nightshirt. Bloody hell, had he ever felt Xander so hard, so huge inside him? At this angle it seemed as if his Consort was plunging right in to his very heart, and Spike could do nothing but howl and beg incoherently for more, more, more.

A slight shift and then Spike was able to wrap his legs around Xander’s waist, one arm still wrapping around Spike’s hips to hold him up – now where the ‘ell did that other hand go? – as Xander never paused in his rhythmic thrusts into Spike.

Spike’s question was answered very shortly as he felt Xander lean slightly sideways and heard a ripping sound – and then suddenly his cock was being stroked in a tunnel of pure velvet. That incredible sensation, accompanied by several hard, deep thrusts, was more than Spike’s already overstimulated nerves could bear, and he screamed and let go, coming so hard that if he’d been mortal, he would have passed out. As it was, the inside of his nightshirt blindfold deveped beautiful little sparkly star-shapes for several moments, and he barely noticed Xander’s last deep thrusts, or the hot liquid spurts inside him; he was only marginally aware when his Consort collapsed on top of him, a delicious sweaty weight.

Spike lay there basking in the afterglow, enjoying the smell of his Consort’s sweat and the raw musk of their rut. When Xander’s slowing breaths threatened to turn into snores, however, Spike said gently, “Er, Pet? Care to get me out of this?”

“Oh. Sorry,” Xander said sheepishly. The nightshirt was pulled back down; then Xander quickly untied Spike’s wrists. Before it could occur to Xander to come out with any more apologies, Spike rolled over and gathered his Consort up in his arms.

“My, aren’t you the wild thing, eh, Pet?” Spike said huskily. “Loved that, didn’t I?”

Xander blushed, but he licked his lips.

“Did you?”

Spike grinned and licked the sweat from Xander’s temple.

“Not half,” he said. “Suppose they heard me next town over.”

Xander grinned, although he was still blushing.

“Didn’t figure you for the ‘tie me up, tie me down’ sort,” Spike chuckled. “I’m impressed.”

“I guess you bring out the kink in me,” Xander grinned. “I never did anything like that before. I mean, I’ve tied people up before – including you – but it was kind of all in the line of Scoobyness.” He snuggled in closer, and Spike stroked the dark hair absently. Xander was silent for a long time, and Spike was beginning to drowse when the mortal spoke again.

“You know, I never thought it would be me.”

“Hmmm?” Spike said sleepily.

“The spear. I never thought it would be me. I’m kinda surprised you thought it could be at all.”

Spike frowned and opened his eyes, turning his head to look at Xander.

“How’s that, Pet?”

“The pure soul thing. Pure heart. Whatever.”

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t quite follow, Pet.”

“Well, I mean – “ Xander waved a hand illustratively. “I’m shacked up with an evil soulless vampire. I pretty much quit helping the Slayer to be with you. I was the one who got rid of your chip, making it possible for you to kill humans again. I even kinda gave you permission to kill my parents. I feed you my blood and I’ve drunk yours too, and you said yourself that it’s changed me. I mean, there’s probably not a whole lot of purity going on here.”

“Hmmmm.” Spike considered Xander’s words. “Might have a point there, Pet. That bother you?”

This time it was Xander’s turn to think. Finally he shrugged rather abashedly.

“I guess not,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know how, um, pure a guy my age is supposed to be. I mean if I was that, um, virtuous, then I guess I wouldn’t be with you. And I wouldn’t want that. So I guess however I am, that’s the way I want to be.”

Spike thought about that, then took Xander’s hand, gently nipping the inside of his wrist, barely enough to break the skin. He licked up the few drops of blood that welled up.

“Dunno, Pet,” he teased gently, kissing the tiny wound. “You taste pretty damned pure to me.”

“Oh, yeah?” Xander shivered and rolled on his side, pressing the full length of his body against Spike’s, and Spike felt the evidence of one the many benefits of a Consort’s slightly altered physiology pressing hot and hard against his belly.

“Yeah,” Spike said huskily, grabbing Xander’s hip to pull his Consort’s body even tighter against his own. “A bit too pure, to my way of thinking.”

Xander smirked.

“Sounds like I need some more corrupting, then,” he said.

“Sounds like a job for the Big Bad,” Spike smirked. He reached up and gave one of the silken cords tied to the bedpost an experimental tug. He grinned wider. “So, Pet . . . seeing as we’ve got these candles lit already, just how kinky are you feeling?”

Chapter 23

“No, no, no,” Spike scolded. “Put more back into it and less shoulder. Less up, more out. Losing all your thrust, you are.”

“I’m trying,” Willow said unhappily. She was becoming discouraged, and Spike could see why. She was trying, that was the hell of it. Her aim was decent, too. Only problem was, casting spells and turning book pages hadn’t built any strength in her arms and shoulders. Try as she might, the practice spear was barely sticking into the bales of hay Spike had set up behind the target. And he knew from personal experience that a body was a hell of a lot harder to stick something through than a bale of hay.

“Here, Willow.” Xander took the practice spear. “Let your whole upper body go with the throw. Like this.” He threw. His aim wasn’t quite as good as Willow’s – he missed the center of the target by a hair – but the spear impaled the bale of hay solidly, the point and most of the shaft emerging from the other side.

“Wow!” Tara said, impressed. “I don’t know why the Tooth didn’t choose you, Xander. You’re really good at that.”

Xander grinned, flexing his arm to make his bicep bulge.

“Just call me muscleman,” he chuckled. “All that heavy lifting on the job ought to be good for something.” Spike didn’t comment. There was a hell of a lot more behind that throw than construction muscles, but of course he wasn’t going to say that.

“Does it have to go all the way through like that?” Willow asked worriedly.

Spike smirked.

“Couldn’t hurt,” he said. “Actually, bit of good news. Dunno whether you actually have to skewer this Tiger in Red for the Tooth to work; as far as I know, just a scratch might do it – but then again, it might not, so I’d keep working for a good stick if I were you. Anyway, if our fellow is really biplanar, it’ll be easier to heave something through him seeing as he’s not quite solid here. So I expect once you work up the strength to stick those bales of hay good, you’ve probably got him nailed. Kind of like staking a vampire, only you get to do it from a nice safe distance.”

“Oh.” Willow retrieved the spear thoughtfully, then gave Spike a worried look. “Does that bother you? I mean, talking about staking vampires.”

Spike shrugged.

