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Before eternity began, there was the Fall, and among the fallen there was the demon. The demon knew desolation, pain and rage. Among its own kind viciousness was virtue, and weakness was eradicated. In abject solitude among the teaming hordes of the nether regions it dwelt, fighting to subsist, subsisting to grow in power and influence, gaining power not for pleasure but to ensure survival. At last, in time, it ascended to the world of man though the will of the Maker. The Maker gave the man unto the demon to consume and through that consumption the demon was brought forth into the waking world. The man gave the demon form and face, mind and memory, and so in a fashion the two were made one.

But the Maker was flawed and new to the world. Unlike others of its kind it sought not to dominate its childe but to be nurtured and protected by it. So the demon drew on the memories of the man and from its first moonlit,
blood-filled night it was set apart from its own kind. The Maker's Maker had shackled her power through his deliberate shattering of her mind and spirit. Her gift brought forth her pertinacious childe to stand between her and her Master's whim.

But Fate removed the Maker's Master and the demon called on the man's compassion and bound itself to it Sire not only by lust and blood, as was the way of their kind, but by loyalty and honor. Together the Maker and her
childe roamed and hunted, ever at her caprice. To provide succor to his fragmented sire, drawing on his lost humanity, the demon used the man's patience and intellect, but hid this weakness from his own kind. To hide his
humanity he made sport of legends, and unable to rise in stature through his Maker's deeds, sought the chosen ones and became the Slayer of Slayers.

His Maker, seeing her flaw reflected in her imperfect childe, cast the demon adrift. And the demon dwelt apart; separated from the darklings by the very traits the Maker crafted, shunning the light-kinder it hunted, even as it
was hunted.

Time passed and the world changed, man made new magic of caged lighting and studied dark arts of the mind and body. Humanity, no longer cowering in fear or oblivion, bred new children ripe for war. The demon fell, as prey became predator, and was torn apart and reborn with synthetic magic. The magic harnessed the demon but not the man, and so this one, unique among its brethren, secured freedom. The demon's nature was obstructed and turned more and more to the man's reason and guile to survive. The memories of the man suggested sanctuary lay not among its own kind, who by nature would turn on the weak, but with the light-kinder, whose very fostering of such weakness made them prey to the darklings. Upon receiving sanctuary among the warriors of light the demon made study of their weakness and plotted its rise back into power.

But the man studied also and noted their strengths. The demon was unsuccessful. Its bid for freedom was foiled and its dark hopes were sown on infertile ground. Alone again, the hunger for security and kindred raged as strong as the bloodlust, and the demon was schooled by the man. He saw the very weakness he had attempted to exploit turned again and again into strengths. The demon waited and the man studied and forced treaty on the defenders of mankind. Weakened, he craved strength, and worthy foe became worthy ally. The very one he had hated was now desired, and the demon chose his mate. The mate was fierce and strong, loyal and beautiful without the
fractures of his sire. She gathered around her unworthy minions and the demon was jealous. He called on the memories of the man and pursued his mate, but his suit was rejected. The demon raged, and the man studied. The
minions lacked its mate's fierceness and strength yet were valued and accepted. The man reasoned that the demon must embrace loyalty and show compassion for these were the weaknesses the mate valued in her minions. The
demon had honed both in caring for it damaged maker, and again pursued its mate. Again the mate spurned him, but called on his strength and wisdom to guard the light. The man despaired but the demon accepted cruelty and
returned loyalty to the mate. And in the end the demon's mate gave unto him that which she most valued; not her love, but those whom she loved , and entrusted to him the care of her most precious one.

Part One

Bid me weep, and I will weep while I have eyes to see And having none yet I
will keep a heart to weep for thee (1)

The 'cold' gray light of morning was anything but as it danced along the surface of his skin. Even wracked with pain after his plummet from the tower and his previous capture by Glory, Spike couldn't summon up the wherewithal to focus past his numbing sense of loss. The emotion of the shocking realization that she was gone blanketed his perception. Buffy, his beautiful golden Buffy was dead. Over and over those words repeated in this head. Yet still the concept that she was gone slipped from his grasp. Her strength, her perseverance, her raw, focused determination against insurmountable odds had been his bulwark during the single most unsettling time of his unlife. When he had first been chipped, he had denied her power. He had been at a disadvantage - couldn't hunt, couldn't feed, shaken to his very core. It had been worse than when he had been fledging, the sense of powerlessness. The Big Bad had never had to depend on anyone, not to feed. Spike never had found he could depend on anyone, not since his death or before. Reluctantly the Slayer had offered him sanctuary and obediently her minions had followed suit. He hadn't been able to bring himself to depend on that sanctuary. Unable to bring himself to rely on humans, he had been unable to believe they would hold up their end of the deal. No more than he had been able to believe that the bonds of that little group, not being enforced by pain and fear, could stand against his interference. He had been wrong, painfully wrong. He had first admired Buffy as a worthy opponent. Gradually over time, watching her with her 'minions', he came to respect the way she had enhanced her Slayer persona with their support. Her loyalties and loves had not weakened her, as any vampire would believe. These qualities had not left her open to attack or distracted her at a crucial moment but had time and time again turned the table on more powerful antagonists.

Her relationships with them were so unlike the way a vampire used its minions. When they put their backs together they could stand against anything. There was no struggle for power, no jostling for position. They each gave all they had; building on each other's strengths and without conscious thought they fortified each other's weaknesses. Nothing could sway their faith in each other. Spike had learned that first-hand from the results of his attempt to divide and conquer them in his agreement with Adam. And now they had placed their all-too-brief and fragile lives between all the power and rage of a Hell-God and the rest of humanity.

It was impossible. They lacked the rigid discipline of an army or the viciousness of a mob. What they were was something far more subtle -- kin. In the oldest sense of the word; stronger than any blood bond, much like the
primal hunt/coven bonds of vampires but lacking in the darkest traits. They were a collective of determined, independent individuals. Each one would at times willingly circumvent their own wants and needs to protect the others. Spike saw that his mistake in the past had been in first treating them like prey, and then when that failed approaching them like a rival master's conclave. His failures had been mostly due to his wrong assumptions of who
was this group's master, and what their weakness was. Time and time again, the traits he had assumed would work in his favor had been the very ones to blow his plans to hell and back. Rupert's insistence that he only guide, not
control his Slayer should have hampered both his ability to impart his knowledge and the speed of her response while she questioned his instructions. Instead it had created a more powerful Slayer, one who could make her own decisions under pressure, yet was unafraid to expose her limitations by seeking help. The whelp's eagerness to please and willingness to let the others take all he had to give and more should have drained the boy. Xander had no enhanced strength, and while Spike had noticed that he was far more perceptive than most people thought, he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Somehow the boy used that. Seeming completely oblivious to slights and insults, the whelp remained ever ready to bleed himself dry in his feral devotion to his friends. Red, with her self-effacing insecurities, should have been easy to manipulate. *Wouldn't she make a pretty and powerful pawn in the right hands?* Yet there was a steely resolve to the fragile-seeming witch, and Spike knew from personal experience that the girl did not back down. Buffy had called Willow her big gun before the tragic battle in which they had won the war, but lost what had made it worth fighting. They had won, largely due to Red. She had managed to brain-suck a hell-god minutes before she was tossing that mob of humans around like tenpins. *Would have thought twice about kidnapping her and the whelp, if I knew she could do that.* When the seven of them tumbled into the magic shop it seemed days had passed, rather than hours. *Wellesley [2] was right, funny you don't see a won or a lost battle as melancholy, when the remains resemble a food fight --- when it's not your own that's lying broken and

