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Part Sixteen

All of those nights, coming in to watch his boy sleep in the moonlight; every time he had stood outside the shower, enraptured by the foam of Xander's shampoo as it slithered over the his wet, tanned flesh; evenings lit only by the flickering television, when Xander woke from a doze, his head pillowed in Spike's lap to ask, "How long have you been staring?" Always there had been a sense of impermanence. The fear that the moment was fleeting and the boy would be taken from him had always pressed at Spike's senses. It was apparent to him now that it had influenced his actions. Had that been what made letting Xander know just how important he was so difficult? Had that been what prevented him from showing his sweet Pet how much he needed him, loved him? No more. Now they were bonded - no one could take what was his without dusting him. Spike was going to show Xander over and over how much he was desired.

Spike knelt beside his gloriously naked mate. He had laid Xander out on the rumpled bed as if he were a full course banquet - now where to start? First, touch - though satisfying on a primal level, their mating had been driven by
need and passion, causing it to be over far too quickly - then taste; now that Spike had claimed his mate he was eager to immerse himself in the scent and flavor of every aspect of his lover. Xander's blood and sweat, saliva and semen must all be retasted so that Spike could reacquaint himself with their essence now that his own would be forever mixed with them. He didn't know just why it was that the blending of blood they partook in almost daily would never alter Xander's scent but the blood he had licked into the claiming mark would change it immediately, but it was obvious that it did. Whatever that change had been had calmed his demon and was responsible for the euphoric state he seemed to be in as he watched as Xander smiled up from his languid sprawl.

Spike's fingers moved of their own accord, brushing lightly across the warm lips of his lover and trailing down Xander's neck, carefully skirting the mark. He wanted to touch all of him, and moved from his nipples to follow the enticing path of dark hair down from Xander's navel to caress his sated cock and stroke his inner thighs. He was transfixed, both by the perfection of his mate's body and by his own bite, vivid on the corded muscle that stretched
down to Xander's collarbone. Spike had no idea how long he had been exploring every inch of Xander's body when he felt his boy tug at the hem of his tee shirt. He hadn't meant to tease - that was just an added bonus - and was
enchanted by the unbridled lust in Xander's eyes when the boy managed to whisper, "Please."

*Anything, Pet, anything.* Xander rarely asked for anything - well, anything Spike hadn't intended to do anyway - this being a case in point. Spike was giddy that he could so readily give him his wish. Being an evil undead bastard
though, he couldn't resist teasing a bit more and did a slow strip out of his shirt and jeans. When Xander, still spent and boneless from their bout in the kitchen, reached for him, Spike started to laugh. It was all too wonderful. This beauty was his. He hadn't stolen or coerced or forced Xander into his bed, Xander had chosen it. Eyes wide open, damn the consequences, Xander had chosen him. The most loyal, loving, fierce, passionate man Spike had ever met had chosen to bind his life to Spike's. Knowing what he was, having seen Spike at his lowest points, this man loved him.

Spike loomed over Xander and blanketed him with his body. He laved the now-red mark with his tongue. There was no taste of blood left, the bite had healed. There was just the musky flavor of Xander, even now accented with a dash of Spike's own scent. Spike took shameless advantage of Xander's distraction to tickle all of his most sensitive spots. Soon his boy was gasping for air and begging to be fucked.

Eager to oblige, Spike lifted both long, limber legs up over each of his shoulders and slid into the warm, well-oiled body of his mate. Spike entrance was greeted by an unintelligible noise from Xander before his boy began to babble encouragement and shout out demands. If laughter and purring weren't embarrassing enough for the Big Bad, before he knew what he was doing he was quoting Shakespeare to his boy. "O, how thy worth with manners may I sing, When thou art all the better part of me? What can mine own praise to mine own self bring? And what is't but mine own, when I praise thee?"

"Idiot," was Spike's reflexive response when, after Xander slid his legs down and around Spike's waist, wrapping him in the warm embrace of his arms and legs he had asked if the poetry was something Spike had written. So all his
resolve to stop feeding the boy's self doubts was just so much drivel. He could admit to himself what a fine man Xander was but again and again he failed to tell - to show Xander his true feelings. Resolved to take back, or at least amend his comment, Spike lifted his face from the warm bend of Xander's neck. Xander continued to lazily card Spike's hair and with a heavy-lidded, besotted gaze, smiled. In that moment the poet realized that just as 'psychopath' had become a term of endearment to him, Xander now heard 'idiot' - at least when it came from Spike - tinted with all the tenderness that the vampire had such trouble expressing.