“Nah, why should it?” he said. “Long as you’re not practicing up for me, that is. I’ve done my share of ‘em. Be different if they were my fledglings or such, I guess. Strangers, nah, just a nice workout. Not much loyalty among vampires outside the bloodline; we stake each other all the time. Even inside the bloodline sometimes, over territory or power or a dozen other reasons. Hell, I’ve staked me own minions if they got too ambitious, or just too plain annoying.”

He retrieved the practice spear and walked around behind Willow, grinning to himself when she shivered at his proximity. He gave her the spear, wrapping his fingers over hers.

“Right, let’s go through this again.” He guided the spear back. “Relax, Pet, even if I was minded – not to mention able – to bite you, I’d scarcely have put a wooden stick in your hand, eh? Right, back like that. This time when you throw, follow through like this – right, you’ve got it. Try again. Back, then follow through. Good, you’ve got it.” He released Willow’s hand and stepped aside. “Now, this time you got to get mean, Red. Don’t look at that target and see bales of hay. See some mean scabby demon who’s gonna pull out Tara’s guts while she’s still alive and use ‘em for shoelaces unless you stop him, and you’ve got just the one chance. Now throw that thing like you mean it.”

Willow’s face flushed and she threw. This time the spear sank several inches into the hay.

“There you go, Red,” Spike applauded. “Keep practicing, you’ll work up a good arm.” He glanced at his watch; it was nearly midnight. “Gonna try that tracking spell tonight?”

Willow was panting. She shook her head.

“We wouldn’t have time tonight,” she said. “Tara and I have to get the spell ready, and you have to catch something for us to use it on, something that we know came out of one of the portals and will probably go back to it.” She gave Spike a worried glance. “And it’s got to be in good enough shape to go back.”

“And even then, we’ve got to have everybody ready to track it right away,” Tara added unhappily.

Spike knew what she meant; that meant Buffy. He couldn’t really argue, much as he would have liked to. Following some creature blindly down into the tunnels under Sunnydale, they were bound to run into a hell of a fight. The witches had spunk and meant well, but their sort of gifts weren’t much good when the fighting got hot and close, and Spike knew Xander would insist on leaping into the fray with him. Better to have the Slayer there. She could fight with the best of them, Spike couldn’t deny that, and two more fists between Xander and danger was a Good Thing.

Besides, there was always the possibility of a bonus, the Slayer getting slain by something. Spike had promised not to kill her, but he didn’t think even Xander at this point would shed too many tears if Buffy got torn limb from limb by some other nasty.

“So what are you guys doing for Christmas?” Willow asked, wiping her sweaty face fastidiously with a handkerchief.

Spike frowned.


“Yeah, big winter holiday, three days from now?” Willow teased. “Tara and I are leaving day after tomorrow and meeting up with a group of cyberpagans celebrating midwinter. Buffy’s off visiting her dad, so we can’t do anything about the tracking spell till she gets back anyway, so we thought we might actually do something fun for a change. Don’t you two have any plans?”

Bloody hell. Spike had Xander’s present – one of them, at least – stashed away, but in the excitement he’d completely forgotten the holiday. Bloody fucking hell. He meant to give the whelp a holiday to remember this year. Somebody had dropped a comment at one of the Scooby meetings about Xander having to camp out on the lawn every Christmas Eve, because of his worthless parents, no doubt. He wanted this Christmas, Xander’s first as Spike’s Consort, to be memorable. Special.

And now he had only three days – or nights, rather – left to make it so.

“You got Christmas Eve off?” he asked Xander, trying to sound casual. Hopefully the whelp would be working, giving him that much more time to get things set up.

“Uh, no,” Xander said apologetically, looking a little panicked himself. “They’ll probably let us go early, though. There probably won’t be enough people there to get anything done anyway.”

Fuck. Two and a half days, then. Not much time. And there wouldn’t be much chance for shopping. Xander would be home evenings, and by the time he went to bed, the shops would be closed. Well, thanks to Angel, Spike had a credit card and a telephone. He was starting to learn that very little in life couldn’t be procured with those.

On the drive home, Xander was uncharacteristically silent. Spike, lost in his own thoughts, took a while to notice, but at last he realized that Xander’s typical chatter was absent. Realizing that his Consort was probably brooding over past unhappy Christmases, Spike wondered how to cheer Xander up without giving too much of a hint of his plans.

Abruptly, however, it was Xander that opened the conversation.

“Spike . . . I guess vampires probably aren’t much for celebrating Christmas, but would you mind if we got a Christmas tree?”

“Hmm?” Spike raised his eyebrows. “If you like, Pet. Why should I mind, unless you’re planning to hang crucifixes and garlic all over the bloody thing?”

“Nah, I just – “ Xander shrugged a little uncomfortably. “It’s just, until this year I never really had much to celebrate at Christmas. And this year I do,” he added shyly.

Spike was touched.

“Then we’ll have one,” he said. “Want a real one? Live one, I mean?”

Xander frowned.

“Uh . . . fake, actually,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road. “You know, they aren’t really. Live, I mean. I mean, they look alive and everything, but they’re actually dying right there before your eyes. It’s kind of nasty to think of. There’s something kind of heartless about cutting a tree down, hauling it home, decorating it up while it’s dying, and then after the holiday’s over, you just throw it out to finish dying somewhere where you don’t have to look at it fall apart.”

Spike glanced at Xander and frowned. The whelp looked truly depressed now, and Spike had a pretty good idea of what was on his mind. He was thinking about his mortality versus Spike’s immortality. Did he see himself as a Christmas tree, something Spike would enjoy for a short time and then discard when he began to wilt? Well, it wasn’t an unreasonable thought; there had been times back at the beginning of their relationship when Spike had thought of Xander as temporary or disposable.

Spike left Xander to his thoughts until they were home. As soon as Xander hung up his jacket, however, Spike led him to the bathroom.

“C’mere,” he said, drawing Xander in front of the mirror. “Want you to see something. Look there, tell me what you see, right?”

Xander shrugged uncomfortably.

“Me,” he said shortly. “No reflection of you. Why?”

“Missin’ the point. Hang on a mo.” Spike ducked into the bedroom and pulled out their box of pictures. It was getting pretty full now, considering their love of camera play. He picked out one he’d taken that first time, while Xander’s bruises were still slightly visible, and carried it into the bathroom. “Here, look at this, then look in the mirror. Tell me what you see.”

Xander glanced at the photograph and bit his lip.

“Well, the bruises – “

“Sod the bruises, look at you,” Spike instructed. “Look at your color. The texture of your skin. Your hair.”

Xander glanced from the picture to the mirror. Looked again.

“I guess I look healthier,” he said, shrugging again. “Fatter. I don’t know what you want me to say. It’s a Polaroid, not exactly fantastic photography.”

