After a few long moments, when Xander's senses were prepared to acknowledge something other than Spike's arms wrapped around him, Xander became aware that they had the stunned attention of the other carpenters.
With an embarassed cough, Xander tried to pull away from the blond vampire.
Spike, however, was having none of it. He kept his arms wrapped firmly around the boy, leaning close to his ear. "Better now, luv?" he asked Xander.
Xander found he had to clear his throat of the lump that had risen in it in reaction to Spike's concern. "Yeah," he replied finally. "I, um, yeah."
Spike held him a moment longer, just to be safe.
"I'm fine, Spike," Xander insisted when the vampire showed no intention of letting go. "Really."
Spike sighed, and began to loosen his hold on the boy. However, before he let go completely, he placed a soft kiss on Xander's forehead. Then, he stepped away altogether, relinquishing all contact with Xander.
Xander blushed a little. "We'd, um, we'd better..." he began to babble.
"Go, pet?" Spike suggested, fighting back the urge to grin at Xander's sudden inability to form sentences.
"Yeah," Xander replied, still looking abashed. He turned to Rodney. "Thanks," he told him sincerely.
Rodney smiled. "No problem, Xander," Rodney answered easily. "Give us a call if you need me to take a shift or anything."
Xander nodded and made his way outside, Spike following closely behind him. When Spike made to turn right to go back to Xander's apartment, Xander stopped him.
"Scooby meeting," Xander reminded him. "Remember? We find big bad demons and violence ensues?" It seemed that even though the rest of him seemed to be falling to pieces, his humour still managed to stay in tact.
Spike gave him a look.
"I'll be fine!" Xander insisted. He gave Spike an exasperated glance. He was so used to no one looking out for him, he wasn't quite sure how to react when someone did. "When did you turn into Mr. Mum anyway?" he demanded testily.
Spike didn't reply. He kept his concerned gaze on Xander.
Xander relented a little guiltily. "I can't just sit around doing nothing until it goes away," he explained. "I've been doing this for years, Spike. I'll be fine."
Spike sighed. "If you're sure, pet?" he asked.
"I'll be fine," he repeated, more to reassure himself, than to reassure Spike.
Spike nodded silently and reluctanctly followed Xander to the Magic Box. At least he'd finally have a chance to get his hands on Angel, he reasoned with himself.
Spike ground his teeth as he thought about just how much he wanted to hurt the souled vampire for what he had done to Xander. Spike had spent most of the day, wearing down the floor in Xander's apartment, pacing up and down, contriving ways to make Peaches pay for almost breaking the boy.
The phonecall he got from a weakened and pleading Xander had only infuriated Spike even more. The anger that had been smouldering in him since he'd discovered the extent of the damage his Sire had caused Xander had exploded into a raging fire after the phonecall.
Nothing could ever even the score between Angel and Xander after all that Angel had done, but Spike vowed he was going to take a bloody good crack at it.
Spike was pulled out of his vengeful thoughts by a slight tug on is arm. "Spike, we're here," Xander pointed out.
Spike glanced up and sure enough they were standing outside the Magic Box. He had spent the entire twenty minute walk contemplating what he would do with Angel when he finally got his hands on him.
The blond vampire gave Xander an examining glance. "You gonna be alright, pet?" he asked seriously.
Xander rolled his eyes. "For the last time, I'll be fine," he insisted. "Now can you quit it with the Mother Hen? If you keep it up, I might just be tempted to spread the word, and then your reputation will be completely ruined."
Spike smirked at that and pushed the door of the shop open for him, letting him pass through first and then following closely behind him, always staying within a foot's length from the boy, his body language giving off all sorts of Alpha Male signals.
"Xander?" Giles looked up as they entered. "Oh good, you're here. We weren't entirely sure that you'd make it after..ah, after last night."
"Just call me Reliable Guy," Xander replied in his usual flippant way. "What's the stitch with the Ugly Brigade?" Spike stood at his side, scanning the shop for any sign of Angel, but there was none.
"Perkathlar demons," Willow piped up. "Giles is pretty sure he's got a spell to weaken them."