Later, Spike rested his head upon his lover's stomach. Xander's fingers brushed slowly through the vampire's hair. The boy's pulse had finally returned to normal. As they lay sprawled together across the bed, Spike's mate's breath assumed the slow even rhythm of sleep. The boy dozed on and off. When he woke he would whisper soft endearments, in between languid caresses, or soft comments about what the vampire had just said.

"Pretty words," Xander mumbled. "Give me pretty words." He was completely unaware of the sated, sensuous picture he posed lying naked, spread across their bed with Spike's mark his only adornment.

Spike rolled over and propped himself on his elbows, smiling to himself as he drank in the sight of his sleepy, debauched boy. "Joy divided life, like blood staining anointing love wetter than death,[1]" he said, his voice resonating and the words rolling out in a suggestive purr.

Xander showed extreme initiative in lifting his head a couple inches to look Spike in the eyes. "Psychopath," he said with a tender smile and he added, "You're such a romantic," before dropping his head back to the pillow. Xander pulled him back into place, cushioning Spike's head on his warm stomach. "Love you...glad you did it...I think the others will understand."

"Xan? You know I'll never leave you, right?" Spike felt his lover's calloused hand cup his cheek and caress the side of his face. He had been unaware he had shut his eyes until he opened them to see those deep brown ones regarding him with calm acceptance. Xander had raised himself up onto one elbow and was watching him. The boy nodded but made no comment. "Don't know what to tell you. Never took a mate. Never knew anyone who did, let alone a human."

"What about Dru?" Xander was always careful to avoid her name. It pleased Spike that Xander could ask, without reservation or hesitancy, about the woman who had been his constant companion for so long .

"She turned me, she wasn't my mate. Closest to that would have been Buffy. What a fucking disaster that would have been." Answering Xander's look of confusion, Spike hastily added, "I loved her, respected her, but what made her a Slayer and what makes me a vampire would have always been at war. It would have torn us apart from the inside. I do know that much."

"And us?" Xander's hand, which had been softly stroking the line of Spike's jaw, moved back to comb though his bleached gel-less hair.

"We're good for each other, yeah?" At Xander's enthusiastic nod, Spike leaned up and kissed his lips, because he looked like he wanted kissed - needed kissed. "Don't know about the rest. But I will dust myself before I hurt you."

Strong fingers pulled his hair, hard. "Don't talk like that. I'm serious. We will hurt each other. I'm young - not naive. When you give someone the power to make you feel as good as you make me feel, well, they get equal power to
hurt you. The only thing that will destroy me is if you take yourself permanently out of the picture." Xander broke the intense gaze he had leveled on Spike and offered a goofy grin before adding, "California community property rights guarantee I get one tirade everytime you fuck up. If you walk into the sun I'll be really pissed." A confused look crossed the boy's face as if he were listening to an instant replay of what the just said and he added, "I mean pissed in the American sense, not the English 'get drunk and sing turn of the century, smutty pub songs' sense."

Spike snickered and kissed the boy again - hard. Xander lay back and spread out while Spike nibbled his way down and across Xander's muscular neck and shoulders to lave the mark with his tongue. He feathered kisses and bites down the boy's chest, dipped into the concavity of his stomach and stuck his tongue in Xander's deep navel. Nuzzling lower he drank in the subtle change in scent that his claiming had made in his mate.

Though Xander's spirit was willing his flesh remained flaccid. It had been an eventful day. When Red had called before, she had confided in Spike that she too thought Xander need some down time. Spike returned to his favorite spot and pillowed his head on Xander's stomach. He lazily stroked Xander's arm and watched his lashes flutter closed. If the boy said the others would accept their bond, then they would. Spike would let Xander handle it. His mate managed the humans well and was better at keeping priorities in perspective. Spike knew his own attention wandered if there was no immediate threat, but Xander was well suited for anticipating preparing for the worst.

Later when the doorbell rang. Spike was treated to the slapstick sight of his mate frantically trying to forestall the questions which would be bound to arise as a result of their earlier activity. Spike was impressed by the speed of Xander's reactions as he careered about the apartment, using his multitasking mind to dress while cleaning and ventilating the kitchen on his way toward the door. Spike met him at the door with a shirt, which would
hide his mark until the boy could warn the others to not to try and stake him.