Spike thought this might be it; Buffy had been their linchpin and without her the little group might just slowly drift apart. Rupert had fought for the white-hats before Buffy had come into his life, but the others cared more for the girl than any cause. Spike dropped onto the metal stairs leading up to the loft and watched as the others settled around the shop. Or attempted to. The Watcher led the Nibblet to one of the chairs at the table, and guided her to sit. She sat, unaware of her surroundings, shedding quiet tears for her sister, for her mother, for the safe world she remembered but would never know again. Red fluttered about, fussing over her girlfriend and the little one, covertly keeping a close eye on the Watcher. Spike admitted to himself he was waiting, waiting for when one of them to look at him and ask, 'why are you here?' waiting for them to close ranks against him and possibly drive him out into the sunlight. He wondered if he would resist, at least make some token effort at self-preservation. As his tears blurred his vision again, he could almost see Buffy in front of him. He could almost take himself back to that one brief moment, when they had gone back to her house and she had said "Come inside, Spike." She had crossed the Watcher and the whelp to include him on that disastrous escape attempt. She had trusted him with her beloved sister's life. It more than made up for her repeated rejections. Those small words, that show of trust, more than justified his
turning his back on his dark princess for her. She had trusted him, and for one brief moment he had belonged. Belonged to her and to hers, and Spike didn't think he could bear it if they turned him out. He promised his lady
he would protect Dawn, and in retrospect all her minions would fall under his protection now that the Slayer was dead.

He was jarred out of his introspection by Anya's hysterics. At least her disjointed words had sounded like hysterical gibberish before she had limped out of the shop. He expected the whelp to follow after the demon bint. *She has the boy well trained; he should follow,* Spike thought, looking at the shattered looks of the humans. *When he goes, that will start it. They will each stumble off on their separate ways.* Spike reasoned it would be just like he had predicted to Adam, they would drift apart in their own private miseries. But the boy hesitated and surprised him by turning back to the gang. Maybe he shouldn't be surprised. Spike remembered those strong human arms dragging him out of the collapsing library only hours after the whelp had threatened to kick his shiny white bum. If nothing else, the boy was unpredictable.

The little blond witch said something about shock, and that they should make Dawn drink something hot. She said she would get something. The Watcher had gone back to the office. Spike could hear his stifled sobs. He didn't think
the humans could hear that soft sound, but Red went back anyway. Given the uncanny powers she had so recently displayed Spike wouldn't have put it past her to have read his mind. The boy knelt in front of Dawn, his hands enveloping her small white fingers as he first pressed her hand between both his palms and them gently kissed its back. *Angelus was right, a true white knight.* The girl remained unresponsive, and if not for Spike's enhanced
hearing he would have missed Xander's soft words.

"You know Dawn; there's so much I don't know. But I can tell you this with absolute certainty. When you love someone, you give them a part of yourself. It binds you to them. Nothing, not even death can sever that connection.
Part of you is with Joyce and Buffy and always will be. They're even now drawing strength and love from it. And part of them will always be within you. I know it hurts too much now, but eventually you'll be able to look
inside and feel that part of them and wrap it around you, and nothing will ever be able to shake the love and strength you draw from them." Xander swallowed hard, and Spike felt a pang of sympathy for a boy raised in an era
where men just didn't cry. Xander's voice was rough with suppressed emotion when he continued. "I love you, Dawn. You have a piece of my heart and you always will, in life and in death. I loved them too. That hasn't stopped. It
never will. I just want you to know you're not alone. We're family. You know what that means - even if you wanted to, you can never get rid of us."

The blond witch returned with the hot tea, and coaxed Dawn to drink. Spike saw Red catch the whelp's eye and wordlessly summon him to the office. As the boy passed by, Spike was astonished to feel a warm hand briefly squeeze his shoulder. He had thought they were so wrapped up in their own grief they had forgotten him. He had still expected at any moment one of them would notice he was there and chuck him out. That wordless 20th century gesture expressed so many things. In that one fleeting gesture he was included, acknowledged, and the precarious welcome he had obtained courtesy of the Slayer had been reaffirmed. It also reminded him of the last promise he had made to Buffy, the promise that hadn't ended with her death but had been a just in case - just in case I don't make it she had said, like there was a chance in hell she would. Spike, who had been privy to the secret of this unit's power, had always been on the outside looking in. Now, with that one unconscious gesture, Xander had given him a glimpse of what it felt to belong, a taste of the wellspring of power that the Slayer had drawn upon for five years.

The nibblet hadn't shown much interest in drinking the hot tea, but she did clutch the warm mug in both hands. Spike quietly slipped into the seat next to her at the table. The boy's words hadn't seemed to reach her so he
wrapped the long fingers of one hand around her hands and gently stroked her hair with the other. The witch seemed to sense the futility of trying to make her talk and just offered her quiet comforting presence.

At length Spike spoke in a low, calming voice. "Hush now, nibblet. There, there, you'll make yourself ill." Dawn did not answer with words but gradually her tears slowed and stopped. Tara had to pry the mug loose to take the cold tea and went to make more. Once they were alone, Spike said, "The whelp's right, you're not alone. As long as they draw breath and blood flows in their veins they will stand by you, through hell and back. Not being hampered by those restrictions myself, I'll be there to dandle your great-grandchildren on my knee when you are old and gray. This I swear."

"That's a promise, isn't it?" She whispered softly, eyes still unfocused. Spike was so relieved that she had spoken he barely managed a firm nod and squeezed her hands. She turned, still clutching at his hand; the fires of grief in her eyes banked but not burned out. Her voice was raw from her silent crying when she said, "I remember. That man said you didn't have a soul, that he couldn't understand why you would risk yourself, and you said you had made a promise. You take your promises pretty seriously."

"Very seriously, Pet." *There's hidden depths to this one.* She reminded him so much of Joyce, he was hard-pressed not to start sobbing again.

"What can I promise you?" Twice in the space of an hour he was astonished. He knew that she grasped the concept of a demon, more than most, given her background, or the background she remembered. Yet the trust she placed him, which now shone in her eyes, made him fear for her and long to keep her safe in any way that he could.

"You swear you'll listen to the Watcher, and the witch, and the whelp. You keep yourself safe. You promise me you won't let this break you." He hadn't meant to sound so fierce. He feared for a moment he might drive her back
into her silent shell, but she tried to smile.

"This is one of those 'do as I say not as I do' things, right?" Still resilient under such a burden, her feeble attempt at humor, accompanied by the Dawn version of Buffy's patented eye roll, was oddly reassuring. *Sums and parts. Wonder if this was what the Slayer was like at this age.*

Spike countered, "I'm willing to try." It seemed only fair to trade her endeavored sarcasm for his less than classic smirk.

