My Scorpion


by
FireHorse





Spike was lying on the crypt, trying to decide if getting up was worth the effort. He wanted to eat-not that eating real food did a lot for him, but it gave him something to do. He needed to feed. He needed cash. Oh, and getting his bite back would be nice, too.

Which brought him back to the whole thing he'd been trying to avoid--the fiasco with the Initiative's doctor.

He rolled over and tried to bury his head under the pillow, but instead threw it across the crypt with a snarl when Harmony's froufrou perfume wafted into his nose.

Harmony. And again with the avoidance thing. After they'd narrowly avoided getting their arses kicked by the Slayer, he'd told the silly cow to piss off. If she'd spent less time posing and more time paying attention to the wanker with the scalpel, he wouldn't be in this mess.

Well, actually, he would. His innate honesty wouldn't allow him to lie to himself. Others, sure, but he didn't get to be a one-hundred-and-twenty-six-year-old Master vampire by deceiving himself. Survival meant being honest about the odds, even when they were bad.

Which brought him, again, back to where he was-biteless and broke, dependent on the charity of the Slayer and her friends.

He was startled out of his bleak thoughts by a tentative knock on the crypt's door.

"Sod off!" Wait, knocking? Farm-boy's gits would have just kicked the door in. The Slayer wouldn't have kicked it in, but she *would* have just barged in.

Getting up, he stomped across the crypt and jerked the door open, to be greeted by Xander's startled face.

"Um, can I come in?" Xander was dressed for patrolling, in cargo pants, boots and a hideous shirt, with a stake sticking out of his back pocket. Spike knew that his backpack contained more stakes, an iron blade, a silver blade, holy water, and probably an extra cross or two. And snacks, the whelp never went anywhere without food.

"You're not a vamp, pet, you don't need an invite." He stomped back across the crypt, and after finding his cigarettes, he threw himself into his chair. He thought about not lighting up, since it was his last smoke, but decided to anyway. Maybe he could cadge a few bob from the whelp.

He heard Xander moving around, and the thump-clink of his backpack hitting the ground, followed by the rustling of a paper bag. Xander backed into the crypt, juggling the bag with one hand and carefully pulling the door shut behind him with the other.

He looked around, then perched himself and his cargo carefully at the end of the crypt Spike had been sleeping on. He'd left his backpack and stake outside the now-closed door. Great, Spike thought, now even the whelp wasn't afraid of him!

He wanted to growl 'get on with it!', but didn't. Of all the Slayerettes, Xander was the only one that treated him like a person, and after the time sharing his basement apartment, he'd come to grudgingly respect the boy.

Nancy-boy had called him Buffy's White Knight, and it hadn't taken too many patrols to see what he meant. It hadn't taken too many more to realize that Xander felt like an outsider with his own friends, and that despite that, he watched their backs with a loyalty that astounded Spike. And that underneath the humor and the sarcasm was a thoughtful person who saw a lot more than he said. He didn't quite consider the mortal a friend, but he was certainly closer to it than anybody else had been in a long time.

The delicious smell of something dragged him from his musings, and he looked up to see Xander holding out a Chinese take-out box.

"I brought dinner. Do you want the Kung Pao or the cashew chicken?" Spike grinned despite his mood. Xander's crappy job number two-hundred-forty-three had been at the Dancing Dragon. Xander had laughingly found him a fork when he'd refused to eat with 'miniature stakes', and until the INS had closed down the Dragon, they had eaten well.

"The kung pao, pet. Since I won't be biting anybody, I won't have to worry about my breath, right?"

Xander handed him the box in his hand, another from the bag that he figured was rice, and with a snicker, a fork.

Settling back and digging in, they ate in companionable silence. On one hand, he resented that the whelp knew he was in a bad way. After the recent fiasco, he'd been told in no uncertain terms that he was on his own. On the other hand, he was glad the whelp was here; Xander was better company than his own thoughts, and he was eating. It wasn't blood, but it was better than nothing.

He belched and tossed his empty container into the corner. "What, no dessert, pet? I'm disappointed."

"Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me." Xander quirked a grin at him, and after shoveling the last of the chicken and rice into his mouth, he put his chopsticks down and rummaged in the bag again.

"Here, catch." Spike caught the first bag of blood easily, and the next, and the fortune cookie that followed.

"Dessert. I figured a nice O Positive would go well with Chinese. What do you think?" The last was said in a snotty, fake-French accent.

Spike looked at the bags again. He'd been expecting pig blood, but these were clearly labeled with a sticker from one of the local blood bank collection points.

He raised one eyebrow and asked, "Do I want to know how you came to acquire this delightful vintage, pet?" His snotty fake-French accent was no better than Xander's.

"Um, no? But it's your fault. Imagine showing a law-abiding citizen like me how to pick locks!"

Spike chuckled. The expression on the boy's face was one of angelic innocence, spoiled only by the let's-be-naughty twinkle in those mahogany eyes.

"If you think a spot of lock-picking was a bad influence, you didn't spend nearly enough time in my company, pet," he smirked.

He'd really wanted to be a bad influence on the whelp. Harmony was too self-involved to be a good shag, and she didn't even have the benefit of being a warm body. Neither had Dru, of course, but she hadn't yammered at him from sundown to sunup, either. Since Xander was a teenaged male, and had all the hormones that went with it, he had briefly considered trying the 'if it feels good, do it' tactic while he was living in the Basement of Doom but had decided not to. Getting tossed out on his arse while the soldier boys were still looking for him was a bad idea, and since he'd never known Xander to go for guys, tossed out on his arse was what he was likely to get.

Xander chuckled with him, then hopped off the crypt and began gathering the trash and stuffing it all back in the bag it had come in. Spike took the opportunity to shift into gameface and quickly drain the first bag of blood.

God, it was good. Fresh and sweet, and still warm from the Chinese food that had been sitting on top of it. It had been so long.

He was startled to hear Xander ask, "Done with that?" as he held out the impromptu trash bag. Faintly embarrassed, although Xander had seen him feed before, he quickly forced his demon down enough for his human face to emerge and threw the now-empty bag in the trash.

Xander stroked a gentle fingertip across his brow. "I don't mind. It's part of who you are."

Spike sat there, gobsmacked, as Xander opened the door and took the trash to a conveniently handy garbage can. By the time Xander came back in, carrying his backpack and stake and shutting the door behind him, he'd gotten his expression back to his usual smirk, but his thoughts were still whirling. Foremost among those thoughts was 'what the hell?!' followed closely by 'maybe I should have asked him to shag' and somewhere in the distance was 'so this is what it's like to have a friend'.

Come to think, his demon liked the boy, too. Any time he'd planned the destruction of the Slayer and her group, the boy was never included, even this last time. 'Bathe in the Slayer's blood' was at the top of his things-to-do list, but the boy wasn't even on the 'kill later' list.

Xander settled back on the crypt and opened a soda. He was strangely quiet, almost preoccupied.

After some more companionable silence, Spike decided to ask the question he hadn't asked earlier. "What are you doing here, pet? Not that I don't enjoy the company-"

"Or the dinner!"

"-or the dinner, but if Slutty finds you here, she's going to stake me, and then you. I'm not exactly anybody's favorite vampire right now." He winced when he realized how pathetic he sounded, but Xander didn't seem to notice.

"Aw, Spikey. You'll always be my favorite vamp!" He raised his soda in a salute, then downed the last of it and tossed the can towards the door and his backpack.

Spike looked up sharply at Xander's words, but didn't say anything.

Xander sighed, then fidgeted with a missed chopstick. "Yeah, I know. And she'd stake me first if she knew why I was here." More fidgeting, and the chopstick was slowly reduced to toothpicks.

"Pet? You mind explaining?"

"See, I know why you did it. Kidnap the doc, I mean. And...I don't blame you. I hate zoos."

He looked up and met Spike's puzzled gaze with a small smile.

"Did you know I was possessed by a hyena once?"

"No, pet, I can't say that I knew that. Where was I?" Spike had no clue where this conversation was going, but he was willing to go along.

"Um, Brazil, maybe? Somewhere in South America? You weren't here yet."

Spike remembered the night he had come to Sunnydale. Then he remembered how it had turned out.

"Right. But what does that have to do with a bloody zoo?"

"Ok, explanation, take two. We went to the zoo on a field trip. The short story is me and a couple others got possessed by hyenas. I've never told anybody this before, but I remember. What it was like when I was Hyena-Boy, I mean. The memories weren't exorcised with the hyena." Xander's voice had gotten softer as he spoke, and finally trailed off altogether.

Seeing that they were sitting in the near-dark, and that Xander was done talking, at least for now, Spike got up and lit a few candles. He put them all on the crypt opposite the one Xander was on, and went back to his chair. He hesitated, then joined Xander on the crypt, propping himself in the corner and stretching his legs out.

"Keep goin' pet. I get the feeling this story's goin' somewhere." He nudged Xander's thigh with his bare foot, and was surprised when Xander dropped a hand onto his ankle, then left it there.

"Anyway, I remember what it was like. To be wild and free, and then not. Have you ever been to the zoo?"

Good thing I had so much practice with Dru, Spike thought to himself, 'cause this one's lookin' to go the same way.

"Actually, pet, I have. Dru wanted to feed the tigers. Couldn't manage that, but I took her on the putting-the-zoo-to-bed tour, in San Diego." He smiled in reminiscence. "They have a huge python called Lily. Lily told Dru she was from the Amazon, Dru said, and that's why she wanted to go to South America. To meet Lily's family." It was getting easier to talk about Dru, but he still missed his dark princess. "What?"

Xander shrugged. "It's just...I don't know...I have a hard time seeing the two of you doing something as mundane as a zoo. It's just not something I ever pictured William the Bloody doing." Xander shrugged again, and fell silent.

"Yeah, well, don't tell anybody, ok? Don't want to lose m'rep as the Big Bad, eh?" Spike smirked at Xander, who grinned back. "So, pet. You were a hyena, and I've been to the zoo. So what?"

"It's just that they make a big deal about all-natural habitats, just like home. It is, only it's not. Everything you need is there, but there should be so much more, y'know?"

Spike didn't know, but he nodded anyway.

"I mean, it looks like home, the right trees are there, and if you're really lucky, the rabbit they give you isn't quite dead yet. But it's not the same!" Xander's voice had risen steadily, ending on a shout. The echoes faded as he stared fiercely at Spike.

"Easy, pet," Spike murmured, rubbing his foot on the thigh under it. It was a good thing he didn't bruise easily, he thought to himself, or he'd have bruises on his ankle. Xander had clamped down as he'd gotten louder. When Xander realized what he was doing, he let go and stroked gently. Spike resolutely ignored how good it felt to be touched by someone warm.

"Sorry." Xander sighed. "It's just that it's a cheat. The hyena that possessed me had been caught in the wild. I can still feel the rage. The glass walls may be hidden behind lots of nice bushes, but they're still there."

"Right. And what does this have to do with why I kidnapped Dr. Wanker?" Spike still had no idea where this conversation was going, but he had spent enough time with Xander to know it was going somewhere.

"Your chip. It's a glass wall. You can't see it, but it's there. You can do everything any other vamp can, just like the hyenas, except for one thing, just like the hyenas, and that one thing is a humungo part of who you are, just like the hyenas. They roam, you bite. Your chip, their wall. It's the same thing. And anything, anything, to get your real life back is worth the risk. That's why you grabbed Dr. Wanker, and that's why I understand," Xander said earnestly. He folded his long legs up in front of him and turned to face Spike, who folded his own legs up in turn.

Spike was surprised. He hadn't known about the hyena thing, but the whelp's comparison to them was right on the mark. The soddin' chip was a wall. He could go anywhere, do anything-except feed himself, and defend himself. What had the whelp said? 'It looks like home, but it's not'? Right.

"Hey, Zone-vamp. I'm still talking here." Xander whacked him on the shin, and Spike quirked an eyebrow.

"So? Get on with it then."

Xander exasperatedly blew his hair out of his face and continued. "It's not right. You may not be a person," Spike glared at him, "well, a people-type person-" Spike was still glaring, "well, a living, breathing, people-type person-" Xander dodged a swat aimed at his head and finished, laughing, "You know what I mean, Fang Boy! You're not a person in the normal way, but that doesn't mean you're an animal. You want to know why I got involved with taking the Initiative down? It wasn't just to help Buffy, and it sure wasn't because I like the creepy-crawly, bump-in-the-night things, either."

Snorting with laughter, Spike regarded the man-child in front of him. Despite being a Slayerette, he managed to be his own person, and make up his own mind about things. If the Slayer had heard his little 'people-type person' speech, she'd be checking him for possession.

Spike revised his opinion. He hadn't previously considered the boy a friend, but now...now, maybe. Spike wasn't sure he'd ever had a friend, and certainly not as a vamp. The broody poof was his Sire, not a friend. Too much baggage, especially now that the poof had his soul back. Not Dru, either. Lovers, companions, and partners in bloody mayhem through the century, but he and his princess had never been friends. She had needed too much from Spike to be the equal that friendship demanded. And definitely not Harmony. The only person that bint was interested in was herself.

"It was because what they were doing was wrong." Xander took up the thread of conversation again. "It was more than wrong, it was evil."

The absolute certainty in his voice made Spike raise an eyebrow and ask, "Evil, pet? Isn't that going a little far?"

"No. I've lived on the Hellmouth all my life, and I know what evil is." Xander shifted around, leaning on the wall behind him.

Silence descended again. Spike waited, mostly patiently, for Xander to continue. Finally, he did.

"You know I'm working as a janitor at the university now, right?" Xander looked up at him, then went back to picking at the frayed hem of his pants.

"No, pet, I didn't, but go on, do." Another left turn. Hell, at least it made for an interesting trip.

"Yeah, I'm a janitor. I work in the BioTech building. I do different floors on different nights. Last night I was in the blood bank. I didn't have to pick the lock, since I had the keys," a sly grin slid across Xander's face, "but I thought it would be good practice. And a good excuse if they noticed they were a few bags short. I have the next two nights off, and I won't be back in the blood bank until Tuesday, but I'll see if I can get you another couple bags. Will you be okay until then? Can you get pig's blood from Willy's or somewhere?"

"Yes," Spike growled quietly, and under Xander's steady regard, kept his demon mostly submerged. He hated charity, hated it. He was William the effin' Bloody! The Big Bad!

Xander reached out and stroked his bumpy, scarred brow again. Okay, so maybe his demon wasn't as far down as he thought.

"I know it's hard. Umm, actually, that's kind of what I came here to talk to you about."

Spike's bewilderment increased. "What, my supply of pig's blood?"

"Not exactly. I said I work in the BioTech building, didn't I?"

At Spike's nod, he continued.

"Twice a week, I clean the biomed lab. Last week, some guy was in there, cramming for finals. He lectured me--like I know what he's talking about!--saying that if he heard himself say it, he'd know he had it right. I mostly tuned him out. Then he said that they use microchips implanted in the brain to control things like epilepsy. I tuned in again, and started asking questions. I'm not as dumb as most people think I am, you know. I'm just lazy, sometimes."

He answered Xander's grin with one of his own. The boy wasn't stupid, or he wouldn't have survived on the Hellmouth as long as he had. Too bad the rest of Slutty's pals didn't see it.

He stared, gobsmacked, at Xander's next words. "Pet? Repeat that, and then tell me you're not joking."

Please. Please, whoever listens to the prayers of evil, undead, not-human people-type persons, please let him have heard the boy right. And please, let the boy be right.

"I said-do old vamps need hearing aids?-that I think I know a way to fix your chip."

* * * * *

Slowly, Spike got his thoughts in order. He stared at Xander, torn between wanting to believe and not wanting to get his hopes up, again. He'd been so close this last time that finding out it hadn't worked made staking himself start to look like a viable option again. To get his hopes up that high, one more time, and have it all come to nothing... Well, he'd survive it, probably, but it wouldn't be pretty.

And what did the boy want in return? In his long experience, nobody had ever given him something for nothing. Either you paid for it, or you took it. 'Gifts' came with a price tag, and were never freely given. Although there was very little he wouldn't give to get this chip out of his head. And what could the boy want? He was only a mortal, and a young one at that.

"Wait, pet. That bleedin' idiot doc told me the chip was so far in that it could never come out without turning me into a vegetable. A couch potato I can live with, but a vegetable is right out!" His attempt at humor was just a bit tinged with hysteria.

"It doesn't have to come out," was the reply.

"Really. How do you figure that?"

"Spike, Spike, Spike." Xander made little tsk-tsk noises, but quit when he saw how close to the edge Spike was. His face had settled on mostly human, but the blue eyes were now yellow, and faint ridges shadowed his forehead.

"It doesn't have to come out, it just has to stop working. And there hasn't been a technology invented yet that can't be screwed up. Harris' Law of Technology #1 states that the more complex the first gizmo is, or the more expensive it is, the less complex the gizmo is you need to screw it up. Or more simple. Or something like that."

At Spike's exasperated yellow glare, he went on.

"What I'm trying to say, Fang Boy, is that you've got an teeny tiny, ridiculously complicated and outrageously expensive piece of X-Files technology stuck in your head. And it's delicate. That's delicate, as in easily...ummm, what's your word...oh, yeah, buggered. And I've spent most of this last week listening to Professor Ugly Tie describe in boring detail just how easily it can be done."

"Bloody hell, pet, I never thought of that!" he exclaimed. "How's it done?" His gameface faded, but Spike refused to get excited. To hope that this time it might work.

"I learned more than I ever wanted to know about gate voltage, current flow, and oxide layers. When I was asking hypothetical questions," he made bunny ears around 'hypothetical', "I had to make some guesses. Your chip's not exactly available on the open market. It's strictly black-lab we-really-don't-exist government agency stuff. Mulder might know about it, but nobody else." They shared a quiet chuckle.

Despite his stern warnings to himself not to, Spike was beginning to hope. At the very least, the whelp had put some thought into it, and had proven that he cared. And since when had it mattered whether anybody cared about the Big Bad? Apparently, since the whelp shown up at the door with dinner and blood, and a plan.

"The bottom line; you've got three options. Electricity, and we're not talking lick-your-finger-and-stick-it-in-a-socket here, we're talking about power lines; or degaussing, or a fairly big electromagnet."

"What in bloody hell is degaussing? It just sounds painful."

"Only the power line thing would hurt, and it might set you on fire, so that should probably be your last option. Degaussing is a way of overwriting magnetic commands, which is how your chip works, sorta. Information is sent through your chip on little magnetic pathways. Swamp those pathways with more power than they can handle, and they'll be erased, like a video tape. If they're erased, then no 'give Spike a headache-he's biting somebody' messages can get through. An electromagnet does the same thing, just on a bigger scale. Plus, the electromagnet would disrupt your chip's power source, which is of the good. No power, no work." He grinned at Spike.

Spike was amazed. He was all for technology, as it related to him. Cars, tellys, cd's, the microwave...maybe if he'd known more about it, he could have had this idea on his own. Nah. Wasn't really his style.

"Right, then, Boy Genius. Where do we get a degausser? Or an electromagnet?" He refrained, barely, from asking just how soon they could do this.

"Well, this is where it gets complicated. They make a hand-held plug-in size degausser, but it wouldn't be strong enough to reach through your head to the chip. We know your chip is fairly deep in your cortex, so we need something stronger. On top of that, we don't know how being a vampire has affected you."

"I think it'd be bloody obvious, pet."

"Yeah, yeah. But you're dead. And you're still walking around, which, from a biophysical viewpoint, means that your body has had some pretty radical biochemical and bioelectrical changes happen, and we don't know how, or if, that affects how the chip interacts with you. Or how the degausser would interact with the chip. Sorry," he apologized with a wry grin, "I spent so much time listening to the guy that I'm starting to sound like him."

After squirming around and rearranging his folded legs, he continued.

"I could move the one that's the next size up if I had a handcart and a car, but the gaping hole in the wall would probably give it away. Which means, Fang Boy, you'll have to come to lab with me next week, and hope that Professor Ugly Tie isn't there that night. The electromagnet would be easier, maybe. There's one at the junkyard-it's how they move the squished up cars around. We'd have to find somebody who can use the crane with the magnet on it, or break in and resort to the time-honored method of pushing buttons until something happens. Of course, I could try and get a job there. God knows I've worked everywhere else in this hellhole!" Xander's tone was wry.

Spike couldn't bear to sit still any longer. He got off the crypt and started pacing. His thoughts were too chaotic for him to make much sense of, but the overriding feeling from the demon was 'yes!'. So it looked like he'd try it. Hell, who was he kidding? There was no way he wasn't going to try it. Still... He turned to face Xander.

"And what do you get out of this, pet? Why are you doin' this? You have to know that the first person I'm going to kill is the effin' Slayer. And if your precious Scooby Gang finds out it was you who helped me do it, they'll be after the both of us."

Xander wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Ah. So that's the way of it. Well, name your price, but the Slayer's life is not negotiable." He turned his back and resumed pacing.

At Spike's disappointed, sarcastic tone, Xander looked up.

"It's not like that! I mean... It is, sort of. Listen, just hear me out, ok?"

Spike nodded, and wished desperately that he'd saved that last cigarette. He settled for playing with his lighter instead, flicking it on and off, not looking at Xander.

"Spike," Xander sighed. "Damn it, I knew I'd screw this part up," he said, half to himself. "Look. We only make a deal if you want to. I've told you everything you need to know. You can still do it without my help."

Xander raked his hands through his hair, then sighed again.

"Fuck, Spike. I thought we were friends. Or at least not rip-your-liver-out-and-eat-it-for-breakfast enemies. I'd like to be more than that."

Spike watched him from the corner of his eyes, and wondered just how much more the whelp wanted. Maybe he could turn this to his advantage yet.

"Would you, pet?" The sneering sarcasm was not quite as evident as it had been a few moments before.

"Yeah, I would." He watched Spike play with his lighter, and was clearly struck by a thought. "Oh, here. I found these in my dresser the other day." He fished in the pocket on his thigh, then tossed Spike a slightly crumpled but still unopened pack of cigarettes.

"Ta, pet." He opened them, shook one out and lit it. Sat down on the crypt where he had been, leaning in the corner.

"So, pet, what's this deal?" Somewhat calmer, he was ready to listen.

"It's, um, a two-parter, actually. I've already told you everything you need to know to do it yourself. If that's as far as you want to go, it's fine with me, and I'll count on our no-liver-eating whatever-this-is that you won't kill me, or turn me. I won't warn Buffy, either, but I will remind you that she's already kicked your ass, and that was before the chip. Thanks to the chip, you're out of practice."

Spike grimaced. "Thanks, mate. I didn't really need to be reminded that that skinny bint got the better of me. Me, the Big Bad!" He threw his hands up in the air theatrically, but his tone as much rueful as pissed.

Xander chuckled and continued, "If you want to deal, these are the terms. I'll help you any way I can, until we get it right. Right, as in you have your bite back and are fully functional."

They traded grins at the phrase. One rainy evening when patrolling had been cancelled, they had stayed in. Xander had been irritable and restless. At Spike's prodding he had given in and broken out the last of his supposedly 'hidden' stash. They had gotten seriously stoned and then watched a Star Trek marathon. Watching Data and Tasha Yar had sent Xander into a storm of giggles, with Spike not far behind. That evening marked the beginning of their no-liver-eating whatever-it-was.

"Go on, pet."

"Right."

Spike smirked at Xander's attempt to mimic his accent.

"As I was saying. In return for my help, you do two things for me."

Xander contemplated his shoelaces, and when he didn't seem inclined to continue, Spike asked, "And what might those two things be?"

Visibly bracing himself, Xander met his gaze squarely.

"One. You don't kill either Willow or Giles."