Spike sighed exasperatedly.

“Your new clothes, Pet. Had to size you up, didn’t we?” He ripped open Xander’s shirt abruptly, exposing his chest and abdomen, smooth healthy skin over hard muscle. “Look. You see any fat there?”

“Uh, no.”

“Put on muscle awful fast and easy, haven’t you?” Spike pressed. “Had any colds lately? Flu? Sore throats? How about headaches? Between work, patrolling, and shagging, you don’t sleep more’n four, five hours a night most nights. Feeling draggy, run down?”

“Uh. That’s a no.” Xander turned slightly, glancing uncertainly at Spike. “Spike, what are you telling me? That your blood – “

“Good for what ails you, innit?” Spike said, meeting Xander’s eyes squarely. “Heals you when you’re hurt, makes you stronger, keeps you healthy, lets you shag like a demon time after time . . . powerful stuff, innit, to do all that?”

“Yeah, uh, we’ve been through this, haven’t we?” Xander said puzzledly. “What’re you getting at here, Spike?”

“Vampires can see it, smell it, sense it, you know,” Spike continued. “The dying. It’s in the blood. Cells dying faster’n they can be replaced, systems slowing down, getting less efficient at maintaining themselves as things go wrong, as the life leaks out of the system. So tell me this, Pet: What happens if that don’t happen? What if something puts the life back into the system faster’n it’s lost? What happens if cells repair themselves, systems stay strong and healthy, maybe even better than before? What if it just kept on going like that? You tell me.”

Xander was silent a long moment, looking confused; then his eyes widened, his mouth opening slightly.

“I guess it wouldn’t – I wouldn’t – “ He swallowed hard. “Spike, are you trying to tell me I’m – uh – “

“You’re not immortal,” Spike said frankly. “You can die. You could fall off that building you’re building or some moron could drop a girder on your head. Some demon could rip out your liver and eat it up. Hell, you could walk out the door and be struck by lightning, I won’t say it couldn’t happen, this is bloody Sunnydale. But no Consort ever died of old age or ‘natural causes’, not unless they were cast aside or left an’ stopped getting the blood. I’ve heard of Consorts being kept for decades and not aging none. Now, that’s the best I can tell you, ‘cause most usually Consorts either get killed or turned before nearly that long. But far’s I know, failing unnatural causes, there’s no end in sight, Pet.”

Xander was still staring openmouthed. Spike gripped his shoulders hard, hard enough for Xander to feel the bite of his fingers.

“When I said forever, I meant forever,” he said. “You think I’d let you go? Not hardly. Way I see it, there’s three ways it can go. One, I turn you and we get Red to stick your soul on nice and tight. Two, we find some other way to make you immortal; could happen, it’s fucking Sunnydale, innit? Three, we take a chance on my blood keeping you young and healthy, and if later on it starts looking like that’s not working long-term, then we rethink our choices. But I’m not letting you go, Pet, and the fact of the matter is that if you don’t make a choice, someday – someday – I will. And that’s the truth. You’re mine, and what’s mine I keep.”

Xander shivered, but Spike smelt no fear about the boy, and the chocolate brown eyes darkened with arousal and something else, some nameless hunger that was not entirely of the body.

“If I’m yours – “ Xander murmured, licking dry lips. “If your blood’s running through my veins, does that make you mine too?”

“Mmmmm.” Spike smiled slowly. “Sure does, Pet. Bond works both ways, don’t it? Think I could ever find me another Consort who could do the like of that little knife-tease you done, tie me to the bed and shag me crosseyed, set me broken leg and fight demons back to back with me? Never found another in two centuries. If I was the breathing sort, I wouldn’t be holding my breath on finding another.”

Spike pulled Xander back against him hard, held him tight. He twined his fingers through Xander’s hair tenderly, then abruptly pulled his head back, exposing his throat. Xander moaned softly – still no fear! – and sheer arousal brought out Spike’s game face. He licked the taut length of Xander’s throat, let Xander feel the very tips of his fangs trace the vein throbbing beneath the skin.

“You think I wouldn’t turn you in a second?” he purred. “What do you think’s holding me back, eh? Fear of what the others might do? Don’t make me laugh. Think I’m afraid how the demon would change you? Not hardly. Been there, done that. Might change you, might not – and if it did, hell, Pet, might be a change for the better. ‘Course, Willow would probably insist on sticking you with your bloody soul, but that’s all right too. Wouldn’t much matter, would it? Either way I’d have you, immortal and my Childe, and a hell of a lot harder to destroy.”

Xander moaned again. One hand came up, caressed Spike’s cheek, cupped the back of his head. Pulled Spike’s mouth more firmly against his throat.

“Why haven’t you, then?” Xander whispered.

“’Cause you don’t want it,” Spike whispered back. “Not yet, at least. I love you, and you don’t want it. That’s why. But one way or another, I’m keeping you. This tree’s staying green forever, you got that?”

Xander shuddered, and Spike smelled the dark musk of his arousal.

“Got it,” Xander gasped.

“Want to show you something.” Still holding Xander tightly, Spike pushed the bathroom door shut with his foot. He turned Xander so they were facing the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. He’d put the mirror up for Xander, trying to encourage the whelp to see how good he looked in his new clothes and hopefully bolster his pitiful self-image.

Well, if this didn’t do it, nothing would.

“Look at you,” Spike said. He stroked Xander’s flat stomach, dipped under the open edges of his shirt to thumb his nipples. “Nothing there but you, touched by me. Loved by me. Look at the heat in your eyes, the glow on your skin. That’s my blood in you, my touch on you. Hot and hard and so fucking alive. That’s what I see when I look at you.”

Spike flicked open the button on Xander’s jeans, slid the zipper down. He pushed jeans and boxers down impatiently, forcing Xander to hastily toe his sneakers off so he could step out of them. Some mortals would look idiotic in a ripped-open shirt and socks and nothing else; Xander just looked that much more naked. That much hotter.

“Look at my Consort,” Spike purred in Xander’s ear. “Look how fine he is. Strong shoulders, good broad chest – there’s a man who can take my weight in bed and give back as good as he gets. Strong arms to hold me tight when I want to be held, or make it enough challenge to be fun when I want to play rough. Hard, flat belly – don’t I love to run my tongue down here, right down this little trail of hair?”

Xander was panting now, trembling, but he made no effort to pull free of Spike’s grip, made no effort to raise his hands from where they hung at his sides.

