Chapter 12

 

 

Baloo, my boy, lie still and sleep
It grieves me sore to hear thee weep.
If thou'lt be silent I'll be glad
Thy moaning makes my heart full sad

 

Rough and whispering, the voice spread warmth deep inside him and to wrap around the places nothing else could touch.  The pain was vivid, every part of his body twisted and throbbing.  Tears traced crazy paths along hot skin, and the wet, gasping sound came from lungs too hurt to truly sob.


Baloo, baloo, baloo, baloo
Baloo, baloo, lu-li-li-lu

He struggled through the black to try and open his eyes, to see what sang to him and touched him so delicately.  So desperately.  But his eyes wouldn’t open and there was only the voice, telling him that it was all right.

O'er thee I keep my lonely watch
Intent thy lightest breath to catch

Cool, gentle pressure on his face, catching the tears as the fell.  Breath gusting over skin that felt raw, quieting the flame.  Touches in his hair, running over and over to the pounding of a single heart.

O, when thou wak'st to see thee smile
And thus my sorrow to beguile. . .

Murmurs in between the song, as if it hurt to sing so much.  But never silence, never stillness.  Always words, ghosting along nerves to teach them more than pain, more than hurt.  Words that made the tears come faster, because it was not for him.  Never for him the peace they offered, hard lessons learned before speech and skill.  Pain and fear were all he knew. . .

Baloo, my boy, lie still and sleep
It grieves me sore to hear thee weep.

Warmth spread over him, bundling around him like the blanket he’d lost so long ago to ‘maturity’, ‘adulthood’ and a small fire.  More touches, more soft words, over and over, never flagging, never faltering, always there on his skin and in his mind.

Baloo, baloo, baloo, baloo
Baloo, baloo, lu-li-li-lu*

It wasn’t true.  It couldn’t be true, what they said, because it never had been before, never would be now.  It couldn’t be true. . .


Have you ever heard your body scream, without ever using lungs and vocal-cords?

It was that sound that woke him, jolting him from drugged half-sleep into dazed alertness.  Freezing, he held his breath.

Not there?

Some lessons are learned so early, so deeply that they never leave.  They form a routine, and there’s comfort in following the routine, because nothing else ever was—routine or comfortable.  The first was to determine not self—but them.

No breathing.

Lances of fire in his chest made him grab sharp lung-full breaths of air; wet sounds of a body working.  The only body.

Not there?

There was comfort in routine.  Without the routine, there was none.  Wary unease pooled in his belly, making his skin itch and tighten.  Sounds: the hiss and crackle and drip and drop but no in and out and in again.  The thud-thud of a terrified heart, but without the measured counter-beats that usually greeted a waking.

Minutes ticked by.  There was procedure, even now, but without the familiarity to provide false-comfort.  Wait, be silent, don’t make the first move.  Unconsciousness brought kicks, but then withdrawal and flimsy offerings of shelter.  Just wait.

Minutes turned to hours and he must have slept again.  Light edged through closed lids, warming the left side of his face and the top of his left shoulder.  Sunlight.  Warm.  Nice.  Not there before.

Not there?

Minutes-to-hours and still alone?  No breathing but the shallow sounds they had never made.  No thumping but the tumbling beat in his ears and behind his eyes.  Not there.  Alone.  Alone?  Uneasiness coalesced into fear, the routine stripped away to leave. . . nothing.

Click.  The whisper of movement, cool air brushing along his face, and low, measured inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale-inhale—

“I will not hurt you.”

Close up throat, concentrate on deep, melodic voice, polished and proper with just a hint—

“You must breathe, child.  He was quite insistent of that.”

Bad!

Too deep, too fast, and tremors shook him as saline burned behind tightly closed eyes.  Convulsing on the solid breath lodged in his throat, he could not fear cool touch upon his arm, strong hand upon his back, pressing—

The lump dissolved, leaving shivering agony in its wake.  Hot, scalding hot tears dripped from closed eyes, and more lumps formed as breathing grew difficult.

“You must breathe.”

Badbadbadbadbad!

The wet heat could not be stopped, sliding out despite focused pressure.  The touch on his back shifted slightly, and the edged lines around his chest eased.  More deep, shuddering breaths, the rhythm pulling him back in and out and in and out. . .

“I will not hurt you.”

In and out and in and out and in and out.

“You are pack.  You are protected.”

But he did not hear ‘protected’.  Abandoned, bereft, cast out, shunned, rejected, scorned, alone. . .

A sharp tap on his temple.  The flare of pain broke through the haze and he jerked his head up to stare—at spots, from holding his eyes so tightly closed.  Blinking produced flashes of color and the image of a woman’s head.

“You are pack.  Feel!”

Feel?  Feel. . . pack.  Feel pack.  Feel the pack, no matter how small or skewed or fractured.  Feel pack, buzzing deep within areas that saw little daylight but tied directly to nerves and heart.  Ties still bound, despite the tug-and-stretch.  Still bound.

