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part eleven

He glared until Angel looked away. That glare held Dru, and Buffy, countless betrayals and all the blood between them, bad and otherwise. It was a different story when they got back to the shop. When they got back to the shop, Xander wasn't there.

"He said he was going shopping!" The prom queen gave her chin a quick lift, up and back, as if she still had long hair to fling about. She drummed her perfect nails against the surface of the table and had the nerve to stare down Spike while he was in game face. "Now, shoo, I have work to do."

"Spike, leave Cordelia alone." Angel emphasized his request by grabbing Spike by the back of the collar of his tee shirt and forcibly escorting him into the back of the store.

Neither his Sire nor the girl seemed at all concerned that Xander was late. This was past the time he normally came in from work. Giles was mumbling something about sixty pizzas. Angel's Watcher had barely glanced up from the
book he was reading when Angel had inquired about his newest minion. The Brit hadn't calmed Spike in the least when he had replied, "I believe he is still with Xander. They left some time ago." Spike's perfectly normal reaction, wanting to interrogate the others about where Xander had gone and when he would be back, was, for some unfathomable reason, pissing off Angel.

So now he and his poofed-up Sire were back to growling and pushing each other around - there's progress. They had moved the shoving match out of sight of the steady stream of humans who were out in the store's front room.

" t..this a bad time?" Tara stood hesitantly in the doorway of the training room, her voice was even more quiet than usual. She looked about to cry and both vampires took a tentative step in her direction. Angel, of course, was instantly contrite and shifted to his human face.

Spike leveled a glowing glare at the witch and barked out through fangs, "Where's Xander?"

"I j..just talked to him." The blond witch stepped forward and took Spike's hand. "He should be back soon, he has a phone - do you want me to call him?"

"No." Spike shifted back out of game face. "What the hell is going on?" Spike scowled toward the front room, indicating all the activity. Angel looked nonplussed that this young woman seemed unconcerned by his snarling,
dangerous Childe.

Tara shrugged, "Xander set this up. Cordelia said she had no idea that he knew how to get in touch with all these people." Tara stroked his arm and added softly, but not softly enough to keep Angel from hearing, "We have got to get you a phone. I'm sure Xander wanted to call you, but you were out killing things. Ah...Were you? Killing things? Did you find out..?"

"Nah," Spike stopped gnashing his teeth and really looked at the shy witch. This was more than her normal nervousness around all these strangers. With his free arm he reached up and rubbed her back. "Where's Red? Thought you two were joined at the hip?" He offered her a leer and found it disturbing that when she returned a weak smile and seemed to be reassured by it.

"We split cover more ground. She should be here soon. I...I...Spike " she swallowed hard. Spike smelled no fear, but there was uncertainty, sadness, and a helplessness he hadn't sensed from her since shortly after Buffy had died. Her nails bit into his arm and she looked almost as if she were ashamed. "Spike, I ran into Riley. He's back."

Spike snarled and pulled away from the witch. He ripped the heavy bag off of its chain and sent it crashing into the wall. Angel first moved to restrain him and then seemed to think more clearly and stood back, then tried to stop
Tara from getting closer.

Spike saw red, lost in the memory of Buffy and how utterly distraught she had been at how she and the soldier boy had left it. The unresolved status of their relationship had caused her a great deal of pain. Finn hadn't contacted her for her birthday, or when Joyce had died. After he had claimed to love her, he had disappeared without looking back. Xander showed more concern for the ex-demon and she hadn't been worthy to have Buffy wipe her feet on her. As far as Spike was concerned, the Slayer had gone to her grave blaming herself for far too many things. Finn's departure shouldn't have been one of them. He was weak and that weakness had endangered her and her minions. If Spike had had a hook like that when cutting his deal with Adam he would have had the chip out long ago; on the downside, Frankendemon would be master of the Hellmouth. The thought of Xander's pet name for Maggie Walsh's favorite son stopped Spike short.

This was not good. He was likely the only one to whom Xander had shown his real feelings regarding the commando. Xander valued loyalty. The boy might forgive a betrayal to himself but was fiercely protective of his 'pack'. Xander hadn't known the whole story when Riley left. Gradually, over time, he had realized exactly what Buffy had meant in her sobbing and fragmented references to their break up. Spike cleared up the last details for him one night on patrol shortly before they had become lovers. Xander's response hadn't been the white-hot rage that he had leveled against Angel for sweeping into town and frightening Dawn and threatening Spike, it had been a loud, scathing tirade. Xander had paced between the tombstones, treating Spike to his quick-witted sarcasm and dead on impersonations. He had played out scenario after scenario of how Riley's 'vampire Russian roulette' could have killed all of them. It was only later, after Spike had finished his sardonic snickering, that he realized what he had witnessed. If you peeled away the comedy routine and looked past the Sunnydale-speak, the boy had boiled down the various elements of the situation and analyzed every way that Finn's 'addiction' could have been used by an opponent. His Xander had one of the best senses of strategy Spike had ever come across. No, this was not going to be good, but Spike gleefully anticipated the meeting of those two.

"Let go." Tara barely whispered at the large strange man who had grabbed her arm. *Wouldn't Red and Xander be pleased that she stood up for herself. Even such feeble resistance must have cost the shy one quite a bit.* Angel let go and Tara slipped past. She placed a palm against Spike's rumbling chest. She didn't flinch from his yellow-eyed glare as she spoke. "I'm sorry. I'm so bad at this. It was worse with Riley. It was like I sucker punched him. I didn't mean to tell him about Buffy - not like that. But he knew as soon as he looked....Oh God, then he asked about Joyce...." Tears filled the little blonde witch's eyes and her breath came in gasps. "Spike....I couldn't have hurt him more if I tried."

*Good!* Cheering would be in bad form, so Spike pulled the weeping girl into his arms. He rubbed her back and said, "There, there, little bit." The deep rumbling purr that vibrated through him had nothing to do with this warm body in his arms. This sweet child had hurt Finn far more than he could have. Spike gave outward comfort to Red's girl, while drinking in the satisfaction of Finn's pain.

"Find Red." Spike mouthed the words at the great gaping poof while Tara sobbed against his chest. After a brief look of confusion, Angel exited the practice room while Spike continued to make soothing noises. Spike wondered if his mate knew that Finn was in town, but figured that if Tara had just spoken to Xander that he probably did. Spike had never shared the little stake-through-the-heart story with Xander. In the beginning, before they were together, he had figured Xander wouldn't care and later he feared Xander would take some drastic action against Finn. Not that Spike cared if Finn lived or died, or thought Xander couldn't handle the walking biology experiment. But Spike worried that once Xander had hurt the commando, he would blame himself. The boy took on too much guilt and worry as it was; Spike wasn't having that blood-junkie burden his pet with his death.

Willow was suddenly there, smelling of melon shampoo, and gathered her girlfriend into her arms. As she steered Tara toward the stairs leading down into the storeroom, Willow called out over her shoulder. "I got beau coupe
hot plates, but Laura said there isn't good ventilation in the kitchen. Angel, will you help Spike rig up some sort of table in here?"

They were gone before Angel finished stammering out his affirmative. In response to Angel's questioning look Spike said, "Well, I'm not following those two down there and that's the only place I can think of to get a table."

"There's an old door out in that dumpster we were hitting each other with. At least it was there last night." Angel said.

Due to rampant sunlight, they ended up having Wesley and Jonothan drag the door into the shop, leaving it for the vampires to clean it and assemble some sort of work surface. The witches had yet to come up the stairs and the prom queen was making dire threats as to what she would do to Xander when he finally got back. Jonothan kept bringing bags, boxes and crates into the back. They contained everything from first aid supplies and cases of soda to fire axes and wooden javelins.

Spike had heard from Dawn shortly after going to bed that morning. She had been at Megan's and called to say they were going over to Stephanie's. The nibblet was amazingly tolerant of the group's overprotectiveness, but tended to treat them all as one entity at times. She would tell one of them what her plans were and where she was, and assume that meant that the rest of them knew. It had led to some laughable incidents of miscommunication.

Laughable with hindsight; not so amusing when he and Xander had tracked her to the fitting room at Old Navy - by scent - in the crowded mall. It still had been hard to explain to the startled pack of teenage girls why he had cast no reflection. Only in Sunnydale could Xander's babbled explanation of 'it's a new security mirror, I've heard that sometimes happens' been met with nods of agreement and one girl actually saying she had seen a segment on the Discovery Channel about it. As Xander had pointed out it could have been worse. At least Old Navy had coed-fitting rooms - twenty minutes later and it would have been The Limited. Spike snorted to himself, earning him a sharp, wary look from Angel, and thought what they ought to assemble in the practice room was a detailed, wall-sized map with a big, movable red 'X' for 'Dawn is here'.

Xander was back. Spike wondered if he had smelled him or heard him. All he was sure of was that he sensed it just before hearing two doors shutting on a large vehicle out in the alley and the sound of feet hitting the ground from a height. Spike closed his eyes and tried to sort though the abundant and varied information that his enhanced senses offered him. Normally he let his brain process the myriad sensations without thought as to what signal had been interpreted to draw any given conclusion, but it was important to him to know if he had sensed his mate's arrival on a physical level, or if they were connected in a less mundane way by some sense he had never yet used. He was lost in this contemplation when warm hands slid around his waist and Xander pulled him flush against his long, lean frame. Spike was surrounded by the scent of sunlight and bathed in the heady aroma of Xander. For a moment the boy paused and seemed with his limited human senses to drink in Spike's scent, and take comfort from embracing his cool tight body.

Xander's breath ghosted along Spike's neck, sending ripples of desire after it as he whispered, "If I bat my eyelashes and string up a tarp, you think I could get some big strong vampire to carry in the groceries?"