“Look at my Consort’s cock, how long and thick it is. Big enough to fill me up good, mouth or ass, just as I please, but not so huge that it’s more work than fun to get it in either end. I like it that my Consort’s cut and I’m not. Like the difference. Makes it interesting, don’t it? Look how hard my Consort is, how ready. Just as hard and strong here as he is everywhere else. Looks like an angel, fucks like a demon, that’s my Consort. And the taste of him. Almost as fine as his blood, that is.” Spike slid his fingers up Xander’s cock, gathered the welling pre-come, and licked his fingers. Xander couldn’t see the gesture in the mirror, of course, but he could hear, and he shuddered.

“Look at those strong thighs,” Spike continued relentlessly. “Strong enough to grip my hips tight. He’s tough, my Consort – can take it rough or gentle, and give it back the same. Love to see those thighs spread wide for me. Makes me want to nip my way all up the inside of ‘em. And you should see the arse on my Consort. A work of art, that is. A thing of beauty. But you’re not gonna see it right now, ‘cause it’s going to be too busy.”

He pushed Xander almost roughly to his hands and knees on the bathroom rug, following him down, detouring only long enough to snatch up the little tube of waterproof lube from its place on the rim of the tub – Bloody hell, didn’t we have fun with that? Nearly swamped the place, too. Stuff’s a bit on the goopy side, but never mind, it’ll do.

Xander was glancing over his shoulder at Spike, and the heat in that gaze made him shudder, but he didn’t want Xander looking at him.

“No, Pet,” he said, grabbing Xander’s hair again and turning his face forward by main force. “Look in the mirror. Want you to see what I see when I look at you. Not me, only you. The beauty of you, the strength of you, the heat of you. Just look.”

No kisses, no tender caresses, not this time. Spike prepared his lover hastily, Xander groaning and pushing back against the slick fingers. Yeah, no need for extended foreplay tonight. Xander needed this just as much as Spike did. More.

Spike withdrew his fingers, substituted his cock, and slid into his Consort in one firm thrust. Xander let out a primal howl and pushed back just as hard, impaling himself violently on Spike’s length. Spike allowed himself and Xander a few deep, hard thrusts before he pulled Xander up and back, still inside that boiling heat, Xander’s back arched against Spike’s chest now.

“Look,” Spike growled, pumping Xander’s erection in time with his thrusts. “See yourself giving me everything. See how you look when I take it all – your ass, your pleasure, your love, your blood. It’s all there in your eyes, all naked and hot and alive. All mine.”

And it was there, laid bare as Xander’s body, and briefly Spike wished just once he could see himself too, see if the heat and emotion in his own eyes was half as intense as that of his Consort. But he couldn’t, too bad, and he had to lose the spectacle of his Consort, too, as he pulled Xander’s head back and sank his fangs into his Consort’s throat, barely maintaining enough presence of mind to miss the main artery.

Xander was screaming, and Xander was coming, but Spike barely noticed it – hell, barely noticed his own orgasm – as he drowned in the maelstrom of his Consort’s blood/ecstasy/pain/love, so much, so fucking much, more than Spike had ever had or ever dreamed of having, almost more than he could bear. And he might have drowned, might have taken too much or, hell, maybe given too much, who knows, if Xander hadn’t given one final howl of pleasure and passed out in his arms.

Spike gently withdrew, fangs and cock, and lowered Xander to the rug, turning him over on his back. His mortal was a beautiful mess, come and sweat and blood, and Spike was sorely tempted to just start licking him clean. But that would start the game all over again, and Xander had had a busy night already, and he needed some sleep before work tomorrow. So Spike wet a washcloth with warm water and gently sponged Xander clean, frowning slightly as he did so. Xander was pale, and no wonder; Spike had bitten harder and drunk deeper than he really should have.

In fact it took a few moments before Xander stirred, long enough for Spike to begin to worry, but when Xander’s eyes opened, they were full of love and wonder.

“Wow,” he whispered. “I passed out.”

“Sure did, Pet, and no wonder,” Spike chuckled ruefully. “Here, have a bit of a pick-me-up.” He bit into his wrist and offered it, smiling as Xander unhesitatingly pulled Spike’s wrist to his mouth. Yes, Spike’s blood was working in Xander more than the mortal realized, but that was probably to the good; didn’t want the whelp panicking, after all.

Xander let go of Spike’s wrist reluctantly when the bite healed, licking his lips to get the last drops.

“ . . . good,” he murmured drowsily.

Spike grinned broadly.

“Not half, Pet,” he said affectionately. He bent down to kiss Xander, exploring the mortal’s mouth deeply, savoring their mingled flavors. He pulled back slightly, enough to see Xander’s eyes. “Liked that, then, ey?”

Xander flushed but nodded.

“Yeah,” he whispered. “You made me feel – “ He blushed even more deeply.

“Feel how, Pet?” Spike insisted, combing back Xander’s sweaty hair with his fingers.

Xander was silent for a long moment; then, almost inaudibly, he whispered, “Special. Beautiful.”

“You are,” Spike said simply. “Always were.” He sighed. “Come on, Pet. Floor’s hard and you’ve got work tomorrow. Stagger just a few steps and we’ll cuddle some more, and you can sleep.”

Stagger was right; although the bite mark on Xander’s throat had healed with the infusion of Spike’s blood, and his color was normal again, Xander was plainly exhausted, and they fell into bed in a comfortable tangle of limbs, Xander already more than half asleep. Spike sat up for a while, watching his Consort sleep. Xander had had a good drink of his blood tonight; that and the exhaustion afterward meant the blood was having a profound effect. Already Spike could see the difference – a finer texture and tautness to Xander’s skin, more of that vital glow. Spike would have to be more careful in the future. A few more exchanges like that and Xander would be setting off Buffy’s instincts, and neither Spike nor Xander were ready for that confrontation – not quite yet. Better if it could wait until after the current crisis, when maybe Spike could persuade Xander to leave town if the choice came down to that versus a dead Buffy or dusted Spike.

Silently Spike picked up their digital camera and took a picture of sleeping Xander, then reached for the box of photographs. Picking out a few in sequence, he shook his head, smiling ruefully. Xander couldn’t see the difference until it was pointed out, but he looked in the mirror every day. To Spike the changes were glaringly obvious. Sooner or later somebody else had to notice. He was amazed they hadn’t already.

Then again, was it so surprising? The others had been ignoring Xander for years. They’d missed signs of abuse which, in retrospect, seemed to Spike just as obvious as this. Nobody had noticed Xander’s ring; hell, nobody had even commented on Xander’s drastic change in clothing! So what if the whelp looked uncommonly fine and strong of late? If they didn’t notice him hurt, why should they notice him healthy? The thought was both relieving and infuriating.