"I guess we'll have to stick close to each other," She squeezed his fingers between both hands. "Just to keep each other honest." *And didn't she just wink? Amazing. She's going to survive this.*

part one
1. Robert Herrick 'To Althea Who May Command Him Anything'
2 Arthur Welllsey, Duke of Wellington



part two

Hadn't that been a shock? Spike had been in the shop and strolled back to see if, in all the commotion, anyone had thought to stop off at the butcher's. Instead of finding the tiny refrigerator in the corner of the training room, there was a huge 1950's monster blocking the passageway. The boy had shown up early and had been working on the framed part of the practice space. Xander had taken to working on the shop to stave off the frustrating hours of unsuccessful research they had been doing since Glory had arrived. In addition to installing a tiny galley kitchen the boy was also working on the basement storage room and various display areas out in the shops public area. Spike had tuned out the noise of power tools and banging, assuming the whelp needed an outlet for his grief and frustration; this was at least productive. The fridge hummed with power so Spike took a look inside, not expecting the Slayer's minions to remember the pet vampire, but hoping the cupboard wasn! 't bare. He stood there, mouth gaping in shock. There were over a dozen bags of human blood. The good stuff, marked and typed by the blood bank, and by the dates written on the bags, fresh. He looked around in amazement.

Spike had kept a wary eye on the nibblet since they had lost the Slayer, and the Watcher hadn't left her side. The store was closed but they were cloistered in the office, taking care of making the arrangements for Buffy. The witch and her mate hadn't arrived yet. Only the boy had been bustling about, going in and out of the store since the daybreak. Beside the blood the only items in the icebox were cases of the soft drinks he had seen the boy hauling in on his broad shoulder earlier. A touch told him that the ginger ale Dawn liked was chilled, and catching her eye through the window of the office door Spike held up a can and inclined his head in query. She nodded and smiled weakly at him. The Watcher was on the telephone and looked almost as weary as she did. The office reeked of dust and dry leather bindings when Spike slipped quietly in to bring Dawn her drink. Taking the drink in one hand she reached out with the other and squeezed his long fingers in her small grip. Her tears had dried and she looked up at Spike from where she perched on the edge of the single chair, besides the one behind Rupert's desk, with red-rimmed eyes that burnt into his heart. Spike was still staring into those lost eyes when the Watcher ended the call. "How
about you, Rupes?" He asked. "Fancy a cuppa?" *Well, good now we're both bewildered. Least I don't show it so openly*

When Giles finally managed to wrap his mind around the fact that William the Bloody had just offered to make him tea he said, "ErNo. Thank you. Oh! I do apologize. There has been so muchI'll ask Xander to restock the blood."

"Don't bother, looks like he already did." Spike stroked Dawn's hair before heading out to the currently homeless microwave to fix himself a thankfully palatable meal. Afterwards, he strolled back to where the whelp's racket had
been coming from all morning. Xander was stripped to the waist, in loose, well-worn jeans and safety goggles. Sweat highlighted the movement of his muscles along his broad back as he used a power drill to screw on brackets to mount a shelf above the sink. He had framed the small room with speed and confidence over the past weeks. Spike was surprised at the transformation a few hours of that day had made. Prepackaged cabinets had previously been
hung but now their doors had been attached and the drywall was covered with laminated tile. The floor and walls being finished made a world of difference. The aisle space looked just wide enough to maneuver the refrigerator back into the niche he had left in the far corner.

"Hey, super powered vampire guy, I was just going to shamelessly draft you as grunt labor." Xander removed the goggles and ran his fingers through his hair where the elastic had mussed it. Spike raised an eyebrow and considered playing the 'what's in it for me' card, but knew that if he didn't help it would take Xander longer to do it. That would be time in which the refrigerator would be unplugged and he had a vested interest in keeping its contents safe.

"That mean you want my help moving the fridge?"

"Help? I thought you would do it, and the microwave too." Xander turned a fake innocent look on him and actually batted those ridiculously long lashes.

"Isn't that a union job?" Spike crossed his arms and wondered if he could get the whelp to work for it.

"Spike, vampires don't get hernias." Xander reasoned. It felt good. Almost like Herself would step in any minute to settle it between them.

"All right, Whelp, but you guide it from the other side, otherwise I'll be forced to hear you whine about the scrapes to your floor." Together, they made short work of it. Appliances installed, Xander alternated fussing about with the finishing touches with drinking one of the sodas. Spike noted that the boy didn't even look at the bags of blood when he grabbed his drink. Spike heated a second unit of blood *No use letting the good stuff go to waste, it won't stay fresh forever.* He sipped it, now that the need had been blunted. Sitting on the counter, he watched Xander move about with quiet confidence. Eventually the boy noticed his attention and looked up from where he knelt attaching handles to the drawers and smiled self-consciously.

"What?" Xander asked.

"What brought on the urge to redecorate?" Spike gestured with his mug at the transformed room.

"Just figured we'd be all here more, couldn't..." He paused awkwardly and brushed the hair and added softly looking down, "I just need to keep busy. You didn't notice all this crap before?"

"Wasn't exactly welcome lately. This monstrosity wasn't lurking about when we regrouped here after that road trip to the Crusade." Spike nodded at the old refrigerator.

"Had this set aside, got a friend who works down at the Goodwill store. I was waiting for things to settle down, thought I'd draft Buffy into doing the heavy labor." Spike watched Xander sneak an appraising glance up at him
under those dark lashes, asking if Spike understood but seeming to doubt he would.

"Yeah." Spike answered both the words and the look and contemplated the contents of his cup. *Boy tries to hard to be strong, to be everything his friends need.* "Yeah." He added again.

"You look good." Xander blurted out, then followed up with a burst of babble. "Better. I mean better. You look better than before. I mean more like your old self, less like Glory's punching bag. I mean."

"I know what you mean, Whelp." Spike interrupted before Xander wound himself up so tight he exploded. "This helps." He nodded to the mug.

"Yeah, I read that somewhere." Xander offered up a paler version of his usual bright smile and continued. "Giles would be so proud, I managed to retain something from all the research sessions." Xander washed his hands at
the sink and said he was going to see what the others wanted to do about lunch. He hadn't mentioned the blood, but Spike was sure now that he was the one who had supplied it. It wasn't just that he wondered where the boy had
laid his hands on one of Sunnydale's hottest black market items. What really had Spike's brain ticking away was the fact that in the slightly more than twenty-four hours since losing the Slayer he had thought to get it at all. It occurred to Spike that having someone like Xander in his life, who went to such lengths for his friends, would not be such a bad thing.


Later on the witches arrived, smelling of tears and grief. Willow and Giles held counsel on what would be best for Dawn in the office. Spike noticed that the demon chit still had not arrived. He had been watching for her since the boy showed. Now that the others were all here, he wondered which one would be the first to ask. She wasn't coming. He had known in that instant when Xander had looked up at him when he was attaching the handles to the drawers with the pain in those eyes.... the boy was frantically trying to be strong enough for everyone else to lean on, but felt he had no one to turn to himself. He eavesdropped shamelessly when he saw Red go back to the new kitchen, where Xander was cleaning up after lunch. After suitable praise for the transformation she was the one to ask the question. "Where's Anya?"

"Ah," In the reflection of the office window, Spike saw Xander wipe his hands on his jeans and lean back against the counter. "She This all." He looked away from the concerned witch. Not the subtle avoidance he might be hoping for since he faced a bare wall in doing so. "She's gone." He said finally, turning wounded eyes back at her.

"Gone?" Willow said in confusion, and then looking up at her friend seemed to register his pain through the fog of her own grief. She wrapped her small frame against his and squeezed him into a hug. "She'll be back." She said
with fierce conviction.

"I don't think so." Xander's voice was hardly more than a defeated whisper. Spike longed to pull the bitch's intestines out slowly while she watched. That desire didn't strike him as odd that he wished to inflict pain on her for the distress she caused a boy he himself had taken great pleasure in manipulating in the past. The whelp was Buffy's, so he was now his. Spike was going to take care of them all whether they wanted it or not.