"I wouldn't kill Red," he interrupted. "She makes me cookies. Bloody good ones, too."

Xander looked down at his shoes. "And two, takmewthywhenyougo."

Even Spike's preternatural hearing had a hard time with that one.

"Eh? Speak up, and stop talking into your shirt. What's number two?"

Taking a deep breath, Xander looked up and repeated himself. "Take me with you when you go."

Gobsmacked. Again! Three times in one night. This was too bloody much. And why would Xander want to go with him, anyway?

Closing his mouth, Spike asked, "What makes you think I'll be going anywhere?"

"Because you won't have any more reasons to stay here," Xander said, with flat certainty and calm eyes. "Drucilla's not here anymore, Angelus is gone, you've never wanted to be the Master of the Hellmouth, and the first thing you'll do is try to kill Buffy. Either way that goes, you'll be leaving. When you go, I want to go with you. I don't care where you're going, I don't care how long you're staying, I don't care how long you keep me with you. I want out of Sunnyhell, and if I only get as far as Bumfuck, Iowa, that's fine with me. I can work at Wal-Mart there just as easily, but I want away from the Hellmouth." Xander's gaze never wavered from Spike's.

Huh. This stranger who looked like Xander had him pegged perfectly. He fully intended to be out of town before the Slayer's blood had cooled.

Switching tracks, he asked "Why not Giles?" He thought he knew, but he wanted to hear the whelp say it.

Xander stared at something only he could see and answered wistfully, "He and Wills are the closest thing I have to a family. Hell, you were there, you saw my folks. Giles has been the only thing like a dad I've ever had."

Nodding, Spike agreed. That's what he'd thought. He didn't think Giles was all that, to use the whelp's phrase, but compared to the wanker who really was his father, he could see where Giles was an improvement. And Giles didn't smack the whelp around like his dad did.

"You didn't mention not killing your folks. What, you don't care if I eat their livers?"

"I asked Angelus to kill them the last time he was here."

Bleedin' hell! How many more surprises did this mortal have in store for him?

"Er...?" was all he managed.

Xander's eyes frosted over and his voice hardened. "I did. He refused, because it was what I wanted, not what he wanted. You're welcome to kill them if you like, but I wouldn't recommend eating Dad's liver; I'm not sure alcoholic cirrhosis would improve the flavor. Hey-maybe you could test your chip on him. If you go after dinner, he'll be so drunk that he won't be able to fight back and hurt you if the zap-the-chip project doesn't work."

Spike stared out the window, seeing nothing. Who was this stranger sitting in his crypt? Why hadn't he seen him in all the time they'd lived together? Behind him he heard Xander get up and move toward the door.

"Oi! Where are you going?"

"To take care of messy mortal business. I'll be right back." He picked up his stake and headed out. Spike heard the crackle of velcro, and the sound of a sigh of relief, followed by water in the weeds at the corner of his crypt. Then Xander was coming through the door, shutting it behind him and tossing the stake on top of his backpack.

Feeling uncharacteristically hesitant, Spike turned and asked, "Why did you leave your stake outside when you first got here?"

With a flop and a sigh, Xander relaxed into his usual loose-limbed posture on top of the crypt.

"I wanted to come as a friend, and you don't threaten friends with a good staking."

"Thanks for that, pet." Spike murmured, not entirely sarcastically.

Quiet filled the crypt, but not an uncomfortable one.

Spike left the window and returned to his previous seat beside Xander. Lighting up another cigarette, he smoked half of it before he asked his next question.

"What makes you think I'll keep my word? That I won't kill Willow or Giles? There's nothing you could do to stop me."

"I lived with you, remember? You may be William the Bloody, evil undead guy, but under that, you're a decent person. Not-person. Whatever. Not very nice, maybe, which kinda goes with the whole evil thing, but decent. You have your own code of honor. If you gave me your word, you'd keep it."

More quiet. Spike finished his cigarette and lit another, while Xander picked at his nails.

"If you come with me, if I support you, what do I get out of it? Other than getting the chip out, what's in it for me?"

Looking up from where he'd dropped the butt on the floor and ground it out, he was surprised by a faint whiff of fear. Before he could wonder what the whelp was afraid of, Xander looked up.

Meeting Spike's eyes, his answer was simple. "My ass."

* * * * *

Jesus bloody effin' Christ! It was a good thing he was already dead. Too many more surprises like the ones he'd gotten tonight and he'd stroke out.

Spike stared at Xander, shocked. He was willing to trade his arse for a ride out of town? Why? Did he even know what he was offering?

He was so surprised he didn't use a nickname. "Xander? What- why? Never mind that, do you know what you're offering?"

Why was it so important to him that the boy knew what he was getting into? The Big Bad would have just taken him up on his offer and not worried about what the boy thought, or knew, but he found himself unwilling to do that.

Maybe...maybe because the boy had offered. He didn't have to take, it was being given. If the boy--and if he was really going to shag him, he had to stop thinking about him as 'the boy'--truly understood what he was doing, then hell, yes. He'd wanted Xander since their enforced cohabitation in Xander's basement.

"Do you even know what men do together?" He had to know.

Strangely, as Spike got more wound up, Xander got calmer. He seemed to realize that his deal had been accepted and now they were just hashing out the details.

"Yeah, Spike, I do. The good and the bad. Giving and getting, too."

Something in his tone made Spike say, "Tell me about the bad, then, pet."

The smell of fear intensified sharply, backed by the bitterness of shame. Xander breathed in deeply, shuddered, then exhaled. When Spike ran a soothing hand down his leg Xander grabbed it blindly and didn't let go.

"I was twelve. They were drunk."

No need to ask who 'they' were, Spike thought darkly.

"It was supposed to be a joke. Uncle Rory was complaining about being horny, and not having enough cash for a hooker. Dad offered me. Said I was pretty for a boy--he was right, I was--and that Uncle Rory would never know the difference. Dad meant to embarrass me. He was always telling me I was too pretty to be a real boy. He meant it as a joke."

Xander's voice had gone flat and quiet. Spike wondered which one of them Xander was trying to convince.

"Only... Uncle Rory was too drunk to know that it was supposed to be funny. He came up to my room after I went to bed."

Spike didn't want to know the rest of the story. Growing up in the streets of London he had known children who made their living selling it. Often it was the father making the arrangements. It had never happened to him for two reasons. Three, actually: his mum was a widow, so there was no man in the house; and he made enough thievin' and picking pockets that he'd never had to sell his arse. And he was good with his fists, as several of his chums' dads had found out, after they'd tried it on with young William. It hadn't happened again. Not until Angelus.

Right, Spike said to himself, we are not going there again. This isn't about you. Xander needs to tell it, so you, mate, are going to sit here and listen.

"You know what the worst part was, Spike?" Xander turned his face toward Spike, but his eyes were unfocused, staring into the past.

"Instead of just bending me over and doing it, I got the Uncle Rory Royal Treatment. That's what he kept calling it, the Uncle Rory Royal Treatment. Like if he said enough sweet things, if he petted me enough, he could make it better than it was. Like he could make it something that it wasn't. Like he could make me like it."

Xander's voice, eerie and distant, gave Spike goosebumps, and he could feel the tiny hairs at the back of his neck standing on end.

"He couldn't."

The misery and sadness were rolling off in waves, and his demon roared. Spike waged a brief battle with himself, torn between comforting Xander, if that were possible, and venting his rage.

Somehow, when Spike wasn't looking, he realized that Xander had gone from 'enemy' to 'not enemy' to 'friend' to 'my friend'. And smart people left things that belonged to Spike alone. Chip or no chip, the Harrises would pay for their mistreatment of his friend. If the zap-the-chip thing didn't work, Spike still knew a few assorted demons who owed him favors. He'd cash those favors in with Harris blood if he had to.

Tentatively, he tugged on the hand still clutching his. Xander slowly slumped over, until most of his upper body was lying across Spike's lap, his head on Spike's thigh, entwined hands pinned under him. Spike used his free hand to brush the hair out of Xander's face, then put it comfortingly on his shoulder.

"What happened next?"

He could feel the fine shivers running through the body in his lap slowly fade as he rubbed Xander's arm.

"By the next morning, Uncle Rory had sobered up and realized that the whole thing wasn't a figment of rotgut gin. He spent the next three days crying and puking. Never apologized, though. Then he climbed back into his gin bottle and hasn't come out since. Hasn't spoken directly to me since then either."

"What did your folks do?"

"My dad blamed it on me. Told me I was a fag while he was waling on me, and that it was my fault Uncle Rory was a fag too. He broke my collar bone slamming me against the kitchen counter."

A thought occurred to Spike. "Does Red know about this?" She was the most likely to. She and Xander had been close since childhood and even if they weren't as close any more, Xander still considered her family. Come to think, maybe Giles was better than he thought. He would never hit the boy, or hit on him, either.

"No. I never told her. She went with me to the ER to have my collarbone fixed. She knew my dad did it, but she didn't know why. He didn't usually need a reason. I've never told anybody."

Xander's voice was low and slurred. Spike could hear his heartbeat slowing, could smell the sadness being replaced by sleepiness. He stroked Xander's hair gently.

"It's funny, y'know? I always liked Uncle Rory. Before that, I mean." Xander tumbled over the edge into sleep as Spike continued to stroke his hair.

* * * * *

Right, then. What are you going to do about this? Rearrange his to-do list, for openers. The Slayer was unceremoniously dropped to the number two spot, and the Harrises got the number one spot. They deserved his best effort, after all. Spike grinned wolfishly, unaware that he was completely in gameface. If he killed the soddin' Slayer first, then everybody would be after him, and he wouldn't have time to do the Harrises properly. On the other hand, nobody would notice if they didn't turn up for a few days. He'd have time to do a proper job of it, then he could do the Slayer, and then he and Xander could leave Sunnyhell.

Spike brought himself up short, his gameface fading into surprised human face. Leave with Xander? When had he made that decision? No matter, really. He had, and the whelp was coming with him.

He entertained himself with bloody plans for the Harrises demise. When he had come up with several workable plans fitting various timeframes, he moved on to the Slayer.

He debated what to do. Kill her? Turn her? Just torture her a bit, then let her go?

Xander murmured and shifted against Spike's thigh.

"Shhh, pet. You're safe." He resolutely put aside any contemplation about just why Xander would be safe with him.

As he ran his hand slowly up and down Xander's back his thoughts turned back to the Slayer. A feral, nasty smile stretched across his mouth as he thought of the perfect plan. He worked it out as he petted Xander.

What did he see as the Slayer's big fault? Pride. She was the Chosen One, the Slayer, and don't you forget it. What would hurt her the most? Ignoring her. Doing absolutely nothing. Make it clear that he had his bite back, but that he was leaving town without even trying to kill her. Make it clear that he wasn't going to kill her because she wasn't worth his time. And if he happened to be taking one of her ego club along with him? One that was willingly choosing him over her? The one who had, in fact, helped him get his bite back, and then maneuvered Spike into taking him along?

He snickered as he pictured her expression. If she tried to stake him, he would defend himself, but do his best not to kill her. Then he would take Xander and go. He smirked in satisfaction. Right. Got that covered, then.

Where would they go? They probably shouldn't head to LA-Peaches probably wouldn't be too happy to see them. He'd rather go somewhere warm, but he wasn't particular. He'd ask Xander later. There was no rush, since they wouldn't be leaving for a week or so anyway. For that matter, they didn't have to stay in the States at all. They could go anywhere in the world, although he'd prefer to stay out of South America and Central Europe.

Money wouldn't be a problem. He'd had a taste for gold in his younger days, thanks to Angelus' mansion-raiding habits, but he had converted it all to Swiss francs decades ago. It was sitting in Zurich, waiting for him to withdraw it. They could live comfortably for years on the interest alone. He just needed a bank that had late hours, since everything could be done by wire transfer.

He chuckled to himself. Buffy and company thought he was broke, and he was. He didn't even have enough dosh for a pack of smokes. But he wasn't poor. That was a different thing, and after his childhood, he'd sworn he'd never be poor again. He chuckled again. At least he hadn't been reduced to eating turnips.

Without his realizing, Xander had woken up. He sat up and blinked sleepily at Spike.

"Feel better after your nap, pet?" He squeezed Xander's hand gently, and then let it go.

"Oh, jeez, I was asleep? Note to self: Messy emotional scenes make me check out."

Xander rubbed his face, then raked his hands through his hair.

"I'm sorry. Would you believe me if I said I had no intention of telling you any of that?" Xander's smile was tentative but genuine.

Xander got up and stretched. With his hands over his head, his shirt rode up, exposing his flat stomach and the fine trail of black hair leading down from his navel and disappearing into the waistband of his pants.

Spike followed that trail with his eyes, and wondered what Xander's skin tasted like. He dragged his eyes back up to Xander's face to find Xander watching him, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Xander turned and headed for his backpack. He rummaged in it for a moment, then came up with a package of Oreo cookies and another soda. He opened the cookies with one of the knives from his backpack, tossed the knife back in and held the cookies out in Spike's direction.

"Note to self: Messy emotional scenes make me hungry, too. Cookie?"

Spike laughed. "Everything makes you hungry."

He retrieved his second bag of blood and settled into his chair. As Xander passed in front of him Spike grabbed him by the wrist. Pulling slightly he asked, "Sit with me?"

Xander regarded him steadily for a moment, then put his soda on the floor beside the chair.

Spike got no warning beyond a slight grin. Xander flopped sideways into his lap with a flourish, then reached for his soda. Arranging himself more comfortably, he asked, "What?"

Laughing, Spike answered, "It's a good thing I don't need to breathe, pet. There's more to you than it looks like. You're lucky you didn't land on my more important bits. I like them attached, thanks."

He reached across Xander and stole a handful of Oreos.

"My favorite. Ta, mate!"

They munched on cookies for a while, talking about the latest demon. Xander kept shifting positions until Spike said, "What's up? You keep wriggling like I'm pinchin' your arse!"

"I'm sitting on something, and it isn't you, smartass." Xander groped around under himself.

"Careful! Don't be grabbing that unless you mean it."

Xander's "Oops!" was followed by an unrepentant grin.

"Are you sure you're not imagining sittin' on something?"

A bit more groping, and Xander triumphantly held up the bag of blood.

"Ah ha! I knew I was sitting on something. If I wanted to feel you up, I'd just do it. Like this."

Spike caught an unneeded breath as Xanderıs hand skimmed across his chest to tweak a nipple. Gently, he moved Xander's hand away from him.

"You've told me about the bad, pet, now tell me about the good." He wanted to make sure that there was good.

Xander finished his soda and leaned back against Spike's shoulder. Spike shifted to gameface and slurped on the blood.

"That would be Ian MacAllistair. He was a friend of Larry's." Seeing Spike's lack of comprehension, he explained. Spike knew about the werewolf thing, but that was it.

"Don't ask how we got hooked up, 'cause I still don't have the foggiest. We only spent a weekend together, and I haven't seen him since."

At Spike's glower, he hastened to explain.

"He went away to college. MIT or somewhere techy like that. And it was just sex, I knew that when we started. But it was really good sex. Really, really good sex." The musk of arousal rising from the boy--man, Spike corrected himself--in his lap was dizzying. "He showed me- He showed me a lot of things, actually. He didn't know about...what I told you, but I think he knew anyway, somehow."

Spike rubbed his free hand down Xander's back. Xander responded by shifting so that Spike could get under his shirt. He left his hand there, drawing small circles on the damp satin of Xander's skin.

"We went slow, but did everything. He stopped when I freaked out. He showed me how good it could be by letting me fuck him first. I decided that if it felt that good--and it must've felt good, I'd never seen so much come--that I wanted to try it. He got me so hot, and then he pushed inside me..." Xander's voice held a note of wonder and awe as it trailed off.

"I've never felt anything like that. Never. Not even with Anya and her thousand years of experience and her box of toys."

Spike grinned at that. He'd found that same box of toys stuffed under the edge of the couch and had teased Xander unmercifully about it. She'd taken the toys with her when she left to 'experience big-city life'.

"When I came down and we'd recovered, we did it again. And again, and then we got creative."

Feeling the shudders beneath his shoulder he turned and slanted a look at Spike, who fighting back laughter.

"Yeah, laugh all you want, but there are some advantages to being a teenager. No recovery time necessary is at the top of the list!"

"Right. So you're telling me you're bent, then." He swallowed the last of the blood and dropped the empty bag on the floor, an amused smirk on his now-human face.

Xander turned and straddled him, then thumped on his chest.

"Oi! No fair-I can't hit you back!" Giving lie to that statement, he whacked Xander solidly on the arse.

"Hey! That's what you get for not being politically correct. The proper way to put it would be 'gay' or 'same-gender oriented'. And no, I'm not. The politically correct word for me is 'bisexual', as in, I like it any way I can get it. I don't have enough experience with guys to know if I have a preference or not. But I'm hoping to get some." Xander leered at Spike, then rocked slowly in his lap.

Spike slid his hands into convenient back pockets and encouraged the leisurely rocking to continue.

"Y'sound like a vampire, pet. Even had the demon girlfriend."

Spike squeezed the firm flesh under his palms, pleased when Xander rocked harder against him. Still, he thought, there was something he needed to say.

"Pet? You're right. I'm leaving this bloody place just as soon as we get the soddin' chip buggered. You don't have to shag me to come with me."

Xander sat back on Spike's thighs and listened.

"I won't kill Buffy, either-she's not worth my time. And besides, it'll piss her off even more if I don't try than if I do. When she finds out it was you that set this in motion, well, it'll just be icing on the cake."

Xander regarded Spike in silence for a few minutes, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "You're right. That'll drive her absolutely nuts. And I don't really want to be talking about her anymore, either. Where were we?" He reached out, intent, and cupped Spike's face, his thumb stroking the sharp blade of cheekbone. "Oh, yeah. Here." He slowly leaned in until his mouth was a breath away from Spike's. Warm breath puffed across cool skin and Spike shivered.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, Xander touched his lips to Spike's. Spike held himself perfectly still and let Xander do what he wanted.

Xander deepened the kiss for a brief, miraculous moment, then pulled away. Xander brushed briefly through Spike's hair, then trailed his hand down Spike's neck and stopped over his unbeating heart.

"Spike. I want this with you. Soon, preferably." Xander's smile was sweet and sultry and sure as he rocked against Spike once again.

Spike tightened his grip in Xander's pockets and listened in satisfaction as his breath deepened.

"Is now soon enough, pet?"

"Yes-" The rest of Xander's answer was lost as Spike claimed his mouth in a fierce kiss.

He groaned as Xander's hot tongue invaded his mouth and battled with his own. He held him by the back of the head, ruthlessly crushing his mouth to Xander's.

Xander was no longer rocking. He had fisted his hands in Spike's shirt and was instead holding himself close to the cool body beneath him.

A long, hazy while later, Spike tore his mouth away. He grabbed Xander's hands and quickly twisted them low, behind his back, making him lean back over Spike's sure hold. When Xander made no protest, he leaned forward and nuzzled Xander's neck. The feel of the pulse jumping made Spike's cock twitch.

"God, Spike." Low and ragged, Xander's voice vibrated on Spike's tongue, and flashes of what that vibration would feel like elsewhere rocketed down Spike's spine.

Shifting to gameface, Spike made sure Xander was watching him, then he lowered his head and deliberately bit off the top button of Xander's shirt. Xander chuckled at Spike's playful smile as he displayed the button at the end of his tongue, then spit it across the small room. Chuckles turned into gasps as Spike lowered his head and sucked at the skin he'd uncovered. He worked his way down Xander's shirt, biting off more buttons, licking and sucking at skin as he went. He stopped at Xander's navel, enjoying the hiss of indrawn breath and the involuntary clench of stomach muscles tightening under his tongue. Shifting back to his human visage, he thrust his tongue repeatedly into the tiny pucker until Xander's hips were thrusting in time with his tongue.

"Stop. Spike, stop!" Disgruntled and concerned, Spike looked up.

Bloody hell, he thought. Xander's face was flushed, eyes glittering. The ruined shirt was pushed mostly off his shoulders and a trail of red love bites wandered drunkenly down his chest.

"Bloody hell, pet, you're gorgeous when you're debauched, but why'd you want me to stop?"

Xander leaned forward until his forehead was resting against Spike's.

"Because I wanted to come on you, not on me."

"Always did like a bloke with a plan." He let go of Xander's wrists so that he could shrug off the remains of his shirt.

Puzzled by Xander's stillness and about to protest the lack of action, he stopped, caught by the blaze of heat shining in Xander's eyes.

"Just wondering where to start," he answered Spike's unspoken question. His hot, sultry look traveled over Spike like a physical touch, lingering on his mouth, his neck. Spike's nipples were peaked and hard under the soft black cotton of his t-shirt.

Reaching down, he removed a slim dagger from Spike's boot, sitting beside the chair.

"Eh? How'd you know that was there, pet?"

Soft laughter. "How d'you think? How many times did I trip over your boots when you were living with me?"

A briefly uptilted chin and a wry smirk acknowledged Xander's point.

"Now you've got it, what are you going to do with it?"

"This."

Xander pinched the collar of Spike's t-shirt and pulled it away from the ivory skin underneath. Setting the tip of the blade in the hollow Spike's throat, he paused.

"Go on, pet. You can't hurt me."

"I know. But I'm trying to decide if I want to." Spike swallowed heavily at the intent behind those words.

"Shh. Be still."

Spike swallowed again and nodded.

The tip of the knife bit in, and icy heat blossomed in the hollow of Spike's throat. A bright burning path followed the knife's progress slowly down his chest. The only sound was Xander's quiet breathing and the hiss of fabric as it parted before the blade.

He could smell his blood beading along the edges of the wound, and in a distant corner of his mind, Spike wondered what kind of books Giles had in his collection. Where else could Xander have learned about vampiric foreplay?

Cutting deliberately but not deeply, Xander moved down Spike's belly. He detoured around the navel, then came back up to complete the circle. Spike desperately wanted to take control, to pull Xander to him and plunder that mouth, to bury himself in his tight heat and pound into him until dawn. Instead he sat still, as still as only a preternatural being can manage, but his struggle for control showed in his face. Blue eyes had gone yellow, and a low growl rumbled into the silence.

Hearing the growl, Xander jerked the bottom of the t-shirt out of Spike's jeans and cut it apart with a quick slash. He barely had time to put the knife down beside the cushion before he was hauled upright.

Their mouths came together again in a brutal kiss that softened quickly into something far sweeter than Spike had thought he was capable of.

He was getting lost in the sensations Xander was creating. Warm hands were everywhere. He knew his neck was sensitive, but the delicate exploration of the rim of his ear by Xander's tongue made goosebumps ghost across his shoulder blades. Broad palms covered his chest as Xander's tongue traced up his jugular.

A sharp nip to his earlobe made him gasp, and he thrust up aggressively when Xander alternately nipped his ear and pinched his nipples.

Bloody hell. He'd have to remember to send a thank you card to the git that taught Xander this. Or maybe Giles, for letting the whelp read his library.

Xander slowly kissed his way down Spike's body. He tried to leave a hickey on Spike's neck but couldn't, although Spike enjoyed the effort, twisting and growling as Xander sucked. Licking his way down the shallow cut he'd made, Xander swirled his tongue around Spike's belly button, then sat back, grinning in triumph at Spike's dazed expression.

"Stand up, pet. I want you naked. Now," Spike growled hoarsely.

With a lazy, sensual smile, Xander rose to his feet, standing on the seat of the chair and bracing himself against the ceiling of the crypt.

What was it the witch said? Cope and deal. Right. He could do that.

Spike untied each boot and held them steady while Xander carefully pulled out of them. He pulled off socks next, making Xander squirm when he ran his fingers down each elegant arch.