Xander rubbed his hands together eagerly. "Well, what's with the waiting around?" he asked. "Let's get jiggy with the mojo and take the dastardly fiends down."
"You're awfully eager," Buffy observed a little suspiciously.
"What?" Xander tried to look indignant. "Can't a guy want to fight the forces of darkness without eyebrows being raised?"
"Not when the guy in question usually runs at full speed in the opposite direction when darkness is involved," Buffy replied, her voice rippling with amusement.
"Hey!" Xander exclaimed.
"Oh, do cut it out," Giles interupted them, before Buffy could reply. "Xander, Angel has gone to fetch the applicable spellbook from my apartment. Once he has returned we'll being the ritual."
The words were barely out of his mouth before Spike was making his way to the door.
"Spike?" Xander asked after the retreating vampire, a little hurt by his sudden departure.
"Be back in a jiffy, luv," Spike replied. "Promise." And then he out the door and striding out into the night, duster billowing behind him.
"What *is* his deal lately?" Buffy wondered aloud, watching as the blond vampire departed.
"I don't know," Xander replied his voice betraying his concern at the vampire's behaviour.
As soon as Spike was out of the shop, he strode deliberately towards Giles' place, his mind a fog of rage and an angry red mist swimming over his vision. He paused only once to break off a sizeable piece of railing and grasp it in his hand like a weapon.
That crowbar he'd used on Angelus during the Acathla debacle was going to be nothing compared to what he was going to do to the bleedin' poof now.
Spike was less than two blocks from the Magic Box, when he saw him. He was strolling along the pavement, his patented "I'm so tortured, look at me" expression set firmly in place and his arms full of books.
Angel squinted at the figure striding towards him. "Spike?" he asked in suprise.
Spike didn't reply. He covered the short distance between them and struck the other vampire hard across the back of the head and neck with the metal rod in his hand. Angel dropped to his knees with the force of the blow.
"You jammy fucking git!" Spike yelled at him, and hit him again, this time slamming the metal bar across the upside of his face, leaving a noteable bloody dent in it's wake.
Angel flew backwards, landing a few feet away on his back.
Spike strode towards him, anger pouring off him in waves. He raised the bar to strike again, but this time Angel defended himself, rolling up into a crouch and catching the end of the metal bar before Spike could hit him with it.
"What's this about?" Angel growled at his Childe, dark eyes switching to gold as he morphed into game face.
Angel had expected to hear one of many answers from his wayward Childe. He expected to hear that this was about him taking Dru away from him, or deserting them years ago, or any one of the many unforgiveable things he'd done in his two centuries as a vampire.
He did *not* expect to hear Spike, one of the most violent fiends to ever walk with the night, to hiss out the name of one of the Slayer's friends in a tone that was absolutely riddled with emotions that no vampire had any right to feel for a human.
But he did: "Xander," Spike answered succinctly, yanking the bar out of Angel's grip and striking the souled vampire again, before he had a chance to defend himself.
"You," Strike. "Raped," Strike. "Xander," Strike.
Angel weakly raised an arm to deflect the strikes. "I was Angelus," he protested.
Spike paused momentarily in his attack to glare at his Sire. "And what? It just slipped your mind to apologise to the whelp once you were back with your bleedin' soul?" he demanded.
"You fucking ponce!" Spike yelled at him, bringing the bar down hard against Angel's skull with a satisfying crack.
"Thanks to your bloody oversight, Xander has spent the last two years blaming himself!" He struck down again, this time hitting Angel's shoulder blade and knocking it out of place. "Two *fucking* years!" he yelled, slamming the metal bar against Angel's ribs.
"Does that torture your poor bloody soul, *Peaches*?" Spike demanded.
Spike finally lost what little control he had and began to lay into Angel mindlessly. He stabbed and he beat and he struck and stuck again, all the while screaming and yelling at the other vampire.
Angel slipped back into human face and made no move to defend himself. He knew and Spike knew that he deserved much more than a beating with a metal bar for what he'd done to Xander.
Finally, Spike tossed the metal bar away, straddled Angel's ribs painfully, and began to punch Angel's face in, until it was so covered in blood and bruises that the souled vampire was barely recogniseable.