Spike put the photos back in the box and slid down beside Xander, smiling when the sleeping man instinctively moved closer.

“Never mind them, Pet,” he murmured softly, wrapping his arms around his lover. “Gonna take good care of you. No tree on the trash-heap for you, no, love. Healthy and strong forever, that’s you. Forever young and strong.”

Xander sighed in his sleep and threw one arm over Spike’s chest. Spike glanced at the ring on Xander’s finger and smiled. He couldn’t have chosen better if he had picked the ring out for his Consort. Darkness and light. Demon and mortal.

‘Always together’.

Yes, Pet, I believe that’ll do.

Chapter 24

“What is it now?” Willow said, rather impatiently. She set the large box she was carrying on the couch. “I brought a lot of my spell stuff this time since you didn’t say what you needed. I hope it won’t take too long, Tara and I need to leave in a few hours. What is it, more treasure, or maybe some kind of protection spell or – “

“Sorry, Pet,” Spike grinned. “No magic at all.”

“No magic?” Willow repeated disbelievingly. “Then what do you need me for?”

Spike frowned.

“Red, there’s a whole lot more to you than a bit of mojo, you know. You ought to get a life. Smell the roses, shag your lady, that sort of thing.”

Willow blushed.

“Spike, that’s none of your business,” she said weakly.

“Right. Well, try this, then,” Spike said. He pointed to the kitchen table. “Can you set that up for Xander so it’s all ready to go?”

“A laptop?” Willow sat down at the table, mouth dropping open. “Oh, wow, this is top of the line! Uh, set it up? As in what?”

“As in whatever needs doing,” Spike said, shrugging. “Dunno the first thing about computers. Only I got him an Internet connection thingy, maybe you could do that. One of them cable modem thingies, they’re supposed to be the fastest. That box is supposed to have everything you need.”

Willow poked through the box.

“Okay, Ethernet card, firewall, antivirus software, uh-huh . . . okay, yeah, I can do this. Um, where’s the connection?”

“Well, I got two hookups,” Spike shrugged. “Over there on that wall, or there’s one in the spare room. Didn’t know whether he was going to want an office like, or whether he’d rather be out here with me and the TV.”

“Knowing Xander, out here,” Willow grinned. “Um, no desk or anything?”

“I got one, it’s down cellar, all set up,” Spike said patiently. “But I bring it up here, kind of spoils the Christmas surprise, don’t it?”

“True. Okay, I’ll make do.”

Spike left Willow alone to work while he checked the Christmas decorations and presents one last time. He and Xander had picked out the tree the evening before and bought the decorations; Spike had set up the tree and decorated it today – just for a lark, he’d put a little Count Dracula figurine on top of the tree instead of an angel. He’d considered raiding Xander’s sex toy box (Xander had scooted it under the bureau and apparently thought Spike had forgotten about it) and hanging the toys on the tree instead of ornaments, but on reflection he’d realized that most of them were too heavy, they’d weigh the branches down. He’d hung up stockings, too – fishnet stockings.

While Willow clicked away on the computer, Spike wrapped some of the other presents he’d bought Xander – black paper, of course, and black satin ribbons. Xander could keep his red and green stuff. Of course, the really big one he couldn’t wrap and had no intention of trying. Spike grinned as he thought of Xander’s reaction to that one.

There was another present, too, that he wasn’t altogether sure how Xander would take. Mark Allender, the project supervisor, had passed word up the line about how Xander had caught the mistake on the job blueprints. Lissik, without consulting Spike, had put a quiet word in the ear of the developer, and the developer had had a word with the general contractor . . . the upshot was that the company wanted Xander to take some drafting and engineering courses, possibly pursue an engineering degree, on the company’s dime, with the idea of becoming an in-house project engineer. With a little help from Lissik, Spike had enrolled Xander in a little-known program where he could take almost the whole thing by correspondence via his new computer. All right, the institution catered mainly to demons and the like who couldn’t attend “normal schools”, but it was a legitimate school, at least legally speaking. That way Xander could study from home as his time permitted.

Willow looked to be finishing up when the telephone rang. It was Giles.

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you on Christmas Eve,” Giles said. “Unfortunately I’m having a bit of trouble translating a scroll that may have some relevance to our current problem – it’s in a demonic language I’ve never seen before. Since you have a certain facility with demonic dialects, I was wondering whether you might be able to join me at The Magic Box and have a look.”

Spike snorted.

“Only one problem,” he said amusedly. “If I go out now, I’ll get a bit more of a tan than’s good for me, if you get my drift.”

“Willow said she was dropping by,” Giles said. “Is she still there? She could bring you here on her way home, and I’d be more than happy to bring you back.”

“In the trunk,” Spike said scornfully. “You’re talking two trips in the trunk.”

“Spike, I’d really very much appreciate your opinion on this,” Giles pressed. “I know it’s inconvenient, but I did want to get this out of the way so that I needn’t bother you over the holiday.”

Spike sighed. Giles didn’t know Spike was with Xander, so to speak, and Spike was certain that Giles’ concern was more for the sanctity of his own Christmas holiday than Spike’s, but it amounted to the same thing as far as Spike was concerned. Besides, Spike didn’t want to be disturbed over the holiday.

“Right, then,” Spike said resignedly. “If Red’ll bring me, I’ll be over.”

Willow agreed to transport Spike to the Magic Box. When Spike remembered that Xander was supposed to be home early, however, and thought he’d better call him on his cell, Willow shook her head.

“Better not,” she said quickly. “I mean, what if he’s out on a girder or something and forgot to turn his cell off, and it rings and startles him? Better just leave him a note, right?”

That made sense, and Spike scrawled a note to Xander and let Willow tape it to the outside of the door while Spike hid the laptop away. Willow was able to pull her car into the upper warehouse easily enough, so Spike didn’t have to run out under a blanket to scramble into the trunk, and the alley behind the Magic Box was comfortably shaded

The scroll Giles had mentioned was in Rgasi and had absolutely nothing, so far as Spike could see, to do with Ravyadha, his portals, the Tooth or anything else helpful. Spike was a bit puzzled – he could’ve sworn the Watcher had translated Rgasi before – especially when Giles pressed him to translate the whole lengthy document, even when it became apparent to Spike that the thing was useless. Giles didn’t look too disappointed, and he thanked Spike for his trouble with two six-packs of lovely imported stout and some extra packs of blood. Spike took the beer eagerly and the blood politely, although the refrigerator was well-stocked enough now that Xander was down to freezing the Miss Piggy Specials as emergency rations.