"Get up on the arms, hm?" When Xander stepped up Spike laid the chair back and got to his knees.

"Good, now step back down." Xander stepped back onto the chair seat. Spike's face was now slightly above Xander's waist.

Spike ran his hands up Xander's thighs and around his hips, squeezing firmly. He nuzzled his face into Xander's crotch and inhaled deeply, reveling in the scent of arousal. And Xander was aroused; Spike stropped his cheek against the hot bulge, feeling it quiver and harden further.

Backing up a bit, he studied the fastening in front of him, then slowly pulled on the drawstring with his teeth. He stilled when the knot was almost undone and smirked when he felt Xander try to pull back. He dropped the drawstring and looking up at Xander said, "Naughty naughty. Be still, and I'll do nice things to you. Ok?"

Spike assumed the gasp that answered him was a yes.

Spike mouthed the khaki crotch in front of him, then took the drawstring in his teeth again. Pulling back quickly, he jerked the knot open, and used the string to tug loose the corner of the waistband.

Velcro was a wonderful invention, Spike thought as it came free with a crackle. Bloody handy, too. Zips could be undone with teeth, but it wasn't easy.

He looked up when Xander groaned, and nearly groaned himself.

Xander was standing with his legs spread, arms braced on the plaster ceiling, pants hanging precariously from his hips. He was watching Spike with heavy-lidded eyes, his bottom lip caught tightly between white teeth.

If the whelp had a gameface, he thought to himself, he'd be showin' it now. The thought of Xander in gameface was enough to make Spike loosen the tenuous grasp he had on his control. He quickly pulled the rest of the velcro open and noted the lack of underwear with a raised eyebrow as the pants slid down. When they tightened over Xander's spread knees, Spike tapped one ankle and Xander obediently lifted it up so that Spike could slide the pantleg down and off his foot. They repeated the procedure on the other side, and Spike dumped the pants on the footrest in front of him. Then he looked to see what he'd unwrapped.

Bloody gorgeous.

"You're bloody gorgeous."

"Said that already."

"Still true, though."

And it was. The fine trail of hair that had caught Spike's attention earlier in the evening broadened low down, expanding into a riotous nest of dark silk. Xander's cock was curved up slightly, flushed with blood, the weight of it keeping it nearly horizontal. A single drop of pearly fluid oozed slowly out of the slit. The fact that the whelp was circumcised was a novelty for Spike; after all, his contemporaries were uncut. The balls hanging beneath were drawn up tight in anticipation.

"Spike, don't just look, do something!" Xander's voice was deep and harsh.

He kneaded the globes under his hands and licked the leaking crown. The taste of his mortal was intoxicating. Hot and musky, bitter and salty, faintly reminiscent of blood. Tightening his grip he rode out Xander's thrust, then engulfed his cock, taking it deep in his throat and sucking hard. Xander groaned and thrust. Spike let him.

Pulling his mouth off, he flicked the tight arrow of skin under the head with his tongue and delicately probed the slit. Bobbing up and down, he alternated sucking and flicking until the tremors in Xander's legs increased dramatically. He let his demon slip just a bit, and with sharp teeth nibbled carefully on the steadily dripping tip. Xander's cry was hoarse and broken, and Spike pulled him roughly back into his mouth to catch the resulting eruption. He swallowed it all greedily and held Xander up without effort, sucking gently, until Xander pulled away and leaned his weight back onto his own feet.

Spike looked up, grinning, and said, "I told you you were a nummy treat, didn't I?"

Xander laughed, deep and rich.

"Yeah. And now it's your turn. Jeans off, now."

Spike eased back and went to work on his jeans. Now that he was paying attention to himself again, getting his zipper open was an enormous relief. He slid them down his thighs and decided that was far enough-any more meant getting out of the chair. He unfolded his legs, careful not to kick Xander's feet out from under him, then leaned back.

He sat up seconds later to hold out a hand for Xander to brace himself on as he stepped down. Xander slithered down Spike with a mischievous smile and ended up on his knees in front of the chair. He used his body weight to close the footrest, helping it with a quick thrust of his knee. Hooking his hands under Spike's knees, Xander pulled him forward. Spike got the hint and leaned back as Xander pulled his jeans down around his shins, noting the lack of underwear with his own raised eyebrow.

Xander knelt up and settled between Spike's legs, spreading them with his elbows.

"Get on with it, pet," Spike growled. He'd been hard for so long he hurt, and his pale cock had been dripping steadily, sheening his stomach with moisture.

"Impatient much?" Xander murmured. Spike growled. Xander's warm tongue lapped at the crease between hip and thigh, then moved to the thatch of tight, dark curls, licking at the wetness there, while his hands traced distracting patterns through the fine hairs on Spike's inner thighs.

"Mm, tasty." The vibration of Xander's voice against the base of his cock made him grip the arms of the chair in a way that would shortly be detrimental to the upholstery.

Xander licked. And licked. And licked some more. He licked up every last drop of moisture from Spike's belly button on down, avoiding contact with the cock leaking that moisture in steady pulses.

Backing up a bit, he put his hands inside Spike's knees and pushed up, until they were propped up against the arm of the chair, leaving Spike opened wide and waiting. Spike's feet, still trapped in his jeans, were sole-to-sole on the front edge of the cushion, and Xander leaned over them, sliding his hands from knees to thighs and pushed again, opening him further.

Spike closed his eyes in anticipation and opened them a moment later, his shout of surprise ringing in the small crypt. Xander had bitten the sensitive spot behind his balls.

He was definitely taking the whelp with him, wherever he went. There was no way he was giving this up. And he was going to take a look at Giles' library, too, if he got the chance.

Xander was licking again, from the bottom Spike's balls down, stopping just short of the pale pink pucker. Back and forth he went, until Spike was squirming. When he started growling, Xander moved up to his balls, taking each tight orb and sucking it gently.

Leaning forward, he put his hands on Spike's hips and breathed on the tip of the pale cock. It bounced a bit as Spike's stomach twitched so Xander did it again, this time deliberately blowing on the entire length of it. Spike tilted his hips forward, trying to get closer to the maddening sensation, and Xander obliged. Finally moving his hands, he grasped the ivory column in front of him with one hand and circled Spike's balls with the other, gently pulling them down and away from his body.

Slowly, tantalizingly, he stroked up and down, playing with the collar of loose skin bunched behind the head. As he stroked up, his thumb slipped over the head, collecting the dripping moisture, spreading it back down the shaft.

Spike's entire being was concentrated on the sensations being created. When they stopped, he pried his eyes open and saw Xander rising to stand over him. Pushing Spike's outflung legs back into the chair he crawled on, pausing with one knee beside Spike's hip and his hands braced on the back of the chair.

"What?"

"Bloody gorgeous."

"I seem to remember saying that already."

"Yeah, but I mean you."

Spike looked down his body. The tattered edges of his shirt framed his chest, the black a sharp contrast to the faintest of flushes. His tiny pale nipples were pebbled and hard and further down, his not-so-tiny, pale cock was hard and wet.

Xander folded his long legs into the chair, settling on Spike's pelvis in almost the same position they'd started the evening with. Leaning down, he captured Spike's mouth with his and rocked gently. Spike's cock, tucked down and trapped, rode between Xander's cheeks, the fully uncovered tip bumping gently from balls to pucker. Spike raised his hips and rubbed harder, chuckling when Xander broke their kiss with a gasp.

"Like that, pet?"

"Yeah. OH! Yeah..." A shiver and a sigh. "Yeah, I do." Looking down, Spike noted that Xander's description of 'no recovery time necessary' seemed to be accurate-the whelp's rigid cock was painting abstract designs on Spike's belly. Xander held himself suspended, letting Spike set the pace. His face was a study in concentration, his eyes closed. At Spike's frustrated growling he opened them and looked up, his expression a question.

Spike wanted to be deep inside Xander's tight heat in the worst way, but he didn't have lube--he hadn't needed it with Harmony--and he wouldn't shag the whelp without it. The chance of pain, for both of them, was too great. He was probably wet enough, but the whelp wasn't experienced enough, and while a touch of pain added spice, great waves of agony tended to put a damper on things. So they'd switch places now, and the next time he'd shag the whelp. And there would be a next time-right after he indulged in a bit of shoplifting at Walgreen's.

"Xander, luv, I want IN, but- this effin' chip...stupid gits...if you..."

Xander's puzzled expression cleared and he sat back. Reaching behind him, he fished around and came up with a handful of khaki cargo pants, still stuck in the footrest where Spike had dumped them. Untwisting the fabric, he patted pockets until he came to the one he wanted. Unsnapping it, he reached in and came up with a small bottle of...Spike narrowed his eyes and read...Wet Personal Lubricant. He snickered. So he'd came prepared, eh?

"Passion Fruit?"

Xander snickered before he answered.

"The other choice was Wild Cherry."

"Next time, then." Whatever else he was going to say died unsaid and he watched with disbelieving eyes as Xander popped the top and reached behind him. The smell of fake passion fruit rose up around them. Taking Spike's hand in his own, Xander thoroughly coated the first two fingers, then closed the bottle and carefully wedged it in the gap beside the seat cushion.

Leaning forward to lay on cool ivory skin, he took Spike's wrist and drew it around himself, placing it so that Spike's lubed fingers were brushing his cleft. Covering Spike's hand with his own, he directed its movement until a dazed Spike caught on.

"Pet? I thought you were..." he trailed off as their twined fingers circled the hidden entrance to Xander's body.

Letting go of the hand, Xander braced himself on Spike's shoulders and thrust his hips back. Spike got the hint and stroked more firmly. Reaching around with his other hand, he discovered what Xander had done when he opened the bottle. A slick trail led from his tailbone down to the back of his balls. Spike played, running his fingers up and down the trail, pausing to press a fingertip into the soft spot behind Xander's balls. Xander grunted and thrust back again. Spike decided it was time for the next step.

Xander's breath hissed out through clenched teeth as Spike eased his forefinger in past the guardian ring.

"Ok, pet?"

"Mmm." He pushed back against Spike's finger, and Spike responded by pressing in deeper, searching for that spot-

"Ah, god! Spike, please!"

-and finding it. Spike pressed against Xander's prostate rhythmically, using his other hand to rock Xander's hips. When the muscle had loosened a bit, he worked in some of the lube, then eased in a second finger.

Xander froze, then pushed back hard, catching Spike by surprise and burying his fingers deeply. He rocked as Spike thrust, and then he reached for the bottle. Lifting himself up and freeing Spike's cock, he poured a generous stream on the head and down the shaft.

"Now, Spike!" he demanded.

With one hand on the mortal, holding him open, and the other holding his cock still, he eased Xander down until the warm knot of muscle was nestled firmly against the tip of his cock. Xander's grip on his shoulder tightened as he was breached, nails digging into pale skin. Putting both hands on Xander's hips, Spike waited for the internal muscle to adjust to his presence.

He stared into luminous brown eyes as Xander lowered himself until Spike's shaft was completely engulfed.

Spike was in heaven, or as close to it as the evil undead could get. The warmth of the passage surrounding him was incredible. Spike hadn't had many mortal lovers since he'd been turned, and each time he remembered again why he liked to shag them-they were hot. And since he wasn't, the contrast between the two bodies was that much greater, the pleasure that much more intense.

Rocking again, Xander set an exquisitely slow pace. Spike reached out and grasped firm cheeks, feeling between them, rubbing the place where they were joined, where his cool flesh entered Xander's heat.

Xander reached back too, and after briefly twining their fingers together to feel their connection, he moved on, rolling Spike's balls.

Shifting his weight, he thrust forward and kissed Spike, his cock rubbing slickly against Spike's belly, and then back, taking Spike in deeply. When Spike made to let go and lend a hand, so to speak, Xander pulled his mouth away and stopped him with a quick shake of his head.

"No. I like it." He took Spike's mouth again.

Right. Spike put his hand back where it was, using his fingertips to stroke the taut flesh surrounding him.

The slow pace was killing him. He wanted it fast and hard, and he knew that neither of them would last much longer. He slouched down in the chair a bit more, then lifted Xander and thrust up almost savagely. Xander caught his breath, then forced Spike down again, long enough to brace himself. Now better situated, he lifted himself nearly off of Spike's cock, then came down on it abruptly.

Not losing this new rhythm, Spike held Xander by the hips and pounded up into him, pulling Xander down against him. Xander met every aggressive thrust with one of his own and fell forward, his face in Spike's neck.

Xander bit down hard, muffling his cry as he came, and Spike groaned, the hot spurts nearly scalding his stomach. The tight passage tightened further, rhythmically milking Spike's cock. The faint smell of his blood made him aware that Xander's teeth had broken the skin on his neck and he felt Xander's warm tongue lapping at the few coppery drops.

With a shudder, Xander sat back, forcing Spike to slow his thrusts, although they were still hard and deep. As he pulled away, Spike could feel the Xander's hot essence dripping down over the tight muscles of his stomach.

A bright glint arrested his gaze. Xander was holding the dagger again, this time to his own throat. Spike took his hand and moved it so that the tip was in the hollow under Xander's collarbone. He watched avidly, eyes only slightly yellow, as the tip bit in, cutting until the blood began to run. Taking it roughly out of his hand, Spike threw the knife away with a clatter and pulled Xander to him. His mouth fastened on the cut and he began sucking, tongue probing the cut in time with his thrusting cock.

Xander's blood flowed into his mouth, thick and rich and sweet. The cut wasn't so deep that Spike could take too much, but it was near the subclavian artery, and Spike could feel it thrumming as he sucked.

The distant, observant corner of his mind informed him that he would check out Giles' library before they left, one way or another. Xander hadn't learned this from Ian Whatshisname. Maybe the Watcher deserved to live after all.

Hot blood in his mouth, hot flesh surrounding him, heat pooling in his groin... His climax roared through him fast and hard, and he growled as he pulled his mouth away from the crimson ambrosia, remembering just in time not to bite.

Cool semen exploded into warm depths as Xander deliberately tightened around him. Bright pain came when Xander pinched his nipples, adding a sharp note of pleasure. His chest heaved with the remembered effort of breathing.

As the intense wash of pleasure finally faded, he loosened his grip on Xander's hips, rubbing apologetically at fingerprints he knew would turn to bruise.

Spike absently rubbed the come on his stomach into his skin. As he softened he slipped part way out, and was greatly entertained by the steady drip of lube and semen that ran down his cock. It was a good thing he wasn't attached to this chair-it would resemble a swamp in a few more minutes.

Xander snuggled against him, making small contented murmurs as Spike slowly stroked up and down the length of his back, ending with his hands cupped around Xander's cheeks once again.

His near-nap was interrupted by Xander's amused, incredulous voice asking, "Are you purring? You are! You're purring like a giant cat." He settled back against Spike.

Spike was embarrassed. Yes, he purred, most vamps did, but it wasn't a well-known fact. Like cats, a purring vampire was a contented vampire. Before he could respond or make himself stop Xander continued, "Cool. It feels good."

With the purring rumbling between them, they drifted into sleep.

An unknown time later, long after the last candle had guttered, Spike was woken by the sound of birds singing in the trees in the cemetery. Xander was shivering in the pre-dawn chill.

"C'mon, pet. Wakey wakey!"

Xander struggled to a sitting position, then glanced out the window. It was still dark, but the false dawn in the sky gave promise of the true dawn soon coming.

"Shit!" Scrambling off Spike's lap, Xander got to his feet and started fighting with the chair over possession of his pants. He won, and hopped around on one foot pulling them on, to Spike's open amusement.

"Well, don't just sit there! There's a shower with our name on it, and a bed, but we have to get you there by dawn. Get a move on!"

Xander velcroed and tied his pants, shook the dust from his buttonless shirt and put it on, then stuffed his socks into pockets and stomped into his boots.

Spike stood and stretched with feline grace, then pulled up his pants. Ditching the tattered remnants of his shirt, he shrugged into another one and sat down to put his boots on. That done, he snagged his duster and stood watching Xander, who was checking his backpack.

Their eyes met, and in the sudden stillness Spike could smell passion fruit, blood, and semen, a reminder of the night's activities and the deal they had made.

Stepping closer, he backed Xander into the doorframe. Touching that lush bottom lip with his finger he paused, and Xander snaked his tongue out, tasting.

Slowly, gently, their mouths came together, clung, then parted. Silent promises were exchanged.

Spike stepped away. He looked around and decided that getting back to Xander's before dawn was more important than taking stuff with him. They could always come back later.

"Let's go. We need a shower." Xander hoisted his backpack to his shoulder.

"I'm followin' you, pet."

Together, they walked out of the crypt and headed into the new day.

* * * * *

"Crap."

"Yeah. Well, sorta."

"Right, pet. Congrats. And crap."

"Yeah."

Spike watched from the folded-up couch as Xander kicked his boots off and wearily flopped into the chair, sinking back with a sigh.

He'd been surprised when Xander had been late getting home from work the Monday after his weekend off. Almost three hours late, and Spike had begun to worry. The only consolation had been, since it was after sunrise, the problem was probably mundane and not Hellmouthy.

The problem wasn't even really a problem. Instead of getting canned, Xander had been promoted. The head of Maintenance had found Xander's immediate supervisor drunk in an empty office-again. Wondering who had been running things, since the work was obviously getting done, he'd asked the rest of the cleaning crew, and the answer had been 'that Harris kid'.

The supervisor's job had gone to the crew leader of the grounds crew, who needed to work nights. Xander had been given the other man's job, and was now in charge of a grounds crew of five. Which was good; daylight hours and more money were always good, but he'd had to give up his keys to the labs, and he'd had to do it this morning. There hadn't been a chance for him to make duplicates on the sly. No access to the labs meant no access to the degausser. No degausser meant Spike kept his chip for a while longer. Yeah, 'crap' and 'congrats' summed it up quite nicely.

A soft noise caught Spike's attention. Xander was mostly asleep in the chair, sprawled out and still in his work clothes.

Well, and no wonder, mate, Spike chided himself. Up all night swinging a mop, then up all day bein' shagged by you. An' all you do is shag and sleep.

Spike ignored the tightness in his chest, although he knew he couldn't for much longer. This whatever-it-was had started off as a straightforward deal. Xander would help Spike, Spike would take Xander.

And there'd been an awful lot of 'taking' going on. He'd taken Xander in bed, on the couch, in the shower, bent over the kitchen counter, up against the door...everywhere but the chair, come to think. And Xander still hadn't taken him.

Spreading his legs and easing his growing erection away from the constriction of his zipper, Spike silently watched Xander sleep. He had known, that night in the crypt, that he was getting in over his head. He just hadn't realized that it would happen so quickly.

Somewhere in the last few days, it had stopped being about a deal, and had started being about the two of them. Xander had never spoken of his feelings, but Spike knew his own. He was well on his way to loving the boy, if he didn't already. Deeply, completely, and mushily. If he were honest with himself, those feelings had been there since he'd been the whelp's 'guest'; he'd just managed to ignore them, stuff them down deep so he could pretend they'd never existed. Now that they were spending every possible minute together, shagging every chance they got, he couldn't. Planning a future together was doing funny things to his unbeating heart, even if it was a future born of convenience.

Most people assumed that because he had no soul, he couldn't love. That wasn't true; he had loved Dru. And Angelus, eventually. The disappearance of Angelus and the betrayal that was Angel had nearly destroyed him. Would have, except for Dru. His dark princess had been the rock that he'd rebuilt his world on. And when she'd left, his foundation had crumbled.

Disgusted with his maudlin thoughts, Spike snorted at himself, then turned his thoughts resolutely away from the past.

What were they going to do now? The labs were out; from the sound of it, their security system was more than what he could get past himself. Simple lock-picking he could do, but that was about it.

Wait. Wait a minute. What had the whelp said? Three choices; electricity, the degausser, and an electromagnet, like at the junkyard. Junkyard...was DaV'aarr still around? He'd find out this evening. If he was, Operation Zap-the-Chip, as Xander called it, might be a go yet.

Several hours later, Xander stirred and woke, sitting up and blinking sleepily.

"Whoa. How long did I sleep?"

"Couple hours, but you needed it."

"Yeah, I did. Need some more, though."

Xander tripped over one boot, stepped around the other, then staggered to the couch, which Spike had unfolded into the bed, and collapsed on it.

"G'night."

"Half a mo, luv, I need a word."

"Huh?"

"Right, then, I'll make this quick. I need some dosh, and I'm going out tonight. I'll be at Willy's if you want to join me, back before three if you don't."

"'k."

Xander's wallet landed at Spike's feet. He helped himself to a twenty and a ten, and then, looking at Xander, who was apparently comatose, he decided to leave a note. Knowing his habits, Spike propped the note on the toilet tank, along with the wallet. He gently spread a blanket over Xander and left the light on in the kitchen area as he left.

Once at Willy's, he splurged on a glass of the good stuff and took it to a far table. Six games of pool later, five of which Spike won, a very short demon colored like a peacock approached him.

"Willy zays that you look for DaV'aarr. That is right?"

"It is. He around?"

"No. He is in Zacramento, making pickups. He be back in three, four days. You want to zee him?"

"Please. I want to collect."

"Help with head?" The little demon touched the ruff on the top of his own head gingerly. Spike scowled, but explained briefly what he wanted DaV'aarr to do.

"Dav'aarr, he owes blood debt. He help, if he can. You come, four nights. If he come zooner, I get you. Yes?"

"That'll work. Thanks; buy you a drink?"

"Zurely." He buzzed at the waitress who had come in response to Spike's wave, and was shortly pouring a smoking pink concoction into an orifice on his abdomen.

They chatted for a few minutes, then a familiar heartbeat caught Spike's attention. He looked up and found Xander standing in the doorway to the back room. Spike watched as Xander made his way through the crowd. He might not have his bite back, but he had a reputation, and Xander smelled like Spike, so most kept their distance, eyeing Xander curiously.

"Can anybody sit here or is this a demon-only table?"

Spike pulled Xander down into his lap. He thought Xander would protest such 'girly' treatment, but he didn't have to stay in Spike's lap for long; just long enough to make it clear to everyone who he belonged to. To his surprise, Xander settled back against him with only a raised eyebrow for comment.

"I got up and you were gone. There was a note in the bathroom with my wallet, so I came," Xander said uncertainly.

"S'okay, pet. Glad you did." He followed Xander's gaze to his drinking companion and added, "Xan, this is ZZptlppb. Zib, this is Alexander Harris, my...mine."

"Hi." In another surprise, Xander let the possessive claim pass without comment.

"Him? I touch..." Zib trailed off into a sibilant buzz, but Spike nodded.

Zib looked Xander over carefully, then placed one lightly feathered hand on Xander's crotch, the other on his forehead. Xander twitched a bit, but stayed still when Spike tightened his grasp.

"It is good. You are his, he is yours. Will be, for long time." He removed his hands, then said, "I will help you, any way I can. You are plbttztlp; it is owed."

"Thanks," Spike answered. Xander's look clearly said 'You WILL explain this later,' to Spike, but he remained silent.

Zib picked up his empty but still smoking glass and turned away, disappearing into the crowd.

"And you say I know interesting people. You've got me beat by a country mile."

* * * * *

Slowly they wandered home, making the obligatory turn through the cemetery and stopping to make out in the shadows of various trees, crypts and monuments.

In between groping sessions, Spike explained who Zib was, and how he thought DaV'aarr could help.

"Let me get this straight-this DaV'aarr works in the junkyard, but he's a demon. And nobody notices this? Oh, wait, this is Sunnydale-nobody ever notices anything."

"It's more than that, pet. DaV'aarr is a kind of chameleon demon, only instead of changing colors, he can change how he looks. You know the bloke at the gas station over on Elm?"

"That's DaV'aarr?" Xander interrupted.