Eventually, Spike ran out of steam. He stood and gave Angel a firm kick in the stomach, making the other vampire double over and spit blood.
"You touch *my* Xander again, and I'll rip your fucking throat out," Spike threatened, his voice riddled with promise.
Angel coughed up blood and spit. "I promise," he managed to get out. "Spike," he pleaded. "I...I'm sorry."
Spike glared at him in disgust. "It's not me you need to apologise to, Peaches," he pointed out.
After a long moment of silence, Spike reluctantly put out a hand and helped Angel up.
Together they gathered up the dropped books and walked back to the Magic Box in silence.
Xander had surreptiously been keeping his attention on the door since Spike had left, so the minute he heard it open, his eyes darted up to see a severely bloodied and beaten Angel, half-walk, half-stumbled through the door.
"Good Lord!" Giles exclaimed when he also caught sight of the souled vampire. His exclamation drew the combined attention of the Scooby Gang to the battered vampire.
"Oh my!" exclaimed Willow.
"Angel!" Buffy exclaimed. "What happ--" She broke off as she caught sight of Spike entering behind his Sire, a satisfied glint in his eyes and blood on his shirt. Instantly, a stake was in her hand and she was striding towards Spike, preparing to dust him.
"Buffy, don't!" Angel exclaimed, one arm darting out to grab her stake arm, despite the obvious pain he was in.
Buffy blinked up at her ex-boyfriend in confusion. "But after what he's done to you," she protested. "It was him, wasn't it? I know it was him," she insisted.
Angel pulled her out of range of Spike. "You don't understand, Buffy," Angel told her firmly. "Just...just stay out of it, please?" His dark eyes pleaded with her.
"I will not stay out of it!" Buffy exclaimed indignantly. "I don't care if he's helpless. Anyone who hurts the people I care about has to answer to me!" Buffy looked a bit flustered as she realised what she'd just admitted to, but she stood her ground.
A painful expression flickered across Angel's face. His eyes very breifly darted to Xander, but were back on Buffy so quickly that Spike and Xander were the only ones who noticed the swift glance.
"I'm afraid that's going to have to wait," Giles interjected before Angel could answer. "This ritual is supposed to be performed on the stroke of midnight, and we still have the text the translate and the preparation to complete."
"He's right, Buffy," Willow cut in. "This is a really complex working. If we want to do it tonight, we're going to have start now."
Buffy reluctantly put the stake away. "Okay, I'll behave," she promised with a pout. She shot a glare at Spike. "For now," she added pointedly.
Spike could've cared less. He deposited the books he'd carried on the table in front of the Watcher and as soon as the attention was off him, he immediately went to Xander's side.
The dakr-haired slayerette had been watching the blond vampire in amazement, since the vampire stode into the shop behind his Sire, and he had realised what Spike had done for him.
Xander was floored by it.
Spike casually lounged in the seat beside Xander, his pose appearing completely innocent to the casual observer.
If anyone had bothered to look closely, however, they would have caught sight of his pale hand moving to take Xander's under the table, and Spike occassionally leaning close to the boy to talk softly to him.
Xander twined his fingers with Spike's the instant their palms touched. "You beat Angel up for me," Xander spoke softly. It was a statement, not a question.
Spike shrugged nonchalantly. "It wasn't exactly a chore, you know, pet," he pointed out with smirk curling around his lips.
Xander smiled back despite himself. "Thank you," he told Spike sincerely. "Not just for turning Angel into a punching bag, which I know you loved every minute of, but the rest of it, as well."
"Your welcome, pet," Spike told him seriously. "Though," he added with another smirk. "That wasn't exactly a chore, either."
Underneath the table, Xander squeezed the vampire's hand.
Spike regarded Xander seriously. "How are you doing, pet?"
"I'll be fi--" Xander began, but broke off at Spike's raised eye brow. Xander sighed. "I-I think I want to go home," he said instead.
Spike nodded, giving his hand a last squeeze under the table, before letting go. Xander gave the blond vampire a baffled, hurt look. Spike mentally slapped himself for worrying the boy.