"What's going on?" Dawn whispered in his ear, taking it for granted that he was listening in on the activity in the back.

He thought about asking what she meant, but she always saw through him anyway so he whispered back "Demon bint's skipped town."

"For good?"

*How should I know?* Instead of asking, he hugged Dawn against him and they both turned their attention to the back. After a while, Spike said. "Might be for the best if you just follow your boyfriend's lead on this. See how he
wants to handle it."

"He's not my boyfriend." She said, not sounding at all annoyed by the implication. She hugged Spike back and after a moment murmured into his chest. "Why does everything have to change?"


They kept the service simple; Dawn insisted they have it after sunset. Spike had expected a sparse crowd, only friends of Joyce and Dawn. Buffy had spent all her time performing her Slayer duties, other than the overstuffed Boy Scout she had been shagging, he never saw her with anyone but her minions. Cars lined the quiet cemetery, mostly California plates but some from out of state. Young people, somber, well-dressed and carrying weapons, came out of
the evening darkness. Dawn kept Spike close to her and he pitied the fledge that crossed path with one of these stake-wielding humans.

"Who are all these people?" Spike was glad that Dawn had asked. He was, after all, a Master vampire; it wouldn't do to seem impressed by the army of mourners.

"Children of the Hellmouth," Xander answered with a trace of his glib humor. "Sunnydale High Class of 1999, Buffy was voted class protector. Remember? They might not have a handle on the whole Slayer deal, but they know that
there are things that try to kill us and that Buffy stood between them and those things. We had the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class."

One by one they stopped and offered Dawn their condolences. Xander greeted each by name and introduced Dawn to them by how they knew Buffy. "This is Jeff. He was on the swim team, and Buffy stopped him from eating the coach.
This is Marcia. She was in Mr. Whitmore's Sex Ed; Buffy kept her egg baby from brain sucking her. This is TJ. He worked out just where to position the explosives so that the school would bury the Mayor." It went on and on. Spike noticed when he stopped by the grave in the nights that followed that the people remembered their protector and mourned in their own way. Candles and flowers, bits of poetry and CD's were left at what was becoming a shrine
to the young woman. It would never make it into the Watcher Chronicles but no Slayer had been so embraced by and her community. Spike made sure that the candles stayed lit and took the poetry and CDs home to Dawn.


The blood kept being restocked and the boy checked on Spike daily the same as he did the witch and the Watcher. It became so he could set his watch by when the whelp showed up with the girl, usually with dinner for all and the
news of the town. He was surprisingly well-connected and kept up a steady stream of gossip to Willow and Dawn on who was engaged and pregnant, who had flunked out of college and who was moving and to where. Gradually it was not only the boy's chatter at the dinner table, but the girls joined in with questions and comments. Xander ceased to have to work so hard to make them smile and participate. Spike thought they were going too easy on Rupes. The
Watcher was drinking heavily and would lock himself in the office for hours at a time. The kids had practically taken over running the store and on occasion had left Spike running the till. Which was just wrong- he was evil,
not a shopkeeper.

Spike had taken to spending most of the day in the shop. Usually one of the minions was about for company and Dawn spent most of her time after school there. But he was alone with Rupes when the call came in from the Watcher's Council. Although he went into the back to take the call, Spike was more than able to overhear the conversation. They were rather vocal with their opinion of ringing a fellow Watcher and reaching a vampire. When Spike had asked whom he should say was calling that tosser had snapped, "Who is this?" Spike had calmly drawled, "This is William the Bloody, you wanker. Who the hell wants to know?"

After the call Spike and Giles spent the next twenty minutes exchanging candid views of the Watchers and their impending visit. Spike was almost grateful for the chip; otherwise he would have ended the argument in a rather colorful manner. The Whelp arrived with Dawn. The boy acted as if they weren't still hurling insults, until he seemed to notice the girl shrink into herself watching the adults with a quivering lip. He surprised Spike by interrupting him mid-tirade. "Hey, chip dip. Come on, it's Friday, lets get hunting."

"It's daylight, moron." Spike snarled eager to get back to his argument.

"And we're burning it." Xander persisted. "Come on, so little time, so much ground to cover."

"What are you raving about?" Spike couldn't believe the boy had actually grabbed his arm and was pulling him toward the back.

"No work tomorrow. I want to sweep the tunnels, the Initiative caves, and the old high school before sunset, then we can hit the usual spots. Hurry up - if we hit all three spots before dark I'll spring for one of those onion things you like at the Bronze."

It was an obvious attempt to distract him. It was also an attempt to stop what had upset Dawn, so Spike went along with the whelp. Spike spent most of the time they were roaming the tunnels, caves and corridors waiting for the
boy to comment on the argument, or at least to ask about it. Irritatingly, the boy ignored it and didn't seem any different than their normal nights of patrol. They ended up back at the Bronze and the boy was still refusing to
get drawn in; he even had the audacity to laugh when Spike missed a shot in their pool game. Finally, after barking at the boy and infuriatingly sounding like he was confiding in the whelp instead of ordering him to do something about the Watcher, Spike was able to get him to listen to his point. And with a few stuttered words didn't the cur have him feeling sympathy for the drunken sod. *Damn it, I'm evil.* They left the club and Spike dropped his real concern into the conversation and waited to see what would happen. He looked the whelp in the eye and told him the Watchers were coming and that they had better not find out that Dawn was the Key.


Part three

Spike watched the two of them, heads together in conference, silhouetted against the glaring sunlight. Xander and Dawn usually both jumped out of the car and came straight into the shop. Spike knew Xander intended to brief
Dawn about the Watcher's visit. He wished they were with him in the dim shop so that he could gauge her reactions by sight and scent. When they emerged from the vehicle Dawn sedately crossed the street without the bounce she had just begun to display when arriving 'home' from school. Upon entering the shop she came straight to him and asked, "You know?"

"Not to worry, nibblet, they've been here before. For all their bloody books and lore, they're as Hellmouth-blind as the rest of the blighted buggers that live here." Spike tried to sound nonchalant and hoped that his attitude soothed the girl. The truth was he feared for her, but the boy was right; in Spike's experiences with both Slayers and Watchers, they tended to see just what they wanted to see. He sat at the table with Dawn as she unpacked her books and told him about her day, more subdued than usual. Xander brought her a cold drink and Spike a warm mug. Normally Xander waited only on Dawn, so perhaps that was what made Spike watch the boy so intently. The dark-eyed youth moved about at his normal pace but Spike noticed that in the process of straightening the store the boy secured the exits and stashed weapons about the place.

Spike had been prepared for an argument the night before. The boy had fought beside the Slayer for five years and held Rupert in the awe usually reserved for beloved parents or heroes. Yet the moment Spike had pointed out the
threat, a feral light had gleamed in Xander's eyes and he had begun to consolidate their defenses and marshal their rescources. When the boy had said, "Let's go see the witches,"

Spike had been relieved and a bit shocked to be believed so readily. He had never been so completely trusted. Angelus would have questioned him thoroughly to ensure he had not misinterpreted something or that he was not just plain wrong. Xander had accepted that if Spike thought that something had the potential to hurt Dawn, then it did. He didn't waste time with that other rot, he just acted. The boy often belittled his own intelligence with his jokes and Spike, like many others, had begun to accept Xander's statements as fact. But over the past weeks since they had lost the Slayer, Spike had spent more time with him than any of the others except Dawn. Spike realized that what Xander attributed to 'lack of intelligence' was in actuality the result of poor education. Given the American educational system and Xander's penchant for head-butting walls and frequent sleepless nights while saving the world, Spike was surprised the boy knew as much as he did. Sure, the kid couldn't pick Portugal out on a map if you put a gun to his head, and he thought Henry VIII was a British pop singer from the Sixties but there was real intelligence in those big brown eyes.