"No, git, but that's what DaV'aarr usually looks like."

"A redneck Elvis impersonator?" Xander was incredulous.

"More of the redneck, less of the Elvis."

"Ok, so this DaV'aarr is a demon, works at the junkyard and will help us how, exactly?"

"He drives the crane with the electromagnet on it."

"Oh. Why? Zib said DaV'aarr owed a debt? What's that all about?"

"Not really my story to tell, pet. His spawn got into a bit of a jam with the Master in Bulgaria, and I helped him out. We got to be friends after that. The debt's been owing for about eighty years now, but you don't settle a blood debt with just anything, it has to be a life for a life. Getting rid of this bloody chip effectively gives me my life back, so the debt will be paid."

"Why didn't you go to him first?"

"Didn't know about the electromagnet, did I? Didn't think of it, either, until your plan fell through. Besides, I'm not dying. If I were, then I might have gone to him, but as much as I hate the bloody thing, the chip isn't killing me. I told you-a blood debt has to be paid in blood. DaV'aarr probably won't think banjaxing the chip is suitable recompense, but like I said, getting rid of it gives me my life back, so I'll consider it paid in full."

They kept walking, out of the cemetery now, toward home. Spike pushed Xander back into a convenient alley and proceeded to kiss him breathless.

"Umm, Spike?"

"Mm?" Spike had his hands on the bare skin of Xander's back and his face buried in the crook of Xander's neck, and he really didn't want to be interrupted.

"Mine?"

"Your what?" Now he had his hands under Xander's waistband and was steadily working his way south.

"That's what you said to Zib when you introduced me. And why'd you use my full name? Never mind that, what you said was 'he's my...mine.' I'm your what?"

"You're mine." Shit. Spike froze. He didn't want to have this conversation now, he really didn't want to have this conversation now. Damn his possessiveness for running away with his mouth in the first place.

"Yours."

Spike didn't know how to interpret the new note in Xander's voice.

"Well, pet, since we were in Willy's, and in case you hadn't noticed, you were the only human there, I figured it was safer to say you were mine, put you under my protection." Suddenly his hands were being pulled out of Xander's jeans and Xander was stepping away. He looked up, into a face tight with poorly-hidden hurt.

"Don't lie to me, Spike." Xander's voice was soft and flat.

"I'm not-"

"You are." Xander turned and started to walk away.

"Pet-" Spike hurried after him.

"Don't lie to me, Spike! I'll take just about anything else from you, but do not lie to me."

The rest of the walk home was accomplished in tense silence. By the time Spike had gotten his duster hung up, Xander was sitting in the chair, his body language fairly yelling 'leave me alone!'

Spike knew from his years with Dru that there was only one way out of this mess: groveling. No matter how badly he really didn't want to have this conversation now, he didn't want to lose whatever he was building with Xander, either.

First rule of groveling--this one from Angelus--the groveler should be on his face in the dirt. Spike compromised and dragged the battered ottoman over to the chair and sat on it at Xander's feet.

"I'm sorry, luv. Can I explain?" Whatever had happened to never apologize, never explain? He took Xander's continued silence as an invitation to carry on.

"You didn't need to be under my protection. Everybody knows you work with the Slayer; that's enough to keep you safe. And if it wasn't, you smell like me. I didn't need to say it." He paused. Xander still wasn't looking at him, but his body language was more open than it had been a minute ago. He still wasn't looking at Spike, but at least he was facing in the right direction. Spike took a deep breath and kept going.

"I didn't need to, but I wanted to. You want honesty? I wanted everyone there to know that you're mine. And you are, make no mistake about that. You gave yourself to me, and you sealed the bargain with blood and semen. You belong to me, Alexander Harris; you are mine." Spike's voice had dropped to a growl, groveling forgotten.

Xander stared at Spike in silence, his expression speculative. Then it firmed into determination, and Xander spoke.

"I love you. And I drew blood first, so you belong to me, too."

Spike stared, surprised. The whelp loved him? That had been the absolute last thing he'd ever expected to hear from Xander.

"Really? For how long?" Suddenly Spike needed to know.

"I've had the hots for you since before the chip, but it was when you lived here that I realized..." he trailed off.

"What?"

"That I could love you. That I wanted to do something about the chip because I wanted to help you, not just because it was wrong. And then, when we made a deal, I thought... I thought you were only in it for the chip, and the sex was a bonus. I didn't want you to know that I loved you."

Deep inside Spike, something broke free, or maybe just broke. This man loved him. Finally, maybe he could get it right this time.

"I was just going to enjoy it while it lasted."

Spike digested that silently for a moment, then said, "We're a right pair, aren't we?" He laid his head on Xander's thigh and felt tentative fingers stroke through his hair.

"Yeah, I guess we are."

"I love you."

"I know."

They sat in silence for a long time. Spike wondered what Xander was thinking about. He himself was unable to get past dizzying relief and soaring joy. Stern reminders to himself that as a vampire he should be above such human emotions made absolutely no difference. Finally Xander's husky voice broke into Spike's introspection.

"C'mon up here, vampire mine."

Spike stood gracefully and toed off his boots before straddling Xander's lap. He slid his hands under Xander's shirt and buried his face in the crook of Xander's neck, nuzzling the warm skin. He felt Xander's arms come around him, hands tucking into the back of his waistband. Their mouths met in a kiss that spoke volumes about love, and need.

* * * * *

They were down to just their jeans when Spike broke away.

"Fuck me." The order was whispered harshly. Spike's hands were busily undoing belts, buttons and zippers, both his own and Xander's.

Xander went still, so still that Spike looked up. Xander was almost comically wide-eyed, his expression the dictionary illustration of surprised.

Spike was concerned. "Xander?"

"Yeah?"

"Why are you so surprised?"

"You want me to fuck you."

"Yeah? So?" Spike was no longer concerned; he was puzzled instead.

"You, William the Bloody, Master vampire, really want me, Xander Harris, ordinary mortal, to fuck you," Xander stated, with blatant disbelief.

"Yeah." Spike leered hopefully.

"Why?"

"Why? What do you mean, 'why'?" Now it was Spike's turn to illustrate 'surprised'. "Why would I not want you to fuck me?" Had he missed something? Did Xander not want to for some reason?

"Umm, because you're a Master vampire so you're never on the bottom?"

Oh. Wait a minute...

Spike removed his hands from Xander's zipper and settled them instead on Xander's hips. This was obviously going to require some discussion. "Back up, pet. I think this needs some explanation. Why do you think that?"

Xander ducked his head, blushing.

"I read it in a book."

"Must've been an interesting book. Where'd you get it?"

"Giles' bookcase. The one in the back, that he pretends we don't know about. He's got some interesting stuff back there."

Spike's eyebrows rose at that, but he only nodded encouragingly.

"When- It was- I..." Xander stopped, took a deep breath, then started again. "Remember the knife?"

Spike traced the curl of Xander's ear with the tip of his tongue before he answered.

"Fondly."

"When I first realized just how bad I had it for you, I did some research. I wanted to know what vampires liked, that humans could do. I figured I could do the knife. Anyway, do you know what kind of stuff the G-man has in his library? Way more than just Watcher's journals and demon encyclopedias. He's got stuff in there that reads like Hustler meets National Geographic meets Star Log. I found one called Vitae Vampirae. Sort of a Vampires for Dummies." At Spike's snort, he raised his eyebrow. "What?"

"Sorry, pet, but that book is a vampire in-joke."

"Huh?"

"I'm surprised Rupert has a copy of that rot. I wonder if he knows-?" Spike shook his head and brought himself back to the present. "It is Vampires for Dummies. See, there was this vampire craze in the early 1800's. Mind you, we had stopped hiding quite so much, so more people knew we were real. There are--there have always been--humans who know us, but don't fear us, the Behilflicher. Snobs call them cattle, because they do provide blood, if needed, but they're more like the Vampire Auxiliary. Anyway, things were getting hot. We were getting too well-known, and a lot of us were getting staked. One of the Behilflicher had the bright idea of telling all, only not quite telling the truth."

"In other words, vampire PR."

"Right. Only with our own spin on it. With the help of the Master of London, M LaVeau wrote Vitae Vampirae. It's mostly a crock; anything in there that's true is the sort of thing that can't be used against us, but it kept the public happy, and kept the vampire hunters running in circles." Spike paused, taking in Xander's slightly disappointed expression. "Hm?"

"So the part that says only childer, fledges, and minions get fucked, is that true or not?" Xander blushed vividly, but met Spike's eyes.

"Not, but it doesn't matter, pet. You're human, so the whole question is moot. You chose me freely; you're a consort, not a minion or a fledge. Or a Childe." Spike worked to keep his face neutral; it was far too soon to be thinking in terms like 'forever'. "What you said about you drawing blood first is true. We belong to each other."

Xander stayed quiet, but the tense set of his face eased.

"So that's why you didn't fuck me that first night, hmm?" Spike asked. "Even when I offered."

"That'd be why. I figured you were offering because of what I told you, about Uncle...about that. And since then, well-" Xander stopped and blushed again, looking down.

Spike gently tipped Xander's chin up. "'Well' what?"

"It's not like it's a hardship being fucked all the time."

Spike smiled at that, a genuine smile that lit up his face and made his eyes crinkle up at the corners.

"Now you know why I want you to fuck me, eh?"

"Yeah, I do." Xander returned the smile, his heart blazing in his eyes.

"So do it, already."

Xander pulled Spike towards him until their mouths met in the lightest of touches. He gradually deepened the pressure, but every time Spike tried to, Xander backed off.

"Slow, Spike, slow. We have all night and we're going to take all night."

Spike groaned in frustration but acquiesced, letting Xander take the lead. After the first night, when Xander had started things, he'd always let Spike take the lead. He'd never initiated sex, although he wasn't above hinting that he wanted it. Spike figured it was a result of that stupid book, and hoped sincerely that Xander would take the initiative more often now that he knew he could.

Warm hands ghosted down his torso and around his waist, pulling him closer. As Xander's hands slid down the back of his pants, Spike dimly realized that they were in an almost perfect reversal of their first encounter.

Unfortunately, Xander's chair wasn't as big as Spike's had been, and they just didn't fit as well; Spike rocked back and promptly slid from Xander's knees to the floor.

"Bloody hell." Spike was peeved at the interruption.

"Never mind." Spike got out of the way as Xander slid out of the chair as well. Landing on his knees, he quickly pushed his jeans down his thighs before sitting back on his heels. He reached up to help Spike with his jeans, but Spike was already bent over, untying his boots.

He stepped out of them and reached for the waistband of his open jeans. Xander's husky voice stopped him cold.

"Spike."

"Yeah?" He looked up at Xander, and his first thought was that it was a good thing that he didn't have to breathe.

Xander was kneeling, sitting back on his heels, bare-chested, the dark fabric of his jeans framing his jutting erection. His hands were resting easily on his thighs, his expression calm, but the heat in his eyes as he looked at Spike burned an almost palpable trail on Spike's skin.

"Turn around, face the other way."

Smiling to himself, Spike did. Anticipation thrummed through him. He wasn't much for games a la Angelus, which were all about power and dominance, but this wasn't about that. This was about giving; he was giving Xander control. The question was, would Xander take it?

"Back up." Spike shuffled backwards until his hands were covered by Xander's. "Good, stop there. Push your pants down. Slow."

Spike slid his fingers under his waistband, feeling the contours of his ass under his hands. He pushed them down until his arms were fully extended, then he paused. As ordered, he slowly bent over, sliding his jeans down as he went, until his hands were bunched in the legs of his jeans, and his fingertips were touching his ankles. As he went to step out, Xander spoke again.

"Don't."

Spike didn't. He waited.

"You...it's probably girly of me to say this, but you are so...gorgeous. Sexy. Do you know what having you like this does to me?"

Spike knew. He could smell the heavy scent of arousal, feel the waves of heat coming from the man behind him.

"I want..." Xander paused. Trying to decide what he wanted, Spike wondered, or how--or whether--to ask for it?

Spike upped the ante. Xander would take the lead, but would he take control? Was this what he wanted, that he didn't know how to ask for? "Whatever you want, it's yours." Spike's voice was low, intense. "But you have to take it."

"Take it? I can do that." Xander's voice was raspy with lust and possessiveness, and the faint scent that Spike had tentatively identified as fear? anxiety? nervousness? faded away.

Good. He had guessed right.

Xander rubbed his hands up Spike's calves and back down, then back up the back of his thighs until his hands were cupped around Spike's ass. He squeezed lightly, then harder. Spike groaned and pushed back into it. Xander let go.

"Show me yourself."

What? Oh. His feet, still trapped in his pants, were as far apart as they could get. Spike dragged his hands up his legs, digging his nails in and enjoying the sting. When he got to his ass, he slid his fingers around the sharp curves in the center and spread himself open, exposing his hole. The scent of arousal thickened in the air as the sound of Xander's breathing deepened.

Again Spike waited, riding the tension coiling in his gut. He'd suspected Xander had the potential for this; it was always the quiet ones.

Xander's hands brushed lightly up his legs and settled on his hips. Spike jerked as hot breath gusted on his balls.

"I have to take it, hmm?"

Heat streaked between his fingers, then cool as Xander blew on the spot he'd licked. He kissed the back of Spike's balls, then licked around the fingers of Spike's other hand, working his way around but never over the place Spike was desperately hoping he'd get to soon.

"Xander, come on!" ground out Spike desperately.

"Do you want it, Spike?" asked Xander.

"Yes!" Spike was nearly shouting.

"You can have it, but you have to ask for it." The teasing in Xander's voice was nearly the undoing of Spike's control.

"Fuck me, then." Ragged, nearly pleading.

"No. Not yet, anyway." Xander's voice was dark, full of promise.

Spike groaned harshly, the sound cut off as Xander tongued his hole.

"Like that?"

"Bleedin' hell, pet, you're killing me!"

"I can't kill you; you're already dead." The words were muffled by the fact that Xander had his face buried between Spike's thighs. "You'll just have to live with it."

Xander went back to work. His hot tongue flickered and probed, then backed out again to lay searing kisses and playful licks on Spike's backside.

Spike was in a heaven of torment. Or was that hell? He could no longer think straight; it felt like most of his borrowed blood was throbbing in his cock, which had been leaking steadily since Xander had asked him to show himself.

Xander was concentrating on opening him now, probing deeply. He sucked briefly at the muscular ring, then probed, then sucked and probed again, and again. That hot tongue was slowly melting Spike's insides.

"I'm close, pet." Spike began rocking back into Xander's thrusting tongue, chanting, "Now, pet, now."

Xander sucked hard, rhythmically, flicking his tongue against Spike's hole until Spike was shaking and groaning with the intensity of his orgasm. He could feel the come drip down his chest and thighs. The only thing holding him up was his will, and Xander's hands, which were branding his hips.

"Xander..."

"Okay?" asked Xander.

"Yeah."

They rested for a few minutes, Xander nuzzling Spike's hands.

"When you're ready, take off your pants."

Spike straightened up and stepped out of his jeans, kicking them across the small room.

"Come down here."

Still facing away, Spike straddled Xander's legs and sank gracefully down to kneel in Xander's lap. Xander's unfulfilled erection was hot between Spike's cheeks, and he felt himself begin to harden again as Xander's hands slid around his hips to the inside of his thighs.

Xander cradled Spike's balls, squeezing lightly. Trailing almost ticklish fingertips up Spike's torso, he pinched Spike's nipples, rolling them between finger and thumb until they were tight, hard nubs.

Suddenly, he hugged Spike hard. "God, Spike. I love you so much." The fervent words were spoken into the crook of Spike's neck.

"So show me."

"I'm going to."

Xander turned slightly and groped under the cushion of the chair. They had started keeping tubes of lube nearly everywhere, since location didn't seem to have any bearing on their activities. There was even lube in the kitchen area-in two different drawers.

"I'm going to fuck you so deep. You'll always be able to feel me." Xander slicked his fingers down Spike's hard-again cock, over his balls and back to his hole, where he drew slippery circles until Spike was quivering.

"You are trying to kill me, aren't you, pet?"

Xander's chuckle was throaty.

"Ready?" Spike never got a chance to answer. "Lift up."

Strong workman's hands lifted him. One hand left him and moments later blunt heat nudged at his opening. The missing hand came back and steadied him.

"Let me in, Spike."

Spike took a deep breath and let it out slowly, hoping old human reflexes would help him relax. It had been a long time since he had done this, and he and Xander hadn't played like this, not even fingers.

"Let me in," Xander said again.

Spike sank down. There was a moment of tension, when it felt like the world itself was holding its breath as he hung there, poised between frustration and completion.

Slowly he opened to Xander's insistent heat, the burn of penetration flaming up his spine. Before long, he was completely impaled. He was shocked to realize that the panting was coming from him, although Xander's breath was hot on his neck.

"God, Spike. I'm really inside you." The wonder in Xander's voice was amazing to Spike.

"You feel so good."

"Do I? So do you. I don't think this is going to last very long, despite what I said about taking all night."

They rocked together, Xander rising to meet Spike, Spike lowering to meet Xander. Hands wandered, stroking, murmurs of love and lust were exchanged.

"Now, Spike." Xander wrapped one arm around Spike's waist and held him in place as he powered into him. Spike jerked and morphed into gameface as Xander bit into the base of his neck. Hard; Spike could smell his own blood. Before he could think about that though, Xander was forcing his hand into Spike's mouth, cutting the ball of his thumb against Spike's fangs. The rich coppery blood filled Spike's mouth and he swallowed it down, feeling Xander sucking at the wound in his neck, swallowing his blood.

"Now!" Xander lifted into Spike, once, twice, again, and then Spike was lost in sensation as orgasm hit him again. He was vaguely aware of Xander releasing his neck and gasping in his ear.

Long moments later he came back to himself. He was still kneeling astride Xander, who was leaning against the front of the chair. Xander was still inside him, but softening quickly. The wound on his neck had already healed, and when Spike looked at the base of Xander's thumb, it had already stopped bleeding.

"Pet...why did you do that?"

"Because I knew you wanted to, but couldn't. If I caused the pain, it wouldn't set your chip off."

"Did it hurt?" Spike was concerned.

"It feels funny now. Achy somehow. But no, it didn't hurt. It felt pretty damned amazing, actually."

"Good. But that wasn't what I meant. I meant why-"

Xander interrupted. "Why did I bite you?" Spike nodded. "Because I wanted to. I wanted you, that part of you." Xander's voice took a teasing tone. "You said I could have anything I wanted, but I had to take it."

"So I did. Need to be careful with that though. Too much isn't good for you."

"I know. But tonight, it was worth it."

"You drank my blood, and I drank yours. We're bound now, you and I."

"I know. And I scarred you. It's healed, but you can see a scar."

"Really?" Spike shifted around to face Xander. "There's a scar there?"

"Um, yeah. Sorry." Xander looked contrite.

"Don't be, pet. That's a good thing, actually. It means that my demon recognizes you as my mate."

"Mate, huh? Did we just get married?" Xander didn't sound like he minded that idea at all.

"Nope. Engaged, maybe. Until I can Claim you, proper-like, it's not official, as it were."

"Mmm. I love you."

Xander pulled Spike against him and they rested there. In a mirror of their first encounter, it was Spike's purring that jolted Xander awake.

"Come on, Fang Boy. There's a bed here, let's use it."

Spike stood and stretched, laughing when Xander blew a raspberry in his belly button. He stretched out a hand and hauled Xander to his feet.

"I do love you. You know that, right?" He pulled Xander close and watched his face closely. It was important to him that Xander know that this was more than trade for help with the chip, more than just a fuck.

This was real.

* * * * *

Three days later, Xander's lunchtime nap in the shade on the far side of the observatory on campus was interrupted by a noise that sounded like someone making a raspberry. When the noise was repeated, he tipped his hat back and looked around. A flash of blue caught his attention, and he got up to investigate. Wondering if will o' the wisps were Slayer-worthy, he followed brief glimpses to an abandoned folly at the edge of the campus. Stepping over the rubble of a collapsed column, he peered into the shady gloom.

"Hello?" He paused. "Great, Harris, now you're talking to a will o' the wisp."

An amused-sounding raspberry made him start and look around.

"No, AlexanderZpike, I'm not a wisp."

He raised his eyebrows at the name? title? and waited for Zib to continue.

"You remember me?"

"Yeah. The blue guy that grabbed my crotch at the bar. Zib, right?" The iridescent blue of Zib's head and neck nearly glowed in the shadows.

"Zpike was looking for my boss, DaV'aarr. DaV'aarr, he be delayed, but he be back in three more days. You tell Zpike, be ready then, yes?"

"Okay, I'll tell him. Anything else?"

"Yes. DaV'aarr, he owes great blood debt. He knows, Zpike is whole, Zpike leave the Hellmouth. Needs wheels to go. DaV'aarr zay, tell Zpike to choose wheels, they be ready when he is. Zpike must choose by tomorrow this time. Tell him?"

"Yeah, sure. Wait..." Xander trailed off, thinking. "Tell you what. Can you meet me here tomorrow, this time? I'll ask Spike what he wants, then I can tell you, since he doesn't do the whole daylight thing. Or wait, you don't either, right? Where can I find you? I'll stop on my way to work in the morning."

"Is okay. I like zunshine, but I like plants better, ztay in them when I can. I come here tomorrow, you tell. You come, Zpike knows where, in three days, and DaV'aarr help. Yes?"

"I can do that. I'll see you tomorrow, and I guess we'll see you in three days."

"Right. Tomorrow then." Zib hopped nimbly over the back wall of the folly and disappeared into the undergrowth. Xander shook his head and headed back to work. Peacock demons and cars in payment for blood debts... Knowing Spike was definitely an adventure.

* * * * *

"Hey, I ran into a friend of yours today." At Spike's questioning grunt, he added, "And I'm pleased to say that he didn't grab my balls."

"Zib?" Spike's head came up fast, and he stared at Xander, curiosity warring with impatience for predominance. "What'd he want?"

"He said DaV'aarr's going to be late getting here, and that we should meet him in three days time--I'm assuming he means nights--he said you'd know where to meet. DaV'aarr'll be back by then and Operation Zap-The-Chip will officially be a go. He'll come see me at work tomorrow like he did today to make sure that's okay." He didn't mention the car; he wanted it to be a surprise.

"Three days? Shit. Well, it can't be helped, I guess."

"Nope. I rented us some movies."

"Got lots of blood and guts?"

"No."

"Sex? Tits and ass?" At Xander's raised eyebrow, he defended himself. "What? They're nice to look at."

"Yes, they are, and yes, there's T&A in some of them."

"Only some? What's the point, then?"

"Oh, I think you'll like them. The video place was having a theme special." At Spike's raised eyebrow he continued. "You know, if you rent two movies with the same theme, you get the third movie free. Tonight's theme was cars and since I used to work there, Matt gave me one free for each rental. I've got Herbie the Love Bug, Moonraker, Cannonball Run, Harold & Maude, Gone In 60 Seconds, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." The last he had gotten mostly to see the look that was now on Spike's face; suspicion, surprise, disbelief, and over all the unwillingness to say anything that might get his chances for nooky shot down in flames.

Xander made popcorn and they settled in to watch the first movie, Moonraker. Then they watched Gone in 60 Seconds, and after they finished the popcorn they put in Cannonball Run.

"Gonna make more popcorn, luv?"

"What, that wasn't enough?"

He made another bowl of popcorn before Harold & Maude, having been bribed into it by an offer of toe-sucking. By the time Xander had cleaned up the popcorn and unfolded the couch after the movie, Spike had enough breath back to actually talk, not just laugh insanely.

"Oh, God...with the cleaver...snort...that was just too..."

Well, almost.