"If we leave together like that, your mates'll get suspicious," he explained. "And I don't really fancy getting a stake pointed at me for the second time in one night."
Xander's expression cleared. "Oh," he said, a little embarassed to have shown his vulnerability. He shifted away from the vampire and stood.
"Uh, guys?" he said to the others. They glanced in his direction. "I'm, uh, not feeling too good," he told them. "I think I'm going to go home."
Buffy looked suprised. "You're not going to stick around to 'take the dastardly fiends down'?" she asked, her voice echoing her suprise.
Xander shook his head. "I'm not too good at the mojo stuff anyway," he pointed out. "And I'd probably just get in the way, especially since I'm, ah, feeling sick."
"You can't walk home alone," Willow protested. "Especially not if you're feeling sick."
"I'm inclined to agree with Willow here, Xander," Giles put in, habitually cleaning his glasses. "Sunnydale isn't safe at the best of times, let alone with a demon pack roving the streets."
"I'll take him," Spike piped up, taking his cue. He got shocked looks from the Scooby Gang. "What? The whelp's still got some blood in his fridge," he explained.
"Uh uh," Buffy countered. "You've already beaten up one of my friends tonight, I'm not looking to up double that count." She glared at him, hands on her hips.
"I do still have a bleedin' chip, you know," Spike replied. "And I'm not about to go through a mind-numbing headache just to take a swing at one of your groupies."
"But the chip isn't going to stop you from leaving him to be eaten by a demon pack," Buffy pointed out, standing her ground.
Spike snorted. "And have you stick your filthy stake in me?" he retorted. "No bloody thanks."
"It's fine, Buf. Really," Xander insisted from the doorway. "If we get attacked, I promise to use Spike as a body shield."
Buffy frowned at them both, but finally relented. "All right." She glared threateningly at Spike. "If he gets hurt, I'm going to rend you limb from limb," she threatened him.
"Sounds like fun," Spike tossed back, before following Xander out the door.
Angel was the only one who continued to watch them once Buffy's attention had been diverted from them. "Good night, Xander," he called just before they were out of earshot.
Spike saw the shudder run through Xander at Angel's words and he reached out and took the boy's hand in his and squeezed it reassuringly. They walked the rest of the way home in silence.
When they reached Xander's apartment, they silently went straight to the bedroom. Kicking off his shoes, Xander crawled into bed. His dark eyes peered up at Spike questioningly.
The blond vampire wordlessly kicked off his own shoes, before crawling under the blankets with Xander and gathering the boy up in his arms.
Xander snuggled against Spike, wrapping his arm around the vampire's waist and resting his head on the vampire's chest.
For a long moment, they lay like that in silence.
"It doesn't end here, does it?" Xander asked a little sadly, already knowing the answer.
"No, pet," Spike replied softly.
Xander burrowed further into the vampire's embrace. "Does it ever end?" he asked in a tiny voice.
Spike tightened his arms around the boy protectively. "I'll let you know," he promised Xander.
Xander sighed and hugged himself tighter against the vampire, eventually falling to sleep.
Spike lay awake and watched him with darkened eyes.
Spike watched as the dark-haired boy in his arms began to stir.
Spike had barely moved all night, content to keep up his silent vigil of the boy and think.
If someone had come to Spike a few months ago and told him that he'd spend whole nights just watching Xander sleep and enjoy every minute of it, he would've ripped their entrails out just for suggesting it.
But he had. There was a trusting quality in the way the boy curled up contently in his arms. A quality that he'd never seen Xander share with anyone but him and that made it all the more special.
Generally when Xander was around other people, he was constantly jittery and nervous, making jokes at every oppurtunity as some kind of defense mechanism and always dragging himself down to the others' expectation of him, as if to pre-empt dissappointment.
But throughout the last day or so, Spike had seen another side of Xander. One that was both more vulnerable and much stronger than the side he displayed to the world.
Throughout those months of abuse, Xander had stayed quiet and kept it a secret from his friends. Part of it, Spike knew, had to do with the fact that a part of Xander believed that he was to blame, but a lot of it had been stedfast loyalty to his friends. To never make them feel more hurt or guilt or anger than they had to. He was protecting them.