*Adorable! He's flirting in right in front of Angel and his minion. Guess that'll let them know what they can't have.* "Try it. Maybe Peaches will volunteer." Spike teased, knowing that even in a low whisper Angel heard
every word. *Take that, you big poof, told you he was mine....Hold on. He was where?* "Groceries?" *Pet, I love you, but I wish you came with instructions in English, or at least a translator.*

"Well," Xander smirked and nipped at Spike's ear. "Most of what we got are the ingredients to bake a cake, zombie style, along with a few party favors." *Maybe there are Cliff Notes?*

"Xander, I think you may want to talk to Cordelia," Angel said. Spike glared at him but refused to rise to the bait. Spike was perfectly secure in having the great looming fairy talk to his Xander. He would have been just as secure if Xander's arms weren't tightly holding his back flush with the boy's warm chest.

Xander didn't even look at the poof; he was still nuzzling Spike's neck when he murmured against it, "What? She doesn't like being worshipped by the masses?" Then he released Spike.

The look in Xander's eyes as his gaze traveled up Spike's body to finally meet his eyes spoke of longing and need. The boy looked tired as well as horny. Xander swallowed audibly. Spike could see his randy lad struggle against his libido and firmly throttle it into place. To break the thick air of desire which had settled between them in that heated look Xander rapped his knuckles against the door and asked, "What's this for?"

While Spike was updating Xander on the recent activity at the shop, they were interrupted by an angry cheerleader. Xander calmed her with a few words and sent the new boy out with Angel's minion to string up a tarp between the truck and the back entrance to the shop. Soon they were alone, accompanied only by the poof, who feigned interest in the piles of supplies, while Spike looked at Xander - really looked. The boy looked tired, not worked-all-day-slayed- all-night-let's-spend-the-week-end-in-bed tired, but running on reserves, nothing but caffeine and sugar tired. For too long Xander had been writing his body IOU's for sleep and living on take out food. Spike vowed to take better care of his mate - if they made it through until tomorrow.

"You all right, Pet?" Spike asked, reaching over to cup Xander's face and rub his thumb along his boy's stubbled jaw. A flash of loss and confusion and perhaps the desire to curl up in Spike's arms and shut away the world crossed the suddenly pain-filled brown eyes before Xander tried to answer.

It wasn't hard for Spike to follow Xander's disjointed and fragmented answer. The boy was overwhelmed, not by the actions he was taking but by their anticipated consequences. Spike pulled him into a tight embrace, and over Xander's shoulder watched realization steal over his Sire's face. This young man, who had done more about this most recent crisis in the past twenty-four hours than all the rest of them dithering about, had been two years younger when he put the same children he had raced around the playground with in the front lines and watched them die. And now he was doing it again. This time he lacked the naivete of believing that he could keep them all alive. He had to go into this battle knowing that if he lived through it he would most likely have more blood on his hands. Spike could give a rat's ass about the lunchables of Sunnyhell, but Xander would feel every injury, every death, with his whole being.

Spike waited until Xander finished lamenting. Spike wasn't sure if he had been talking about graduation or now when mentioned not having a chance in hell, but decided now was not the time to indulge Xander's tendency to
assume responsibility for events he had no control over. He loosened his hold and looked deep into Xander's eyes. Spike spoke low and soothing but with firm conviction. "No one has a chance in Hell, love. Trust a demon's word on that, or if you don't, ask Peaches. That's why you fight, to prevent Hell from being here, to keep this place a little better than Hell. It must be working; otherwise all the Hellspawn wouldn't be trying to crash your party."

It was the right thing to say and earned him a kiss and a thank you. After another interruption, this time from Xander's blood dealer friend - who apparently insulted Angel by treating him like a vampire - Xander sent Angel to round up the others for a strategy session. Spike watched Xander blink and nod while the crazy red-haired bint explained how to make explosives out of common household chemicals. When Xander said, "Okay, great," Spike was convinced the boy hadn't understood a word. Spike shadowed his mate as he went from one person to the next, calming and instilling confidence with a wide smile and a few joking words. No wonder he had caught Angel watching his Xander so intently - this was not the same boy he had left here two years ago. Spike glared at Angel the next time he saw him looking at Xander, but received only a blank look in reply.


part twelve

The office had been crowed enough when it had only held Spike and Angel and their Watchers. Now it also had to accommodate Xander and his witches and Angel's other two minions. The witches shared a chair, easily fitting side
by side with their tiny frames. Cordelia sat on Angel's new minion's lap and paid far too much attention to Xander as he spread out blueprints of a parking garage on Giles' desk. Whatever the witches had done to the office made it resonate like a cavernous space. It was eerily silent. As soon as the door had shut, all sound coming from outside had ceased. Even with his vampiric hearing Spike couldn't hear the ringing phone, the complaint-rock blaring out of the boom box or the general hubbub of all the humans milling around the store. Other than the sound of Xander paging through sheets on a clipboard and the shifting of too many people in too small a space, there was nothing. Spike unobtrusively maneuvered to stand immediately behind Xander - not so much watching over his shoulder as blocking the view of his ass from Angel's Watcher.

Spike suffered a fleeting moment of panic when Red said she hadn't been able to reach the nibblet. It was instantly quelled when the witches assured them they could locate her at any time by magic - even if someone was trying to
shield her location. Xander never ceased to surprise him. After the fitting room incident Spike had gone off on a rant about how vulnerable the nibblet was and how he could track her physically but that there was mojo that could bollocks that up. Xander had not only listened, but also acted on Spike's observations. The others now listened to him as he outlined the sketchy information obtained from all their various sources and drew a conclusion that silenced and frightened them all. Red, for the first time since Glory, looked about ready to give up when Xander pointed out that all the signs indicated that the Initiative was back. In her half-hearted attempt at humor she asked Xander if they had time to implement the 'Omega Plan'. For the second time in a matter of moments Spike realized Xander had taken his randomly articulated fears and formed a planned defense to be used should the circumstances of his speculation ever materialize. Only once had Spike worried out loud that the reason Dawn had been sent to a Slayer was that the Powers That Be had determined that only a Slayer could keep her safe. After all, they hadn't put her in a one-time protection role; had Buffy lived she would have guarded her, like family, for the rest of her life. Yet again his young military genius had anticipated the end of the world and taken steps to prepare a defense. The looks on Angel's and his minions' faces were priceless as Xander casually informed them that they had the means to break the other Slayer out of prison at any time the situation warranted risking her psychotic behavior.

It was amusing to watch his Sire wrap his souled-up mind around the fact that this was Xander's town, and that while most of the demons of the Hellmouth acknowledged Spike as its Master, it was Xander who ran the show.

Spike wasn't like Angelus. He had never desired power or status. Spike was in no mood to cut a deal with something bigger and badder than himself, for a part in the greater evil. Angelus had always been making and breaking deals. He had been all wrapped up in whatever endgame would occur between good and evil, desiring to be one of the major players. Why? What more was there to undeath than what Spike had? All the blood he wanted, violence ensuing at a moment's notice, minions he could trust who were smart and capable, and a mate who was a great shag and had a gift for mass destruction.

The conference was interrupted when Xander took a call from one of his minions. All Xander's preparations made sense now that the Initiative was in town. Once off the phone, Xander briefly outlined what was happening all over Sunnydale at that time and what the result would be. A few clipped orders, given out regardless of whether they were issued to a member of the LA crew or the Sunnydale group, kicked off an organized evacuation of the magic shop. Spike watched to see if Angel would protest Xander's usurping of his minions. Just when it looked as if he would speak Xander used the word 'bombs' and both Angel and his pet Watcher suffered a brain meltdown.

After sending the rest out to start the evacuation, Xander asked Spike and Angel to come with him. The inclusion of Angel forestalled Spike's hope for a pre-battle shag, but he eagerly anticipated Xander's next move. Angel may not like Xander's unpredictable actions, but Spike loved them. Spike blinked in disbelief when Xander presented both of them with long black suits of heavy material. Xander brooked no protest from either of the vampires and quickly explained why he had procured the thermal suits. Spike remembered how quickly the soldier boys had followed the tracking device implanted in him before it had been removed, and how they had efficiently located the single walking corpse in a dorm full of warm-blooded humans. He was touched that Xander had taken such precautions to remove that advantage from their adversaries. Xander quickly overrode Angel's protest and Spike listened gleefully as his mate put the poof in his place. Xander's words to the souled one - reminding Angel that the possession of a soul did not make one a saint - were moving not by the literal content but due to his belief in what he said. Xander was prepared to defend Spike, his pack, and the minions he had assembled from the remnants of his graduating class against all threats, be they human or not. The quiet conviction and steadfast loyalty of this man constantly reaffirmed Spike's choice. Xander was the perfect mate.

Unfortunately, being perfect, Xander could read Spike like a thirty-foot billboard and almost always knew what he was up to. Before Spike could even begin a round of Sire abuse, Xander dismissed him. He told Spike to change, check on Dawn and to fetch Red. Normally Spike would have made a token protest for the sheer enjoyment of bantering with Xander, but not now, and not in front of Angel. He knew Xander was under a great deal of pressure, and wouldn't risk undermining his authority.

That didn't stop him from eavesdropping on the two of them as soon as he rounded the corner. Spike wasn't sure what he expected to hear. Intellectually he knew Xander was right, that he was a 'goof' for thinking that Angel wanted his boy. But emotionally he was sure, that if Angel ever looked - really looked, past all the preconceived images he had of Xander in his head - and saw the man he had become that he would either try to take the boy from him or destroy the boy, as his Sire had done with everything Spike had ever cared for. Spike didn't know which he was least prepared to hear; Xander ask Angel if he could depend on him to kill if asked to, or Angel admitting that he feared he would be too able to kill and not able to stop. Angelus would never have admitted either the lack of control or that he feared anything. Spike decided that maybe he had underestimated both his Sire and his mate and went to check on Dawn.


Spike waited for Red to laugh. The thermal suit Xander had found for him fit like body paint and looked ridiculous. He considered how his lack of body temperature made him and those around him vulnerable to the soldier boys and
admitted Xander did think of everything. Willow cocked her head and said, "It doesn't really look that different - except for the hood. You wear your clothes so tight anyway - not that I look."