Xander spotted Spike's scrutiny as he was hauling an ax and some crossbows up into the loft. He gave a self- conscious shrug and grinned at the vampire. The Watcher emerged from his office and nervously began checking over everything in preparation for their visitors. He found a sword stashed behind the checkout counter and looked pointedly at Spike. Spike smirked and nodded to the boy in the loft.

"Er, Xander" Giles held the sword flat in both palms and raised an eyebrow.

"You don't have to throw it at anyone, G-Man, I just thought it might, you know," he shrugged and brushed his hair out of his eyes, "keep down the interruptions." Xander's grin was contagious. The witches arrived to see all four of them smiling.

"Why are we happy?" Willow asked, smiling a little hesitantly herself.

"Xander has been redecorating again." Giles said. "Are there any more of these I should be aware of?"

"Here and there." The boy looked completely unrepentant and Spike thought again about what a lovely vampire he would make.


By the time the Watchers arrived Spike had taken up a post on the stairs to one side of Dawn. The witches sat at the table, on her other side. Blond and red hair pressed together, side by side, as they shared the same tome, softly whispering disjointed comments and finishing each other's sentences. When the four Watchers entered through the front door, Spike wondered if they had tried the other entrance only to find it bolted. He had to stop himself from turning to look at the boy as the Watchers spread out in a defensive pattern. When one pulled a squirt gun full of holy water, Spike almost apologized out loud to the golden-haired Slayer for failing her so miserably.

Before he had done more than register that he had placed himself in front of Dawn, the threat flew across the room and he heard the boy say, "Drop it."

From the look on Quentin Travers face, there was a weapon pointed him, probably one of the crossbows. Spike growled, flashing his game face and flexed, gnashing his teeth and clenching his fists. The truth was he was in
shock and didn't want the Watchers to read his human visage. He had seen the Slayer's minions react when one of their own was threatened; it was a thing of beauty, their fierceness. Spike had never expected to receive that protection, to be wrapped in the unquestioning loyalty they reserved for one of their own. It was all he could do not to laugh out loud, to crow his delight. In all those years as part of 'the Scourge of Europe' he had never felt this good, this powerful. Sweet Dru, bless her black heart, could never be relied on from one moment to the next. Angelus was besotted with his Sire and too concerned with losing face or being betrayed to ever rely on Spike or to show him loyalty. And Darla, the selfish bint, had only tolerated Spike because he could manage Dru and was so far down in the pecking order that he wasn't considered a threat. This...this was warmth, this was safety. Spike was one of them and he would risk his unlife to protect them, he would keep them close.

Dawn was tugging on his arm and he couldn't not laugh when he met her eyes. That increased the scent of fear coming from the Watchers. Spike wondered what he had missed while growling and threatening the Watchers. Dawn seemed less tense, Rupert, had lowered his weapon, the witches still clasped hands and now that Spike had turned toward Dawn he could see that Xander was still braced for a shot with the crossbow. It was leveled at Quentin Travers. The bell on the door jangled, the Watchers not having locked it behind them, and a redhead smelling of horses and iodine entered. She stopped to examine the unconscious Watcher and prodded him with her foot. In a moment she had all their attention; there was a dragon in Sunnydale, and she seemed to think that the Slayer's minion would do something about it. Spike took the opportunity presented by the distraction to drag Dawn into the back.

* * * * *

Later, after unsuccessfully trying to get the nibblet to stay at Rupert's place, Spike watched the redhead lead the boy through the under brush. They had parked the cars back on the dirt access road and circled around. The girl looked at Xander with obvious lust and Spike wondered if they were shagging. The scent was wrong but the demon bint was out of the picture and the boy was young and healthy and shaggable. *Where the hell did that come from!* He stuck close to Dawn, hoping his presence would make the bleeding Watchers keep their distance and provide protection from the dragon. Spike had been unconscious from his plummet off the tower when the beast had made its appearance through the vortex, but if the nibblet said she saw it, she saw it. Not to mention he could smell some sort of huge carnivore as soon as they pulled up to the access road.

The young man who met them in the clearing by a pickup truck looked enough like Xander to be his brother. Same height, same coloring, but added were a beard, a broadsword, and the clinging red-haired bint. Before long, arguing broke out. No one knew what to do about the dragon but none of them wanted to concede that fact. They could have been there all night, or until the Watchers regained their composure and took over, but quietly, with his trademark humor, Xander got them all working together. The Watchers, minus their walking wounded back at the shop, still tried to explain away a dragon on the Hellmouth, while Giles and the witches made a list of what they would need to use the 'Olaf Maneuver' on a dragon. Spike was relieved when they took Dawn with them to get supplies and set out after Xander to take in the lay of the land and keep an eye on the dragon.

Of course, the plan went to hell the minute the dragon woke up. They were laying out the braziers that the magic users had prepared when the beast snapped to attention and started to thrash about in a bottom-heavy attempt to snatch the circling humans. The futile flapping sent up blinding gales of sand and debris. Spike almost missed the sound of the gunshot in the racket of the dragon; the dragon didn't. It zeroed in on the loud noise and incidentally, the location of the rest of the humans. Spike followed the beast at a run, snagging a twelve-foot grounding rod as
he careened through the paddock, leaping over the horse carcasses. Fortunately, due to the lay of the land and several large trees surrounding the clearing, the dragon had to snake around to strike. Adjusting his course to come at its exposed chest, Spike launched himself and his weapon at the screaming beast. He felt the metal rod impale the dragon and sink a good four feet into its massive body before he let go to drop to the ground and roll away from its slashing claws. Wet hot fluid splashed his lower body and a stench far stronger than previously practically knocked the vampire unconscious.

When Spike staggered back to the humans, he wasn't sure Dawn was all right. He had heard a female scream and had known it wasn't one of his, but needed to be reassured. The sight of Xander leaning against the truck flooded him with relief. The boy was exhausted but not hurt, and Spike knew the girl would be near. He heard her rapid heartbeat from under the truck; she would probably have been safe there even if he hadn't managed to drive the dragon off. He told her to come out after he was sure it had been banished and she went to look after the witches. The Watcher bint looked like she had been dipped in dragon's blood and had been the source of all the screams. Dawn came back and dragged him to the barn to hose off his jeans. She suggested with a blush that he take them off, but he told her they would be clearing out before the authorities worked up the nerve to have a look at all the

"Spike? Where'd they get a gun? I saw a movie where the police in England don't even carry guns." She was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth and smelled more strongly of fear than she had all night.

"What's going on in that head of yours, Nibblet? You're an American. You people get guns before you get driver's license; the mindless violence is my favorite thing about this country. Well, that and the Ramones." Spike tried
to draw her attention away from the Watchers. She didn't answer but her eyes were wide as she considered the Watchers who were clustered about their reeking comrade.