And no matter how much abuse Angel put him through and how much misdirected anger and disappointment his friends gave him because of the way he behaved because of it, Xander was determined to carry the burden alone. He would've died before he let anyone have to share in his pain.
In just over 24 hours this boy had shaken Spike up so badly that every belief he'd ever held had been uprooted. Spike was a demon. He was a ruthless killer who could murder whole villages and still whistle a jaunty tune as he left town. He could bathe in the blood of whole families and not even feel a twinge of guilt or regret.
And yet he would offer anything, give up everything, to make the mortal in his arms whole again and happy. He would do anything to protect him, and do anything he asked of him.
Spike had well and truly fallen.
And the fact that the object of his affection was blinking up at him with huge choclate-coloured eyes, his expression a mixture of half-awake confusion and wonder, was not helping Spike repress those feelings.
Spike trailed his fingers through the boy's hair tenderly. "Morning, pet," he greeted Xander.
Xander blinked. "Spike?" he asked in confusion.
Spike gave him a gentle smile, which looked suprisingly at home on the master vampire's face. "What?" he teased the boy. "You don't remember our sordid night of carnal lust?"
Xander blinked again. There was a short pause before he spoke that made Spike worry that he'd overstepped the mark. The grin that followed, however, was so breathtaking that Spike completely forgot what he was supposed to be worrying about.
"Can't have been very memorable, Bleachboy," Xander teased back. "Because, I'm drawing a blank."
Spike mock-growled at the boy. "Well then, pet, we'll just have to have a re-run, won't we?" he drawled suggestively, arching an eyebrow Xander.
Xander was silent for a moment, again sending Spike into a panic, but the moment passed and Xander's grin turned sly. "Maybe later," he told Spike, a tone of promise in his voice that sent shivers down the vampire's spine.
Spike unconsciously ran a pink tongue over his suddenly dry lips. His blue eyes widened as he saw Xander's immediately darken at his gesture.
He had barely pulled his tongue back into his mouth before Xander leant forward and suddenly there were warm lips pressed against his.
Xander's tongue darted out and stroked along his lips askingly. Spike's arms tightened around the boy and he parted his lips to Xander's questing tongue, moaning into Xander's mouth as he felt his warm tongue slide against his cool one.
The kiss lasted a long moment, both revelling in the exploration of each other's mouths, before they finally parted, letting Xander up for air.
Xander's breathing was ragged and even without breath, Spike was panting. They stared at each other for a long moment, both trying desperately to resist the temptation of the other's mouth.
"I need to ask you something," Xander finally broke the tense silence, once they'd both calmed down a little. He regarded the vampire seriously. "What was it...I mean, what was it like--" he broke off, trying to find the words and failing.
Spike took one look at the boy's tense expression and guess the rest of the sentence. "You want to know what it was like for me and Angelus," he finished for Xander.
Xander nodded. "Do you mind?" he asked in a small voice.
Spike sighed. "I guess not, pet," he answered finally. He gave Xander a solemn look. "But it's complicated," he warned him. "And you might not like everything I have to say."
Xander nodded his understanding. He'd expected as much.
Spike held his gaze for a moment longer, then looked away. "It was different from what he did to you," he began. "He made me, and in vampiric terms that meant he owned me." Spike sighed. "It would've been simpler if the bastard had just used me. But the nonce always did have a thing for head-trips."
Xander's gaze was locked on the blond vampire's face. "What did he do?" he asked softly.
Spike met the boy's gaze, and Xander was shocked by the profound regret and intense self-deprecation that he found there. "He made me love him," Spike said simply.
When the boy made no reply, the vampire sighed and continued. "It wasn't a hard thing to do," he went on. "I'm a bloody git when it comes to love." His expression was self-mocking. "Always running in half-cocked and then clinging on with a death grip, so help me."
Spike snorted derisively. "All the bastard had to do was give me a look or a half a sentence and I was putty in his hands." A bitter smile twisted around the vampire's lips. "He could make me feel like the biggest thing since Ben bleedin' Hur and then the dirt beneath his feet in the next breath."