“Are you pack?”

A twitch served for a nod.  He was pack, included and not alone.

“As pack, you are safe.  I am not pack.”

Spots finally cleared, revealing huge dark eyes in a lined and weathered face.  Those luminous eyes blinked, and the lights deep within them resolved to waver and become reflections again.  Two sticks held together a bun of jet black hair.  Little hands rested on narrow legs, against a kimono of black and silver.

“I am not pack,” was repeated.

No, not pack.  But not enemy.  No hate no fear no worry—just little and scared and want.  Want smell.

“I do not wish to hurt you.”  He froze again, untrusting of that beginning.  Not wish but want. . .  “I must check the bandages.  Will you let me?”

He blinked.  Bandages?  Freeing an arm—that caught the light and glittered—he pulling his blanket up an inch.  Just enough to let light shine down his naked body.

Gold was everywhere.  Snake-like, it threaded through his skin from neck to feet, like hundreds of little worms burrowing into him.  Translucent material was dotted among the gold, over areas he knew were too serious to be stitched closed.  Wood was wrapped around one arm and one leg, thin leather holding it in place.  He looked like a child’s crazy-paving, a toy put together all wrong.

A gentle touch made him look back up.  Something she saw on his face made the aloof expression soften into something much nicer.  “You will heal,” she told him quietly.  “All will be well.”

He nodded and slumped back down against the cushions, ignoring the way various bits of him screamed in response.

She hummed while she worked, something soft that he didn’t recognize.  It kept him calm while she checked him over with professional skill and competence.  It hurt—it hurt a lot—but he was silent the whole time, concentrating on breathing.  He had to breathe, pack-leader said so.

“Finished.”  Xander blinked at the satisfied pronouncement, noticing that the stray beams of sunlight were no longer touching him.  Had he fallen asleep?  But it had hurt, and he knew better than to sleep while it hurt. . .

The whimper was growing in his throat, and he swallowed repeatedly to rid himself of it.  Except he didn’t know where he was, and he wanted—he wanted—

“He will return soon.  He has not left you, this I promise.”  He stared at the small woman, unblinking.  “Are you thirsty?  Hungry?”

He was thirsty, horribly so, but he could not open his mouth to tell her.  He wanted—he needed to know that he was still. . . still. . .

“Xander.  Look at me.”  And he was drowning, falling, lost in depths so dark that it was literally the absence of light.  There was nothing but blackness, all around him, but not lost, and not alone, and he wasn’t so little anymore.  Wasn’t he?  Wasn’t he supposed to be?  He liked it when he was little, because little meant safe and cupcakes and a dirty-white blanket he could still taste when his eyes were closed.  Little meant someone to take care of him, protect him from the things he was too small to understand, too small to deal with on his own.

Tears were falling again, burning red patterns down his skin, and the whimper had turned into sobs.  Arms stiff and throbbing, skin turned pale against true gold, moved to wrap around himself in a vain attempt to offer comfort he couldn’t feel, because he was too little!  Just small and cold and scared and he wanted so badly that it ached more than the cuts, the broken bones, more than the look in his mother’s eyes when she’d settled herself on him and he’d known, really known just how bad it was.  Just how scary it was.  When he’d understood for the first time what denial tasted like and how much he needed—

“Shhh, luv.  Love.  Hush, now.”  Oooh, pretty voice was back!  Cool skin resting against his flushed one and strong, so strong arms were moving him, positioning him, a living doll to heat the cold, cold bed at night.  He was moved against something hard and soft and not warm but so nice, touching almost from neck to knee.  Words competed with the rush-rush of blood pounding in his ears, touches dancing over skin that couldn’t take even the gentlest pressure but still needed it, craved it.  The sweet-sharp smell of blood filled him, almost drowning it out, almost overpowering it, but not really.

Musk and leather, cigarettes and pain, and below that something more, something deeper.

Home.  He wept, losing himself in the scent of it, sobbing out over a decade of pain and terror that he’d never told anyone before, never never never.  Home.  And he wanted to believe, wanted to believe so much that the pain of his broken body dimmed in comparison because he hadn’t, he couldn’t.  Wanting was dangerous, he knew that, but it was so much, so strong, and please, please make it better, make it not so much, please. . .

“I’m here, my love.  I promise I’m here.  You’re safe now, precious.  Nothing will hurt you ever again.”


This time waking was. . . better.  No silent, swallowed screaming, no mumbled songs.  Just breathing.  Soft pressure on his forehead, cool breath gusting in and out over feverish skin.  A twitch of movement and he recognized the lump at the top of his head as a nose.

“Ow.”

A sharply indrawn breath and then what had been his blanket started moving.  “Mornin’, pet,” was muttered in his ear.  He stifled a giggle—the voice was high and light, from a sleep-full throat.  It made him sound almost falsetto.