It was Xander's quiet voice that broke her rapt contemplation as he wandered over to them. "Dawnie, not all Watchers are English, and they could have picked up anything once they came through customs. We," the boy indicated both Spike and the witches, who were standing over with the sword-welding couple, "have taken every precaution. I guarantee, after the wet work crap they pulled when Buffy was stuck in Faith's body and the threats they leveled last time they were here, we're ready for a fight. I honestly don't think it's gonna come to that." He tucked the girl under his arm and offered her a smile that she, after a moment, returned.

The redhead who was so enamored of Xander offered Spike a ride back to town in the open bed of the truck and the boy surprised the vampire by suggesting they drop him at Xander's place. Spike would never have been able to get rid of the smell at the crypt. Xander had remarked earlier that judging from the outside he imagined the inside of the dragon would smell really bad. He had been right. Spike was never sure how much the Watcher taught them about vampires, other than how to kill them. Vampires, like most hunters, had a very sensitive sense of smell and Spike was miserable. He desperately wanted to get clean. He was grateful that Xander was letting him into his apartment smelling like he did. Even a human's limited sense of smell would be offended by this stench, as the sobbing Watcher cow proved.

* * * * *

Later, as the boy showed off his cleaning supplies, Spike was treated to a brief glimpse of the quirkiness of being a "Scooby". Most twenty-year-old men were just learning the art of removing their own stains and general laundry upkeep. Xander frowned at the Spike's sticky jeans and said, "I think I can get rid of the smell, but it will probably take all the color out." He looked up with questioning expectancy, and at Spike's nod fetched a metal bucket, probably from the construction site, and filled it with cold water. He emptied an unmarked bottle of colorless liquid into the water and said, "This is really toxic. Make sure you don't get any on...Oh yeah. Duh." Xander brought him a change of clothes for when he was clean and then stumbled out in a fit of awkward shyness at being caught ogling Spike. The
vampire had it on good authority that he was worth more that a passing look but tried not to snicker too obviously at his friend. * Friend? Bloody hell, I'm a wet little sod.*


part four

Alone in Xander's bathroom, Spike pondered the boy's reaction. There had been no mistaking the increase in his heartbeat or the solid wall of pheromones that had slammed into Spike's senses. Xander had, on occasion, flirted with the vampire, whether he had been aware of it or not, but never had he given off such obvious signs of sexual attraction. But then again, he had never flashed the boy before - maybe he should have. It was fun to watch the easy confidence Xander had displayed when garnering his troops to do battle with the dragon evaporate like a morning mist. *Hadn't the Watchers been surprised by that? You would think with all the time they spend tossing off about the supernatural, one extra-dimensional beastie wouldn't set them
all agog.*

Spike finished peeling off his clothes and lined up Xander's odd assortment of cleaning supplies along the edge of the bathtub. He tried small amounts of each to see which had the best chance of cutting through the smelly slime. *Surprised I could scent the boy at all.* The gasoline and paint thinner seemed to have the best effect. With a snort, Spike spared a thought for the silly bint who had been drenched in the dragon's blood and the other Watchers trapped in a hotel suite with her. *Hope this makes them leave. Bad enough trying to keep them from finding out about the nibblet, but I don't like the way they were looking at Xander. Hold on. Why don't I like the attention they're paying to the Whelp?* Spike sat naked, perched on the edge of the empty tub, completely at a loss.

Sure, these were Buffy's minions and, as far as he was concerned, that made them his responsibility, but the boy was different. It wasn't just that Xander had trusted him; it was that he could trust Xander. Tonight for instance, at the same time Spike had realized that the dragon wasn't playing along with the plan and was in fact about to attack, he had seen Xander running for all he was worth toward the others. Spike had only been free to assault the dragon because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Xander would first get Dawn to safety before attempting to save the others. When he saw Xander gulping in great gasps of air he didn't even have to see Dawn to know she was all right.

It was a relief to have a stable hunt partner, one whose priorities and vigilance he could trust. Dru had never been like that. Pretty colors, shiny objects, talking dolls ... there was no telling what would distract his dark princess. But Xander, for all that his mind seemed to flit from one thing to the next like a crack addict channel surfing, never lost sight of what was important. Xander protected the same people Spike was now guarding and had been doing it longer. Yet he accepted Spike and relied on him. The Slayer had given Spike the first sense of belonging, but she lacked Xander's feral loyalty. That was what made Spike feel secure.

So what had Spike feeling all possessive, beside the usual vampire shit? The boy certainly wasn't hard to look at, with thick dark hair, long lashes, and big eyes. Xander was more along the lines of sweet Drusilla than the golden beauty of the Slayer. The boy's long, hard body was an added bonus. But a shag was a shag, and as much as Spike might like to consider dipping into that hot, hard package it wouldn't be worth risking his place, as tenuous as it was. Not without a stronger basis than a wave of lust from a randy lad hardly out of his teens.

Tonight had been fun. The Slayer would have been pleased. He'd met the challenge, fought the good fight, and kept the nibblet and the rest of the minions safe. And they had protected him. No, no shag was worth that feeling he had gotten in the magic shop when they had all stood with him against the Watchers. To be protected and to be turned to for protection, what more could a demon have wanted? Well, being a demon he could want quite a bit more actually, but time and the chip had taught him to hold tight to what he had. Now, if he could just get rid of the bloody Watchers.

* * * * *

Much to everyone's relief, the Watchers left after another two days. They now seemed more wary of the Slayer's minions, since they had seen them in action. Rupert still had a job, monitoring the activity surrounding the
Hellmouth. That seemed to please him. Spike would have preferred to sever all ties with the Wankers. The only upside of the visit was that they had mentioned visiting LA to assess Faith's progress, which meant that they
would be harassing the Magnificent Poof and his minions.

The rest of the week was routine. The witches were working on some top-secret spell and the nibblet was planning a day trip with them to the Renaissance Festival up north. Dawn had been coming out of her shell more and more, and with summer approaching, there seemed to be a social whirlwind among the girls her age. Though she had always received the invitations, now she was more inclined to accept a sleepover or afternoon trip or a swim party. It was Friday. The Nibblet stayed at the dorms with the blonde witch, planning on an early start in the morning. Red had come with he and the boy on patrol. Spike was antsy; he didn't feel safe letting Dawn out of his sphere of influence.

He had pretty well established Sunnydale as his hunting ground. Since he and the Slayer were credited with offing a Hellgod, and he and the minions had been dusting any and all rivals, he was unofficially considered the Master of the Hellmouth. He didn't mention that to Red when she sighed in disappointment at not getting to test whatever new spell she had ready. Spike had hopes that it wasn't as dangerous to her vampire ally as the ball of sunlight. Sunnydale should stay quiet until some new big bad got wind of who was holding this prime territory. Spike didn't delude himself; very few of the old ones would think twice if they thought he was all that stood between them and the power of the Hellmouth. Yet the minions remained oblivious. They patrolled, and expected things to stay much the same as they had when the Slayer had, for all intents and purposes, owned the Hellmouth. For a crew who had spent the past five years hunting vampires, they were surprisingly ignorant of the social nuances of the species.

A shared look was all it took before he and Xander reached an unspoken agreement and shadowed Red on her way back to the dorms. She might be a powerhouse, but she looked like a meal and could always have attracted the
unwanted attention of another human. That was happening more and more; Xander seemed to read his mind on occasion. Admittedly it could be that they had the same goals, the same priorities. Spike was pretty sure it would be
quiet the rest of the night. Between Red's ball of sunlight and his private hunts after his humans had turned in for the night, he didn't expect to see many fledges until someone new moved to town. It would happen; Sunnydale was
a prime hunting ground and someone his age couldn't be expected to hold it long, but he had no intention of running. This was the Slayer's territory and her minions were what anything taking over would have to go though, so Spike would go down fighting - he had to.