"And the look on his mum's face when she saw Maude's picture...and that car...Talk about a classic set o' wheels."

Ah ha. Here was his opening.

"If you could have any car you wanted, what would you want?"

"Any car?"

"Any car."

"Why do you want to know?"

Oops. Spike was getting suspicious. Time to turn on the Xander charm.

"It's called 'male bonding', Spike, it's something human guys do to kill time. You might not be exactly human anymore, but last time I checked," he paused for a quick grope, "you were definitely a guy. And you've been around since before cars were. So c'mon, tell me, if you could have any car in the world, from real life or a movie or whatever, what would it be?"

Spike turned the question back on Xander. "What would you want?"

"I always thought the 'Vette in the beginning of Heavy Metal would be cool. Not to mention easy to park. Or what about the submarine car in Moonraker? Ooh, I know! The Impala from American Graffiti. Now that was a sweet ride. I wouldn't want the Chevy; with my luck, it'd turn out to be Christine's sister."

"Probably would, pet, what with you bein' a demon magnet an' all."

The conversation wandered from Model A's and Duesenbergs to Caspitas and Lamborghinis. Muscle cars like GTO's and Mustangs, and the difference between the old 'Vettes and the new ones that didn't look like 'Vettes. Sleepers like the Nissan Skyline that looked like a businessman's sedan but could blow your doors off. Spike told an improbable story about making it with Drucilla in the back of an Aston Martin that had belonged to an unfortunate snack; Xander countered with an equally improbable story about an event during his days as a pizza delivery driver.

An hour of carefully directed male bonding later, Xander moved in for the kill.

"So which car would you want?"

A sheepish look was his only reply.

"C'mon, Fang Boy, fess up."

Spike mumbled.

"I've licked your ass, Spike, you don't have any deep dark secrets anymore. Give."

"Harold's hearse, all right? Midnight blue pearl finish, cream leather interior. The twelve cylinder engine, not the six." Spike's voice was sulky.

Xander was genuinely surprised. He'd figured Spike for a muscle car, something older, with a giant air scoop and lots of testosterone under the hood.

"Really? Why?"

"I like it. Fast, classy, different. Kinda like me." Spike recovered his equilibrium a bit and went on. "And it's a hearse, innit? Could put a coffin in the back for me to nap in, instead of bein' crunched in the boot."

Xander worked hard to hide his elation. Now he knew what to tell Zib.

"That'd be cool. Hey, you about ready for bed? Some of us have to work for a living tomorrow and it's late enough already."

With a fair amount of companionable bickering, they got ready for bed. Content just to be, they lay wrapped around each other as they faded slowly into sleep.

* * * * *

Xander got up early the next morning, showered, didn't bother to shave, downed a quick cup of coffee, smooched Spike, and headed off to work before Spike could wake up enough to drag him back into bed.

He stopped by the video store to drop off the movies, knowing that Matt would still be there, doing the inventory. Matt had to show off the latest equipment, which gave Xander an idea.

"You can do a screen capture and print it out?" he asked.

"Yep. Wanna see?"

"Yeah. Um, actually, could you get me a couple pictures of Harold's car?" He waved the Harold & Maude tape in the direction of the tape player.

Matt looked at him strangely, but did as asked. Ten minutes later, Xander was headed to the campus, a stack to 8 x 10's on the seat beside him. Five shots; forward three-quarter, rear three-quarter, front-on, back-on, and side-on. He didn't know if it was overkill or not; what did demons know about movie cars? He figured better safe than sorry.

As soon as his lunch break rolled around, Xander headed back to the old folly. Zib was waiting for him.

"Oh, hey. I didn't think I was late. Have you been waiting long?"

"No. I came early. I like plants here. Old, wild. Not zee many like this anymore. You know car Zpike wants?"

"Yep, and I brought pictures." Xander handed them over.

"Ooh, nice. Zpike has good taste. This is Jaguar E-type, yes?"

"Yeah, a '69. This one is probably a modified convertible. He wants the 12-cylinder engine, midnight blue pearl finish paint, cream leather interior. A casket in the back, something dark, with a crimson lining. Can you do all that? I have a few ideas for other cars he'd like if you can't."

"We can do." Zib's expression, as far as Xander could tell, was determined. "Jaguar not put 12-zylinder in until '71, but we can put. Is easy." He turned the pictures over and produced a very ordinary Bic pen from...somewhere...to write with. Xander watched with interest as Zib wrote; beautiful spiraling shapes, circles and French curves. For the first time, he understood Giles' fascination with demon languages.

Xander couldn't stand it anymore; his natural curiosity got the best of him. "What are you writing?"

"Color, engine, casket. Make recommendations for adjustments." Zib answered.

"Um, what kind of 'adjustments'?" In Xander's experience, that sort of thing very rarely turned out well on the Hellmouth.

"No fear, AlexanderZpike. Only things that will help, not harm. Only things demon can do, for other demon." He paused, seeming to search for words.

"What?"

"You and Zpike are...intimate?"

"Um, yeah. You knew that, at the bar the other night."

"Not zex, blood. Have you shared blood? Have you tasted his?" Zib clarified.

"Oh, that. Yeah. Um, yeah. Why?"

"We need to bind car magic to you and Zpike. Easiest way is blood. You have drunk of him; he is in you. Your blood is both."

"Let me guess: you're saying that you want some of my blood?" He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, sighing resignedly, he fished in his pocket for his penknife and handkerchief.

"You will bleed? You underztand magic?" Zib asked in surprise.

"I live on the Hellmouth. I work with the Slayer. My best friend is a witch. I understand."

Xander spit on his handkerchief and wiped off the grime on a spot on the ball of his thumb. Spike's fangs had left faint scars there already, so hopefully any scar from this would blend in. He turned to Zib. "Ready?"

"Three drops only." Zib held out the picture he'd been writing on and pointed to an unwritten-on corner.

Xander braced himself and made a quick, short slice across his thumb. Blood welled up and he squeezed, dripping twice on the paper. He had to work for the third drop, and ended up blotting the already-healing cut on the paper to make it.

"Thank you, AlexanderZpike. I will take this immediately to DaV'aarr." Zib said formally as he carefully folded the pictures and put them...away. Xander decided there were some things about demon anatomy he just didn't need to know.

"You're welcome. See you Friday?" Xander checked his watch.

"Yes, Friday night. Zhould I tell DaV'aarr watch for Zlayer?"

Xander hadn't thought of that. "No. Well, maybe. Um...yes, probably, to be on the safe side. She doesn't know about Spike and me, and she sure doesn't know about Operation Zap-the-Chip. She won't be pleased if she finds out."

On that note, they parted company.

* * * * *

Friday didn't come soon enough for either of them. The rest of the week they were by turns irritable and snappish, apologetic and quiet, tender and loving.

There were so many things that could go wrong. Unable to make himself stop, Spike whiled away the hours of Xander's workday listing the possibilities.

Buffy and the gang would find out and stop them, or try to. That one was a real possibility, but not much of a problem, since he knew what to do now, and could do it anywhere. But if she, or they, demanded that the whelp choose between him and them, what then? His short history with Xander was mostly bad; their long history with Xander was mostly good.

It would work, but since the chip was so deep in his brain, and wired to so much of it, he'd be left a vegetable, if that were even possible. Spike liked his unlife, and even though he didn't mind risking it, he didn't want to live trapped within himself again. He had hated the wheelchair with a passion. He'd rather be dust.

It would work, and Xander would leave. This one was the hardest to face, that Xander might only feel safe with him when he was leashed by the chip. True, it had been the whelp's idea, but Spike knew well enough that the gulf between having a plan and the reality of that plan coming to fruition could be enormous. Was there enough love to overcome fear?

On the great balance scales of life, which weighed more; having Xander or losing the chip? It wasn't a question he liked asking, and he definitely didn't want to have to answer it.

Snarling at his too-human introspection, Spike continued to pace in the small area. He hated having time to think; he did too much of it.

Finally, finally it was Friday and Xander was home.

"Hey, Spike, how was your day?" Xander asked as he came in the door.

Spike just shrugged.

"Yeah. Mine was kinda like that, too. Hungry?"

Being queasy was one sensation he vividly remembered from being human. Was he hungry? Not hardly. He was too queasy to be hungry.

"No. Not really," he finally managed.

"Me either. Let's go to bed." Without waiting for an answer, Xander unfolded the couch.

They undressed in silence and slid into the rumpled bed. They clung together, just holding each other, keeping the darkness at bay.

Xander's heart pounded wildly against Spike's chest, and he smelled of desperation and fear.

"Spike, I'm scared."

"I am too." Spike surprised himself with the admission.

Xander drew back in shock. "You? Of what?"

Now that dam had been breached, Spike couldn't seem to stop the flow of words. "Of this not working. Of looking at you and seeing fear in your eyes. Of you choosing something other than me. Of losing you over this."

Xander stopped the flow with his own words. "Never. Never, Spike, you will never lose me." Xander pulled Spike closer and hung on tight.

"Pet...Xander, I could never leave you. I've loved three times in my life; losing you would destroy me. What do you Americans say, three strikes and you're out?" Spike tried to lighten the tone.

"We also say, third time's the charm. Spike, this will work. It has to." He pulled Spike into a deep, slow kiss.

Their loving was slow and intense. They stroked one another to a fever pitch, each urging the other to greater heights. Spike reveled in the feeling of warm bare skin against his, inhaled the scents that would always mean 'Xander' to him. He combed through Xander's hair, letting the sweaty curls cling to his fingers. Xander in his turn was almost fierce, digging his nails into Spike's shoulder, biting Spike's nipples, his tongue, anywhere he could reach. Spike purred deep in his chest and let Xander push him over onto his back.

They ground against one another, murmuring words of love and reassurance, releasing their fear in the urgency of lust. In the stillness after, Spike stared at Xander, trying to memorize the planes of his face, drowsy with contentment, the feel of sweaty, slightly clammy skin sticking to him. The smell of sunshine and sweat, dirt and come; the sound of Xander's heartbeat slowing its frantic pounding. Everything. If this were the last time... Ruthlessly he cut off that thought. Xander was right; this would work, because it had to. No other alternative was acceptable.

Sated, calmer, they held one another until Xander's watch beeped. Xander pulled Spike into another deep slow kiss. "I love you," he said when he released Spike. "Let's go."

They each took a quick shower and dressed, again mostly in silence. All the important things had been said.

They took Xander's car to the junkyard, and parked behind the leaning fence. As they walked to the office, Spike saw several demons push the gate to and lock it, with both a key and a flare of magic. Xander saw him watching and answered his unspoken question.

"Zib asked me about Buffy. I figured better safe than sorry. The less she finds out, and the later she finds it out, the better for all of us. I know you said you wouldn't kill her, but she's never said the same about you, and she's not going to be real happy with me, either."

Spike nodded as he pushed the office door open. He greeted the man inside briefly, then turned to Xander.

"Pet, this is DaV'aarr." He turned to DaV'aarr. "DaV'aarr, this is my mate, Xander."

"Mate, eh?" He eyed Xander up and down. "Then this thing needs doing."

The man facing them was a big, bluff, hearty guy, tall and heavy. His furry belly hung over his low-slung jeans, out from under the bottom of his dirty white t-shirt. The red flannel shirt he wore over it had the sleeves rolled up, exposing muscular, hairy forearms. His dark hair was combed back in a classic ducktail with thick sideburns framing heavy jowls. All in all, he looked much like the redneck Elvis impersonator Spike had described-except for his eyes, which were an odd green color and had slitted pupils like a snake.

DaV'aarr led them out into the junkyard, through a twisted maze of towers of rusting cars. Some of the towers were leaning more than Spike was happy with, and he spared a thought to wonder how they stayed balanced.

They got to a large clearing in the junk. Spike guessed it was the regular work area which had been cleared for the occasion. There was a blue plastic tarp, relatively clean, laid out in the center of the area. The crane was sitting in the shadows, but the boom with the dangling magnet was almost spotlighted by work lights.

"Ok, then. This is what we're gonna do here." DaV'aarr interrupted Spike's musings. "You, Spike, are goin' to stand over there," DaV'aarr waved a beefy arm in the general direction of the tarp, "and I'm goin' to lower the magnet until it's within six inches of your head. You want to be standing or laying down for this one?"

"Um, laying down," Xander answered.

Spike shot him a nasty look. He was the Big Bad, and he met life standing on his own two feet, thank you.

Xander didn't back down. "Spike, what happens when your chip goes off hard? You fall down. We don't know what this is going to do to you or your chip. If you start down, you can't fall down."

"Listen to your mate, Spikester, he's makin' sense," drawled DaV'aarr.

Grimacing at the nickname, Spike gave in. It did make sense.

"After we know where we need the magnet, I'll program the controls. Zib here is gonna cast a circle around you. We don't want nothin' goin' wrong. You lay down, I drop the magnet- No, not drop like that. Sheesh, humans with no sense of humor. I lower the magnet--is that better?--and turn it on. Now, it's an infinitely-variable model, so we'll start low and keep turning it up until somethin' happens. When somethin' happens, we'll stop and see what it is and whether we should keep goin' or not."

He turned to Xander. "That's where you come in, human. You know the Spikester here the best, so you stay with him and signal when you think somethin' has happened. You don't have a pacemaker or nothin', do you?" At Xander's negative head shake, he continued. "Good. Then the magnet won't do nothin' to you. You might be able to feel the hum, but that should be it."

Spike was glad that Xander would be with him. He told himself that it was because he didn't want Xander worrying, but he knew, deep inside, that he was still scared. He wasn't so worried about Xander leaving him post-chip; their tryst earlier in the evening had settled a lot of those questions. But if this was going to be his last moment on earth, he wanted Xander with him. He knew he was being as gloomy as his poofy Sire, but he figured he was entitled to it this once.

"This is the signal for 'boom up'," DaV'aarr demonstrated, "and as soon as either of you do that, I'll shut off the magnet and move it out of the way. Any questions so far?"

Spike looked at Xander, who shrugged.

"No. Let's just get going." Spike knew he was being rude, but he just wanted to get this over with, one way or another.

"Right. Places, everybody!" DaV'aarr shouted.

Spike grabbed Xander. "You sure you want to do this?"

"Me? It's not happening to me. It's all you, Fang Boy. It's your decision. But since you asked, yes, I still want to do this." Xander said confidently. "You deserve to be you again."

Spike stared deep into brown eyes and saw nothing but love and confidence. Suddenly all of his poofy brooding seemed uncalled for.

"What are you waiting for then?" He grinned at Xander and kissed him hard before loping over to the tarp. He took off his duster and handed it to a demon standing beside Zib before laying down. Xander followed more slowly and sat beside the tarp.

"Ready, Zpike?" asked Zib.

"We're ready," replied Xander.

Zib signaled DaV'aarr and the crane roared to life. The magnet lowered toward Spike. Zib watched carefully; when it was within three feet he made smaller motions with his hands and the magnet slowed its descent, until it was about six inches above the end of Spike's nose. A sharp signal from Zib and the magnet paused, then rose until it was ten feet or so in the air.

Zib backed away and began to chant in the same sibilant buzz he'd spoken in the bar. He poured a glittering stream of salt in a nearly perfect circle around them. Spike could feel the magic take hold, the something in the back of his mind that he had always equated with mojo.

"Turn over, Spike. The chip's in the back of your head, and we want this to work the first time," suggested Xander.

Spike rolled over. He heard the change in the sound of the crane that meant the magnet was lowering, but he couldn't see it. He could feel it as it got closer though, a massive presence hanging over him.

There was a pause; he nodded to Xander, who nodded to Zib. Almost immediately his whole body was humming. His skin itched from the inside. Pain was growing in his head, and there was a spot of heat blossoming under his shoulder blade.

Xander nodded again and the hum intensified, as did the itching, pain and heat.

"Crank it," he ground out.

Xander looked at him, his expression a question.

"It's working. Crank it," he repeated.

Xander repeated it to Zib. The humming intensified, doubling and redoubling until Spike was writhing with itch and pain. A sudden sharp stab in his head made him gasp and cover his head with his hands. That seemed to be what Xander was waiting for; he signaled frantically to Zib and the hum shut off abruptly as the magnet swung away.

As the pain and itch subsided, Spike realized that Xander was beating on his back. Before he could ask why, there was a hollow 'fwoosh' and cold, covering his back. When fog began to billow around him, Spike realized they'd used a fire extinguisher on him. Dimly, he wondered why. Had he been on fire?

"Spike? You in there?" came Xander's tentative question. He hesitated, then reached out and took Spike's hand in his.

"Yeah," he grunted. "Give me a minute. Feel like I've been turned inside out."

"You were on fire, too. Dunno why."

"I do." DaV'aarr came striding toward them, stopping only when he got to the salt barrier. "It's why I had the fire extinguisher ready-I thought somethin' like this might happen."

"Well? What was it?" Spike was glad Xander had asked; he didn't think he had the energy.

"The chip's power source. I did some research after Zib told me what you wanted, Spike. I found out there had to be a power source attached to your chip. Take your shirt off and lemme see."

Zib hastily dismissed the circle and scuffed the salt. Spike felt the power fade with every scuff until it was gone, along with the physical remnants of the circle. DaV'aarr crouched over him and used a pair of emergency shears to cut away the remains of Spike's blackened t-shirt.

"Yeah, see, right here under this bone." DaV'aarr gingerly touched Spike's shoulder blade. "I had to research human anatomy, too, and there's space here for a small power source. When that fried, you caught fire. That's good though-it doesn't matter whether we got the chip or not; with no power source, it's useless." DaV'aarr finished.

Spike was pretty sure they'd gotten the chip; that had to be what that last stabbing pain was. They waited a few more minutes, until Spike could stagger to his feet. Xander collected Spike's duster from the demon, and they left it and Zib to clean up.

Back in the office, Spike felt his strength returning like the incoming tide. He felt refreshed, revitalized.

Xander asked the question they all wanted the answer to.

"Well? Did it work?"

Spike knew there was only one way to find out. Without warning he lashed out at Xander, the only human in the room. Spike caught him square on the cheek with an open-handed slap. Hard enough to hurt, not hard enough to damage, but enough to test the chip.

Xander, to his credit, didn't duck. He rocked on his feet, but as soon as he'd recovered his balance he threw his arms around the still-upright Spike and danced him around the room.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" he shouted. "It worked! It really worked! You're you again!"

* * * * *

Xander was pretty sure that Spike's grin was almost as wide as his, and his felt like it was ear to ear. He almost felt drunk, giddy with relief. It had worked.

Xander saw Spike vamp out and his eyebrows went up, but when Spike shook his head, Xander backed up, leaving Spike facing DaV'aarr. DaV'aarr noticed the byplay, and then noticed Spike. He turned to face Spike fully, then he too morphed into his true form.

Xander had known that DaV'aarr was a demon, but he'd never seen his true form before. DaV'aarr was large and froggish, with mottled gray skin and a bright green streak around each eye. His eyes were the only thing that stayed the same.

"I, DaV'aarr, ask; do you, William the Bloody, consider the blood debt owed you to be paid?" asked DaV'aarr.

"I, William the Bloody, do consider the blood debt owed me to be satisfied," responded Spike formally.

"You have my gratitude, my brother."

"As it was..."

"So it is again." DaV'aarr's natural voice was rougher than his human voice.

Together they said, "It is done."

Spike stayed in game face for a few more seconds, but DaV'aarr relaxed back into his human guise as soon as the words were said.

"Good, good, now that the formality's out of the way, I gotta say that's crap. My worthless spawn was going to die, but for your intervention." DaV'aarr spoke with fond exasperation, and Xander wondered just how often DaV'aarr's spawn got into trouble. Giles had the exact same tone when he or Willow or Buffy had done something stupid, again. "So, I had Zib there talk to your mate here, and we came up with somethin' else."

"DaV'aarr, that wasn't-"

"Yes, it was," DaV'aarr said with finality.

Xander was having a hard time not bouncing. He knew what was coming up, even if he hadn't actually seen it yet.

"As I was saying, Zib and your mate cooked up a little something, and I gotta say, I had a helluva lotta fun puttin' it together. Come 'ere and I'll show you."

They left the office and moved down a short hallway. They stopped at a door at the far end.

"Close your eyes, Spike."

Spike rolled his eyes, but closed them. Xander put his hands over them, making sure they stayed closed. Xander was nervous; would Spike like it?

The door creaked open, then Xander urged him forward, into a large open garage. He gasped when he saw the waiting car.

"Okay, you can open your eyes now." He moved his hands away.

"How in bloody blazes did you arrange this?" Spike stared in amazement, alternating between Xander and the car he was standing in front of. "Those movies. You tricked me, you, you-" Spike spluttered to a halt.

Xander laughed, pleased with himself. "Yes, I did, Fang Boy, how else was I going to find out? And face it-that decrepit DeSoto of yours was never going to make it out of Sunnyhell, let alone anywhere else."

Spike hugged Xander hard, then released him to look at the car. It was a '69 Jaguar E-Type hearse, just like Harold's. It had a pearly, midnight blue finish, even the hearse part. The chrome was all brushed, with a matte finish, and the windows, with the exception of those in the front, were blackout dark. Through the front window they could see the creamy pale leather upholstery.

The hatchback was standing open to reveal a starkly simple ebony and silver casket lined with deep garnet velvet. Inside the propped-open lid they could see stereo speakers and an intercom unit. Tucked along side the casket was a medium-sized plug-in cooler.

"Cool!" Xander enthused. "You've thought of everything!"

DaV'aarr looked pleased, and spoke with quiet pride. "We made a few modifications. For starters, you'll never lose your keys-they're charmed." Metal flashed as he tossed something to Spike. It was a key, attached to a half-size railroad spike. Xander's own key was attached to a largish ivory fang and Xander knew without asking that the fang had belonged to a hyena. "You'll need to get gas, but you won't have to fill 'er up so often; 'er tank isn't so big, but it'll last ya three-four times as long as usual. A regular mechanic can work on 'er, but if the part doesn't need fixin', it won't come loose. You should bring 'er back here when you can for tune-ups. And she isn't completely magic-proof, but as long as yer inside 'er and have the doors closed, any spell won't have much effect. She can't be stolen, either."

Xander was fascinated. Magic, to him, was big, and for emergencies only. This kind of practical magic was different than what he was used to.

Spike stood stroking the hood of the car, so Xander was left to learn the ins and outs. He and DaV'aarr went over it and at one point, under it. They had just come out from under the car when Spike pinned Xander with a look.

"Shall we take it for a drive, pet?"

"Sure." Xander replied, but he was distracted again by DaV'aarr, who had yet another cool thing to point out.

"Luv, I can bite you now, you know."

"Uh huh." He turned back to DaV'aarr. "And what about-" he whipped around to face Spike again. "You can bite me? Ooh! Um, yeah, uh, right, sure. Thanks, DaV'aarr, for doing this, this is really great, but we have to be going now, we'll be in touch, is the gate unlocked?" He scrambled around the front of the car and was in and fastening his seatbelt while Spike and DaV'aarr goggled at him.

Finally DaV'aarr laughed. "Go on, Spikester, go home. A man has to take care of his mate, eh?" He winked at Spike as Spike moved around the car and got in. "Keep in touch, Spike. I don't like to lose track of friends."

The car started with a quiet purr, and Xander waited impatiently for the doors to rise and let them out. By the time they got to the gate, it was standing open and they waved at Zib as they pulled through it.

They took a quick turn through Sunnydale, winding it out on the back roads between cemeteries. The car drove like a dream, handled smoothly and was never louder that that same quiet roar it had started with.

Xander was anxious to get home and get to the biting part of the evening, but he could tell Spike had something on his mind, so he let him drive in peace and didn't ask any of the questions banging around in his head, demanding to be let out. Finally they pulled up and parked in front of Xander's and sat for a moment, the ticking of the cooling engine the only noise.