Spike suppressed a growl when Xander told him it was Finn and his commando boy. Rather than break his word within hours of giving it Spike retired to the bedroom to smoke and pace, and keep an ear open. He didn't think either
of them would or could hurt his mate and the simple act of claiming had given him perspective in the everyone- wants-Xander issue - not much, he admitted, but some. Ever since they had started sharing blood, Spike had wondered if it was his imagination or if Xander's reflexes were becoming even quicker than Hellmouth-honed. He hadn't noticed any increase in strength, but it was hard to tell - humans had always seemed so fragile. He honestly didn't know if there would be any obvious physical changes in the boy. He hadn't lied, he was operating blind. He had no idea how this would affect either of them.

Time crawled by as Spike eavesdropped on Xander attempting to make awkward amends with the Slayer's ex. Spike was willing to follow Xander's lead, but hoped it wouldn't mean Finn would be hanging around. They had just gotten
rid of Angel and the last thing Spike wanted was another one of Buffy's castoffs looming about and lusting after his mate. Thankfully the doorbell rang, which meant that the girls would be here to run interference and hopefully keep the attention of the two commandos off Xander.

Spike reveled in the stunned look on captain cardboard's face when he emerged from the bedroom and strolled to the door. But the vampire's attention was quickly diverted by Dawn's need to reassure herself that both he and Xander had survived the assault on the Hellmouth intact. He was instantly aware of her rising panic at the sight of the commandos. *Another reason to get rid of the tossers.* Willow had told him earlier that Dawn had been deeply disturbed when she heard that it was the Initiative that they were facing. The nibblet's fears centered around her belief that the military would somehow recapture Spike and do experiments on him.

Her protectiveness would have been laughable if it were not so heartfelt. Here he was, the Big Bad - a chip-free Master vampire - and she was hardly more than a mouthful, yet she was one more person who would mourn his passing and truly loved him. They too were blood-bonded in a way, by the Slayer's blood. A Slayer he hadn't slain, but who had treated him like a man - an untrustworthy man, but a man. Dawn was his, but not his alone. His mate claimed her as kin and so did the witches and the Watcher. Because he had failed to protect her that night on the tower, she had lost her sister, and Spike was determined that she wouldn't lose anyone else. She teetered now between trying to seem as if everything were fine, like when she tried to wrangle more leeway from her overprotective 'family' and spend time with her friends, and times like this, when she clung to Spike, throwing herself into his arms as if she were half her age.

Dawn alone would have bound Spike to the Slayer's loved ones even had they not accepted or acknowledged that bond. But this, standing here in his own living room - his and Xander's - staring at the shocked commandoes - this was rich. The girls stood by him and leveled all the power of their scornful gazes on the broken boy that had left their Buffy. Xander alone prevented Red from venting her not inconsiderable wrath on Finn. Surprisingly it was sweet, forgiving Willow who would not let go of the grudge she held against Finn for running out on Buffy when she needed him the most. Spike was here, this was his place, and Riley Finn was the outsider. Even though Xander extended an invitation for the commandos to stay it was clear that here was where Spike belonged and not Finn. As Xander was showing Finn and his silent shadow to the door the Watcher arrived. Giles' arrival sent the commandos scurrying and Spike regretted not having a chance to see Ripper tear the boy a new one.

Soon Dawn was pumping Spike for information about the battle and Ethan Rayne, while Xander and the witches bustled about setting the table and wondering out loud if this were a late lunch or early dinner. The scene was oddly domestic. The most disturbing part to Spike was how easily he fit into this warm, extended family. He had never had so much, and he had never had so much to lose. Chipless and mated; obviously Red and Rupes hadn't been comparing notes or this evening wouldn't have this relaxed camaraderie.

1 Douglas E. Winter "Joy Divided"


Part Seventeen

After dinner Red tugged Xander out onto the balcony for a private chat. Her little blonde witch was giving the Nibblet a lesson about the tarot deck while Rupert discreetly sat himself down close enough to supervise just what information was being shared without seeming to hover. Spike strolled over to the CD collection, ostensibly to choose new music, really to eavesdrop on the babble twins though the open window.

"I can't believe how nice you were to Riley. I just wanted to throttle him." The sweet witch sounded nearly as upset as right before Spike had ended up engaged to the Slayer.