Spike had found her downstairs directing Xander's minions on what to pack and what to leave. She followed him upstairs and walked with him to the front room. They found Xander leaning over a table reviewing details with Cordelia. Spike was distracted from the pleasant view of Xander's ass this pose presented when the girl turned to comment on something Xander had said and her lips almost brushed the boy's ear.

Xander turned at the sound of his growl, placed one palm flat against Spike's chest and began talking to Willow.

When had it happened? What magic had this beautiful dark-eyed man used to quiet his rage, to sate his blood lust? Spike wasn't even sure that it was the chip anymore. Xander's total lack of fear, the absolute trust he gifted the vampire with was like plunging that fire into a cool, calm pool. *I like your way of moving, slip into my stillness - silence me. [1]* It was odd that this babbling boy should so bless him with silence, but that was the only word to describe the lack of rage and the fulfilled longings. Right now, he should be tearing his rival to bits. Yet, avoiding the pain of the chip wasn't what stopped him. Somehow Xander had figured out just when to accept Spike's reactions and when to protest. Xander was showing no more interest in Cordelia than in any actress on the telly. Even when curled against Spike after an exhaustive struggle for the remote, Xander sensed when it was safe to show appreciation for the female form and when to disinterestedly classify each as real, fake, or who cares?

Xander and Willow had dropped into an abbreviated conversation. Listening to them as he followed them back to the office Spike assumed he would have had to have known both of them from birth to decipher it. Their half-formed
sentences were traded in rapid succession and Spike gave up attempting to translate when it started to sound as if they were discussing Willow's cat. Their words stopped and Willow looked nervous. She said she needed Tara and

Xander looked tired. His weary smile still warmed Spike. In spite of the pending battle, when Spike expected to be eager to get some of his own back at the Initiative, all the vampire wanted to do was lift the weight off his boy's shoulders; to take him home and shelter him from the world. *Lock the door. Come to me naked. No one's here.[2] When this is over, you and me, pet, we're going to get you some rest, if I have to sit on you to keep you down.* But Spike could think of other ways to keep his mate in bed, and to see he was too sated to leave it. Xander reached for Spike's hand and taking it, pulled him close. Warm fingers traced the neckline of the thermal suit and played along the skin over his exposed collarbone as Xander familiarized himself with Spike's new look. Spike wondered if the others realized how much strain the boy was under, how personally he took the safety of each and every one of them. Sooner or later, no matter how well prepared Xander was, he would lose another one of his 'pack', and trying to anticipate when and how that would happen was killing the boy. Spike nuzzled Xander's hair, drinking in his scent. Xander flirted with a bashful look and suggestive words when he issued Spike's orders for the upcoming battle - Spike was to follow him and no matter what stay near. Not hard orders to follow, since that was what he had intended to do anyway.

Spike's instant agreement seemed to please Xander. It occurred to him that Xander might consider him a liability, since Spike couldn't fight humans - Spike didn't want that. He didn't want the boy looking out for him when Xander needed to be looking out for himself. He wondered why he wasn't enraged that a human, even his mate, thought he was weak. It was possible that the expected rage couldn't surface though the thick, blanketing fear which struck when Spike realized that he wouldn't be able to defend Xander - this enemy was human. It was one thing to risk this himself; even chipped Spike had never backed down from the solider boys. They could dust him but he would not let them break him. But Xander was unpredictable and Spike had witnessed just what lengths the boy would go to for the people he loved and of one thing Spike was confident - Xander loved him.

"You don't have to protect me. I know they're human but...."

"I know." Xander didn't sound patronizing or even concerned, he sounded sincere and certain.

Willow and Tara slipped into the office. Willow shut the door and Tara began to set out the supplies she had carried in in a large bowl. He started to ask what was going on after Willow had asked if they were ready, but was forestalled by Xander quiet, "Do you trust me?" Did he trust him? What kind of question was that? The man had trusted Spike with his love, his life, his pride and his 'pack'. Xander had opened up his very soul to Spike - not out of naivete, not out of some deluded fantasy that Spike was human. No, this frank young man knew exactly what Spike was and what he was capable of and held no false illusions. Yet still he had given Spike the one thing that had eluded him in life and in death. Requited love. Such a simple thing; those who had it probably assumed it was quite common. After almost a hundred and fifty years of looking, Spike knew differently. But if love itself was a blessing, being loved back was walking though the gates of Heaven. Trust Xander? Spike would drink holy water for the boy.

"I trust you."

Xander placed firm hands at Spike's waist and whispered, "Close your eyes, and stand perfectly still. Don't move until I say so."

Spike felt the boy rest his forehead against his own. The witches began to chant. It was a good thing that Xander held tight. His hot hands prevented Spike from twitching his hips to the rhythm and the light feel of his head
resting against the boy's stopped him from pulling away from Red's soft, tingling touch. He smelled magic, strong magic, in the air. He had meant it when he had told Xander he would follow him though the gates of Hell, but the gates of Hell were familiar to a demon. One of Red's untried spells was an entirely different matter. He longed to open his eyes and meet that warm brown gaze, but Xander had asked only two things of him - to stay still, and to shut his eyes. It was probably only a protection spell of some sort or maybe something to make it easy to find each other in the upcoming chaos. Xander had sounded serious about wanting Spike to stay near - as if that wasn't his first choice of where to be at any time. Anything the witches could do to keep Xander safe, or to keep him safe so that Xander wouldn't endanger himself by looking after him, was fine by Spike.

Spike had never stood still well, or waited, or been patient. Come to think of it neither had Xander, but the boy stood rock steady, almost holding his breath. Spike scented tension, nervousness and anticipation, but Xander had smelled that way all day. Spike tried to think of anything but staying still and Red's odd touch, which was making him nauseous. *Vampires don't get nauseous, do they?* He thought about Xander. He thought about taking Xander home and licking off the thin layer of salty sweat the day had left behind. He thought about starting at Xander's neck and working his way down across his chest, down over his abs then up along the inside of his thighs...

"Open your eyes." Xander was so close his eyes were Spike's world. Spike, not for the first time since these were his favorite eyes, watched as the muscle around the pupil expanded and contracted. He could see that the color of the iris was two entirely different shades of brown, lighter near the pupil and darker near the whites. He also saw that those eyes were slightly bloodshot both from the boy's sporadic sleeping pattern and his habit of rubbing them when stressed. When those beautiful, warm eyes looked toward Willow, Spike followed his gaze. Nestled in the witch's tiny, open palm was a small, light gray object. It took a moment before Spike realized it was the chip.

1. Trudi Parana 'Skinsong'
2. Jealuddin Rumi



part thirteen

Spike stared at that small man-made harness which had caged him for so long. He blinked, realizing he should say something, and wondered just how long he had been contemplating the chip. The witches smelled nervous, with a subtle undercurrent of fear. Willow's hand wavered slightly from holding the chip out for his examination. Without speaking, Spike slowly lifted his hand to hers and instead of taking it, closed her hand into a fist so that he was no
longer mesmerized by the sight of the chip. Spike was glad that Xander still had a firm hold on his hips. *Wouldn't do your Big Bad image much good to swoon in front of the children, eh?* He leaned into Xander and nuzzled his hair, breathing in deep the scent of his lover. Since breathing was unnecessary he held that Xander-scented air in his undead lungs while he contemplated the emotions tainting his mate's musky essences. Xander was afraid, but judging by the minute changes Spike discerned in his scent, he was less worried about an unchipped Spike than he had been moments ago about the witches performing the spell. Xander's grip tightened; then the hand furthest, and most likely out of, the witches' sight moved south to cup Spike's ass while the other trailed up his torso and started carding Spike's hair.

"You okay?" His brown-eyed boy radiated concern and tenderness.

"Yes, Pet. I'm fine." Spike leaned into Xander's embrace to look into those eyes.

Xander's hand moved down to trace the angle of Spike's jaw. "The plan's the same. You stick with me. You watch both our backs. Under no circumstances do you give them the opportunity to get their hands on you. Are we clear on that?"

Spike tried to speak. The fierceness of Xander's naked concern stripped away Spike's usual bravado. Spike had yet to wrap his mind around the fact that the chip was gone. Spike had anticipated that if it was removed during Xander's lifetime he would have to convince the boy of his love all over again - prove that he wouldn't kill him and those who were his. Inconceivably, the young man who had spent the better part of his life as a defender of mankind now sounded ready to kill anyone who might harm Spike. It was too much to take in. For years Angelus had considered him expendable. He had been valued only for his ability to baby-sit Dru. Dru, sweet, mad Dru had expected him to protect her but had left Spike to pretty much take care of himself since he had been turned. Xander - human, fragile, ephemeral Xander - would move Heaven and Hell to give him the means to defend himself. Spike hoped the boy was satisfied with a nod, because that was all he was capable of at the moment.

The smile that greeted his nod was worth being caught speechless in front of the witches. Xander kissed him hard and in one of his characteristic lightning-fast mood swings said laughingly, "Places to go, people to kill. I'll meet you in the truck."

Before Spike could follow the boy's sudden exit, Willow touched his arm and said, "Spike? I...I need a minute, okay?"

Hoping to hide the fact that he was still reeling not only from the fact of his new found freedom, but from Xander's ready acceptance of his chipless state, Spike asked, "This the shovel talk?"

"No." She paused, considering what he just said and asked, "You know about that?"

"Xander told me to expect it - figured you would have got around to it weeks ago."

Spike carefully evaluated the nervous witch in front of him, who could produce sunlight with a word. One arm was behind her back, her hand tightly gripping the hand of her girlfriend. She was biting her lip and looking down at his boots. Slowly, so as not to startle either witch he lift one hand, gently placed his index finger under Willow's chin and tilted her head up until she was looking into his eyes. "Red?"