Just as Xander reached for the door handle, Spike spoke. "Xander- luv, we have to talk."

* * * * *

Spike took in the defensive set of Xander' shoulders as he sat tensely on the couch and reminded himself that he was not a coward, he could do this. He could tell Xander everything and most probably drive him away. It had been fun while it lasted, right? The afternoon's reassurances of love and commitment seemed very far away.

He thought longingly of the Jack Daniels in the kitchen area but decided against it. Straightening his own shoulders, he sat down beside Xander and took his hand, surprised to find the usually-warm mortal's hand was colder than his own.

"Xan?" He rubbed the cold hand gently between his own. "What's wrong?"

"You want to talk. Let me save you the trouble; I've heard it before. It was fun. I'm a great guy, and not too bad in bed. You appreciate the help. But, and here's the kicker, it just wouldn't work out, so you'll be going now. Don't worry, I'll have a nice life." Xander spoke in a flat, bitter monotone. He looked down at their clasped hands and tried to pull away, but Spike didn't let go.

"Pet, will you listen a minute?" He folded Xander's still-cold hand between both of his.

"Yes, I want to talk to you. It is fun, and you are a great bloke, and good bit better than 'not too bad' in the sack, too. I do appreciate the help; I never would have thought of it, never could have done it without your help. And it may not work out. You may decide you don't want it to after you hear what I have to say."

Xander was watching him now, from under eyelashes spiky with unshed wetness. Spike shifted to his game face, took a deep breath and continued.

"I want you to look at me. This is what I am. A demon, luv. Soulless. Evil. From hell and eventually going back to hell. I've killed more people than you've ever known and enjoyed their pain. I'll kill again; it's in my nature to do so."

Xander looked at him squarely for a moment, then opened his mouth to say something. Spike shook his head and Xander subsided.

"This is what I am, this is what I will always be. But what I want, for as long as I can have it, is you. I love you like no one else, not even Dru; my dark princess was never the equal that you are. I want to Claim you properly, if you'll let me. I want forever."

Spike held Xander's gaze as he stared at Spike for long, silent minutes. If he had breath he would have held it. He was, however, unprepared for Xander's question.

"Are you asking me to marry you?"

"I- yes. I am."

"Is it in your nature to love me?"

"Yes."

"You said forever. Does that mean you want to turn me?"

Spike was hesitant to admit to it, but knew that Xander wanted, and deserved, absolute honesty. "Yes, someday. Not tonight, not soon. But if we can have forever, I want it."

"Yes." Xander's eyes were crinkled up with his smile.

"Yes?" That couldn't be right. He didn't mean yes like that, he meant yes, he understood what Spike wanted, or yes, he was listening, or-

"Yes. Yes, Spike, yes, I'll marry you, yes, I'll let you Claim me, whatever it is you want, yes."

"Do you even know what Claiming involves?" Spike asked skeptically.

"Yeah, Spike, I do," Xander replied with obvious impatience. "I'm not a moron; I can read. It means you bite me and drink my blood. That leaves a magical tracer in me that tells anyone who knows how to see that I'm your consort. Giles will know, if he bothers to look, and Buffy might be able to feel it if we stay around long enough. It means we're bound together, demon to soul. It means I'll be able to feel you somehow, in my head, and you can do the same. It means if you get dusted, I'll either die or go crazy. I can still get hurt, but I'll heal a lot faster with your mark on me. I'll live longer, if you don't turn me, and I'll age slower."

"Where-" Spike cleared his throat and tried again. "Where did you learn all that, pet?"

"Giles' library, where else?" Xander shrugged. "But I'm right, aren't I?"

Spike was stunned. He'd assumed that Xander was just going along with his crazy vampire lover but that he didn't really know the full ramifications of what Spike wanted.

"Xander, are you sure? You can get a divorce if your marriage goes south, but the only way out of a Claiming is death."

"Yes, Spike. Oui. Da. Si. Sim. Ja. Hai. How many more languages do you want? Get it through your head-I know what you want. I know what it'll do to me. I want it anyway," Xander replied, a fair amount of exasperation mixed with firm finality.

Finally Spike believed. Maybe this time he could have what he wanted without the universe smacking him and taking it away.

* * * * *

Spike took the first shower while Xander straightened up the living area, then they switched. While Xander was in the shower Spike was busy setting up. He had been living with Xander since the first night, or morning, rather, and the first night after, they had gone back to the crypt and packed Spike's meager possessions. Clothes, blood, a few personal things, and an old iron-bound chest, battered but lovingly cared for.

They had sorted through the chest together, looking at old pictures; one of William, surrounded by a primly dressed family, one of Spike, surrounded by drunken Sex Pistols and fans, and a later one of Spike, with Dalton. They laughed at Spike's early attempts at poetry, and Xander had been amazed at the sheer number of old books carefully stacked inside, most of them filled with Spike's bold, precise handwriting. Tucked in one of the books was a breathtaking drawing of a nude, sleeping William, signed 'Angelus' in the bottom corner. There was a black lace shawl folded carefully around a teacup; even as faded as it was Xander recognized Dru's perfume wafting from it. In the very bottom was a plain wooden box. Xander had taken one look inside and promptly dubbed it Spike's 'vampire kit'.

He wasn't so far from wrong, and it was this box that Spike now got out of the trunk. After pushing the furniture back against the walls to make a clear space, he took out a piece of blue chalk tied to a string, which was in turn tied to a nail. He stuck the nail in the floor, stretched the string out and traced a perfect 9' circle. After neatly wrapping the string around the chalk and nail, he returned it to the box and got out a box of chalk. Staying out of the circle, he drew symbols around the edge of it, interspersed with words. Next, he laid out eight ivory candles. The black and gold candles were set aside. He placed the box in the circle and covered it with a length of black velvet, careful not to smudge the lines. Setting the black and gold candles on a crystal tray, put them on the box then sat back on his heels to admire his handiwork.

"Ok, now what?" Xander stood in the doorway, wearing clean black jeans and nothing else. A lone bead of water from his recent shower ran out of his hair and trickled down his neck. Spike was similarly dressed.

Spike stood up and dusted the chalk off his hands. "Now I Claim you, luv."

"How 'bout a game plan for us ordinary mortal types? I said I knew what a Claiming was, I didn't say I knew how to do it." Xander replied.

"Right. We step into the circle from opposite sides-you over there, me here. I say some stuff, you repeat after me, I bite you."

"Hooookaaay. I think that was the highlight reel when I wanted the play-by-play. What aren't you telling me?"

Spike sighed. "Pet, it's mojo. It's-"

"Never mind, enough said." Xander interrupted. "Just, promise me it will go better than Willow's attempts at using magic on me?"

Spike crossed to Xander and took him in his arms. "I'd like to, pet, but it's mojo. There are no guarantees." He kissed Xander's forehead. "I'm not even sure what exactly is supposed to happen. It's like the Adult Conspiracy in those books," he said, referring to the Piers Anthony collection in the back of Xander's closet. He'd read his way through them out of sheer boredom when he'd been tied to the chair. "Nobody will tell you, you have to find out for yourself. It'll either work or it won't, and we'll find out what 'it' is then."

They stood quietly for a few moments, just enjoying the other's nearness. Finally they stepped apart.

"Ready, luv?"

"Yes."

Spike quickly lit the small candles forming the circle and pointed to the space where Xander should stand. Shifting into gameface, he took his own place and began.

"I, William James Malcolm Boise, a vampire, also called William the Bloody, also called Spike, do enter this circle of my own free will." He stepped into the circle and waited for Xander. Part of the ceremonial requirements were that the intended consort figure things out for himself.

"I, Alexander LaVelle Harris, a human, also called Xander, enter this circle of my own free will." Carefully, Xander stepped over the chalk lines and joined Spike in the center of the circle.

When they were standing together, Spike reached out and put his left hand over Xander's heart. Almost immediately Xander's heartbeat picked up, the steady thunder rocking through Spike.

"I will take this human as my consort. For him will I smoke outside, for I wish him to remain healthy."

There was a brief pause, then Xander spoke. "I will be consort to this vampire. I will refrain from playing Patsy Cline in his presence, for I wish him to remain sane." Xander grinned at Spike, who grinned back.

"I will take this human as my consort. His friends shall be my friends, and his enemies shall be mine, also."

Xander put his left hand on Spike's chest, over his heart, so that their positions were mirrored.

"I will be consort to this vampire. I will take his friends as my own, and his enemies as mine, too."

"I will take this human as my consort. To him have I given my heart."

"I will be consort to this vampire, for he holds my heart also."

Swallowing heavily against the tightness in his throat, Spike reached out and cupped Xander's neck in his right hand. He stroked his thumb down the side of Xander's neck, feeling the pulse that was throbbing with life.

"I will Claim this human to be my own, forever."

Again Xander mirrored Spike's pose, cradling Spike's head with his free hand. He held Spike's gaze with own, brown meeting blue, love meeting love.

"I will be Claimed by this vampire, and be his, forever." Xander tilted his head back, baring his throat in an unmistakable invitation.

Slowly, Spike lowered his head to Xander's throat. He inhaled deeply, taking in the scents of his soon-to-be consort, relieved that fear wasn't one of them. He licked a path up the corded tendon, then placed a sucking kiss where he intended to bite. Xander's hand tightened in his hair and urged him forward.

In one decisive clench, Spike bit through skin and muscle to the sweetness of life underneath. Xander gasped and dropped both hands to Spike's waist, pulling him closer. The sound of Spike swallowing was loud in the silence.

The faint moan from Xander made him pull away, licking the last drops of blood from his fangs. He realized the moan had been one of arousal and not pain, and that he too was hard.

He pulled Xander's hips tight against his own and waited until Xander met his gaze again.

"I have Claimed this human. He is mine. Forever."

"I am Claimed by this vampire. I am his. Forever."

Their mouths met in a hungry kiss as they slid to their knees. Frantic hands fought to get buttons open and zippers down but finally managed. Xander wrapped his hands around both their lengths and Spike put his hand over Xander's as he stroked. Together, they reached their completion.

As they did so, a silent explosion tore through the room, blowing out the candles around the circle. A brilliant flare caught their attention; the black and gold candles on the box were now burning with a clear blue flame.

"Huh. So that's what 'it' is. Guess we've been accepted, pet."

They slept in the circle, wrapped around one another, sticky, sated, and content. When they woke in the morning they discovered two things; Xander's bite had healed to a silvery scar, and the candles had melted into a puddle of black and gold, swirled together, inseparable. Forever.

* * * * *

The weekend passed quietly. Xander was still in awe of the fact that the Powers That Be, or the Universe, or *whatever*, had given blessing to their Claiming. He loved Spike wholeheartedly, but in the back of his mind had wondered if loving the evil undead could be right. Apparently the PTB or whoever thought it was, an argument he intended to make when to the Scoobies if he needed to.

On Monday after work he hitched a ride to the junkyard to get his car back. DaV'aarr told him that Spike had called, and had said that Xander was to go immediately home, no stopping at the Magic Box until he'd seen Spike. He went home.

"Hey, Spike, what's up?" he asked as he breezed in.

"Evenin', pet. Go and change your shirt; we've got an appointment with a photographer in forty-five minutes."

"Photographer?" Xander asked as he headed into the bathroom for a quick wash.

"Gotta have ID, pet, which means I need to get a picture taken."

"Okay. Um, considering that it's well after the time when any self-respecting state employee would be off, just how legit is this ID gonna be?"

"About as legit as the ID I found in the back of your knickers drawer, only better done. More so, actually, since these will be in the computers."

"Ah."

Xander returned to the living room pulling a clean shirt on. He stomped into his boots and shrugged into his jacket. "Ready?"

"Yeah." Spike handed Xander a couple folded bills, then a second, much larger stack.

"Um, did you rob a bank I should know about?" Xander asked quizzically as he flipped through the bills.

"Not exactly. That," he pointed to the small stack, "is the thirty I borrowed the other night. The other is for you. Don't put it in the bank; consider it emergency traveling money."

"Um..." Xander replied, not quite sure what he wanted to ask first.

"Just humor me and take it, all right?" Spike growled.

"That wasn't what I meant. Where'd you get it?"

"The banker dropped by. DaV'aarr spread the word that Master Spike was back in the game, and they were very happy to help me access my Swiss accounts," Spike explained.

"Cool. But why give it all to me?" he asked as he flipped through the wad, noticing that the back half all had two zeroes.

"That's less than half of the smallest account, luv." Spike chuckled at Xander's expression. "It's the miracle of compound interest."

"I get that, but again, why give it to me?"

"Look. We don't know how well the Slayer is going to take your news, any of it. I need you to be safe. That's enough to get you to anywhere in the world." He passed Xander a short list. "These are people who can help you hide, or run. They all owe me, or do this for a living. If it all goes to shit here and you end up runnin', head for one of them." Xander noticed that the top name on the list was in LA. "Or we can make plans to meet somewhere, and if we don't by a certain time, then head for one of them. Either way, that's your emergency stash. If you put it in the bank, you're traceable, so don't. Keep it where you can get to it in a hurry."

"Okay." Xander folded up the bulk of the cash and put it in the 'hidden' compartment of his wallet. The rest he stuffed in his front pocket. He had learned not to argue when Spike used that particular tone, because it wouldn't get him anywhere. In truth, he didn't have any objections, and he'd been worried about his cash reserves stretching to get them to wherever it was they were going.

"So, ID?"

"After you, pet."

On the way to meet the photographer, Xander asked the question that had been burning a hole in his brain since Spike had handed him enough cash to choke a cow, and then told him it was only a portion of what was available.

"Spike?"

"Mm?"

"How- um, I mean, what-"

"Spit it out, pet. I can hear you thinking from here," Spike chuckled.

"How much are you worth? What exactly do you mean when you say 'it's the miracle of compound interest'?"

"Let's just say that if we end up in Europe and you want to give the blackjack tables in Monte Carlo a try, I could keep you in cash long enough for you to learn to stand on a seventeen, and still afford dinner."

Xander knew that if he pushed, Spike would tell him exactly how much he had, right down to dollars and cents. He didn't need to know that, he had just wanted to be sure that Spike wasn't leaving himself short.

They parked the hearse in an underground garage that Xander hadn't known was there, collected a parking slip from a person that he was pretty sure wasn't human, and walked through a set of double doors.

"Where are we?"

"The Hellmouth Mall."

"The- Does Buffy know about this? Not for slayage, I mean for the shopping. I can't believe there's a mall within a two-hour drive that she hasn't been to!" Xander exclaimed.

"No, she doesn't," Spike said shortly, "and she doesn't need to know, either."

"I know that, Spike." Xander rolled his eyes at his mate. "Buffy's never quite gotten that most demons are just people, so to speak. Of course, if they'd stop trying to open the Hellmouth or take over the world, their chances of being left alone would be a lot better."

They strolled down the concourse. After looking at the displays in a few of the windows, Xander was careful to keep his eyes facing forward.

"Is it going to be a problem, me being here?" Xander asked.

"No. You said it yourself; my Claim is there for all to see who can, and everybody here can. Ah, here we are." He held the door open for Xander.

The receptionist came to greet them. "Master Spike! I'm so glad to see you. Please, come this way."

They were shown back into a small studio that looked like the few photo studios Xander had ever been in.

The photographer was a small greenish demon with a double row of horns running around the top of his head and down the back of his neck. "Master Spike," he said in greeting. "I'm ready, if you'd have a seat, please." He indicated a stool in front of a series of rolled backdrops. "May I speak to your Consort?"

"You may. His name is Xander."

"Thank you." He turned to Xander. "Please, Xander, have a seat." He waved to small area furnished with a couch and several chairs and small tables. "I can have my girl bring you a refreshment while you're waiting, if you like."

"No, I'm fine, thanks." Xander wondered exactly what kind of 'refreshment' he would have gotten had he said yes.

"So, Master Spike, how many sets of ID do you need?"

"Five. Three for me, in three different names; two for the whelp, in two different names."

"Why? I've got a perfectly good second ID."

The flashes popped softly around the room as they went off in a test series.

"That's not even a decent ID, pet. This is legit. It'll show up in the computers, remember? And it'll be a full set - driver's license and social security card for you, driver's license and green card for me, passports for us both."

"Master Spike, look this way, if you would please."

Spike turned to the photographer.

"That reminds me; we need to get the whelp here a primary passport in his own name."

"Certainly, Master Spike. I have all the paperwork you'll need. If my girl can speak to your Consort, she can fill out the forms while I develop the pictures."

Xander turned to the girl that appeared at his elbow and began filling out the forms. She seemed a little nervous about talking to him but relaxed after a few minutes. He couldn't decide if it was because he was human, or Master Spike's Consort.

"Hey, Spike, did you have a specific name in mind, or can I pick my own?"

"Pick one, but one has to be Aloysius Beauchamp."

"Aloysius! But-"

"Quiet, whelp. You've got no room to complain; mine is going to be Abelard. These are for extreme emergencies only, and a code. If you need to use that name, go to Angelus. He may not like it, but he will honor his blood and help."

Xander subsided and returned to finishing the necessary paperwork.

"Hold that...and again...one more...and that does it." The photographer turned to Xander and said, "We can take your photos whenever you're ready."

Xander signed the last few pages and returned them to the receptionist. He looked around for a mirror, but didn't see one. Running his hands through his hair, he hoped for the best. Both Spike and the photographer growled at the receptionist when she produced a comb and reached to hand it to Xander.

"Spike." Xander glared. "Overreact much?"

Spike backed off as the receptionist produced a small hand mirror and held it as Xander tamed his disordered waves. He handed the comb back to the receptionist with a quiet thank you, a smile, and a shrug that seemed to say 'we're not all jerks'.

At the photographer's direction he took his place on the stool and smiled on cue. Five minutes later, he was done.

They approved the proofs of the pictures and made arrangements to have the resulting paperwork delivered in a few days. Xander made it a point to say goodbye to the receptionist, daring Spike to say something.

On the way back to the car, he did. "Having fun, pet?"

Xander stopped and dropped a decent curtsy. "Why yes, yes I am, Master Spike. Thank you for asking," he answered in a southern-belle drawl.

Spike growled.

"Spike, lay off. Yes, I'm your Consort now. But I am not a pet, or a toy, something only you can play with. I'm a person, and an adult, and I'll speak to who I please. Get used to it."

Spike growled again.

Xander pulled Spike to a stop. "Look, you.... You've got the weirdest sense of possessiveness I've ever seen. All that girl was doing was handing me a comb. Handing me; she never touched me, never even came close. The other night at the bar, though, Zib grabbed my balls and all you did was hold me still so he could get a better feel! Make up your mind!"

Spike laughed. "All right, you've made your point."

"Thank you," Xander replied haughtily.

Spike pulled him in for a kiss. When they broke for air, they noticed they crowd they'd drawn and laughing, turned and headed for the parking lot.

* * * * *

Xander knocked on the door. He wasn't looking forward to this conversation at all.

"Come!"

"Good morning, Mr. LaFontaine. Got a minute?"

"Mornin', Xander. And it's Jack, please. What's up? I can give you a few minutes, but I have a meeting in twenty. Have a seat." Xander sat. "Coffee?"

"No, thank you." He was nervous enough; he didn't need any chemical help, thanks.

"So, what can I do for you?"

Xander took a deep breath. "I-I... I have to put in my notice. I wanted to do it personally, and I really hate to have to do it at all, but I'm leaving town, and I didn't want to give you no notice, so..." It all came out in a rush.

"Whoa, Xander, slow down. Actually, hang on." He picked up his phone and punched a few numbers. "Nancy? Hold all my calls, please, and call Hal and reschedule for tomorrow. Yeah, something's come up. Um, bring me a fresh pot of coffee and some of those donuts I saw this morning first, please. Thank you."

They waited while Nancy bustled in, juggling the coffee, two cups, a box of donuts and a sheaf of papers. "It's your lucky day; the pot had just finished when you buzzed." She put the donuts down on the desk between the men and handed the papers to Jack with a terse, "Sign these," then poured the coffee while he did so. She handed Xander a cup and pointed behind him to a small refrigerator with a box of sugar cubes sitting on top of it, then traded another cup of coffee for the now-signed papers.

"Thanks, Nan. What would I do without you?"

"Drown in a swamp of bad coffee and undone paperwork, I expect," she answered cheerfully. "Hal said tomorrow's fine. Anything else?"

"Nope, that'll do." They waited until the door clicked shut behind her. Xander gave a brief thought to caffeine- and sugar-propelled butterflies, then liberally doctored his coffee anyway.

"Now, what's this about notice and leaving town? What's going on? I hate to lose you; is it anything I can help with?" Jack had his 'talk to me' face on, but Xander heard the real concern buried in the gruff voice.

"I'm leaving Sunnydale. Soon. It's not a problem, or not yet, so there's nothing you can do to help, but thanks. If it is a problem, it'll be best solved by me leaving, and I'm doing that anyway, so..." He trailed off, not quite sure what the boss wanted to hear.

He did his best not to squirm as Jack looked him over, really looked. His eyes lingered on the edge of his t-shirt and Xander wondered if his scar was showing. Not that he thought anyone but the Scoobs would recognize it, but still, it would look funny to anyone else.

"All right, Harris, let's have it from the top."

Sighing, Xander started from the top. He edited out Buffy's Slayerness and Spike's vampireness, but left in the part about Spike being a guy, and his lover. He spoke in general terms about small towns and friends that grow apart, and specifically about friends that were likely to be anything from unhappy to vicious over his choice of partner. He talked about needing a life of his own without mentioning the life he had involving the things that went bump in the night.

The enormous relief he felt at being able to tell it all to somebody surprised him. As he talked, things were sorted out in his head, and he now had a better idea of just what he was going to say to the gang. When he was done, they sat in a comfortable, thoughtful silence for a while.

"You've picked a hard row to hoe, but a man's choice is his own." Jack laughed. "Right. Need any more platitudes to go with those two?"

Xander smiled. "No, I think those two will do. You see, though, why I'm leaving. I just didn't want to do it without talking to you, since it was you who gave me this job."

"Thanks, I appreciate the thought. You're a good employee, Harris, so I'll tell you what; when you come to pick up your final check I'll make sure there's a good letter of rec in with it. I hate to lose you, but I'll do what I can to help. In fact, when you're ready to leave, whether it's this afternoon or two weeks from now, come see me, or Nancy if I'm not around. I can have your check cut for you in an hour. I'll be sure to tell her to expect you."

"Thanks." Xander stood and stretched, then shook Jack's hand. "I really appreciate it. You're a good guy to work for, and I wish I could stay, but..."

"No problem. Good luck; I hope everything works out like you want it to. Come see me when you're ready to go."

"Will do, and thanks again."

With that he left the office and headed for the mower shed. He did still have work to do, but he was in better spirits than he'd been in in a while. One hurdle down, one to go. As soon as Spike had all their paperwork, he'd tell Jack he was leaving, then tell the gang the same thing. He didn't expect it to go nearly as well, but he could hope, couldn't he?

* * * * *

Xander pulled Spike's car into the alley behind the Magic Box and parked. As he walked up the alley he could clearly hear Buffy and Willow's conversation through the propped-open back door of the shop.

"I don't know, he didn't say. Just that he wanted to meet us all here."

"Has he been acting, I dunno, weird, or something, lately? He just hasn't seemed very Xanderish, and he hasn't been around much lately, either."

If only they knew the half of it, he thought to himself, it was weirder than they knew.