"Will..." Spike watched though the heavy vertical blinds as Xander maneuvered himself in front of the pacing witch.

"No! You're a guy. You can't possibly under..." Oddly enough none of Spike's overprotective instincts were urging him to protect his mate from said mate's best friend.

"Hello, Anyanka. You still bucking for that job? We could give D'Hoffryn a call." Xander joked and Spike stifled a snort.

"You weren't there, well you were, but you didn't see how much she was hurting." Willow said.

"What? You mean when he never called, never wrote - bad enough when he blew off Valentine's Day, and her birthday, but Joyce? Like with all the covert-y shit they pull keeping an eye on the Hellmouth he couldn't have least gotten word to her that he hadn't run out and met death head on during his first mission?" Xander's voice had been getting louder and Spike watched the others look toward the window and then pretend to go back to what they were doing. "God, Will," Xander continued in a softer tone. "Know what she went through? I lived it. Still do, although it gets easier. You think I don't wake up wondering about An? Wonder how she is? If she's alive? Hell, for all I know she packed up and didn't make it as far as the city limits before someone or something got her!"

"I'm sorry. I... you seemed so okay, since you and Spike...I didn't ask, because ... well, I thought you wouldn't..." Willow had wrapped both of her hands around one of Xander's, looking up at him as she babbled.

Xander cut her off. "I'm good. I feel guilty I'm so good. I just...Listen, up until Friday I would've been right with you on the `let's lynch Riley' train, but ... I..." He faltered, looking away.

"Xand?" Spike suddenly had to be there - he had to hold his boy - but unbelievably was able to rein in that urge as Red wrapped her arms around Xander.

Xander held her tucked under his chin, "It would have made you sick to see me. The way I laid into him in the library was nothing compared to the buttons I pushed to get him to tell about Rayne."

"You had to! Xander, if we hadn't known about ... the body count..." Red stepped away and leveled a glare at Xander. "No one but you could have got us out of this with out losing anyone. No one. Are you listening to me, Alexander LaVelle Harris? Even Jeff will be out of the hospital in a few days. You cannot hold yourself accountable for the Initiative losses. They would have had a lot more dead if Ethan Rayne had gotten control of the Hellmouth."

"You talked to Jeff?" Xander's attention skipped to another track and years of experience enabled Willow - who most likely had the same fragmented thought processes - to keep up.

"Yeah he's fine, well, fine for being zapped. They're keeping him until Tuesday under observation, but he has his laptop and he wants to talk to you about implementing a permanent patrol schedule." She smiled and tugged Xander to sit down next to her on the ancient glider he had scrounged from somewhere.

"Did the taser fry his brain?" Xander asked.

"Xan, a lot of people have spoken to Jeff and Jonothan about this. They're not blind. Buffy isn't here to watch out for them and, hey, they have younger brothers and sisters - it won't be long before some have kids of their own. They aren't the same trusting fools that their parents are." Willow put her head on Xander's shoulder.

"I don't know," he said.

"We don't have to talk about this now...How are you?" she asked.

"Good. Really good." He hesitated, then pulled his shirt off.

"Oh my G...Xander!" Whap! She hit him. "What the hell are you thinking?"

"It's not what you think..." He started.

"You are so not passing this off as kinky sex." She stood up and glared down at him, hands on her hips.

"Not kinky. Not sex, not just sex...more. Will, I don't have the words but this means something," he said.

"What?" she asked suspiciously.

"Spike and I...we're not just fooling around," he said.

"Duh! You think I can't tell that by the way you look at him? Xander, we've know each other since we were mewling babes - as the last demon who ripped out your heart pointed out - I know you're in love with him." She cocked her
head and contemplated the subdued young man.

"Will, this is real - this is forever," he whispered.

"You sure you know what you're doing?" She sat back down, reaching toward the healed bite, hand hovering just above the mark.

"Not a clue," he shook his head ruefully. "But," he said, "my heart tells me this is right."

She pulled him up into a tight hug. "I love you, you know. Always have, always will."

"I know," he whispered. "Same here."

Spike moved away from the window and put a Bonnie Raitt disc in, replacing the angry young woman bemoaning her love life that had been playing. He crossed to watch over the Nibblet's shoulder. The soft voices from the balcony tickled at the back of his consciousness but he resolved to give them as much time as they needed.