She took a deep breath and showed him what Xander called her 'resolved face'; the boy maintained that there was no arguing with the 'resolved face'. "Promise me.... you have to promise..."

Tears welled up in her eyes and Spike knew what she was going to ask - that he not kill, not feed - he had expected it. He knew that she was powerful enough to enforce that request, more powerful than any chip. The only alternative would be to kill her now, before she got her defenses up - still not a simple task with her mate's ready, wide-eyed attention on him. If he did kill her, he would lose Xander. Losing her like that would kill the boy - if it didn't, having to kill Spike would. Spike knew no mater how much it would hurt Xander, that the boy would kill him it he harmed Willow.

Tears started to slide down the witch's face that she impatiently brushed away, releasing Tara's hand as she did so. Swallowing hard and mastering her wavering voice with concern for her friend she continued, "If you leave, promise you'll tell him - don't just disappear like Anya. He'd imagine all kinds of things happening to you. So...if you're gonna just bail, and go back to Dru or ...or whatever, you tell him first."

"I would never leave him." Spike abruptly cleared his throat and looked away. He had been so startled that he had answered in his original accent, which had earned him an even wider-eyed look from Tara. "Won't leave - he's mine." He shifted to game face to try to hide his raw emotions. "'Til I'm dust no power in this world or any other'll keep me from him. We clear on that?"

Red was bad enough, but that little blonde of hers saw far too much for Spike's comfort. Willow nodded and offered him a tiny smile through tear-filled eyes and said, "Clear." She stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek, then left with her girlfriend.

Spike shifted to his human visage and looked down at his hands. They didn't look any different but now they could rend flesh, break bones, choke the breath out of his prey while it bucked and struggled. Hot rushing blood was his for the taking. He could pull any of those warm bodies out in the shop into the office and sink his fangs into the living, yielding flesh. All it would cost him was Xander.

There had always been consequences to killing and feeding. Spike had never before paid them any mind. Since Angelus had never succeeded in making Spike wary of the fact that humans could and eventually would fight back given enough proof that vampires did indeed exist, it would never be likely that fear of Angelus - the souled version - would be what stopped Spike from his indiscriminate carnage. The rage of his Sire had never swayed Spike from any course he decided to take. He knew after what Angel had done to Darla that blood ties alone would never protect him should his Sire realize the chip no longer harnessed Spike. No, even knowing the repercussions that it would cause among the humans and his Sire, the only thing that prevented Spike from bathing in the blood around him was Xander. Spike could blaze a blood-soaked path across the Hellmouth, but Xander would take the blame. Xander protected him, loved him, would die for him - but would also destroy him if Spike gave him no choice. Even knowing the act would destroy himself would not stop Xander from dusting Spike if he had to. That sweet loving man had an iron will and a warrior's heart. Spike could no more put the boy in that position than he could kill Xander himself. *Right. You do realize we're both likely to be dead by sunrise? You're wasting valuable time with the boy. Plenty of time tomorrow to figure this out - if the world don't end.*

Spike shook off his introspection, squared his shoulders and went out in search of his mate. As he wandered out into the front of the shop, a young woman consulting a palm pilot brushed past him and took over Rupert's office. Though the closed sign hung on the front door the bell above it jangled almost non-stop from the steady stream of young humans systematically evacuating the store. The prom queen stood in the center of the floor reigning over the grunt labor. Before Spike could ask where Xander was, the boy strode through the front door, haloed by the evening sun.

"Cordy, Jonothan, I want you to go with this load." He said

"Xander." Exasperated, Cordelia gestured with a sheaf of paper at the
surrounding hubbub.

"I need you to control the chaos at the beta site. I'll follow with the next load." Xander took the lists from Cordelia and she left with the other boy.

Spike paid less attention to how quickly Xander's orders were followed and concentrated on the long, lean, sun-kissed man who had issued them. Xander's shaggy locks were pushed back off of his face by his sunglasses which rested on his head. He had removed the work shirt he had had on all day and was now in only the white tank he had worn under it. It emphasized his broad shoulders and strong arms. The dark jeans he wore fit well and were worn old ones that he had stashed in the back of his closet as too small before Spike had started dressing him.

As the minions scrambled to do his bidding Xander only had eyes for Spike. The boy took one slow step toward him, bringing him out of the sunlight streaming in from the shop window. He stopped to watch his lover watch him and smiled shyly. Under Spike's intense concentration Xander took another step and then another. Once in arm's reach, he tentatively reached up cup his palm against Spike's cheek.

"We'll take the next truck," the boy said. "Do you remember your orders?"

"Had the chip removed, didn't I - s'not like I got brain damaged." Spike had meant that remark to drip with his trademark sarcasm, but it came out in a husky, bedroom whisper. Which surprisingly, in the general melee of the
evacuation, earned him a full-blown Xander-grin, the final step forward, and a slow, passionate kiss.


They didn't take the next truck. There always seemed to be one more detail for Xander to take care of - one more person who needed to be reassured by the boy. When the young man who had helped with the dragon showed up he
looked angry, but smelled scared. Spike guessed he was most likely worried about his bouncy, combustible-obsessed girlfriend's safety, since Xander had apparently given her free reign in the explosives department, against the scowling boyfriend's express orders. Spike didn't even get a chance to try out his chip-free brain before Xander had defused the situation with a look of wide-eyed innocence and a half-hearted joke. The two men put their heads
together and devised a way to transport the volatile material. It made Spike wonder what the Rennie did in his spare time, besides mock jousting.

Once the redhead was firmly focused on her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's attention was monopolized by the explosives, Spike was finally able to get Xander to hop a ride on the U-haul's last trip. They had a few minutes alone
in the dim back of the jostling truck, too few. Someone had cracked a glow stick, the kind humans used to mark trails when they went caving. Though it cast enough illumination for Xander to see a little detail in the dim
interior its soft orange radiance highlighted the boy quite well for Spike. Xander slid down the locked door and, wedged among the food and first aid supplies, was able to lean back and seemed to be steeling himself against what might happen. There was so much Spike wanted to say to Xander - questions he needed to ask. Spike sat next to him. Reaching over, he pulled Xander's back flush with his chest and cushioned him from the jarring movement of the truck. Xander's eyes fluttered closed when Spike began to run his fingers though his hair. Judging by his even breaths Spike thought he might have fallen asleep if the truck hadn't started down the tight spiral of the parking garage's ramp.

Hearing the door unlock, Spike and Xander scrambled to stand. Light flooded the truck bed when the door opened. Looking out across the parking area Spike saw organized groups of minions stacking weapons and supplies. Runners came and when from a line of tables along the far wall, including the one he and Angel had assembled. As he and Xander stepped down to the floor, a contingent swarmed the truck and began to unload its contents. They had not walked the distance to the command tables when Spike heard the truck start again and turned to see it head for the lower level.

Humans wielding clipboards and Palm Pilots descended on Xander like a pack seeking the attention of their alpha. Xander held up one hand and instead of listening to them in turn snapped out his questions to the group.

"Are we secure?"

"Willow said it's set, she did it first thing," an overeager cheerleader type piped up.

"We have people watching our exits from six exterior vantage points." Jonothan said. "So far nothing about our base looks out of the ordinary."

"We have perimeter guards inside at all entries; they're in coveralls and posing as painters," said the sleek young man that Xander had said was a former teammate of his.

"How's our recon?"

"Screwed." Jonothan looked down at his clipboard and then offered, "This phone thing is even messing up the landlines. They work; our patrols just can't get to them 'cause everyone is using them."

Xander ran the fingers of both hands back through his hair and contemplated the garage and the people milling around it. He heaved a sigh then said, "Okay. Sunnydale is about to get hit by a fitness craze. Send the runners out in gym wear and have them lap the recon circuit and bring in verbal reports."

Jonathan peeled off from the group to implement his order.

"Infirmary?" Xander continued his shakedown of the site.

They circled the area three times. At first Spike thought Xander was indulging in some pre-battle superstition, or that the witch had him working some kind of spell. It was a kind of magic. Jittery, frightened young people saw Xander's sure and rolling gait and received his calm and optimistic smile and were transformed into quiet, determined men and women. Walking also served to dispel some of Spike's nerves - waiting had never been his strong suite.

While they walked along inspecting the preparations, Xander frequently brushed against Spike or lay a hand on his arm or shoulder, almost as if to reassure himself that Spike was still with him. Spike was with him, all right. Even under the smell of stale carbon monoxide and various leaked automotive fluids, Xander's scent teased at Spike's limited self control. Spike longed to throw the boy up against the wall and bury himself in his body. He imagined sinking his teeth into the tense corded muscle above Xander's collarbone and felt himself salivate. The drive to finally claim his mate, publicly - to mark him for all to see was beating against Spike's higher brain functions like the fluttering wings of an endless flock of birds.

After another check - in with his administrative officer, Xander took them off in search of Willow and the others. About halfway to the infirmary Spike managed to ask the question that the removal of the chip and Xander's intoxicating scent kept driving from his head. What was the plan? His boy teasingly admitted, at least to Spike, that there was no plan, other than to put themselves in front of whatever was heading their way and to hope that they were strong enough, prepared enough to meet the challenge. Claiming a quick kiss, Xander then ran ahead, perhaps to avoid the swat on his rear he so richly deserved. His dancing brown eyes sparkled with laughter as he turned back to make sure that Spike followed. Xander looked so young, so alive, Spike was riveted. He covered his distraction by leering and watching the reaction of his mate. Each deliberate step Spike took toward Xander corresponded to a subtle change - his eyes dilated, his breathing deepened, and a lovely flush spread across his face and neck. *They know not much what I am like, not what he is, my Avatar....He is the Jester and the Jest and he the Text himself applies. [1]*

Spike was careful not to touch Xander, fearing the boy's wrath if he lost control and jumped him in front of his graduating class. Instead, after closing the distance between them, he ghosted his lips across the warm flesh of Xander's face and murmured into his mate's ear, "Thought we were going to find Red."