He took a deep breath; it was time for them to find out. The paperwork had been delivered yesterday afternoon. Spike was waiting impatiently at Willy's. The car was packed. The basement was clean, or as clean as it got, the keys stuffed in the mailbox. He knew it was the coward's way out, but he wasn't up for a confrontation with his folks and the gang. Xander's clunker had gone to DaV'aarr, along with the DeSoto. His final paycheck had been picked up and cashed and the bank account closed. Sunnydale had been driven around, and all of Xander's favorite places had been said goodbye to. As anxious as he was to get out of Dodge, the feeling that he might miss the place after all surprised him.

It was the people he'd miss the most, though. He and Willow had known each other for so long he couldn't remember not knowing her. They'd shared so much; lunches and hugs, pushes on the swing and pushes in class. He'd passed chemistry because of her, and the only playground fight he'd ever been in had been in her defense. They'd shared a few hopes and dreams, too; he remembered long summer days when they and Jesse had talked about what they wanted for themselves in the future. Then Buffy had come, and Jesse had gone. It wasn't Willow's fault that she and Xander were drifting apart; people change, life changes. Even in a place as weird as Sunnydale it was one of the constants of the universe. But of them all, Willow was also the one most likely to understand, and to forgive.

Buffy was the exasperating older sister; he loved her and hated her in equal measure, was afraid of her and afraid for her. He'd desired her, but like the dog that caught the car, he was never sure just what his reaction would have been if he'd actually gotten somewhere with his crush. He resented the changes she'd brought to his life, and admired her for doing a thankless, dangerous job with grit and tenacity. For every slight, for every unthinking cruelty, there were also occasions of unthinking kindness and uncounted generosity to balance it out. He didn't really understand her, wasn't sure she understood herself, but she became part of his world, and so he stood with her and took it all, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. He expected this announcement to be taken badly, but would settle for indifferent. Good was just too much to hope for.

Giles was an enigma. The reluctant father figure for the whole gang, he had tolerated them all when he realized they were a package deal, but he had done it for Buffy's sake, not theirs. If that tolerance ran short now and then, especially with Xander, well, it wasn't any different than what Xander had gotten from anyone else in his life. He didn't really understand Giles, either; in his opinion, Giles had given up anything resembling a life for Buffy and had gotten nothing in return except a hard time about tea and tweed. And for what? No professional accolades, no private life, and from what Xander could see, no personal satisfaction, either. Why did he stay? Xander still didn't know. He was just glad Giles had stayed-he'd been the closest thing to a real dad Xander had ever had. And with what Xander suspected about Giles and Ethan Rayne, he just might understand about Xander and Spike.

Feeling strangely calm, he pushed the door the rest of the way open and strode in. "The Xan Man is in the house." He bowed theatrically, making a leg before moving to sit on the horse.

Willow looked up from her seat on the floor, where she was reading, and giggled. "Hey, Xan."

"Hi, Xander." Buffy unwound the tape from her hands and came to lean beside him. Judging from the tape and the swinging heavy bag, Buffy had been working out. Judging from the lack of sweat, not for very long, or not very hard. Xander smiled to himself; even Slayers got the slow-night lazies.

"Ah, yes, Xander. Good evening," Giles said distractedly from the doorway to the shop itself. He had a book in his hand and was leafing through the pages.

"Evening, all. No research party?"

Buffy gave him a look. "Nope, a waiting for Xander party. What's up?"

"Ah..." His sudden attack of nerves dissipated just as fast as it had hit him. "Um, can I borrow this?" He reached out to Buffy's cross, hanging on its slender chain.

"Sure." It was such a part of her that, in an odd way, she looked naked when she took it off. Her eyes were brimming with questions, but she handed it to him without asking any of them.

He wrapped the delicate chain around his fist, the tiny cross resting on his callused palm. He held it out for them all to see.

"Xander? What- what are you saying?" Giles' look flicked between the cross and Xander's face. He closed the book, absently keeping his place with a finger.

"Are you in trouble?" asked Willow, giving him big worried-Willow eyes.

Gently, he folded the cross into his hand and began unbuttoning his shirt. When he had enough buttons open he pushed the collar aside, exposing his Claiming scar, then held out his hand, open again, with the cross still sitting in it.

"I'm with Spike now. We're leaving tonight-I came to say goodbye."

The silence was deafening. Willow was the first to break it.

"Forever? I mean, are you leaving us forever, or is this like a honeymoon kind of leaving?" She got up and came to stand in front of Xander, putting one hand on his arm.

Buffy looked shocked and said nothing, but her hands were shaking as she accepted the cross that Xander handed back to her and examined his unmarked palm.

Xander turned back to Willow. He reached out and stroked one finger down her red hair, then lightly flicked the end of her nose, making her smile.

"Not forever, Wills, but probably a long time. Can you understand?"

Willow put one hand over his heart as she studied his face. They could have been the only two in the room for all the attention they were paying to the others. Slowly she slid her hand up to cover the silver scar.

"Does he love you?"

"Yes."

"Then that's all I ask. Well, no, I want to know when this happened, and how, and where you're going, and when you'll be back, and since when do you go for guys?" She smiled at him; a little wobbly, but real. "But all I want is for you to be happy, and if he makes you happy, then I'm happy for you."

Buffy was drop-jawed with astonishment. She recovered fast and yelled, "Willow, what are you saying? He let the Bleached Menace bite him, on the neck! I'm gonna ignore the icky sex stuff and ask just how was he able to bite you?" Whirling, she stalked away and took a few swings at the heavy bag at the far end of the room. Xander hoped she was calmer as she came back. "Well?" she demanded.

Making sure he was between Buffy and the door, he told them the rest. "I helped him get his chip out."

"I'll dust him. I'll go stake him right now." Buffy picked up a stake from the top of her pile of things. "I'll deal with you later."

"Buffy." Xander intercepted her as she made for the door. "He Claimed me. If you kill him, I will die." The stark certainty in his voice made her pause.

"Xander, what have you done?"

At Giles' distinctly alarmed tone, Buffy put her stake down and waited for an answer.

"Giles, look at me. No, I mean look." Xander stood quietly as Giles glared at him in frustration then got the expression that Xander had always equated with 'shh, Giles is doing magic'.

Giles muttered to himself for a bit then said, "Oh, my God. He Claimed you."

"I said that."

"He Claimed you, and you let him. How could you?" Giles demanded. He apparently didn't notice when his book hit the floor as he waved his arms around for emphasis.

Xander paced. "I didn't 'let' him. I wanted him to, and he did-we did. End of story. If you know anything at all about a Claim, you know it had to be of my own free will." He returned to the horse and perched on the end, keeping an eye on Buffy, who had put down her stake. He didn't think she'd go after Spike now, but better safe than sorry.

Her voice aching with betrayal and hurt she asked, "But Xander, why?" Xander winced at the quiet question, but turned to face her.

"Because he loves me. Me, the Zeppo. He needs me and I- well, I need to be needed. I need him. And I love him."

"But we need you too."

"No, Buffy, you don't. You never have." He backpedaled a bit at her frown. "Well, ok, not never, but you've never needed me very much. No Slayery strength here, no witchy powers, no yen for research. You needed me for a little comic relief, to get the donuts, and to distract the demon of the week so you could kill it."

"That's not true, Xan, but you-" she began but Willow hastily interrupted her.

"How did you zap his chip, Xan? You've never been geeky, like me."

"I'd be interested to hear that, too, Xander," added Giles. "Such information would be invaluable to the Council."

"Which is exactly why I'm not going to tell you." He ignored Giles' affronted expression and continued, "As soon as someone finds a work-around for something, a new unwork-aroundable model comes out. I'm not doing that. I helped Spike with his chip because what the Initiative did was wrong. It would have been cleaner to just kill him than to cripple him like that. And before you ask, yes, the news is out on the demon grapevine the Master Spike is back in business, and that the chips are fixable. There are only a few left who still have the chips-Spike wasn't the only one-and those few are probably making arrangements to have the same thing done that Spike did. Don't worry, the price for having it done is leaving town. DaV'aarr will see that they go, not that any are objecting. Most just want to go home." He didn't say that most of them had already done it and gone.

He'd thought Spike was the only one with a chip left alive, but as Spike had pointed out, he was 'Hostile 17' for a reason. It had been the Tuesday after Operation Zap-the-Chip when Zib had come to Xander at work again and asked them both to go to DaV'aarr's that same night. Word had gone out that Master Spike was back, and DaV'aarr had already had several requests for the same procedure. He wanted Master Spike's permission. Spike had readily agreed, but it was Xander's condition that the newly zapped leave the Hellmouth. Zib had been to see Xander at work nearly every day in the last week and a half, delivering thank yous from various demons, and assurances that they were either planning on leaving town or had already left.

Snidely, Buffy said, "I thought you were on our side, Xander."

"I'm entitled to have my own opinions, and to act on them. I don't always have to agree with you, or think the way you think. This isn't 'if I'm not with you I'm against you,'" returned Xander heatedly.

"Sure seems like it to me." Buffy pointedly turned her back and started rewrapping her hands.

"Buffy, don't be like that," said Willow.

"Be like what?" said Buffy over her shoulder. "Be like Xander, who's turning his back on his friends, turning his back on what we do?"

Now he was pissed. He shook off Willow's restraining hand, stalked over to Buffy and jerked her around to face him. He kept his voice down with effort. "There is no 'we', Buffy. There's you. You're the Slayer, not me. It's your calling, not mine. I gave you years of my life, Buffy, and I was happy to. We made a difference. But now it's time to live my life. Mine, not yours. And yes, I intend to live that life with Spike, whether you like it or not."

Buffy balled her fists at her sides and asked, "What about Angel? What about all those nasty things you said about him, about me and him? How is that different than you and Spike?"

"How can you even compare?" Xander asked incredulously. "Angelus tried to suck the world into hell! He tried to kill Giles, and he did kill Ms. Calendar!" He shot an apologetic look at Giles but kept going. "And you took him back anyway, just like none of it had ever happened. Just because he's sorry now doesn't make it better. If he's so innocent, how come he has to make up for the things his demon did? Yeah, Spike's tried to kill us, but he never tried as hard as Angelus did, or came as close. And he won't try again, anyway."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because he promised me he wouldn't."

"And you believed him."

"Yes."

"Aargh!" Buffy shouted with frustration. Xander watched in wary fascination as she closed her eyes and visibly counted to ten-twice. "That's just- Giles, you talk to him. Make him see sense!" Buffy stomped to the heavy bag and began to hit it, short vicious jabs mixed with the occasional roundhouse kick.

Giles, looking startled at the order, approached Xander diffidently. "Ah, em, Xander, are you quite certain this is the path you wish to take? As the bond is still new, the Claim can be rescinded with minimal damage to you." Xander noticed that he said nothing about damage to Spike. "I, of all people, can understand the seduction of the Dark."

"Ha! I always knew you and Rayne had a kinky thing going." He ignored Giles' blush and continued, "But no, I don't want to rescind the Claim. How many times am I going to have to say it; I wanted him to. You, of all people," he mimicked, "should be able to see the Claim for what it is, and what it means. Is it honestly that hard to understand?"

"I- no. No, it's not." Giles sighed deeply, then looked resolute. "And if the Claim took, then you both are sincere in your feelings for one another. I suppose I should offer you my congratulations but... Spike?"

"Giles! You were supposed to talk him out of it, not congratulate him!" shouted Buffy from the other end of the room.

Xander ignored her. "Yes, Spike." He could feel the goofy smile spreading across his face at the thought of his lover.

"Buffy, you may as well give it up," said Willow, entering the conversation. "Anybody with that silly look isn't going to change his mind."

"But-"

"Buffy." He turned to face her. She was no longer pummeling the heavy bag, but was standing there, her shoulders set stubbornly. He felt bad that she was taking it so hard, but he was also losing patience. "Get over it already, would you? It's a done deal. You don't have to like it, but I'm asking you to accept it." Xander gave her his best smile and his biggest puppy eyes. "And maybe, be a little happy for me? He loves me, and nobody ever has before, not like this. And I love him."

Buffy came back to their small group and stared at him. He could see her trying to hang on to her anger, and could just as easily see it melting away. The stern line in the middle of her forehead smoothed out and her mouth softened.

"Even if I say I'm happy for you, you're going to leave anyway?" she asked.

"Yeah. He can't stay, he'd have to be the Master of the Hellmouth, and you know what a fight that'd be. He doesn't want it. And me..." He sighed. "I just want to be normal. Well, as normal as I can be with a gay vampire lover. I want to have a nine-to-five job, I want to bitch about my boss, and I want the most evil thing in my world to be the clerk who can't figure out my overtime right. I don't want to worry about what the latest nasty is planning, or whether the world is ending next Tuesday or not. We'll come back, someday, but we are leaving. Tonight," he added.

Quietly, stubbornly, she said, "I still don't like it," then added, "but you've been a good friend, and I'll miss you." She grabbed him in a bone-crunching hug.

"Oof! Ordinary human here!" came his strangled protest. When she'd eased her grip he hugged her back, hard.

"Thanks. I'm gonna miss you, too." Reluctantly, they let go.

He turned to Giles, feeling awkward. How was he going to tell Giles how much he'd meant? Xander had lived on the Hellmouth his whole life-he knew enough to say something when he had the chance, if he had something to say.

"Giles... I-thank you." At Giles' raised eyebrow he rushed on. "You didn't have to, but you did anyway, and don't think I don't appreciate what you did-" he babbled.

"What did I do, Xander?"

Xander stopped and took a deep breath. You're a grown-up, he told himself, you can act like one and say this without babbling any more.

"You were my dad. Even though you didn't really want to be, you were, and you were the best dad I had, and I'll miss you."

Giles was silent for a moment, then he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. He put his glasses back on and cleared his throat. "I- I'm honored that you would think of me that way." He pulled into Xander into a tight hug, then released him enough to grab his shoulders. "Good fortune go with you. You always have a home here, you know that." He kissed Xander on the forehead, then hugged him again.

"Hey, I better get a hug, too, mister!"

Giles sniffed quietly as Xander let him go. Willow immediately enveloped him in a fierce hug.

"Willow..." he said into her hair. When would he smell that again, that distinct bergamot that had meant 'Willow' to him since forever? When had he gotten so much taller than she? Wasn't it just last week that they'd taken turns pushing each other on the swing in Jesse's back yard?

"I know. You don't need to say it, I know you. You'll always be my Xander. Just, be happy, ok? Give Spike the shovel talk for me. And don't try to disappear; I'm computer girl, remember? If I have to track you down, I'll use the shovel on you, too." She laughed a little, then broke down. Xander held her as she cried, slowly stroking her back. He was a little teary himself by the time she wiped her face and looked up. "Be safe, Xander, and don't forget me."

He tugged on a lock of red hair, then smoothed it away from her face.

"Never."

There was an awkward silence for a few minutes as both Willow and Giles made use of the kleenex that Buffy silently handed them, then Xander said, "Well, looks like this is it." He backed across the room to the door, then turned to go through.

"Wait!" said Buffy, "We'll walk you to your car."

* * * * *

Spike watched from the doorway of Willy's as Xander pulled away, grinning as he barked the tires in the first three gears. Turning, he made his way through the door to the bar, where Willy's newest bartender acknowledged him with a wave.

He chose the booth in the farthest corner. From there, he could keep an eye on the room and the front door, but he could also reach the back room, the back door, and the tunnel trap door. Just because Xander was sure he could talk his friends out of any 'vampicidal rages', as he'd put it, didn't mean Spike was going to take any chances. He hadn't gotten as far as he had by taking stupid chances, and he wasn't going to start now.

A beer in front of him, he went through his mental checklist. He patted his coat pocket-license, green card, and passport for him-check. He'd seen Xander put his own duplicates in the pocket of his suitcase. For his primary set he had gone with his real name, figuring no one would connect it with the street urchin he'd been more than a hundred years ago. Besides, if that MacLeod guy could on that Highlander show Xander was so fond of could keep his own name for four hundred years, surely he could go back to his own name after a hundred with no one the wiser. He'd still be 'Spike', but legally he was once again William James Malcolm Boise.

Cash-check. Some in his coat pocket, the rest in his pants pocket, a lot with Xander. No one had tried to pick his pocket in years--and the last one had been too hopped up on horse to eat--but old habits died hard, and he always split his cash if he was carrying a lot.

Also his bank papers, neatly folded away in the new suitcase hidden in the recess under the casket in the back of the car. He didn't, strictly speaking, need them--the numbers were firmly in his head--but if something were to happen to him, Xander would need them.

He pushed his beer to the far side of the table and spread out the map he'd stolen from the gas station, wondering where they would go. Xander had enthusiastically lobbied for a real road trip, like the one he'd tried to make after high school.

It was a thought worth considering. They could go to the Haight in San Francisco. They could go to the French Quarter in New Orleans-they'd fit right in. Or Chicago, or Kansas, or better yet, Beale Street in Memphis to the blues bars; if the whelp liked Patsy Cline, he should hear some of the blues greats. And in return for putting up with musically inclined broodiness, they could go to New York City and see if CBGB's was still the dive it had always been. Maybe drop in on a few old mates, or ride the subway and scare the muggers. After seeing Risky Business, Xander had confessed to wanting to reenact the train scene. A subway would work just as well, in Spike's opinion, and he had no qualms about sex in public places. And they definitely had to go to Hershey. Spike put that last on his mental list, since getting Xander out of Chocolate Central was likely to be a job and a half.

Not to mention, random wandering would make them that much harder to track down. His poof of a Sire was going to be none too happy that he was unchipped and roaming the world at large, to say nothing of the Do-Good Gang that Xander was currently saying goodbye to.

Hm. Come to think, they could roam the world at large. There was no need to restrict themselves to the States. London had the Tube; maybe that would do for a train? Or maybe he should see in how many different cities they could find a train of some sort to shag on. He could show Xander around London, see how his boyhood neighborhood had changed over the years.

Where else could they go? France was out-too prissy about fashion, not enough respect for timeless looks. And he hated snails. Italy was out-too much garlic. Germany, maybe--good beer--but Central Europe was out; too many bad memories. It was too late this year, but maybe next year they could make it to Carnivale. He knew he'd said nowhere in South America, but since he'd made the rule, he could make the exceptions, too.

And Hong Kong...they could get lost in Hong Kong for a long time. The Night Market alone could keep them occupied for a month. There was a lot more to it than the tour guides ever mentioned-you just had to know how, and who, to ask.

He smiled to himself. Xander would no doubt laugh, and then enthusiastically go along, but ever since he had read the Just So stories to Dru, Spike had always wanted to ride an elephant. Thailand, then, and while they were there, they could do the Floating Market in Bangkok as well. And Flower Street-that ought to give Xander 'I've seen it all and killed most of it' Harris something to think about, he thought evilly. Dru had loved the 'boys who were girls'. Not that he had objected, either. He often wondered if the Kinks had been to Flower Street before they wrote Lola.

The sudden feeling of responsibility surprised him. He was Master to Xander's Consort, and that did come with responsibilities he hadn't considered before now. Traditionally, he was to provide his Consort with an education, but Xander had no interest in college. If they did the Grand Tour, something he'd always dreamed of doing as a boy, would that count?

Spike decided it would. Xander had seen a lot, but it was all here on the Hellmouth. He hadn't seen any of the world at all, or even much of his own country. Now that Spike was in position to do so, he was going to see that Xander learned about as much of the world as he was interested in. They didn't have to go now, of course. They could do Xander's road trip, then settle in somewhere and travel from there whenever the urge struck.

And they'd be even harder to find if they were out of the country.

A cleared throat made him look up from his perusal of the map.

"Ah, gentlemen. Right on time," he said with a smile.

"Our Master sends you his greetings. And respectful greetings to your Consort, as well."

"Thank you. Have a seat."

The two Thark'un sat across from him and Spike studied them as they waited for fresh beers to be brought to the table. Thark'un looked pretty human, if on the Neanderthal end of the evolutionary scale. They were noted for their clannishness, and the loyalty of those clans to their Master.

The last demon to be dechipped had been the local Thark'un Clan Master's youngest son. The Master had been prepared to move his entire clan away from Sunnydale, with his son, but Spike had asked him to stay, instead. The Thark'un Master was the one demon most likely to maintain some sort of control in the area, and keep the truly nasty from gaining access to the Hellmouth. Spike didn't want the job, but didn't especially want to leave the Hellmouth unguarded, either. Just because he wanted to see Buffy taken down a peg or six didn't mean he wanted the world sucked into hell. With some convincing, Xander had agreed, although leaving a demon in charge went against his grain.

The Thark'un Master was pleased to be asked to stay, and he was willing to take on the task of keeping the Hellmouth guarded. In gratitude for Spike's help with his son, he had promised Spike a favor of his naming. These two were it.

"Right," said Spike after the beers had been delivered, "what are your names?"

The one on the left replied, "You may call me Og. He will answer to Ukla." Spike kept his amusement from showing. He wasn't sure if those were their real names, or an in-joke as a comment on their appearance.

"Right," he said again. "Did your Master tell you what I wanted?"

"No, only that we were to remain at your disposal until you said otherwise," replied Og.

Some Thark'un were also timesteppers; they had the ability to step forward in time, commit actions and step back to the present. When that 'forward in time' moment came, those actions would remain committed. Their unique services were available to the highest bidder.

"I want to go somewhere, kill someone, and return here, no one the wiser." May as well be blunt about it, although he didn't think they'd have a problem with his agenda.

"Is this location distant from here?" Og asked.

"No, it's just across town."

"Easily accomplished." said Og. Apparently Ukla didn't have much to say.

"Let's go, then."

They rose from the table and stepped into the back room. Og quickly sketched an infinity sign on the floor while Ukla removed a bottle from his coat pocket. They directed Spike to stand in the middle of the sign, and each stood in an end.

"When you are ready, say so. I will pour the potion," said Ukla, who apparently had something to say after all. "You must direct us by providing a date and time. Hold the location in your mind and state the date and time clearly."

Spike was nervous--he always was around mojo--but this was obviously old hat for the two demons.

"Inside or outside?" he asked.

"Whichever you can picture most clearly."

Spike closed his eyes and concentrated, picturing the Basement of Doom; the grubby floor, the ratty furniture, the basement smell that Xander could never get rid of, the sounds of the furnace and the pipes from the utility closet.

"Right. Let's go."

Ukla began chanting, removed the stopper from the bottle and poured out purple fog in a diaphanous stream. It pooled around their knees, heaving and surging. Spike swallowed heavily--he really didn't like magic--but held the picture of the basement firmly in his mind.

"Speak the date now," Og said over Ukla's chanting.

"March 17th, 2001, 11:00 pm."

The purple fog turned silver, then back to purple, and they were in Xander's basement. Spike could hear the heavy, drunken footsteps of Xander's father moving around upstairs. Ukla tipped the bottle over the fog and it obligingly poured itself up, back into the bottle.

"Do you require our further assistance?"

"If I do, I'll give a yell."

"We'll wait here, then. You have six hours to complete your task and return to Willy's in one hour's time."

"Why- Never mind. Time travel makes my head hurt." Spike grinned wolfishly. "I don't think it'll take the full six hours, but I'll keep that in mind." He didn't need to know how it worked, just that it did.

He shifted into gameface and eased quietly up the stairs. He had work to do, and a schedule to keep-he had to meet Xander in two hours.

* * * * *

Spike was back in the back booth at Willy's when he heard the distinctive muted roar of his car in the parking lot. A few minutes later, Xander breezed through the doorway.

Og and Ukla rose from the table. "Our most respectful greetings, William's Consort," they said together.

"Hey, guys. Spike." Xander slid into the seat they had vacated.

They turned to Spike and Og said, "If there comes a time when we may provide you with our services, you have only to ask."

"I'll keep that in mind. Give my thanks to your Master."

The Thark'un bowed and left.

"You ok, pet?" asked Spike. "How'd it go?"