Another uncomfortable trunk ride, this time in Giles’ car, and then Spike was home. Even from the warehouse area Spike could hear that Xander was home already, puttering about in the kitchen, from which the most heavenly smells emanated, including one that made Spike’s mouth water in a hauntingly familiar way –

Then recognition set in and Spike was down the stairs and through the connecting door in an instant, just as Xander pulled a pan out of the oven and set it on a trivet. Spike’s mouth suddenly flooded with saliva.

“Is that – “ he said, surprised at how small his voice sounded. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Is that really – “

Xander grinned.

“Roasted chestnuts,” he said. “Giles showed me how to do ‘em. This is just part of them, I’ve got a whole bunch, but I didn’t want to spoil dinner, so you can have more later.”

Spike sniffed and swallowed before drool could spill over. The kitchen was filled with delicious aromas; he couldn’t begin to sort them out.

“Dinner?” he repeated blankly. “I’ve only been gone about a bloody hour.”

Xander’s grin widened.

“Uhhhh, got a confession to make,” he said. “I’ve actually been off all day. I set it up with Giles – went over there and he helped me cook everything, and then he went to the Magic Box and got you over there so I could get the food back here. So I’ve got all kinds of English stuff cooked. What I want to know is, why the hell do you Brits call everything pudding when none of it’s really pudding?”

Spike was already busy peeling a chestnut so hot that if he’d been mortal he’d have worried about burning his fingers. He popped it in his mouth.

“Pudding can be any dessert,” he said with his mouth full.

“Yeah, and it can be this Yorkshire popover stuff too,” Xander chuckled. “Well, I’ve got that, and for dessert we can try to keep a straight face while eating something called ‘Spotted Dick’. I have my doubts.”

Spike, his mouth stuffed with hot chestnuts he could barely swallow around the lump in his throat, watched in amazement as Xander set dish after dish on the table, motioning to Spike to sit down.

“The one thing I draw the line at is that tripe stuff you talked about,” Xander grinned. “And whoever thought of mixing cabbage and mashed potatoes is going to do more bubble and fart than bubble and squeak, but whatever. And don’t forget to save room for dessert.”

Spike reached out and pulled Xander down into his lap.

“You’re dessert,” he whispered huskily in Xander’s ear. “And I’m always hungry for you.”

Xander turned and kissed him hotly, then pulled back slightly.

“So . . . you like?” he whispered.

The slight edge of uncertainty in Xander’s tone choked Spike up again. He swallowed hard and pulled Xander’s head around so he could whisper in his ear again.

“No, I don’t like. I love it. Love you.” He nipped Xander’s earlobe sharply, drawing a startled yelp, then soothed the sting with a slow, wet lick. “Now sit down and let’s eat all these goodies, sod the dishes after, and then we’ll go open presents early, and then all that’s left to do is decide whether we fuck in the bedroom or on the living room floor.”

Xander got up rather reluctantly – he was flushed and hard – but apparently the pleasure of watching Spike eat his Christmas dinner outweighed the temptation to beg for instant gratification on the kitchen table. Spike didn’t mind waiting. He didn’t have to choose between his lovely dinner and his lovely Consort; he’d have ‘em both, and he liked ‘em both the same way – hot.

Three plates of food later, Spike was profoundly grateful that he’d gotten back in the habit of eating mortal food. All right, it didn’t satisfy his hunger the way a good hot draught of blood did fresh from the source – preferably fresh from Xander – but bloody Hell it tasted good, especially washed down with a couple of bottles of good bitters. At last he pushed back from the table and stretched happily.

“Right, then,” he said cheerfully. “What’d you get me for Christmas?”

Xander laughed.

“It doesn’t work like that,” he chided. “Come on, let’s go open presents.”

There were plenty to open, too. Xander loved the leather duster Spike had bought him – very like Spike’s own, only not nearly as weathered – “Few good patrols will fix that,” Spike chuckled – and blushed at the fleece-liked black leather wrist and ankle cuffs. Spike just chuckled and gave Xander a leer.

“Nobody says you always get to use them on me,” Xander pointed out.

“Works for me, Pet,” Spike chuckled.

Xander was flabbergasted when Spike produced the laptop; Spike hesitantly broached the subject of the online classes, afraid Xander was going to be angry at him for interfering – then a second later Spike found himself pinned to the floor under the weight of his Consort.

“You’re unbelievable,” Xander murmured after kissing Spike breathless. “Mark just talked to me about that yesterday – taking the classes, I mean. I couldn’t figure out a way to do it, I mean, between work and patrolling and I want to spend time with you too – “ Then he pulled back slightly, frowning. “How the hell did you find out, though?”

“Told you, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “Building owner’s a friend of a friend.”

Xander’s frown deepened.

“Spike, you didn’t – “

“Didn’t do nothing,” Spike said virtuously. “Well, except buy the computer and suchlike. Nah, I just got the news, is all.” He cupped Xander’s chin, meeting Xander’s eyes squarely. “I’m proud of you, you know that?”

Xander flushed and pulled away from Spike. He swallowed hard and turned away, swiping roughly at his eyes with the back of his wrist.

“Uh – thanks,” he mumbled.

Bloody hell, has nobody ever told the whelp they were proud of him? Then Spike winced at the thought. Right. Like who? His bloody parents who beat him? The fucking Scoobies who ignored him? Right.

“C’mere.” Spike pulled Xander roughly back against him and wrapped his arms around him, holding Xander tight until he felt the mortal relax slowly.

“You’re special, you know that?” Spike murmured in Xander’s ear. “Beautiful and special and very, very hot. Wouldn’t have you for my Consort otherwise. But what you’ve done at your job, that’s all your doing, and you’ve got every right to be proud of it.”

Xander was still for a long moment. Then, shyly, “I am.”

“Damn right.” Spike gave Xander a last squeeze, then released him. “C’mon. Got one more present to show you. Apart from the obvious, that is.”

Xander laughed a little shakily.

“By a strange coincidence, so do I. Apart from the obvious. Uhhhh – you first?”

“Right.” Spike jumped to his feet and pulled Xander up. “Come on, then.”

He was glad now that he hadn’t brought it on into the upper warehouse. He’d left it, in fact, a couple of streets over to make sure that Xander wouldn’t see it.

“Uhhhh . . . Spike?” Xander said uncertainly as Spike pulled him toward the black Expedition. “Are we breaking into SUV’s now?”

Spike chuckled.