Xander swallowed and nodded. They continued along side by side, more subdued. Spike watched Xander covertly glancing up at him from under his long lashes. He gave a self-deprecating laugh when Xander's shy smile told
him he had been doing the same thing. They quickly found out that everyone was awaiting their arrival upstairs in an office normally used as the cashier's break room. The mood changed abruptly when they reached the top
level of the garage. Sunlight was still spilling though the entrances, though softer and approaching nightfall. Xander clenched his jaw and, placing his body between Spike and the searing light, made sure their route was as far into the artificially lit interior as possible.

Spike wondered just who and how many of the white hats Red had shared the information about the chip. He wasn't letting Xander out of his sight, no matter what state his Sire was in. He only hoped Rupert would keep focused on the problem at hand and not divert Xander's attention from the upcoming battle. Spike tried to prepare himself for anything as he flanked his mate and they entered the office.

1. Rudyard Kipling 'An American' --


part fourteen

All eyes turned to the door as they entered the break room and silence greeted them. The room was considerably larger than Rupert's office and the humans were having coffee around a long, cheap table. Spike tensed, waiting for Angel to attack. Giles was standing by the coffeemaker and seemed far too calm to know that the chip had been removed. Red and the poof began to compete for Xander's attention. Since his Sire was largely ignoring him, Spike assumed that the witch had kept her mouth shut about the chip.

Once they had gone over the plan, or lack thereof, Xander put Cordelia in charge of the base and left the witches and the Watchers to sort out the magical details. He took Spike, Angel, and Angel's newest minion, along with two of the runners to send back with orders, and they went to explore the remnants of the school. Angel and his minion fretted out loud about defensive liabilities and the quality of the forces they had at their disposal. Xander paced the dilapidated corridors of his old school and looked grim and determined. Just as the minions were beginning to eye the outsiders with concern and showed signs of mounting terror, Xander clapped his hands once and said, "Okay this is what were going to do."

The minions' attention was immediately focused on the calm young man who kneeled down to diagram his strategies in the dust on the floor. He pointed out where explosives would be placed and indicated three separate lines of defenses. Xander's minions scribbled frantic notes on clipboards. Angel and his minion looked on in stunned silence. Xander countered most of their previously voiced apprehensions and had obviously considered a great many more details than they had. The boy used his knowledge of the school's layout and each perimeter he established had an evacuation contingency planned. The fact that one of their own was in charge and showed no intention of throwing their lives away reassured the minions. When Xander sent them back to the parking garage with orders for Jonothan and Cordelia their eyes burned with a light of determination.

Xander showed Angel and his minion the ins and outs of the library, and noted the changes the area had gone through since the last time they had defended it against demons. Then, leaving them to start setting up a
defensive barricade, Xander and Spike headed back to the base. After a brief conference with the magic users, Xander had Spike escort them and their supplies to the library. Xander stayed with the Rennies, readying and directing the placement of the explosives.

Spike hurried back to the parking garage, having been reluctant to be separated from his mate for even such a short time. He hoped this tense attachment was due to the upcoming battle. If Xander ended up having to be trapped in his tiny office every day with a stir crazy, over-protective vampire he just might start to regret their involvement.

The tunnel access was two levels above the one that housed their makeshift army. As Spike emerged from the stairwell into the deserted infirmary, he heard Xander's voice resounding in the parking area. Spike was drawn toward the sound and once in the vast pillared space easily spotted Xander standing on a table surrounded by his minions.

Public speaking obviously wasn't the boy's forte, but he wasn't babbling and he didn't stutter. He was honest to the point of bluntness. He told them just who and what the Initiative was and detailed how dangerous the upcoming
battle could be - along with the expected results if they did and if they did not fight. Without offering false hope he managed to convey his belief that they had a chance of succeeding.

To Spike's surprise Xander wrapped up his impromptu speech by offering every one of them the chance to back out. A demon would have leveled threats and perhaps killed the first to look hesitant as an example, and would still have lost at least half his force to desertion as soon as a losing battle was engaged. Xander said he understood fear and the need for self-preservation but he wouldn't have asked them all to be here if he thought that hiding anywhere would have been safer. He pointed out that each of them would be depending on the others to hold their position and stick to the plan. The only way the tiered evacuations of each perimeter would work would be if each of them could trust the one behind them to watch their backs, and he would rather anyone who was going to bolt do it now than when others were staking their lives on them. Spike shook his head in amazement; not one left.

Spike had slowly made his way to he back of the crowd as his boy spoke. When Xander clapped his hands and dispersed his troops Spike closed the remaining distant to the table. Looking up, he was blessed with Xander's smile. Before Xander could jump down on his own, Spike reached up and placing both hands firmly on the boy's hips, slowly lifted him down.

"You're such a romantic." Xander whispered and kissed him softly. Then he pulled back and placed both hands on Spike's shoulders. Spike watched as he visibly shifted from lover to leader and added, "How are the witches holding

"Nervous but optimistic. Red's hoping this can be solved without bloodshed." Seeing Xander's grimace, Spike asked, "Not likely, eh?"

"Spike, you've seen the way they operate. Thinking things through isn't their strong point. They react, and usually on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate information. Take Adam," the boy shook his head with disgust, his warm hands dropping down from Spike's shoulders to his chest. "They fucked up - I can't begin to list the ways. I keep asking myself why."

Spike tightened his hold on Xander and pulled him closer. "Not going to disagree with you, Pet. But why does it bother you? Any mistake they make is - what do you lot say - of the good."

"No. Yes. Aragh!" Xander was exasperated. In Spike experience that was always either as a result of no or resulted in an inability to communicate. Spike gave him a gentle shake and waited for him to sort out what he had been trying to say. Xander closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. When he opened them he spoke in the calm, authoritative voice he had used to garner his troops. "I'm not even twenty one yet. I have no training. Why are well-trained, experienced officers making mistakes even I can spot? I keep asking myself are they really this stupid, or are they being set up? Most of them only follow orders - could whoever is directing this want them to fail?"

"All good questions, love. Might want to save them for another day though." Spike offered with a smile, and was pleased when it was halfheartedly returned.

"Spike, do you have any idea how much worse it could have been - even without the whole Adam fiasco? How much higher the body count could have been? We got so lucky. The worst part is that they never knew. The never realized that blind chance and the Slayer kept the whole thing contained."

Xander sounded scared for the first time since he had taken over the operation. He had been worried and sometimes in doubt but this - this was fear. Spike wouldn't let his mate go into battle smelling of fear and attempted to break the mood by oozing charm while seductively saying, "Too right, Frankendemon could have taken out the chip and then they would have had me to deal with."

He wasn't prepared for Xander's frankly stated, "Exactly."

"Pet, joke. Xander?" Spike marveled. Xander's gaze was no longer fearful but he had never seen the boy look at him like this. Xander often looked at him with love, lust, friendship and, yes, exasperation, irritation, taunting amusement and a variety of other emotions. But at the moment Spike felt all his carefully constructed facades stripped away. Xander was looking at him the way he had looked at the blueprints of the garage and the way he had
cased the high school. At this moment Spike felt that Xander saw all his weakness - every bad decision and poorly executed plan.

"Spike, you're a Master vampire, smart, street-savvy, dangerous. That whole operation was set up on assumptions - unwarranted assumptions. One that you're an inferior being and that they are smarter, more experienced, and
better prepared. Based wholly upon- my guess - dealing with fledges so new that they still think like humans. Two, that you are all they had to deal with - like a stray dog - again largely true with minions, but that completely discounts that you could be part of a community - one just as likely to have a standing military and defensive response protocols as their own. Three, that each of the species of hostiles is as unlikely to communicate with others as, say, different animal species - suicidally wrong. Think of it. Someone looking to consolidate power could have used this common threat to unite demons species who would never have fought side by side without a shared enemy."

"I love it when you talk like that - let's take over the world together," Spike purred.

Xander dropped his intensely paranoid look, laughed, and shyly lowered his lashes. "Sorry." Then he looked up and cocked his head and said, "Hey! You never want to take over the world. Eat it, fuck it, trash it - yeah. It was always Angelus who was into politics."

Spike snickered. "You know me too well, Pet. Got everything I want - never had the poof's ambitions."

"Or his suicidal tendencies. Did you ever notice, Angelus has the survival instincts of a lemming? With the soul attached he's not as bad, but soul-free psycho boy made some really questionable choices." Spike wished Angel were near to hear Xander assess the Scourge of Europe.

"Crossed me for one," Spike agreed.

"Smartest move he made," at Spike's questioning look Xander added, "If you hadn't double-crossed him....well, just think about it. What sort of 'reward' do you think Acathla would bestow on the one who freed him, hum? The honor of being his first meal? In my experience, Gods, demons or whatever do not let anyone who may have some claim on them stick around to call in debts on their power base."

"Did you know that the Judge wanted to kill me? Said I wasn't demon enough, tainted with humanity." Spike growled and morphed to his game face thinking of that dark time with Angelus and Dru.

"No." Xander leaned forward and brushed his lips lightly across Spike's brow ridges. "You're perfect." Then he added in a teasing voice, "But stay pissed off, we can use you in 'Slayer of Slayers' mode for this."

Spike chuckled and shifted to his human face. "Come on, Pet, let's go check on your minions."

"Ah, Spike?" Xander blinked.

"Yeah, Pet?" Spike said turning and heading toward the exit, sensing Xander fall in behind him.

"You might not want to call them that."


Spike shadowed Xander as he paced the defensive lines and reviewed the positions the explosives had been planted in. The minions, while leery around Angel, accepted Spike. Spike was surprised at how many he recognized, not just from Buffy's memorial service, but from around town. Spike often accompanied Dawn, Xander or the witches when they went anywhere after dark. Now the girl from the video store was dispensing weapons and the young man who was manager of the local Cineplex was carting around a cooler of soda for the troops. It was strange. They were food. Yet, he knew that the black man listening so intently to the Rennie lecture about explosives worked at the vets and had let them in after hours when Willow had been sure her cat was poisoned after eating some spell components. All of this fearful food rushing about acknowledged his place at his mate's side and this helped to calm his blood lust, which was strained by the anticipation of battle.