"Ok. Well," he answered Spike's look, "It was loud, but ok in the end. Willow wants to know if this is a honeymoon, and said to mention the shovel talk to you. Buffy doesn't like it, but will go along. Giles thinks I'm nuts, but wished me good fortune. Did you know he and Rayne had a thing?"

"No, but I'm not surprised." And he wasn't, really; something about dear old Rupert had always made him wonder.

He wasn't fond of the white hats, but Xander was, and for his sake, he was glad it had gone well. And it had; he could tell from Xander's mood that he wasn't leaving in anger. He smelled of tears, perfume and cologne, but not anger, and only mildly of sadness. Spike didn't think any of the tears had been Xander's.

"So, you ready to go?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I am." Xander stood decisively. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

"I'm with you, pet." Spike followed Xander out the door.

It took three rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who got the first shift driving. Spike ran over the Welcome to Sunnydale sign on the way out of town.

* * * * *

"Hey, Wills," said Buffy, as Willow came into the Magic Box.

"Hey, Buff, Giles. Guess what?" Willow was nearly vibrating in place. Maybe she shouldn't have had that second mochaccino. "I got a letter from Xander today!" She waved the envelope triumphantly.

"Where is he?"

"How is he?"

"Guys, guys, I made copies." Willow handed Buffy and Giles each a letter.

There was a few minutes of silence, broken by comments as they read. When the phone rang, Giles put his letter down and went to answer the phone.

"And they're back!" Buffy smiled. "Well, not back back. You know what I mean."

The previous couple of months had been peppered with postcards from everywhere, but never a contact number, or an address. Once, when Xander had called, he'd explained that Spike hadn't wanted to be findable, in case either Buffy or Angel came looking for them.

"Yeah, and it sounds like they've been living in their new place for a couple weeks. Figures Xander would end up in another basement. Although, I suppose with Spike, lots of big windows are out." Buffy snatched the envelope out of Willow's hand and read the return address. "Relax, Buffy, I wrote it down on your copy, along with Xander's cell number and phone number. He promised to get email, too." She smiled at the Slayer.

Buffy had been more hurt than she wanted to let on that Xander had chosen Spike over her. She had finally come around, but it had taken awhile. Giles had steadied the heavy bag as Buffy had worked it out in her head, and Willow had helped the process along with a steady supply of chocolate and cookies. She had finally reached a point where she could be truly happy for her friend.

Giles came out of his office with an odd expression on his face, picked up his letter and went back in. The girls listened intently but could hear nothing more than the murmur of his voice.

"What do you think is going on?" Buffy asked Willow.

"I don't know." She didn't, but she had a bad feeling. "Guess we'll just have to wait and see."

They didn't have to wait long. Giles came out of his office looking both puzzled and grave.

"That was the Sunnydale Police. They wanted to know if I've been in contact with a Mr. Alexander Harris. Specifically, had I seen him in person recently. They wouldn't say why. When I said I hadn't, they wanted to know his current address and phone number." He rattled the now-crumpled letter in emphasis.

Almost before he was done speaking, Willow was pushing past him into the office. She booted up the computer and whispered a prayer under her breath, then inserted the disk marked 'axe'. She dialed into the county's main computer. Typing in 'Harris', she activated her hack-and-search program, then sat back and waited.

"Um, you guys better see this for yourselves," she said as the retrieved info scrolled across the screen. Since there wasn't room behind the desk for them to read over her shoulders, she quickly made copies of the autopsy file for the other two.

Case Report
County of Santa Barbara
Examination at Santa Barbara County Morgue
Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner

Pronounced By: DR. BERNARD SCHOLTER
Case Reported: 03-19-01
Time: 1425
By: DET. PATRICIO of Sunnydale Homicide

Name of Decedent: ANTHONY EDWARD HARRIS

Date/Time of Death: 03-17-01/2300 APPROX

Marital Status: MARRIED

Date of Birth: 11-09-52 Age: 49

Primary Occupation: INSURANCE SALES

Usual Residence:
Street Address 64 GRAHAMVILLE ST
City SUNNYDALE
County SANTA BARBARA
State CALIFORNIA

Place of Death:
Street Address 64 GRAHAMVILLE ST
City SUNNYDALE
County SANTA BARBARA

Identification By: PHOTO ID ON BODY, CONFIRMED BY DENTAL RECORDS
Info or ID obtained by: DET. PATRICIO

Notification:
Next of Kin ALEXANDER HARRIS
Relationship SON
Notified? - NOT LOCATED AS OF THIS WRITING

Physical Description:
Face I.D. Viewable: YES
Body Condition: POOR

Age: 55
Race: APPEARS CAUCASIAN
Height: 70
Weight: 240
Hair: GREY
Eyes: BROWN
Mustache: NO
Beard: NO
Scars: MINOR ONLY
Amputations: NONE
Tattoo: TONY THE TIGER-LEFT UPPER BUTTOCK
Deformity: NONE NOTED

INVESTIGATOR'S REPORT

INFORMATION SOURCES:
DET PATRICIO, Sunnydale Homicide
FILE #085-12782-1692-011

SYNOPSIS:
The decedent is a 49-year-old male who suffered multiple blunt-force and sharp-force traumas as a result of an apparent homicide on or about March 17, 2001. Death was pronounced by Dr. Scholter at 1420 hours, March 18, 2001. Weapons were recovered by SDH. There are no suspects at this time.

INVESTIGATION:
I arrived at Santa Barbara County Morgue Annex in Sunnydale at 2125 hours, March 22, 2001 at the request of SDH, in order to obtain evidence. I was directed to room #14.

I observed the decedent on a transfer table. Examination revealed multiple areas of blunt-force trauma, in addition to multiple cuts and stab wounds. Primary cause of death is exsanguination; method is the bilateral severing of the jugular and carotid. The frontal and temporal bones of the decedent's skull had been removed, possibly with the axe found at the scene, and the brain matter excavated. The cranial cavity contained what appears to be canine fecal matter. All other organs are present, with the exception of the liver, which has not yet been located.

I responded to the decedent's residence and met with Detectives Mulitimore and Patricio. Sheriff's Photographer, Deputy Lowry, was also at the scene. Det. Patricio provided me with the following information.

The decedent had been scheduled to work a half day despite it being the weekend, but had failed to show. This was apparently not unusual, but when the decedent's employer could not reach him by telephone, he became concerned and called the police. Squad Car #154 arrived on scene, and upon finding the door open, entered the residence. The decedent and another victim (the decedent's brother Rory Harris; FILE #085-12782-1692-012) were found and Homicide was notified. A further search revealed a woman sitting on a couch in the basement. She has been admitted to Sunnydale Asylum (Case #AQ951) with a diagnosis of catatonia. She has tentatively been identified as Jessica Harris, the decedent's wife. She is not a suspect, but may be a possible witness.

Detectives recovered two small paring type knives, three large butcher type knives, and a small axe, and were not finished at the scene at the time of this report.

The decedent's employer told me the decedent is a long-time alcoholic. It is not unusual for him to be late to work, but it is unusual for him "not to call with some lame-ass excuse."

EVIDENCE/PROPERTY:
All evidence into the Evidence Locker at the Forensic Science Center.

Investigator Susan A. Kertchings #164280

They were quiet while they thought about the implications. Buffy was the first to ask the obvious question. "Spike?"

"No, couldn't have been," said Willow. Could it? She wondered.

"Yeah, but- shit for brains? That just says 'Spike' to me," argued Buffy.

"Yes, quite," Giles added. "Spike was known for his, er, creativity."

"Pull up the other file, Wills. Let's see what it has to say about Xander's Uncle Rory. Maybe that'll give us a clue."

Willow shuddered, even as her fingers flew over the keyboard. "I never did like that guy. He gave me the wiggins. It's weird; I can remember when Rory was Xander's favorite uncle, then all of a sudden, they avoid each other like they have the plague or something. Ha, here it is."

She skimmed the file, then said, "Oh! And, um, eeww." She began quoting, "'Primary cause of death; exsanguination as a result of the removal of all external genitalia with a large, sharp blade...decedent was found in a bedroom on the second story of the house...object protruding from decedent's anus was identified as a gin bottle...upon removal, the gin bottle was found to contain the missing genitals...no suspects', blather, blather, et cetera."

They all looked at one another. Finally Willow said, "That had to be Spike, but I don't see how."

"I don't either, but if that wasn't Spike personally, could he have paid someone to do it?" asked Buffy. "He's obviously got a lot more money than we ever thought he did, if they're planning a world tour this summer. And what's with the gin bottle thing? That's just eewww."

"No, that's personal." Willow and Buffy turned to stare at Giles. "When someone hurts someone you love, what do you do? Or wish you could do?"

The pieces came together with blinding clarity. "Oh, my God. Right before Xander and his uncle stopped talking, I went with him to the emergency room to have his collarbone set. He said his dad did it. But," she paused, "he wouldn't sit down. He said he was too wired to sit. But when they made him sit so the could put the thingy on, it hurt, I could see it, it hurt him to sit down." Her words tumbled out in a rush and she hurried on, asking the question she was almost certain she already knew the answer to. "Do you think- the gin bottle- his uncle always drank, but I never saw him sober after that, never. And Xander's bedroom was upstairs, then, across from his uncle's." She trailed off into horrified silence, wondering how she'd missed seeing it then.

"That's personal, all right." Buffy's voice was hard. "I don't care if it was Spike, and I don't care how he did it. If what we think happened really happened, then they got what they deserved."

"Quite." Willow turned to Giles in surprise. She had expected him to say something about the Slayer protecting humans. She agreed with Buffy, but hadn't thought Giles would.

Buffy gathered up the pages of her letter and folded them into her purse. Picking up Mr. Pointy, she said, "I'm going to go patrol. Wills, coming with? Giles?"

"No, no, you go ahead. I've got to do the monthly accounts." Giles headed back into his office.

"Yep, be right with you, Buffy. Just let me get some things." Willow reached for a box and riffled through it, cramming her pockets with useful things, then hurried to catch up to Buffy.

She didn't know whether they were going to look for whoever had helped Spike, and say thank you, or going to work out their anger with Xander's family on the local fledgling population, but either way, she was in.

* * * * *

Xander bounced down the stairs to their apartment.

"Luuuucyyy, I'm home!" he called.

Spike came out of the kitchen, a mug of blood in his hand. Playing along, he said, "Hello, dear, how was your day?" He tilted his cheek to be kissed.

"You are looking at an officially employed person. Jack really came through for me; his letter of recommendation basically says I have a halo. I start tomorrow at eight."

"That's great! Although-"

"Yeah, I know," Xander interrupted. "I don't have to work. You can easily keep me in the manner to which I'd like to become accustomed. The part you're missing, Fang Boy, is that I want to work. As strange as it may seem, I like to work."

He watched as Spike made the decision to drop the subject. What he would never say, that Spike probably knew anyway, was that he didn't want to give up that last vestige of independence just yet. As long as he could make and pay for his own way, he would. Spike didn't like it, but he understood, so he didn't say anything. Or rather, he did say, but then dropped the subject as soon as it was obvious that Xander hadn't changed his mind.

They moved companionably through their evening routine, making dinner and cleaning up, even though Spike insisted that since he didn't have to eat, he therefore shouldn't have to do dishes, either. He lost the thumb wrestling match and 'volunteered' to dry. Xander knew that Spike was surprised he'd turned into such a neatnik, but he was proud of their apartment. It was worth keeping clean in a way the Basement of Doom never had been.

They owned the whole house, but lived in the basement and rented the top part out. It wasn't just a basement; he was pretty sure Spike had spent a lot of money making it livable. And since it was a big Victorian basement to go with the big Victorian house upstairs, they had lots of room, with odd little nooks and crannies, and no windows. Their bedroom had been the maids' quarters, and their bathroom had been the coal cellar. Surprisingly, they had even agreed on a color scheme; royal blue and cream for the bedroom, shades of cream and coffee with royal blue accents everywhere else. And they had lots of low, squashy furniture, suitable for fucking on. They even had a chair like the one in Spike's crypt, only in considerably better shape.

After watching a movie, they went to bed. Xander was awoken several hours later by the insistent ringing of the phone. There was a reason it was on his side of the bed, and he levered himself out from under an oblivious Spike and groped around on the night table.

"'Lo?" He squinted, trying to see the callerID, then gave up. "Yes, this is Alexander Harris." He sat up and tried to sound more awake than he was. Spike made sleepy mumbles at him, but sat up and paid attention at Xander's exclamation.

"What?!" Now he really was awake. "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that? You woke me up," he said plaintively.

He listened in blank confusion as the voice on the other end described his father's death, and his Uncle Rory's, and the current state of his mother.

He knew he was awake--he pinched himself to make sure--but he couldn't make it feel like it was happening to him.

He said things to the voice on the other end of the phone that he immediately forgot, and wrote down a number he wasn't sure he'd be able to read in the morning. He hung up and stared blankly at the phone until Spike interrupted.

"What's up, Xander?" Spike was sitting against the headboard, the deep blue sheets draped around his waist.

"My-my dad. Is, um, dead. And Uncle Rory." He felt queerly blank.

"What about your mum?"

"She's alive. She was- They found her downstairs. She's at the Sunnydale Asylum now. They think she saw what- They think that's why- God, Spike. She wasn't the best mother, but...you know?"

"Do they know what happened?"

"Yeah. They were, um, killed. Murdered. Probably by a human, and not something Hellmouthy. At least, it doesn't look like there's any evidence of something Hellmouthy." It slowly dawned on Xander that Spike was being awful calm about this. It was almost like he'd been expecting-

"Spike?"

"Yeah?" Spike's voice was calm enough, but his expression was wary. Now Xander was sure.

He'd expected something like this before they'd ever left Sunnydale, but not after. Not that that didn't mean Spike wasn't somehow still involved. All sorts of people, both the human and demon, owed Spike favors.

"Why didn't you kill my mom?" He could see that that wasn't what Spike had expected, but apparently he had startled Spike into the truth.

"Because she tried harder than your bastard of a father ever did."

"How'd you do it?" What he really wanted to know who had done it for Spike, and was he going to have to warn Buffy to watch out for his fledgling dad out wandering around.

"The Thark'un."

Xander sat there and stared at Spike, his mind trying to make sense of the answer he'd gotten. Thark'un...what had he heard about them? The answer came to him in a rush of remembered conversation.

"You did it?" he asked.

Now Spike looked twice as confused. "Yeah. You just asked me how- oh, I get it. You thought I'd gotten someone else to do it."

"You didn't," he clarified.

"No. While you were at the Magic Box, I met the Thark'un at Willy's. The clan Master had promised a favor for our help with his son. The two you met were it. We went into the back room and they stepped me to- we ended up in your basement."

He paused. Xander flapped a hand at him, meaning 'keep going'.

"I-" He stopped, clearly wondering just how much Xander wanted to know.

"You can skip the gory details; if you did it, I can guess," Xander said dryly.

Spike looked mildly relieved. "When I was...done, they stepped us back. That's the lot."

Xander pushed Spike down flat, then lay down beside him, his head in the cup of Spike's shoulder.

"Xander?"

"Quiet. I need to think." He burrowed into Spike's embrace, and tried to wrap his head around all the things he'd learned.

Item one: His dad was dead. He felt like he should feel sorry about that, but he didn't. Years of indifference, leavened with the occasional cruelty, had seen to that. He knew what he *should* feel-he just didn't. Couldn't.

He mourned, though. He mourned the loss of the chance to maybe, in some impossible future, make things better. To be civil, if not actually friendly. And now, that chance to have something approaching a normal father-son relationship was gone, and he mourned the loss of what could have been. What should have been.

Item two: Uncle Rory was dead, too. He felt sadder about that. Before the Incident had happened, he'd liked Uncle Rory. He'd told Spike that, and it was true. Rory had taught him how to make a kite and fly it, had helped him with his math homework, had let him sit on the edge of the bathroom counter and watch him shave.

And with the clarity of hindsight, he could see how devastated Rory'd been over the Incident. He didn't see it at the time of course, but Rory truly had climbed into his gin bottle and not come out after that. His behavior had had all the hallmarks of a guilty man who'd done a terrible thing and didn't know how to make it right. But he had done a terrible thing, and knowing Spike, he'd paid for it, and probably with interest.

Item three: His mom was...gone. Lost inside her own head, apparently. Had she seen what Spike did? Had she seen him do it? Or had Spike said something to her? Any of those were possibilities.

She'd been as bullied as Xander had been, and probably moreso in different ways. Still, she'd tried. Maybe she hadn't tried very hard to protect him, but she hadn't gone out of her way to try to hurt him, either. Didn't that count for something?

Xander wasn't aware that he was crying until Spike gently wiped the tears from his face with the corner of the sheet.

"Did I- Did I do the wrong thing?"

Well, that was really the question, wasn't it?

He sighed deeply. "Yes. No. I don't know. No, I knew that you were going to. Hell, I even offered! But it's different, somehow, now that it's really happened." And just how long would it take him to learn that reality was always different than fantasy?

"I'm sorry, Xander." Spike's voice was quiet, and Xander could feel him drawing in on himself.

"It's... It's just you being you, Spike. I knew- Do you like my tattoo?"

There was a pause, then, "Roll over, pet, and let me see it again." He knew that he had once again surprised Spike. Considering that their life together had started with 'conversational left turns', as Spike had put it, you'd think he'd be used to them by now.

Xander obligingly rolled off of Spike and onto his back. On the left side of his chest, over his heart, was a small, tribal-style scorpion. It was new and still scabby, but it was healing well.

"Very nice, pet. When did you get it done?" Spike asked.

"Last night, when you were hunting." Now that the chip was toast, Spike was free to hunt, and he often did, although his diet was still heavily supplemented with pig's blood. But it bothered Xander-he was still too much the White Knight to be comfortable with Spike killing random humans.

So Spike compromised. He still hunted, just not randomly. They lived in a big city, with plenty of bad guys to eat. Spike hunted in the ugly end of town, snacking on pimps and thugs. And although he still killed drug dealers once in awhile, he didn't actually eat them anymore, not since the last one. That one had obviously been sampling his wares. Spike had said he thought the blood had tasted off, but by then it was too late. Suffice it to say that vampires and crack were a bad combination.

Spike rolled to his side and propped his head on his fist as examined the new tattoo. Reaching out, he traced lazy trails over Xander's warm skin. He'd said once that the one thing he'd miss after he turned Xander would be sleeping with a warm body.

"So why a scorpion, pet?" His expression was less wary than it had been, but he still seemed to expect some fallout from his actions.

"It goes with a story that reminds me of you."

"Oh? Do tell."

"You know the story of the horse and the scorpion?" He waited while Spike thought about it.

"Yeah. Scorpion needs a ride across the river, the horse refuses 'cause he doesn't want stung. He takes the scorpion anyway, stupid git, and gets stung. When he asks the scorpion why, the scorpion says 'because it's my nature'. That one?"

Xander could see that Spike knew where this was leading. "Yeah, that one."

Xander rolled to his side, facing Spike. Spike put his hand on Xander's hip, pulling their lower bodies together.

"The scorpion is you, Spike. You're a vampire-it's in your nature to hunt, and kill, and to protect me, even from things in the past that can't hurt me anymore. It's going to take me a while to wrap my head around the fact that they're...gone, and that you did it, even though I expected you to. But I will get my head around it, and I do understand why you did it-you love me. As long as it's in your nature to continue to love me, I'll be fine. We'll be fine."

"It is, pet, always." Spike pushed Xander over until his warm body was mostly under Spike's cooler one, then slid his hand up Xander's back until his fingers were cradling the back of his skull. Anchoring him there, he repeated, "Always," as he brought his mouth down to Xander's.

Any reply Xander would have made was lost to the heat rising between them.

* * * * *

Epilogue

Ian MacAllistair stood, confused and disbelieving, in his apartment doorway. The deliveryman was impatiently holding out the clipboard for his signature.

"Look, buddy, I don't know who sent it. All I know is the boss says 'deliver this' and I deliver this. To you. Are you gonna sign for it or not?"

Shaking his head with bemusement, Ian signed by the X and stood aside as the deliveryman tipped two large boxes and a slightly smaller one off his dolly.

He pushed the door closed then headed to the kitchen for a utility knife. Finding one, he slit the packing tape on all three boxes. He pulled the biggest box open then gaped in surprise. Inside the box was a new computer-a PowerMac G4; top-of-the-line, with a superfast processor, enormous memory, all the bells and whistles.

In fact, he'd bet- Yep, the other big box contained the 23" flat-screen monitor. He scrabbled the third box open and dumped out nearly a dozen software programs; all the big useful ones and a couple of games besides. Underneath the pile was an envelope with his name on it.

From who? Who was sending him a new computer, and why? Well, he decided, no point in trying to guess when the answer was there in his hand. He slit open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper and read.

Hey, Ian-

Bet you're wondering what's going on. With the money and stuff, I mean. You're welcome, by the way.

You remember that weekend? So do I. One of my best memories, actually. This is thank you. Not for the sex, but for making it good. For showing me it could be good. Better than good. Something not to be afraid of.

If you hadn't happened, then Spike couldn't have happened, and my life would be way different. So thanks, man, for everything. And now it's my turn to happen to you. All you used to talk about was getting your degree. Well, go get it!

Do better in chemistry than I did, ok?

Xander

Spike says 'thanks, mate' too.

There was a strip of heavy paper taped to the bottom of the letter. He carefully peeled it off and turned it over. It was a strip of black and white pictures from a photo booth, with one end torn off.

The first picture was Xander, grinning at the camera. Ian was surprised to see how mature he looked. The last traces of boyhood were gone-this Xander was a man.

The second was of a good-looking but somehow feral man with white-blond hair, looking at something off-camera. The angle of his head threw his cheekbones into stark relief. This must be Spike, Ian thought.

The third picture was Xander and Spike side by side, faces together, with Xander's cheek propped slightly on the top of Spike's blond head. Xander was flashing his trademark goofy grin, but Spike wasn't smiling. Ian looked again. Something about his eyes... Whatever it was, Ian finally decided that Spike looked happy too, even if it wasn't obvious.

The fourth picture was Xander and Spike again, this time facing each other. And kissing. Whoo, boy, were they kissing, Ian thought with a grin of his own. Spike's far hand was twisted in the hair at the back of Xander's neck; Ian could see his knuckles. His near hand was reaching down, out of camera range. Xander's near hand was bunched in Spike's dark t-shirt, and he was leaning down, into Spike.

The fifth picture...wow.

Pieces of memories flashed past Ian's mind's eye. Xander, kissing him with hesitant eagerness. Wide-eyed and breathless at the touch of Ian's mouth on his cock. Near tears after Ian first touched the sensitive, secret place between those tempting cheeks. Xander, hesitating, before he entered Ian, and the look of awe as he watched Ian come, his cock still deep inside. The heartbreaking trust in his eyes as Ian had prepared him, slowly and gently. And the ecstasy, god, the ecstasy on Xander's face as he came, clenching hard around Ian's cock, head thrown back, neck tightly corded, hair sticking damply to sweaty temples. And Ian's favorite mental snapshot, Xander, asleep on his chest, sated and content, with a small smile still lingering and the silver tracks of happy tears drying slowly in the moonlight.

Ian shook himself out of the past, back into the present and looked at the fifth picture again.

Xander, sprawled on the bench in the booth. Spike was in his lap, back to the camera, his head buried in the crook of Xander's neck. Xander's hands were on the blond's ass, obviously pulling him forward.

But the expression on Xander's face was what made Ian smile. Full of laughter and love and lust, he was winking at the camera.

Chuckling to himself and wondering what was on the other strip of pictures, he stuffed everything back in the envelope, and began putting his new computer together.







The End








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