"He played me," Spike explained. "He'd build me up, only to knock me down again. He made me love him, made me *want* him, and then he'd whip me to an inch of my life and take me in a pool of my own blood."
The blond vampire's bitter smile turned into a self-loathing sneer. "I would have done anything if I thought it would make him love me. I hated him for what he did to me, but I couldn't stop loving him, and I hated myself even more for that."
"You're right," Xander told him after a long silence. "It is different to what he did to me." He gave the vampire a searching look. "It's worse," he said frankly.
Spike didn't reply, just tightened his arms around the boy and pressed himself against him, as though he wanted to crawl inside. Xander obliged as best as he could, pulling the vampire close and running soothing hands through the suprisingly soft blond hair.
Xander knew he'd have to leave the master vampire sooner or later. There were some things he needed to clear up once and for all before Angel hightailed it back to LA.
Xander couldn't keep living with the fear and waking up in the cold sweats, his heart thumping like crazy in his chest. He didn't know if talking to Angel about what had happened was going to make things better or worse, but it was a place to start.
For now, though, comforting the suddenly vulnerable master vampire in his arms had top priority.
Xander tugged the blankets back over them, and tried to make them both as comfortable as possible. He gently rocked Spike in his arms, until the vampire slept.
Then with a sigh, he closed his eyes and slept too.
Xander shuffled his feet nervously outside the Magic Box for the third time.
After their conversation that morning, he and Spike had slept until noon. Eventually, it had been hunger that had woken them both.
They'd both exchanged awkward glances while they ate and then avoided each other's gaze altogether.
Xander had told Spike that he was going over to the Magic Box for a bit. The reason he gave was that he wanted to see how the scoobies had handled the demon pack and check that everyone was okay. He knew that Spike knew the real reason was that he needed to talk to Angel, but the blond vampire didn't contradict him, just quietly offered to come with him.
"It's daytime," Xander had pointed out.
Spike shrugged. "There *are* ways around that, you know, pet," he'd replied nonchantly, not meeting Xander's gaze.
Xander blinked. Despite everything, it was still a suprise that Spike would risk frying himself just to give Xander some moral support.
Xander had shook his head, a slight smile playing around his lips. "Thanks, but no thanks," he'd told the vampire. "It wouldn't be nearly as much fun sharing my bed with a pile of ash."
An unreadable expression had flickered across Spike's face, but it was gone too fast for Xander to try and figure out what it had meant.
Xander had cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Um, yeah," he'd mumbled. "I better get going, then." Without another glance he'd grabbed his keys and made his way to the door.
Before he'd managed to get out of the apartment, however, he'd felt strong cool hands grasp him and turn him around, and the next instant he was pressed up against the door, being thoroughly kissed by Spike.
With a moan, he responded eagerly to the kiss, wrapping his arms around Spike and pressing his body against the vampire's, and sliding his tongue out to play.
After a long moment, Spike pulled away to let Xander breathe.
Xander blinked at him in mild confusion.
Spike pressed a line of butterfly soft kisses along his jaw, before giving him a soft, chaste kiss on the lips and pulling away completely.
"Sure you don't want company, pet?" Spike asked him seriously.
Xander shook his head, ignoring the voice in his head, chanting 'yes, yes'. "I'll be--" he began, but Spike cut him off.
"Fine." The vampire sighed. "Yeah, you've already said. We've covered this ground before," he remarked pointedly.
"I will," Xander insisted, pulling out Spike's embrace.
With a sigh, Spike let him go and stepped back.
"I will," Xander repeated again, not entirely sure who he was trying to convince. He gave the vampire another soft kiss on the lips and left the apartment. "I will," he muttered under his breath as he left.
Now, however, standing outside of the Magic Box with the object of his worst nightmares for the last two years inside, Xander was not so sure.
Taking a deep breath, and ruthlessly smothering the fear that threatened to overwhelm him, Xander pushed the door open and entered.
Angel looked up immediately at his entrance, but said nothing, just watched him with those dark, sad, soulful eyes.