Eventually they came in; Xander had put his shirt back on. Tara was wrapping up Dawn's lesson. Rupert said good night and invited them all over for pizza and a clean up party at the store the next day before leaving. The girls stayed to make root beer floats and made the appropriate `ewww' when Spike drizzle blood into his.


Finally, shortly after dark, they were leaving. Xander, of course, insisted on seeing the girls to their car. It was Willow's parents' car but since they weren't scheduled back from the seminar in Paris until September she had the use of it. Dawn and the witches lingered another half an hour in the parking lot, talking about nothing. Spike stopped his growl of frustration by burying his face in Xander's neck. Standing behind him with both arms wrapped around him he looked up to glare at Dawn and the blonde witch, who were giggling as Xander and Willow chattered on, oblivious to Spike. Spike had shifted to his demon face mid-glare, with no effect. Even through Xander's shirt Spike was aware of the bite above the young man's collarbone; his very scent had changed and Spike could smell himself on Xander, the
scent now part of Xander. They really need to get to bed.

Spike desperately wanted to be alone with Xander but shifting his yellow-eyed glare to Willow didn't even register with her as she gushed, "Jeff wants you to give him a call. I gave him your e-mail address and once you review the timetables he's drawn up, let him know what you think. Jonothan has some good ideas - but I kinda get the feeling that he needs your okay before he does anything."

"You sure you think that this is a good idea? I mean ..." Xander bit his lip. His grip on the forearms which Spike had wrapped around him tightened. Spike nuzzled Xander's temple and purred when the young man leaned back against him.

"We can't do it all ourselves - not forever." Willow sighed and pushed back her hair. "Even the Watchers don't know if or when they'll find the new Slayer - I have a bad feeling about that." Tara moved closer to Willow and took her hand. Willow continued, "I kinda got the impression that they thought we would be a bad influence on a Slayer anyway. I don't think that they would send a Slayer here - unless we screwed up big time and all died." She turned to smile at Tara and seemed then to realize at the same time as Spike released his growl of frustration, that it was time to leave.

Xander kissed him absently and said, "All right. I sorta feel guilty dragging them all into this..."

"They volunteered," Willow interrupted and gave Xander her `you're not responsible for everyone' look, which had been making an appearance often lately.

"You know they have no idea..." Xander shook is head.

"They have some idea," Willow interrupted, "and they'll either stick with it or run and hide. We were a lot younger when we started."

"Okay," he laughed, "just so I don't have to bring donuts for all of them. I don't - they're not coming to the meeting, are they?" he added with a bit of panic.

Willow shook her head with a smile and said, "Read Jeff's proposal. Xan, we gotta go. Someone," she inserted a raised eyebrow into her significant pause, "is giving us pointed looks."

Willow gave each of them a kiss before the girls got into the car and drove off.

Spike purred and stepped up his public - even though they were alone - molestation of his mate. Xander, instead of blushing or pulling away, turned in his arms and began to reciprocate. After a few minutes of heavy groping Spike pulled back to look into Xander's lust-dilated eyes. He had intended to make a leering suggestion, but was mesmerized by the look in Xander's eyes. Reverently Spike lifted his hand and stroked Xander's lips with the pad of his thumb. Xander looked at him as though Spike were the most precious thing that the young man had ever seen. Spike was so enthralled by the feel of the smile spreading across those lips he almost missed the mischievous gleam enter Xander's eyes just before his thumb was lodged firmly between his mate's teeth. Teasingly, Xander held it trapped but did not bite down.

"It's all right if you do," Spike said softly.

Xander shook his head, still holding the thumb and laughed. He released it and kissed the indents his teeth had left on the vampire's thumb before saying, "I don't want to hurt you. Let's make quiet love tonight. I want soft touches and pretty words." His breath ignited tingles across Spike's skin and Xander added, "Will you give me pretty words?"

"Anything, Pet. Anything you want." Spike looked up at the night sky, almost devoid of stars due to all the lights. He looked back at the man who held him and said, "You are my sun, my golden boy. Your dark-eyed mirth ties me to life. Your taste - your touch - your scent bind my heart and cage my beast. My only want, my only need, my only desire is to be yours for all time. Shine my Sun - light my shadows - drive back the darkness." Spike spoke hardly above a hushed whisper.

Xander quietly kissed his temple, then drew back to look into his eyes. "It's beautiful," he whispered.

"It's drivel, not worthy of you," Spike snorted, looking away.