“Don’t have to, Pet,” he said, pressing the remote into Xander’s hand. “Try this on.”

Xander went very still, his eyes wide.

“Spike?” he said in a small voice. “Tell me you didn’t buy me an SUV.”

Spike snorted.

“’Kay, Pet,” he said. “I didn’t buy you an SUV. Feel better knowing I’ll lie for you? C’mon, open it up and have a look.”

Xander’s hands were shaking so badly that he had to fumble around several times before he managed to press the right button on the remote. Spike liked the Expedition – it was roomy, comfortable and black. He’d had it fitted out with all the deluxe extras – power everything, leather seats, posh stereo system, dark tinted windows, the works. He stood back and beamed as Xander silently, reverently explored it. Finally Xander glanced at him rather guiltily – after all, he’d probably forgotten Spike existed for a few minutes, at least.

“Spike?” Xander cleared his throat. “Ummm . . . it’s not that I don’t love it – God, it’s fantastic! But, um, why an SUV?”

Spike shrugged.

“The convertible’s nice,” he said. “Good to have a classy car for posh occasions. But you need a workhorse ride, Pet – something you can carry tools in, or bodies, or whatnot. Something reliable that can take it a bit rough if you need it. Sooo . . . “ he grinned. “You like it, eh?”

“I love it,” Xander said, shaking his head. “I’m still stunned.” He ran his fingers over the leather back seat. “It smells like your coat,” he said shyly.

Spike raised one eyebrow.

“Y’know, Pet, ought to christen it properly,” he said slyly. “Plenty of room in that back seat.”

Xander flushed, and Spike could smell his renewed arousal, but to his surprise Xander shook his head.

“Wait,” he whispered. “I want you to see your present first. Please?”

Spike pouted slightly – it would’ve been their first shag in a car, and he wanted it – but let Xander drive him back to their building in the new Expedition. Xander led him into the very back of the warehouse portion, however, instead of their living area.

“Close your eyes,” Xander said. “I’ve been keeping this at Giles’ too, but there was no way I was gonna wrap it.”

Spike closed his eyes, grinning. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what he was going to see when he opened his eyes; he’d smelled the traces of exhaust on Xander’s clothes.

“Okay, now you can open your eyes.”

Spike opened his eyes.

His jaw dropped.

He’d more than half expected a motorcycle, but he hadn’t expected this one. It was a classic Harley Fatboy, chrome everywhere, all the extras. Somebody, probably the whelp, had had it detailed, and on the black tank were painted droplets of blood flowing back toward the seat, as if pushed by the wind.

“Holy bleeding Hell,” Spike murmured, awed. He approached the machine slowly, reverently, like a postulant about to drop to his knees and worship. A moment later he did drop to his knees to have a good look at the engine. He fought back the urge to kiss it.

“Bloody fucking Hell,” Spike whispered, standing again, trailing the tips of his fingers across the leather seat.

“Er, I take it that means you like it?” Xander said hesitantly. “I mean, I don’t know much about motorcycles, and I didn’t know if you’d want something, er, lighter, more like a racing bike or maybe – “

Spike shut the whelp up by sliding his tongue into the hot mouth. He pulled Xander against him hard, let Xander feel just how happy Spike was.

“I bloody love it,” Spike growled in Xander’s ear when he’d withdrawn to let the whelp catch a desperately needed breath.

“You realize,” Xander panted, “that the moment we show up in either of these, uh, vehicles, that’s the end of the cash you’re having such fun wringing out of Giles, and the beginning of a whole bunch of questions about how we got these?”

“Fuck ‘em,” Spike muttered succinctly, nibbling up Xander’s throat.

“I’d – uhhhhh! – rather you fuck me,” Xander gasped.

“Can do, Pet,” Spike purred. “About time I get to unwrap my best Christmas present.”

And he unwrapped Xander slowly, one garment at a time, kissing and caressing the newly-revealed landscape of Xander’s body. Xander blushed furiously, and Spike was glad they’d never shagged in the warehouse before; the novelty of the situation obviously appealed to Xander too. Then Spike contemplated his naked Consort standing next to his marvelous motorcycle and decided there was one final touch he wanted.

“Half a mo, luv,” Spike chuckled. “Let’s put these back on.” Xander blushed twice as red when Spike put Xander’s socks and work boots back on, but Spike was delighted with the overall effect. Undressed except for the boots and socks, hard cock standing at attention, Xander looked beautifully perverse, more naked than naked. For a moment Spike thought about running to fetch the camera; then he discarded the idea. He just wasn’t prepared to wait that long.

“Uh, Spike?” Xander said, still blushing furiously although he looked far from displeased at Spike’s attention. “Am I the only one getting naked here? And – uh – do we need something from the bedroom?”

For a moment Spike thought that Xander had read his mind about the camera; then he realized what his Consort was talking about. He grinned and pulled a tube of lubricant out of his pocket.

“Thought we might want to christen your new SUV,” Spike said, grinning.

Xander glanced around.

“Uh, did you hide maybe a sleeping bag somewhere too?” he said abashedly. “I mean, I’m all for spontaneity, but cold hard concrete doesn’t have a whole lot of appeal.”

Spike licked his lips.

“Oh, no, Pet,” he said. “Got a much, much better idea than that.”

Spike stripped quickly, economically, then, to Xander’s delight, slipped his leather duster back on.

“Boots too?” Xander begged.

Spike smirked and put his boots on. He was rewarded by a violent jump in Xander’s erection and a noticeable increase in Xander’s heartbeat and breathing.

“Now what?” Xander said, rather breathlessly.

“Now we combine Christmas with pleasure,” Spike grinned. He threw a leg over the motorcycle, chuckling as Xander shuddered at the sight, and kicked the Fatboy into life. It didn’t purr. Cars purred. This beauty growled, the growl of a predator, a proper growl that echoed through the large building. Letting the bike idle, Spike beckoned Xander over.

“Now you,” he said. “No, here in front of me.”

Xander apparently got the idea, because his blush spread even further downward as he awkwardly slid onto the bike in front of Spike. Spike pulled Xander back against his chest, stroking Xander’s chest, teasing his nipples, nibbling on the side of his throat.

“Ever done it on a bike, Pet?” Spike whispered, pretty damned certain that Xander had not. He teased Xander’s erection with the very tips of his fingers, eliciting a beautiful pathetic whimper.

“Jesus, Spike, Anya wouldn’t even do it in the back seat of the car at the drive-in, and I thought that was, like, almost mandatory,” Xander panted.