They ended up outside of the library. Angel and his minion had erected a barricade, which left room for a single person to go in or out at a time. Xander updated them on the troop placement and outlined the most likely scenarios of attack. His mate's beloved rocket launcher was inside the library, Xander having opted instead for a dart gun with tranquilizers. In answer to the speculative looks of both Angel and his minion, Xander had simply said, "Oz," and left Peaches to explain to his boy. Spike enjoyed their looks of confusion almost as much as he had the shock on Angel's face when Xander had earlier snapped open the crate of shells and with quiet, practiced efficiency loaded his portable cannon.

"Xander?" Angel had asked. "I always wondered, where did you get a rocket launcher?"

"It's Buffy's." Xander said and Spike had stepped close to glare at his Sire for distracting his mate with dark thoughts before the battle.

"Yes, I remember. Where did Buffy get it? I don't think the Watcher's Council has these in their training kits."

"I got it for her - birthday present. You got her the Judge. She liked my present better." Spike watched regret seep into Xander's eyes at the reminder of Angel's soul-free vacation and Xander added, "Cordy and I heisted it from an Army base. Willow and Oz worked lookout from the getaway van." Xander smiled at Angel's minion and said, "Dating, Hellmouth style. It was actually one of Cordy's and my better dates - probably because it was so much like shopping."

Spike was surprised when Xander wanted the four of them to hide, since if the Initiative made it this far they would be well aware of the resistance. Xander explained that they were hoping that the Initiative's history of overestimating their superiority would work in favor of the Children. Since this plan had him pressed close against Xander's warm back, Spike was all for it. Even his trademark impatience didn't plague him as he listened to his mate's steady heartbeat.

Time passed and soon the only thing Spike found himself fighting was the impulse to throw the boy against the wall and shock the hell out of Peaches and his new pet. After the sounds of the battle being engaged began, Xander's scent changed abruptly and he tensed. Spike wondered if the boy had picked up the sign of intruders on his own or if the bond between them gave him access to the information Spike's enhanced senses were providing. It was the runner's foot falls which had alerted Spike, and Xander, being human, shouldn't have reacted until the sound came closer. One of Xander's minion rounded the corner and brought word of the struggle. It seemed as if they had been waiting for hours, and Spike knew he would never have been able to stay still this close to so much mindless violence without the sunlit scent of his mate. The runner reported that, so far, there was no loss of life or serious injury among the Children. Spike felt his boy sag with relief once he knew his minions were safe. His mate had the makings of a fine Master vampire. Xander sent the runner off with orders and visibly steeled himself for what was about to happen.

Seconds later it was all Spike could do to keep himself from ripping into the humans Angel and his pet had so quickly pinned to the wall. Two commandos struggled to escape from their captors, but both familiar-smelling
soldier gits who had chipped him were instantly out of the action. The one thing that kept him from ripping them out of the care of Angel and company was Xander's predatory prowl towards the helpless men. Spike had never
sensed the emotions that churned through Xander's scent, but he knew one false move on his part just might send Xander spiraling into a berserker rage. Xander's voice was cold and dripped with sarcasm when he said, "Well,
well, well. Riley Finn."


Part Fifteen

Spike's sweet, gentle boy had torn into the commando with a cold, manipulative rage that did him proud. With a few calm sentences Xander reduced the all-American soldier boy to a sobbing heap. When he asked Finn to not make him break his kneecap in a seductive whisper, Spike shuddered. How much of this was Xander and how much was some demon-born taint to the boy's heroic soul? Was his association with Spike turning him into what he had fought against for so long? Spike worried this thought over and over in his mind until he and Xander left the captured commando with his Sire and went to change the objective of the mission.

Xander seemed to think Rayne a greater threat than Spike did, but Xander was better at these things so Spike followed and waited for orders. He was almost giddy with relief when the two of them stopped briefly before reaching the back of the first perimeter and Xander let the mask of indifference slip. This wasn't a tainted soul; this was his boy, his loving overburdened boy. His boy was sick with what he had done and what he might have to do. But the sight of that clenched jaw and white-knuckled grip on his weapon told Spike that Xander was prepared to do whatever it took to protect the people he loved and felt responsible for.

So they made the rounds, Xander supervising the evacuation of his troops while keeping careful tally of the Initiative's dead and wounded. A Buffy-like blond ran up to Xander and grabbed his arm, prompting a growl from Spike, and said, "Jeff got zapped."

"Shit!" Xander looked ready to kill something.

"No, well, yeah - but Kayla says he'll be okay. Anyway, the guy that shot him told Cordelia that the three ranking officers just dropped in their tracks for no apparent reason. We have them back at the infirmary under guard - well, they're still unconscious, but, you know. Is this magic? Cordy wants to know if we did it?"

"No." Xander looked around and flagged down a fresh runner. "Do this," he said to the girl. "Stay here and speed up the evac - get everyone out. Have our people watch out for each other first, but if at all possible remove the Initiative's dead and wounded." He addressed the runner, "Tell Cordy that I commandeered Amy to run the retreat. Tell her we didn't put the whammy on the soldiers, that Ethan Rayne has turned the tables on his captors and is
making a power play and to act accordingly - she'll know what to do. Go!"

"But if this guy is their enemy..." Amy started to ask.

"This guy is no one's friend; these people are his fall guys. Don't give any of them a chance to hurt our people but don't kill any of them if you don't have to." Xander handed the tiny blonde over to the front line leader and made sure that they were clear on what to touch and not touch on the way out. The back door Angel had arranged was off the boy's locker room under what was left of the gym. The last of the minions to leave was to shift a row of lockers to hide the tunnel should anyone try and follow.

They were on their way back to the library, skulking along the eerily quiet corridors when Xander cautiously approached a fallen lab-coated figure. Just as the boy reached to check the body's pulse Spike grabbed Xander and pulled him away.

"Ouch!" Xander rubbed his upper arm.

"Sorry," Spike said absently. "It smells wrong - like magic."

"You hurt me," Xander said.

"I'm sorry, Pet," Spike said, paying more attention and making eye contact.

Xander grinned and kissed him and said again, "You. Hurt. Me."

"I'm sorry..." The chip. The chip hadn't gone off. He had hurt Xander and the chip hadn't gone off. Spike had known it before but now - now it sank in. He had hurt his sweet boy - albeit mildly - but still the chip was gone. He could kill Xander. What if he did? He was impulsive. He was a demon. What if in the heat of anger he destroyed the one person who had ever loved him?

Worried brown eyes broke into Spike's train of thought as Xander gripped his shoulders and gave him a mild shake. "Spike? I'm happy for you but this is not the time to zone out. You have to pay attention. Promise me you won't
forget you can fight back. Remember, you hold a piece of my heart, and I'm counting on you to keep it safe - keep yourself safe." Xander gave him a soft kiss and added, "Come on, let's head back to the library."

Just before they entered the library Xander stopped Spike and kissed him hard. "I'm going to tell you to do something you don't want to do; you're just going to have to trust me." Spike offered the boy a skeptical look but
waited to hear him out. "I know if there's a melee your instinct is going to tell you to protect me. I'm asking you to trust me to survive on my own - I've made it this far." Xander clamped a hand over Spike's mouth to prevent the inevitable comment. "I need your first objective to be to protect the witches. Going up against Rayne - they are our best shot at defeating him - I need you to see they stay safe long enough to do something."

Spike didn't like to admit it but Xander was right. Still, that didn't stop him from tracking his mate's every move once he had taken up a position inside, watching the door along side Angel's new boy. As a card-carrying evil undead bastard Spike had never given much thought to karma, but the almost instantaneous reward he received for his obedience had him pondering the concept.

After checking in with the others upon entering the library, Xander was once again drawn into a confrontation with that sniveling soldier boy Finn. Xander not only pointed out just how much danger Finn had put them all in, but defended Spike's action in revealing the weakling's addiction to Buffy and outed the blood whore to his commando partner and the fang gang. Angel of course was all concerned for Buffy's castoff version of Angel-lite, but Spike wondered just where that interest came from. He was willing to bet that the gelled one had paid for it more than once since he had had that soul slapped on him.

The actual endgame wasn't much of a dustup. Spike had had far more vigorous workouts playing slap and tickle with the Slayer. His sweet brown-eyed boy hadn't even gotten to fire his rocket launcher. That moment though, when Xander had flown into the wall and hit the floor dazed - even seeing the tall, silent commando taking up a guarding position over the boy - it had been all Spike could do to follow Xander's orders. He had killed the demon/soldier instantly. Rupes might have said to try to spare them but Spike wasn't wasting time, he wanted to be free to defend his mate should the commando fail. Then, in a flash of blue light, it was over and all that was left was to sort through the dead and the wounded.

Xander wanted level the high school. Spike told him he could have all the explosions he wanted but the witch and the Watcher said that no, he couldn't. Since Xander's lower lip did not have the same mysterious persuasive power over them as it did over Spike, the remains of the school were left intact. Spike thought they would never get out of there. Xander's extended pack all seemed to need to touch and be acknowledged by their alpha male. It was downright wrong to hear humans saying 'let's do this again sometime' when they were referring to the events of that night.

They evacuated the parking lot base as if they were leaving a covered dish picnic, although the leftovers they were discussing the distribution of were mostly weapons and bombs. One bright soul worked in a self-storage warehouse
and volunteered space until the surplus could be sorted out. Xander asked Jonothan to take the U-Haul and see to it and asked if he would mind returning the truck for him later. Spike held back a snicker; the boy looked at his Xander with such hero worship the vampire though he might faint when Xander shook his hand and said, "Thanks. We couldn't have done this without you."