"It's mine." Xander poked Spike hard in the center of his chest. "And I say it's beautiful."

Spike laughed and said "Yes, Pet. Whatever you say, Pet."

Xander rewarded his compliance with a kiss. The boy didn't care if Spike read the back of the cereal box to him. Xander listened with the same rapt expression on his face if Spike read Kerouac or Jackie Collins - when Spike spoke them the words were worth listening to. Not that Xander couldn't recognize drivel in general. Some of the many small gifts Xander constantly hid for Spike around their apartment had been books of poetry. One had been a book of heinously bad verse. They laughed together when Spike read it aloud. Spike chose not to mention that the only reason his own work wasn't in there was because he had been too much the sniveling coward to attempt to publish. No, Xander's only real blind spot was Spike's voice. Once Spike started to read aloud Xander's eyes would start to glaze over, in a good
way. There was nothing like looking down into the dark eyes of the man who lay with his head in you lap and hear him pant out as he reached down adjust himself, "Oh God, read that part again." Dru, poor dear, had had trouble following a conversation without the subtle language and allusions of verse - although she had loved nursery rhymes. Harmony had never looked past Cosmo as the ultimate literary source. Xander, however, said `read that again' at all the right passages. The boy's academic career might have been quite different if Sunnydale High had just been staffed with hot young teachers in tight jeans with sexy voices.

Xander broke the kiss to breath. Spike watched Xander contemplate him and wondered just what was going on in the man's head. It had been a rough couple of days - even to sleep through. Although it was still obscenely early for a vampire, it was late for a human who had to work the next day. Yet Xander showed no intentions of wanting to go to sleep, what with both hands firmly griping Spike's ass and his brown eyes sparkling with desire. Not that necking in the parking lot wasn't appealing but Spike was ready to throw his mate over his shoulder and run him up the stairs when Xander whispered, "Let's go to bed."

They made the quiet love Xander had requested. They spooned, with Xander's warmth wrapped around him. Spike was treated to a long slow fuck peppered with words of endearment tickling his ear as Xander's warm breath sent tingles in its wake. Spike would have given Xander all the pretty words he wanted except he seemed to have lost the power of speech. As Xander stroked Spike's cock in time to their languid coupling, Spike pondered that the boy had words. He suffered a giddy moment of envisioning them like the three sisters in mythology who passed one eye around between them. Maybe he and Xander had only one voice and since Xander was now using it, Spike would be mute. With his mate's warm length rocking gently inside him Spike really didn't mind and began to purr.


Spike headed over to the magic shop shortly after Passions the next day. Part of him thought that it would be best if Xander talked to the Watcher and another part thought that since Xander had talked to Red that he should be the one to approach Giles. Fortunately, Rupert was out when Spike dodged in through the back door of the shop. *Really should talk to the bloke about installing a tunnel access in the cellar, can't rely on these dark, rainy days all the time.* More out of boredom than guilt over trashing it, Spike set about putting the training room to rights while ignoring Giles' nervous, quiet assistant out front.

He was surprised when Willow showed up early and after stashing her books and purse in one of the storage cubbies regarded him solemnly.

"You bit him," she said. The witch's eyes were full of concern.

"No. Well, yes. But it wasn't... I marked him, Red. Marked him as mine - anything goes after him it has to come through me. Understand?" Spike admitted to himself that it wasn't the subject matter that made him uncomfortable so much as that this tiny woman was Xander's family - practically the only family that the boy had had growing up.

"I guess... I guess today isn't that different from last week... but I don't like the idea of anyone biting Xander. Does it hurt him when you bite?" she asked.

If she hadn't been biting her lip and almost trembling Spike might have snarked out something cruel. Instead he said, "What did Xander say when you asked him?"

"He blushed and babbled but really didn't tell me anything. Spike, you don't hurt him...this isn't dangerous is it?" she said in a breathy, oh-God-I-unchipped-the-vampire-boffing-my-best-friend voice.

"It hurts. It hurts in a good way." At her wide-eyed look he continued, "Think of it as another form of penetration, luv." It was tempting to use her embarrassment to cut off this line of questions, but Spike wanted her on their side when Rupert found out. "Willow," *Do I use her name so rarely that she looks so shocked when I do?* "Xander and I are bound, `til dust or death takes one of us. I won't hurt him. I'll kill anyone - including you - that does."