Thinking a beer would cap off the evening nicely, he suggested they swing by the Bronze. After being hammered by another wave of pheromones and enduring a bout of babble, they headed back to the boy's place. Xander had beer and blood in his fridge and much better reception on his telly than the crypt. Xander's heart rate dropped back to normal and he and Spike spent some quiet time watching the telly and knocking back a couple of pints. The small talk faltered and he caught a whiff of Xander's returning lust. Thinking of something to divert the boy's admittedly limited attention he brought up Dawn. When the boy pointed out that soon she would be out of school for the
summer and that every day would be filled with hours of burning sunlight in which Spike couldn't follow, the bulk of which she would insist on being away from him, Spike was seized by blind panic. Spike was then treated to the disconcerting feeling of being reassured by the boy. Xander's voice was calm and soothed his agitation, more with the sound than the meaning of the words. Truth told, Spike had all he could do to keep from howling his frustration at the need to protect the girl and to keep her happy.

Gradually the meaning of Xander's word crawled through the primal reaction of his higher brain functions. Xander was telling him he was part of the pack, that he belonged, that he would always belong. This affirmation that the alliance that the minions had formed with him wasn't as fragile as he thought soothed him. Spike almost purred at the pleasure he felt. He didn't want to admit how unsure of his position with the Slayer's minions he had been. He protected them to honor her memory, but what did they get out of it? How could they trust him? He had betrayed them before. They knew he was evil. Despite all that, and Spike knew that the boy knew exactly what he was, Xander firmly and with all the authority of the alpha male of the group didn't just offer him sanctuary, but acknowledged him as an equal. He promised Spike that he would never have to be alone again.

Unlike the half-truths and grudging deals he had been offered by his own kind, Spike knew in every fiber of his being that Xander would die before he would betray a friend. Xander's scent was open and straight- forward; there was no duplicity or suspicion emitted when he said the words, just the same sunlit smell he gave off when talking to the witch or the Watcher. It was enough to know that. Knowing that on a primal level Xander considered him to be a member of his pack, to use the boy's term. *Wonder if he knows how often he lets that slip when the girls aren't around.*

But that wasn't all Xander offered him in the blue light of the telly. The boy lowered his defenses and exposed his vulnerable underbelly to the consummate predator. Xander leaned forward and kissed him. The kiss wasn't flavored with the lust that had sparked earlier; it held an aching need, a longing, an aloneness that Spike would never have guessed could come from someone as well-loved as Xander. Spike couldn't help but kiss back. And in another display of fearlessness the boy asked him to stay the night.


part five

There had been fear in Xander's eyes, a brief moment of panic when Spike had lain him down on the bed. Not, 'Oh God, vampire' but a sadder, more desperate, 'please don't laugh at me' expression that flittered across his face. But so like him, Xander had made a weak joke, taking a shot at himself to break the tension, and had manfully asked for guidance. Again he put Spike to shame, this mortal boy who was willing to risk so much to express his feelings, to show his needs. The boy, young man rather, was a gentle and affectionate lover. Spike sent a brief thought of thanks to that horny demon bint that the boy wasn't virgin tight; otherwise they could have never managed this without the damned chip going off. *Talk about a bloody mood killer.*

Regardless of Anya and her bag of tricks Spike was willing bet he was the first vampire as well as the first male anything that the boy had had in his bed. The utter intensity of Xander's undivided attention had almost been too much. Spike didn't want to frighten the boy and was certain that slipping into game face right now would horrify him. Bedding a human that he had no intention of eating, in a nonsexual way, was a new experience for him. The smell alone of the blood rushing through the boy's body and rising to his skin in a sensual flush was intoxicating. Adding to the fact that Spike was still riding high from the simple sure words of acceptance Xander had gifted him with earlier on the couch and it was all that Spike could do not to howl with pleasure. Spike was aware he was emitting a low thrum of contentment and hoped Xander wouldn't find it too animalistic. On one hand he didn't want to disgust the boy for fear he would change his mind and on the other, if either of them were going to stop this, it had better be soon.

"Are you sure?" he whispered, more a purr than a question.

"I think...I think I need this." Xander breathed out against Spike's bare skin, sending waves of pleasure coursing along in its wake. His brown eyes were hot and seemed to take up his entire face. Tentatively he reached up
and stroked his blood-warm fingers softly along Spike's face. Spike lost his battle for control and his demon visage rippled forth. He looked away from Xander's frank stare but the boy gently turned Spike's head back toward him
and pulled himself up onto his elbow then placed light kisses along the ridges and continued down the bridge of Spike's nose. The smile Xander shared with him when he lay back looking up at Spike was not one of pity,
nor was it a brave front. Xander had not had to overcome fear or disgust; his face shyly conveyed wonder and trust.

Spike gave in and stopped fighting the full body purr he had been trying to suppress. He positioned himself
between Xander's legs and playfully poured the cool oil onto the boy's stomach. Xander's laugh wasn't all nervousness as Spike spread the quickly heating liquid thoroughly over his genitals and further back to his anus.
When his slick fingers breached Xander's body relief flooded Spike when he felt Xander relax into the movement. He had expected a jolt from the chip, but before long Xander was whimpering and begging Spike to hurry. It was so
much more than he had dared to hope for. For a moment before he mounted the hot, horny, bucking, body Spike spared a moment to worry if the boy's reaction in the morning would destroy all that they had built between them
since the Slayer had died. But it's almost impossible for a demon to brood under the best of circumstances and soon Spike was distracted by the delicious feeling of blood-warm flesh surrounding his erection. *Oh thou, my
lovely boy,.....Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy hour. [1 & 2]*

Warmth indeed surrounded him. He fell into those beautiful dark eyes. As he did with everything Xander threw his whole being into their coupling. Spike marveled at his responsiveness and strength of will. Xander's unflinching eyes seemed to drink in every aspect, gauge every flash of emotion that crossed his lover's face with perception and passion. *Too long. It's been too long!*

Had he ever felt this connected with a lover? Dru lived in her own world and Harmony was her own world. There had been mutual pleasure but it had been parasitic on both sides, if that was possible. This, this was symbiotic. *How strange it is only such gentleness begets the fury of joy and all its tenderness.[3]* Here now with Xander, all the emptiness, all the terrible loneliness fell away. He belonged. He was seen and accepted. Nothing felt so much like home; had he a soul he would have traded it on the spot for this feeling, this connection. Somewhere deep inside he felt the warmth which surrounded him melt some cold core and give rise to feelings he had only held in dim memories. Life -- this was life. He almost believed his dead heart beat in response to the pulse of the blood, which embraced him.