Xander was kind and generous to all his minions, and had expressly forbidden Spike calling them that as rule number eight. When Angel approached Xander and asked if they might have a word, Spike was torn between mentioning that Angelus could take some pointers on how to treat his minions from his Xander and ripping out the poof over-gelled hair. He settled for growling and wrapping his arms around his mate's broad chest from behind. Xander laughed, turned his head and kissed Spike's cheek. Spike was catching on to the fact that Angel looked more disturbed when Xander's displays of affection were conducted when Spike was in game face than when he at least
looked human.

Xander reached out and shook Angel's hand, further confusing the poof's tiny little mind, and said, "Thanks. I know you're more of a loner, but you really came through for the team. Did you really mean it? Can Riley be helped? Is it a death wish? I gotta admit, five years of trying to stay alive in this hellhole has me questioning his sanity."

Well, that obviously wasn't where the souled one thought the conversation was going to go. From the baffled look at the snarling vampire Xander was currently wearing as a cape, his Sire might just launch in to a pot and kettle speech. Spike snickered and shifted to his human guise. "Oh, believe me, Pet, Peaches really wants to help our Riley." Spike leered. Xander ignored him, and Angel glared.

"Actually, Xander, I was more concerned about your relationship with Spike..." he started.

"Oh God, Deadboy, I am so not prepared to have you as a father-in-law." Xander giggled - quite a bit. He continued until Spike started to worry that he might have to snag one of the humans to do mouth to mouth. Angel looked

"You're loopy, Pet. I'll admit he's a riot, but this isn't like you." Spike rubbed his boy's rippling abdomen, and waited for him to stop gasping.

"I'm sorry. Really. I'm fried. Really fried. If you want any sort of serious conversation, I need sleep first." He leaned back against Spike.

Angel sighed and looked contrite. "No, you're right, this isn't the time, but we do need to talk."

"Cordy has my number, just give me the weekend to unscramble my brains."

If Spike had need proof of just how few brain cells were functioning for his Xander he had it when the boy didn't even flinch when the brooding one almost touched him. Xander's eyes had begun to flutter shut as he leaned against Spike. Angel reached up with tentative fingers that hovered less than an inch from Xander. Spike glared at Angel. Angel glared at Spike. The standoff broke when Angel's boy summoned him to the Watcher.

Right. Time to get him marked good and proper and keep the bloody competition away!


Xander tripped three times on the stairs up to their apartment. Spike gave up all pretense of trying to appear human and carried the boy up the last few flights. He stood Xander against the wall and fumbled for his keys. Once
the door was opened, Xander grabbed him and pulled him close. "Need sleep. Need you. Come sleep," Xander mumbled against the side of Spike's neck.

"Very poetic, Pet." Spike carried Xander to bed and spent the better part of the next twenty-four hours wrapped tightly around his mate. Xander made three trips to the bathroom and one to the kitchen to chug a quart of orange
juice, but Spike was sure the boy would have no memory of the events since each time he was asleep again before his head hit the pillow.

Keeping a watchful eye on the boy, Spike paced while fretting over the need to mark his mate, and in general behaved like the bloody souled-one. Angel had been right about one thing; the sharing of blood they had been playing at singled Xander out to any of the night breed. Once marked the boy would be safe from any attacks from all but the most irreverent of challengers. Once the mortal was bound to Spike the only acceptable way to kill him would be to go through Spike. Given his own careful adherence to protocol and demon lore Spike wasn't willing to bet Xander's life on such conventions, but a little insurance never hurt.

Red called to see how Xander was and to leave an update on the Nibblet. Dawn wanted to see them both and after Willow explained separation anxiety in an endless stream of babble, Spike told her that Xander was practically a
corpse and wouldn't be able to speak in complete sentences until at least dinnertime. She giggled and said they would bring Chinese.

The talk of food sent Spike to the kitchen. Given his restraint since the chip was removed he opted for two units of O neg as a reward.

"Should I keep restocking that?" Spike turned to see Xander leaning in the doorway. He looked delicious and tussled. All that tanned flesh covered by a tiny pair of raggedy, cutoff sweat pants - which had a disturbingly misplaced bulge next to the one Spike was focused on.

Dragging his gaze away from the distracting boy, Spike considered what Xander had just asked. Could he be having second thoughts now that the chip was gone? Had Spike let his guard down to soon? This was it. Well, fine. If the bastard didn't want him Spike would... Would what? What could he do?

"Thinking of chucking me out, Pet?"

Xander's heartbeat skyrocketed. The scent of fear filled the air. Spike was crushed. How could Xander think Spike would harm him - in any way. "No, dipshit. I thought... I figured you might want... to start..."

Spike pinned Xander to the wall. Spike wanted to hurt him - hurt Xander like he was hurting him. Spike inhaled the fear and pain, and yet this warm, blood-filled human didn't smell like prey. Even in his rage part of him screamed 'MINE!' and prevented any physical violence. That part didn't prevent him from snarling out in full fang, "What? Thought I'd start culling the herd?"

Xander's thick dark lashes were wet with unshed tears but what he gasped out was the last thing Spike expected to hear. He didn't beg for mercy, he didn't say he had expected this turn of events given Spike's demon nature. The boy whispered "I don't want you to leave. I don't want to lose you."

Heaven and Hell. Heaven and Hell - Good and Evil! How could he have been so blind? Spike had told Red, but not once since the chip had come out had he told Xander that he still felt the same. It was so easy to forget how young Xander was. From the very beginning, Xander had been the aggressor; even with his limited experience, he had been the one to take all the risks - to plunge forward blindly and bravely. The fear - the sadness in his scent - he was afraid he would lose Spike. Spike knew his own romantic history left him with a 'strike first' attitude toward rejection - but was Xander's former love life any better? In his short life Spike's boy had been abandoned as much as Spike had been in over a century. It was time to show some trust, time for Spike to be an adult and take a risk. All his brooding over how to approach Xander about marking him seemed silly. He knew the boy was head over heels in love with him. *Interesting picture that, getting Xander's long, strong legs up in the air while pounding into his hot tight body is definitely on the to do list for today.* At that lovely thought Spike dove forward and scraped his fangs across Xander's neck, careful not to hurt him, but delighting in the anticipatory shiver that moved though his boy. "I'm not going anywhere - not ever! We clear on that?" Spike morphed to his human form and forced Xander to look him in the eyes.

Once again the boy hit him with an unanticipated question. "Are you going to turn me?"

*Bloody hell!* "Do you want me to?" As a Childe, Xander would worship Spike, but Spike was rather flattered that Xander wanted him - loved him - without that coercion.

"Do you want to?" *Great he's angry, guess that's better than afraid. What's the right answer here, hum? If I say no will it seem like I'm rejecting him? Shit, if I say yes, will he think I just want to shag his demon-possessed corpse into a blood-soaked puddle? Oooo, lovely image.*

"Xander." *I just can't win this one, by all that's unholy I swear sometimes my boy has PMS.*

Before Spike could let go of the boy, Xander warm hands pinned Spike's slim fingers in place and he said, "I need to know what you want. I need to you feel."

Was that the solution? Should he just tell him the truth? Novel approach. "I want you. However I can have you, for as long as I can have you." There would be time later to mention that this might be longer than Xander thought
even without the turning. "If Red can find a way for you to still be you - then fine, but otherwise...I can bag it for your lifetime."

A glimmer of hope crossed Xander's expressive face followed by a touch of awe when he stroked Spike cheek. "And Dawn's?" he ventured almost reluctantly.

He asked so little and offered so much Spike couldn't help but smile. This man - this good man loved him. Him, William the bloody awful poet, the Big Bad, fuck up, psychopath - an odd term of endearment but it suited him and
when Xander said it, it seemed lovely - in all of Spike's freaking incarnations Xander loved him. "And Dawn's," Spike agreed

Oh, wasn't his boy beautiful when he smiled. Xander must be the sun god's favorite bastard - seasons changed, night became day and the world was reborn in his darling boy's smile. "I have something for you." From defiant, to awed, to inexplicably shy in the space of a moment, now Xander's scent shifted to anticipatory.

An intriguing proposition when he reached toward his shorts, but it was the other bulge he removed. Xander pulled out a small box - the kind that held jewelry. Skunked again - his boy had knackers - always in the lead that one,
absolutely fearless. The last love Xander had bought jewelry for had run out of his llife at the next sunrise. All the while Spike had been worrying over Xander's possible refusal to the visible marking of mate and here the boy
was offering some sort of human equivalent. Spike worked on staying calm as he reached for the box and tried to distract his love's attention by joking, "That better not be an engagement ring, Pet."

The chip - it was the chip. Mounted on a silver pendant, the back of which was engraved with an `X' that had the letter `S' wrapped around it like a lover. *How the hell?* Spike had been hovering about his boy almost nonstop
since the chip had been removed; when had Xander arranged this? In all that chaos, with everything - everyone - he had to worry about Xander had somehow found time for this. Spike wanted to say how much that simple fact meant to him. He wanted to somehow express what it meant to have been thought of, for the first time in his existence, ahead of all others. Instead he said, "What's this?

*Why do I do that? Why do I strike out first? With anyone else it makes sense to hurt them before they can hurt me - but this is my boy - my Xander. I want him bound to me forever, yet I never trust him enough to let down my

Spike marveled when Xander, as he did with everything else, let his snarkiness roll right off him and mimicked Spike's accent while saying, "What do you mean `What's this?'?"

"What does it mean, Xander?" *Hold on, that didn't come out exasperated. And how come I sound breathless when I don't need to breath? Couldn't be the thought that this might mean he'd agree to be mine - all the way - blood bond, flesh marked, mated human to vampire, whatever that entails?*

Without a blush or a trace of teasing Xander looked him firmly in the eyes and said, "It means....It means, I greatly esteem you."