She sniffed, blinking her bright eyes as if to dry the tears she hadn't shed and said, "Right back at you blondie - you hurt him and I'll make your time with the Initiative look like a health spa." There wasn't a light show and her eyes stayed the same human green as always but Spike was intensely aware of the power that thrummed through the young woman and how she had used it against the hellgod.

"Fair enough." He crossed his arms and asked, "Shouldn't you be in class?"

"Semester break." At his puzzled look she added "Hello, Fourth of July? Spike, how long have you been in this country?"

"Enlighten me, oh Red, White and Blue," he snorted, thankful that she had changed the subject.

"Tara and Dawn are poring over Joyce's recipe books as we speak and will be baking Dawn's favorite blueberry pie. Over the next two days they'll make fried chicken and homemade ham salad and the jello thing with the little
marshmallows, cole slaw and red potato salad. Wednesday, those of us who do not burst into flames out in the sun will go to the parade and in the evening we'll pack up all the food and head to the picnic area of the park to sit under the stars - it is supposed to stop raining by then - and watch the fireworks. Welcome to the United State, William the Bloody, hope you stay awhile - just don't put blood in the jello thing."

Spike went down to the store room to set it right and Willow busied herself at the computer in Giles' office. He was pleased with how their chat had gone. After they had covered his opinion of American holidays Willow had informed him that Xander has volunteered him, with his connections, to help she and Tara find a nice, `reasonably-priced', two-bedroom, near campus. With all the extra courses and summer work the witches had pursued, they would both be seniors this year and wanted out of the dorms. When Spike had cocked a curious eyebrow at the two-bedroom specification Willow had said she wanted Dawn to have her own room there for when she stayed. It wouldn't be long before Xander would be thinking the same thing. Giles had moved his study from his flat to the store and Dawn had her 'real' room there. But she had spent a few Friday nights on Xander's couch, because - as she had confided in Spike - she loved what a big kid Xander was on Saturday mornings. So whether it was girls nights giving pedicures in the dorms or Japanese monster-movie marathons with the boys or a relaxing evening writing in her journal on Giles' sofa, Dawn lived with all of them.

Spike sensed Xander when he entered the building. He was sure he did. But when Xander didn't call down or come in search of him he started to second guess the feeling. Unable to shake the suspicion that he hadn't been wrong
Spike went upstairs. He tensed when he heard raised voices coming from Giles' office - the whole 'cone of silence' spell had been lifted during the evacuation. Stopping at the corner Spike saw that Xander had his back to the window in the office door and angry Rupert was visible over the young man's shoulder

"Yes, but you didn't see fit to tell me." Rupert's voice was hard with controlled anger.

"I'm telling you now." Xander reasoned in a monotone.

"Xander, this is...I can't believe...What are you thinking? Are you thinking?" From anyone else Xander would have responded with sarcasm or scathing humor but since the tirade was coming from Giles he dropped his eyes and hunched his shoulders.

Spike had had enough with eavesdropping. He wasn't about to just lurk about in the corridor when Xander appeared unwilling to defend himself. Now that they were mated it wasn't as if he didn't have a right to butt in, he reasoned, and opened the office door. "Now, Rupes, ease up. You've been letting that nancified Sire of mine and his pet Watcher fill your head with all sort o' speculation." He pulled Xander into his arms and wrapped himself around the human much as he had the previous night. "I'll tell you same as I told Red, no one - no one, we clear? - hurts him. Anyone that tries comes through me. Vampires mate `til dust - he's mine."

"Oh, dear." Giles sank to the seat behind the desk and Xander groaned and buried his face in both hands.

"Pet?" Spike lifted a hand to gently tug at the barrier of Xander's hands.

"Xander," Giles said through clenched teeth, "was there something else you wanted to tell me?"

Xander lifted his face from his hands and let Spike keep one; he used the other to pull down the collar of his shirt to expose the scar, white now against his tanned skin. "Look, Dad. We got hitched."

Giles shot up out of the chair. He started forward then began to pace. Twice he started to reach out toward Xander's collarbone and twice he pulled his hand back. He started to mutter about blood bonds and turned back to a shelf
behind he desk and pulled out a book.

"Wait, what was the row about if you didn't tell him about us?" Spike asked the resigned young man in his arms.