Too soon he felt his lover's muscles ripple and contract around his rhythmic thrusts. Watching, rapt with awe, as the orgasm brought a flushed, almost pained grimace to Xander's face, Spike sighed needlessly and spilled his seed deep inside. Xander pulled him tight against his sticky body. Spike stayed embedded a moment in the warm slick flesh, petting the boy's flushed skin, brushing back sweat-soaked hair off his handsome face. Slowly he disengaged their bodies while kissing away Xander's quiet whimper of protest. He wiped them both down, thankful he had thought to bring a wet cloth along with the towels, as he was reluctant to part with the boy even briefly. Greedy to capture every moment he had with the boy Spike wrapped himself around his lover's warmth, sure that with the daybreak regrets would come. He knew he wouldn't be able to blame the boy. Xander had offered him every thing he had ever wanted and Spike, as always, had insisted on taking more. The first vulnerability that the boy had revealed and Spike had used it to stave off his own empty, aching need. In the bars of Sunnydale, there were a thousand faceless bodies he could have buried himself in, any one of whom he could have had for a wink and a smile. This boy, this man was the only one who offered him succor, offered him his family and his trust. *This man will stand your friend with the whole world round agin you.[4]*

Spike listened to the steady beat of the boy's heart. He anticipated panic and regrets when Xander woke. He resisted the urge to stroke the firm torso and contented himself to watch the boy sleep. * There'll be babbling, and he won't be able to look me in the eye for days, if ever.* Spike had intended to drink in every minute until his lover woke, but the rise and fall of Xander's chest and the delicate movement of his eyes beneath their lids was unexpectedly calming. Spike was lulled into a light doze, feeling both sated and apprehensive.


Later, Spike woke alone and noticed light spilling across the bottom of the bed. He heard muffled noise from the next room and considered rising to deal with the inevitable regrets, but decided to follow the advice he had given Dawn and wait to see how Xander wanted to handle this. Briefly the boy's tall frame blocked the light and Spike shut his eyes, feigning sleep. Curiosity overcame him when instead of coming back to bed Xander made rustling noises at the far end of the room. He opened his eyes and saw that the boy had secured a thick tarp across the room's only window. Spike watched as Xander carefully examined the border to make sure that the morning's sunlight would not pass. *If he had regrets, he could have simply waited for morning.*

Gambling that Xander's reaction would be more favorable than he had anticipated, Spike slipped from the bed and crossed to the window. He took a moment to admire that lovely backside before sliding his arms around the boy's waist and marveling once again at the warmth of his body. Spike was delighted at finding his arms full of a confident, teasing young man. This was no blushing virgin, no stammering boy; this was an equal, a man. Xander was well aware of who he was and whom he had in his bed. As the thickening of his scent told him, Xander also knew what he wanted. Spike was overjoyed that for now, apparently, Xander wanted him. It was Xander who maneuvered them back to bed and Xander who started the slow tandem thrusting as their cocks brushed together. After a second climax and clean up, Spike was wrapped in the strong arms of his young lover and lulled back to sleep by Xander's steady breathing.

* * * * *

Sunlight brightened the outer room but only dimly reflected into the bedroom when Spike next woke. Xander slept on his back, with one arm across his eyes and the other loosely around Spike. Spike's head rested on Xander's chest
and he faced toward the boy's exposed throat. Watching the subtle pulse under Xander's chin, which matched the beat under his ear, Spike was unaware that he spoke the words in his head out loud until Xander murmured, "That's
pretty. Is it Spanish?"

"Sort of." Spike replied as he watched the boy stretch. Xander looked at him and a slow smile spread across his face.

"You're a closet brain, aren't you?"

Spike snorted and lifted himself off the boy. Hovering close, he moved up to claim a kiss. "Didn't think you were awake."

Xander tentatively caressed the angular line of Spike's face, speaking softly as if Spike might pull away if his voice were more than a whisper. "What'd it mean?"

He couldn't resist and said, "When, with you asleep, I plunge into your soul, and listen with my ear on your naked breast to your tranquil heart, it seems to me that, in its deep throbbing, I surprise the secret center of the

Xander silently watched him a moment, blinking and then ventured, "You're so busted. You went to college, didn't you?"

"Wasn't quite the same back then, but you might say I had literary ambitions." Spike said, not meeting Xander's eyes.

"You wrote stuff? Stories?" Interest peaked, Xander rose up on to his elbows.

"Poetry." Spike said, unsuccessfully suppressing a shudder.

Xander sat the whole way up and radiated excitement, "Lay some on me, Wordman."

"No. It wasn't just bad, it was horrendous. I know enough about what is good to know that everything I produced was beneath mediocre."

Xander pulled Spike into his arms, almost into his lap, and murmured in his ear, "Fortunately for you, I'm an idiot and won't realize that."

"Don't do that." Spike snapped and Xander with a noise of inquiry, released him immediately. Spike grabbed both arms before Xander could completely pull away and wrapped them firmly back where they had been. "Don't put yourself down, idiot: not don't touch me." Spike briefly considered what he had just said and added softly, "Xander, you're not an idiot."

Xander didn't respond verbally but Spike felt him smile against the back of his neck and his arms tightened their hold. They sat quietly for a while, Xander's fingers dancing across Spike's cool skin. Eventually it was Xander
who asked, "Not having regrets?"

"No, pet, thought you might." Spike kept very still, straining for some sense of the boy's true feelings.

"I'm good." Xander sighed deeply and closed his eyes, his lashes sweeping softly against the skin of Spike's shoulder.

"You are." Spike said, but his leer was half-hearted. He felt as if this whole thing could come tumbling down if he made the wrong move - said the wrong word. Xander lifted his head to look at Spike, searching his face as
if asking how Spike wanted to handle this. Spike stroked the side of Xander's face. He was pleased to note the boy needed to shave, it at least gave the illusion he was old enough to know what he was getting into. "Sweet boy," he murmured. "Bedding a vampire, do you have any idea.....?" Spike shook his head. He knew the answer. If he didn't know what would come of this Xander couldn't possibly.

Xander placed his hand over the one Spike rested on the side of his face and said, "You need me. I need you. This was good, huh?"

Speechless, Spike nodded.

"Can't we just try it? See what happens? Xander's fingers tightened on his and the boy swallowed hard.

"I'm evil." Spike said softly, more to himself than to Xander.

"Is the chip the only thing keeping you from killing me?" Xander's look wouldn't let Spike break eye contact. The look he leveled said that there was no way Spike could prevaricate.

Spike shook his head. "I like you. You taste like sunlight. I smell the blood in your body, but you don't feel like food. We've hunted together. There's a bond. You almost feel like another vampire, `cept I trust you."

"I trust you, too. I like you. Might just fall in love with you, if that'd be okay?" Xander watched him so intently that Spike was forcefully reminded of the night before.

"So... How do we handle this?" Spike thought it would have to be Xander's call; he was willing to take what he could get, if the boy was willing to continue this, no matter how temporary, it was more than he had expected.

"I don't have a clue." Xander's smiled and gave a self-deprecating shrug. "Can't we make it up as we go?"

"The others won't like it; think I'm having my wicked way with you, they will." Spike ventured his most prevalent doubt now that Xander seemed willing to try this, whatever this was.

"You are. And I'm having my wicked way with you, that's the fun part." Xander's laugh bubbled up and bathed Spike in joyous relief. This conversation had apparently been as stressful on the boy as it had been on him. More than anything, he wanted to bury himself in Xander's warmth again but he had to clear up one more thing.


He got no further before Xander clamped a hot hand across his mouth and firmly stated, "Rule one: we will never, ever, mention Dawn when we're naked."


part five
1. Shakespeare 'Sonnet CXXVI'
2 Shakespeare 'Sonnet CXXVII'
3. Delmore Schwartz 'How strange love is, in every state of consciousness'
4. Rudyard Kipling 'The thousandth man'
5. Juan Ramone Jimenez

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