Xander couldn't stomach the gaze and looked away. He noticed that Angel was not alone in the shop. Willow was shuffling through some parts of some unfortunate newts and Giles appeared to be stocktaking behind the counter.
"Xander?" Willow said when she looked up.
"Hey Wills," Xander greeted her, a little uncomfortably. "How did you make with the mojo? Did the demon pack go bye-bye?"
Willow gave him a slightly puzzled look. "Yeah," she answered a little uncertainly. Something about her friend was...slightly off. "How are *you*?" she asked with concern. "I can't remember the last time you pulled a sickie when slaying was involved."
Xander tried to keep his face expressionless as he replied. "I'm fine," he told her flatly. "Just a little tired," he explained, wholly unconvincingly. "Bad day at work, you know."
Willow was unconvinced, but let him off after a searching look.
Xander shifted even more uncomforatbly. "I think I'm going to, um, hang out back for a bit," he said to anyone who was listening. As he strode past Angel, he gave the souled vampire a significant look.
Only Willow noticed when Angel stood and followed the boy a moment later. She stared after them, her brow creased in thought.
Xander was waiting patiently in the Danger Room, when Angel appeared. His body was tensed in hard lines, as if he was trying to convince every nerve not to react to the souled vampire's prescence.
"Xander," Angel said, not sure what else to say.
"Deadboy," Xander responded coldly.
There was a long silence between them.
"So," Angel finally broke the silence. "You and Spike..." he trailed off questioningly.
Xander ground his teeth. He hadn't come here to gossip. "It must be convinent," he practically spat at the souled vampire. "To have your victims comfort each other. Saves on brooding time, I bet."
"No," Angel answered immediately. "Nothing could make me forget, or...forgive myself for what I've done."
Xander searched his gaze. "It is you, isn't it?" he asked a bit sickly. "The soul isn't another person, it's just a conscience, a leash."
Angel's expression became pained. "Xander..." he began placatingly, but Xander wasn't in the mood to be placated.
"Is it or isn't it?" he demanded.
"It's a conscience," Angel admitted finally. "If it hadn't been me, I wouldn't have anything to pay for."
Xander looked sick. "So there's still a part of you that wants to do those things? That wants to..." he couldn't finish the sentence.
"I would never hurt you again," Angel promised, immediately.
Xander shuddered and stepped back. "You don't know that," he contradicted the souled vampire, taking a step backwards. "And it doesn't matter, not after everything you've done."
Angel sighed. "I know," he replied. "And I'm sorry. Not just for what I've done, but for not telling you that earlier, when I could." His dark eyes pleaded with Xander's. "I promise you, I will never hurt you again. *Never*," he declared. "I'd stake myself first."
Xander shook his head in denial. "You don't know that you won't lose your soul again," Xander pointed out. "You can't make those promises, you can't lull me into a sense of security, not after..." he trailed off again.
Angel's lips tightened. "It's not just the soul talking Xander," he told the boy. "*I* wouldn't hurt you. You have my word."
Xander wanted to believe him. Oh, how he wanted to believe him, but the fear was too deep-seated...or was it?
Xander pushed past him and back into the shop. He practically ran out the door, without so much as a by-your-leave to Giles or Willow. He heard Willow's voice calling after him in confusion, but he didn't stop running, not until he was back in his apartment and in Spike's arms.
The blond vampire had been waiting for him. As soon as he saw the frightened and lost expression on the boy's face, he pulled him close, eventually carrying him to bed with him and pulling the blankets around them both.
"Spike, I..." he began, but could not finish.
Spike soothed him, stroking his hair and placing gentle kisses all over his face, until he curled up against the vampire's chest and began to calm down.
"It's going to okay, pet," Spike soothed him.
"Is it?" Xander asked, half-begging, half-uncertain.
"Yeah," Spike replied. "It had bloody better be," he muttered under his breath."
Xander did not answer, just curled against his side and slept. He'd been sleeping an unusual amount, Spike noted. But then, he had a lot of sleepless nights to make up for.
Spike silently swore that he wouldn't have anymore. Not if he could help it.
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