"I told him about the chip, Dipshit." Xander's tone was long-suffering and he brushed a kiss over Spike's temple. Deciding that he had been forgiven - not that he had felt guilt, but he hated having Xander angry with him - Spike shifted to game face and buried his nose in the crook of Xander's neck and purred loudly. He was ready to say 'vampires do not sodding purr' should Rupert take note of it but the man seemed far too distracted.

Giles but down the book on the desk and stepped over and examined the scar. He seemed wary of Spike but that didn't stop him from glaring at him and saying, "You expect me to believe that after all your talk about bathing in our blood that your love for Xander will somehow prevent that? That we're all safe?"

"No." Spike dropped his street thug stance and accent, unwrapped his arms from Xander and stood squarely in front of the Watcher. "No, you've all been safe from me since the night Buffy died. I... I promised her I'd take care of Dawn. Taking care of Dawn means all of you have to be kept safe. I take my promises just as seriously as you do, Rupert Giles."

"Did this promise cover the rest of the populace? Happy meal with legs, I believe was what you called them." Giles' heart was beating a mile a minute and Spike could smell fear, but the man showed no outward signs.

"No. But I promised Xander I wouldn't kill..." Spike started.

"He promised he wouldn't hunt," Xander interrupted. "Giles...he will kill, but not unless he has to. You can't expect him to not defend himself - not after what those bastards at the Initiative did to him."

"Well, I can see my opinion isn't going to matter on this," Giles said.

He turned back to the desk and studied the book. He looked as if he were going to speak but was stopped by Xander's quiet words. "Of course it matters. I...I really want you to be okay with this - with us. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the chip before, but with the invasion and all, the project moved from R and D to field testing way ahead of schedule."

"And the blood bonding?" Giles asked.

"Come on, you knew about us." Xander crossed to the older man and sat on the corner of the desk next to the text Giles was focusing his attention on.

"You've watched us dance around each other forever and you had to know - I mean, this is Spike. He just doesn't do discreet."

"Standing right here, Pet," Spike said.

Giles lifted his gaze from the book and offered Xander a small, commiserating smile and said, "Angel wanted to speak with you regarding...well, this."

Spike growled and stepped closer so he could grip one of Xander's arm and card the fingers of his other hand through Xander's thick hair. Xander ignored him and said, "Yeah, I told him we'd talk...Giles? Does he know anything? I mean... Was he given some sort of handbook or users manual when he got turned that Spike traded for a bottle of JD?"

"Standing right here, Pet," Spike said.

Xander absently pulled the vampire onto his lap and kissed him quick before saying, "Shhh," and turning expectantly back to Giles.

Giles regarded them both and smiled again. "Xander, you do have a way of hmmm... 'cutting through the bullshit' I believe is the way it is expressed. My own research on blood bonding has not been very rewarding - the little that is known is speculative in nature and not from what I consider reliable sources. Angel did admit to being somewhat in the dark regarding it and could give no concrete reasons for his misgivings - other than the obvious one of it involving Spike..."

"Hello, I'm in the room with you. Would you like me to leave?" Spike was pleased that his words prompted Xander to hold him tighter.

"Shhh, be good and I'll do something nice for you." Xander whispered suggestively in his ear, causing the Watcher to blush. "How about this, Giles? You continue to research - I'll answer any questions you want, as long as it's for you and not the Council - and I'll talk to Angel."

Spike growled and shifted to game face. He wasn't at all opposed to Xander talking with the poof over the phone, but he knew if he growled Xander would do what he was doing now - nuzzling his neck and saying, "Shhh." Spike was beginning to like that sound; it made Xander's breath ghost along his skin.

"I'm not saying I'll believe him or that it will influence us in any way, but he can talk all he wants," Xander continued. "In return...just...give us a chance. Okay?"

Giles agreed. The conversation moved on as Xander handed the older man a disc for his computer and they discussed the details of the plan for patrolling Sunnydale that one of Xander's minions had devised.

Willow had taken her car to pick up Tara and Dawn. The girls arrived with bags from Boston Market. Willow, in full mommy-mode - as Xander called it - had decreed that they were eating too much junk food. She covered the long
makeshift table, still standing in the far end of the training room, with a plastic cover before laying out a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Dawn bubbled over with excitement and chattered about the picnic she and Tara
were planning. Spike caught Xander's eye across the table and shared a moment of complete understanding. This was something neither of them had ever had - family. They had built it with iron will and perseverance. And if anything tried to take it away, then the Gods of Heaven and Hell had better help them.


The end