Spike couldn't stop the snort of derision. As soon as he did it he regretted it. *Wonderful way to seduce him. First force him to be the one to put his feelings into words and then show contempt and disbelief. And you wonder why
everyone leaves you? Wanker.*

"I do, you know." Xander motioned hesitantly toward the pendent. "You didn't just survive this. You conquered it." *Happy, Spike? A minute ago he was confident and now he's looking down and biting his lip. Are you proud of your accomplishment?* "I... If I haven't told you, I admire you. Your tenacity, your strength. You've really come through for me, for all of us." *How many times have I wanted to tell him that, but me - The Big Bad - was too afraid to say the words. He's the brave one.*

"Put it on for me, eh, Pet?" Spike didn't trust the steadiness of his own hands to fasten the clasp. Then there was the added incentive of Xander's warm finger lingering over his neck as he adjusted the chain. No one - no one had ever looked at him like this. Not Dru in the alley that last night of his life, certainly never Angelus no matter how hard Spike tried to please him. Xander's gaze was not acquisitive like Drusillia or calculating like Angelus; Xander looked at Spike as if he were a rare work of art or the last sunset the boy would ever see. *Dark one, all I request is a portion of love. Whatever my defects, you are for me a name of raptures. Let the world cast its judgment, nothing changes my heart -- a single word from your lips is sufficient [1]*

"Say something, Pet." Spike said with a laugh, if Xander didn't focus his attention on something beside Spike he was going to find himself thrown to the floor. *Hold on! What's wrong with that?*

It seemed Xander's inner voice were shouting out something similar as his eyes dilated and Spike could swear he heard all the blood in Xander's body rushing toward his boy's cock. Xander's whisper slipped into every corner of
Spike's mind when he said, "Fuck me?"

*A request? I can do requests, Dark One.* "Here, or in the bedroom?" Spike asked, raising Xander a good three inches off the floor by holding firmly on his hips, prepared to take him wherever he suggested. Spike hoped once he sated the desperate need to reestablish their physical bond he could broach the subject of marking to Xander with some control.

Any hope of control was flushed when Spike watch Xander's expressive face reveal his turmoil at having to choose one or the other before turning his wide-eyed, oh-so-innocent-seeming gaze on his lover and gasping out, "Both?"

Spike growled as images of tearing into this trusting human battered at him. He leveled what Xander had referred to as his patented-serial-killer-look on the boy as he lowered him with the slow control that vampiric strength gave
the shorter man. Without the chip as a safety net, Xander had no idea what a dangerous position he was in. As Spike firmly turned Xander to face the wall the boy's body transmitted desire and readiness in scent and a variety of
unconscious reactions. As his growl changed to a purr, Spike felt a moment of fear. What if Xander hadn't responded willingly? Would this be a rape or a murder? How would he have reacted, unchipped, if Xander had given off a scent of fear? It was a moot point at the moment, since as soon as Spike had ripped the shorts off Xander's body, the young man had braced himself on the wall and thrust back willingly spread legs as an offering to his demon lover.

Spike trailed his fingers down Xander's broad, beautiful back as he lowered himself to kneel behind his boy. He needed a moment. Standing put him too close to the tempting mortal's neck. The desire coursing through his
demon-animated corpse had little to do with feeding but was not entirely fueled by lust. The thought of plundering his boy and his new found ability to cause pain was far too tempting. Spike buried his face between the muscled orbs of Xander's offered ass. Slowly licking deep into his boy's puckered entrance he inhaled the scent of his lover, hoping to stave off the vision of his own cock covered in Xander's blood. Not that he really wanted to cause his boy pain - well not much, although all those threatened spankings danced about in his chipless head, but that would have to wait. Right now he needed to sate them both before he hurt the boy, and then get him marked.

Oddly enough Xander's heavy breathing and the soft whimper he released as Spike scraped his human teeth over the boy's balls served to calm the demon more than the two bags of human blood. Spike would have sworn Xander was too far gone to offer up more than a 'Mhureegl' as he reached for the remains of his snack which could double as lube. So he was surprised by the amazingly coherent cry of "Rule four! Rule four!" coming from over his head.

*Must be doing something wrong if he can still talk.* Lifting his face from Xander's alluring backside, Spike asked, "What was rule four again?"

"No using blood as lube." How that had escaped being rule one had a lot to do with Xander's odd human values. Spike had intended to enjoy the whimpering that resulted from his ceasing his attention to Xander's second favorite hot spot, but realized he was at a point where he had to either bury his tongue or his fangs in Xander.

Choosing his tongue he set the mug down and said, "Need something, Pet," and plunged back in, leaving Xander to produce lube. There was a delightful struggle as Xander attempted to remain in contact with said tongue - as if he had a choice - and rummage around the kitchen. There was a crash and something rolled across the floor just before Xander frantically thrust a bottle of olive oil down to Spike. Spike reluctantly parted from the taste of Xander and began to work the oil deep into his lover. The way Xander's body so willingly yielded to the penetration of Spike's fingers made up for the loss of the tempting taste of him. Spike felt safe enough to stand behind his naked human as he buried three of his fingers in the hot, moist cavern of his mate.

Xander leaned back into him, exposing his long, strong throat. *Such a tease.* Or was he? They had been lovers long enough to know just what buttons to push to crank the each other up. For instance now, Spike was fully clothed - well, barefoot - but Xander was naked. Naked with the better part of Spike's hand inside him. How many times in the middle of a footie match had Xander, in a bid for attention, baited Spike until the vampire grabbed him, threw off the boy's clothes and turned him over his knee? And if the chip prevented him from beating that bottom bloody it never stopped him from finger fucking his human until the match was over. Of course that just insured he would do it again next time, but that was all well and good, eh? Spike had tormented his boy over that peculiar vanilla kink. Xander, in turn, had learned how riveted Spike was to his neck and how sensitive an area it was on a vampire. Biting during sex wasn't the only way his human catered to his demon lover. Spike had lost track of the long, hard
sessions of bedsports Xander had initiated with a knowing pout and the words, "Would you kiss my owie?" No one cut themselves that often, but Xander would hold up a pricked finger or small cut beading with blood and the scent of desire pouring off him.

So Xander knew. The human's body shook not with fear but with need. He sighed as Spike licked over the spot he had grazed his teeth on that first night they had spoken of marking. Xander knew what he wanted, what he needed. If they had both been demons it would have been enough. But Xander was human and over a hundred years younger - Spike needed words.

Of course, he should have thought of that before he had his mate teetering on the brink of orgasm. Spike desperately wanted to mark his mate now but wasn't sure `Schpadoinkle' would qualify as an affirmative. Still, he had to ask. "Want you. Want to mark you. Deep in the muscle, leave a scar. Want to claim you," he gasped out while rubbing against the spot, hoping that their previous talks would enlighten Xander to what he wanted.

"Do it!" was Xander's surprisingly coherent reply. Although, to be fair, judging by the clenching around his thrusting fingers, Xander just might have offered up his parents' life's blood right now if Spike would just shut up and let him come.

Oh! It had been so long! The rapture of his fangs sinking into taut flesh and firm muscle - the explosion of scent and taste - the hot blood slipping over his tongue and down his throat. Plunging into Druscilla had never been like this - this was his - this was Xander.

Once, shortly after he was turned, Angelus had had enough of Spike snarking 'you're not my Sire' at him and unbeknownst to Darla or Dru, when the ladies were out `shopping', had told Spike to kneel before him.

"Hear me, Garmhac, and know that she who made you is mine as you are hers. I will suffer you as kin for her sake and claim you as my Childe." That was the only time he had called Spike 'garmhac'; usually it was dalta or leanbh
og, [2] but then, he had acknowledged the blood ties and Spike had been awed when Angelus had bitten his own wrist and offered it to Spike. A primal memory of the demon's had stirred and he had known that this would bind him to the older vampire much as he was to his dark, mad Sire, but he hadn't hesitated when he had grasped onto that wrist and, carefully not dropping his fangs, licked up every drop of Angelus' blood. The ladies had known what
they had done as soon as they had arrived home. Drucsilla, of course, would deny her `Daddy' nothing but Darla had been right pissed.

That moment - that archaic piece of demon blood binding - that came close to this. Perhaps, because - unlike his turning - they both had chosen each other. Xander, even with the signs that this was more than just `kinky sex', had willingly continued the bonding - had chosen Spike as his mate as surely as Spike had chosen him.

The force of Xander's orgasm when it hit splattered the wall and turned his bucking boy into dead weight for a moment. Xander's body felt boneless in Spike's arms and the vampire reluctantly removed his fangs and cut his own tongue to bathe the wound with his scent and blood. Spike held his now-claimed mate tightly and kept brushing his still-buried fingers against Xander's prostate while he watched the mark heal to an angry red scar. In a few days it would be all but invisible, but they could renew it often now. Let Angelus talk all he wanted, Xander was his. Spike wouldn't mind his Seanathair's [3] blessing but nothing short of dusting him would separate the two of them now.

The weight this lifted - the desperate aching need.... Spike hadn't been aware how influenced he had been by the driving instinct to claim his mate. Now that this human bore his mark he felt drunk on the sense of control it gave back to his life. Even more than having the chip removed this reaffirmed him - he was a man, a demon, a master and anyone who went after what was his was going to meet up with the Big Bad, at least for the last seconds of their life.

Spike gently slipped his fingers out of Xander and turned the boy to face him. The sleepy, sated smile that greeted him melted his unbeating heart. Xander draped his warm body on Spike and whispered, "Bed now?" Spike almost
laughed out loud. He had forgotten that Xander had requested `both' when offered the choice of here or in the bedroom for his requested fucking. Spike felt a bit like Rhett carrying Scarlet as he transported his long lover to the bedroom. He put his boy into the rumpled bed and sat back, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Xander was finally his.

1. Mirabari
2. Garmhac = grandson
Dalta = pupil
Leanbh og = young child
3 Seanathair = grandfather


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