Spike said nothing, but he was obscurely glad; he didn’t especially like to think of Xander with Anya, and the more experiences the ex-demon had denied his Consort, the more pleasures remained Spike and Xander’s exclusively.

“Well, then I’ll just have to show you what you’ve been missing,” Spike purred. He released Xander, grinning at the disappointed moan. “Lean forward a bit.”

Xander obeyed hurriedly, and Spike shivered at the sight of the smooth, creamy skin of Xander’s arse, buttocks slightly spread by his position straddling the bike, against the black leather of the seat. Spike slicked up his fingers and gave Xander a cursory preparation; if there was ever a time to get a little rough, this was it.

Xander let out a low cry of pleasure when Spike slid smoothly into him. He tried to push back into Spike’s deep thrusts, but he had to brace his hands against the motorcycle tank, and he couldn’t get much leverage with his feet on the floor. Spike chuckled wickedly and thrust harder, keeping Xander off balance, forcing more of those delicious little whimpers out of him. It was more than a bit awkward for Spike too – he had to hold on to the handlebars, steady the bike, and manage enough leverage to thrust, all at the same time. If it weren’t for vampiric strength enough that he could spare one hand to hold on to Xander’s hip, he wasn’t sure he could’ve managed it. He had every intention that this would be the ride of Xander’s life.

He fought back a whimper of his own. The vibrations from the engine travelled through both their bodies, transforming Xander’s body into a hot, vibrating sheath for his cock; he could barely imagine how it felt from Xander’s end. He pulled Xander back against him again, burying his face in the juncture of Xander’s neck and his throat, smelling the heat in Xander’s blood, feeling the transformation to his game face as climax threatened to overwhelm him. He thrust hard and deep one last time, pushing Xander forward in the seat, sinking his teeth into Xander’s skin as the force of his thrust pressed Xander’s erection against the vibrating tank.

Xander screamed, his back arching into a bow, almost ripping Spike’s teeth loose in his shudders as he came, the convulsive clench of his muscles drawing a new howl from Spike. For a moment every muscle strained, fighting to wring out one last drop of the shattering pleasure; then Xander gave a disappointed little murmur and passed out, slumping forward on the motorcycle. Spike barely mustered the energy to grin, shutting off the motorcycle. It took his last effort to pull a totally limp Xander off the bike and down to the floor – his duster would have to do as bedding fro them both, because there was just no way he could get them both to bed.

The concrete was hard through the duster. Spike didn’t care about that, or the cold, but he knew Xander would, so he rolled them over, cradling Xander’s body on top of his.

Finally Xander stirred.

“Ummmfff,” he mumbled, snuggling closer.

“Wake up, luv,” Spike whispered.

“Don’t wanna.” Xander stretched. Winced. “Unnh.”

Spike grinned.

“Sore, Pet?”

“Uh-huh.” Xander pushed up slightly, grinning ruefully. He touched his shoulder, shivering slightly at the smears of blood on his fingertips. “Wow. Got kind of wild there, didn’t you?”

Spike snickered unrepentently.

“Guess we did, Pet.”

“You know, I was going to ask you to take me for a ride on your new bike, but that wasn’t exactly what I was thinking of,” Xander chuckled. “Now I don’t think I’m even gonna sit comfortably in that nice luxurious SUV.”

“We can take care of that if you want,” Spike murmured. “That and the bite.” He raised his hand, preparing to bite into his wrist.

“No . . . “ Xander grabbed Spike’s wrist, stopping him. He kissed Spike’s wrist and pressed it back down. “Don’t.”

Spike raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

“What, you telling me you’re into pain now?” he chuckled. “This could get interesting.”

Right on cue, Xander blushed, but something in his eyes told Spike he wasn’t joking anymore. Spike shut up.

“Spike?” Xander said softly. “This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had in my life. Better than I ever even dared to wish for. And believe me, I wished a lot. And the SUV and all the other stuff is great, really it is. But having you is the best of all. And every time I sit down tomorrow I’m going to feel you, and every time my shirt rubs the right way for the next couple of days, I’m going to feel you . . . I want that, want a reminder of this Christmas for as long as I can keep one.”

Some particles of grit from the garage area must’ve gotten into Spike’s eyes, because suddenly they were stinging. He shrugged out of his duster, leaving it on the floor, and sat up, pulling Xander around to sit facing him.

“Gonna show you something,” Spike said softly, drawing Xander close. He reached for his boot knife, holding up a hand at Xander’s frown of protest when he made a short but fairly deep cut at the side of his throat. “Don’t worry, luv, I’ll give you some other reminders after this if you want. Trust me. Hurry, now, before it heals up.”

He waited until he felt the warm press of Xander’s lips before he bit again, carefully far from the vein, closing his eyes as the bond between them flared open. Ahhhhh, the taste of Xander, the feel of Xander, bright and hot as almost-forgotten sunlight, the sweet, pure openness of him, the trust, the wonder, the astonished pleasure as now his Consort felt it too, drinking down pleasure, his/Xander’s/his/Xander’s, drinking down love, Xander’s/his/Xander’s/his . . .

It didn’t last long, Spike healed too fast and with Spike’s blood running through him Xander healed too, but it was enough. Spike could see from the glow in Xander’s eyes when he drew back that it was enough, more than enough.

“Remember that?” Spike said softly. “Told you, there’s a bond between us, between vampire and Consort. You’ve felt it before, though most times we’re both too busy coming to think about it much. Every time we share blood, it grows a bit stronger. I feel it more than you do, ‘cause I know what I’m doing, that’s all. With time and practice, you can learn to feel me anytime, anywhere – know what I’m feeling, even what I’m thinking, eventually.” He leaned in again, kissed Xander slowly, sharing the taste of his blood, tasting his own blood in Xander’s mouth. “Think that’s enough of a souvenir for you?”

Xander swallowed, smiled. He was trembling.

“Guess it’ll do,” he said. Then he grinned. “Well, that and the leather coat, and the SUV and the computer and all.”

Spike chuckled.

“Too bad, I was looking forward to making you sore again so you could have your bit of a reminder whenever you sit down.”

Xander scrambled to his feet, pulling Spike up after him.

“What, I can’t have both?” he pouted. “I’ve got to choose between pressies and sex? Okay, fine, but if I have to take mine back, the bike goes too.” He stalked off in mock outrage, the glorious sight of naked Xander, still in his boots, somewhat distracting Spike, leaving the drooling vampire behind to hastily gather up their clothes and scramble after his Consort.

“Now, wait a minute, Pet, let’s not be hasty,” Spike said, trotting after Xander. Now where did the whelp stow those cuffs, I wonder?