“Hm?”  Rumbling vibrations turned the laughter into a silent moan.  “S’funny, luv?”

“Silly.”  And his own voice was falsetto, but that was okay too.

Blue eyes widened and stared into his.  For a moment he thought he saw fear, true fear, the kind of fear that said ‘please, no, not this one too’, but then it was gone and there was only amusement and affection.  “Am I silly, then?”

“Yes.”  Another giggle, which called up an answering smile.  “Pretty.”

“Nah.  Too bony to be really pretty.  You are, though.  Even now, you are. . .”  There was pain in the voice again, like there had been before with the pretty song.  Pain was bad.  Besides, the pretty man was wrong.

“Not,” he said, wrinkling his nose and shaking his head.  Looking down at himself, seeing the cuts and bruises and pudgy bits and dented bits, he blinked back tears.  “Ugly,” he whispered.  “Broken.”

“Never.”  Quick as a flash, there was a hand cupping his cheek, making him look up into blue eyes that were filled with their own tears.  Eyes that were completely serious and not the least bit mocking.  “You are beautiful, love.  Don’t ever think different.  An’ you are not broken.  Don’t keep broken things.  Toss ’em out.  An’ you—” he stressed, tilting his head so that he continued looking into his eyes—“are not broken, ducks.  You are strong, and pure.  Always pure.”

“Mommy says I’m bad.  Daddy says I’m dirty.”  The comments were rote, things he knew and had known all his life.  But it still hurt to say them out loud.

“Never.  Y’er mum’s a ravin’ looney, an’ your da’s a pathetic sack o’ rotgut.  Nothing comin’ outta his mouth but drink.  Don’t believe a word of it.”  The eyes were back, staring into his own with such fervor, such deep belief that he couldn’t help but maybe—just maybe believe.  The pretty man wasn’t leaving, after all.  He was still there, still touching and talking and saying such nice things. . .

“Mommy and Daddy love me,” he whispered.  Which wasn’t true, he knew that.  But they were supposed to. . . weren’t they?

“No, Xander.  The crack-whores you call parents do not love you.  They used you an’ abused you an’ got only what they wanted from you.”  The pretty man was very close now.  Such a nice, pretty man.

“I know,” he whispered again, because he did.  He’d known that for a long, long time.  Love was red hair and cookies and ice cream in the park.  Love was a hand helping him to his feet and accepting the one he offered.  Love was quiet nights in front of the tv, heckling movies that could never capture the creatures that did go bump in the night.  Love was thank you and it looks good on you. . .

Except they loved someone else.  They always loved someone else.  And even when it was him. . . it wasn’t.  Because he was bad and ugly and broken and no one could love him.

“They were idiots, Xander.  Utter gits.”

Nice, pretty man.  So silly, the pretty man.  Because they weren’t gits, they were his parents.  And maybe if he hadn’t been so bad, and stupid, and ugly, and broken then maybe they might have loved him.  Been nice to him.  And then maybe. . .

“They shoulda loved you, pet.  Right morons of them not to.  Know why?”  And the pretty man was moving, sitting up and carefully moving him so that he was still pressed up close, legs wrapped around a narrow waist, and an arm supporting him around his back.  Hair was brushed away from his face and a forehead rested against his own, so that their noses rubbed together.  And blue, blue, blueblueblue eyes were looking straight into his and he couldn’t look away and didn’t want to because they were so pretty, even though he was so close it looked like there was only one big blurry eye, instead of two.

“Because I love you, Xander.”

Feather light touch of lips against his own, and suddenly he remembered.  Not what happened, that was easy to remember, even when he wanted to forget. . . he remembered that he wasn’t little.  He hadn’t been little for a very long time, and this was Spike, kissing him.  Soft, gentle, loving kisses, warm against his mouth, and shouldn’t he be kissing back?

His mouth opened involuntarily, not much, just enough that a tongue could lap at the openness there, and he must have morning-breath from hell, but it didn’t seem to matter because it was gentle touches, sweet, loving touches that never faltered as they kissed and licked and sucked and gently nipped.

And this was different than before.  Than ever before.  There was no gloss or fruit, or plump softness.  There was stubble, and rough, broken patches, and a hard aggressiveness that even his dominant lovers hadn’t been able to match, even now when it was couched in loving gentleness.  There was cigarettes, and fear, and a lingering hint of copper, along with pain and love.  And it tasted better than anything.

He moaned, or gasped, or something, because his mouth was open wider and a slick tongue was rubbing against his own, and he was kissing.  Really kissing.  Tongues tangling together, not battling, just touching, tasting, feeling.  He was crying, he knew, his fingers curled into ice blond locks that weren’t cemented down with gel, and that alone told Xander everything there was to know.  He kissed back harder.

“I’m sorry,” was whispered when they both realized that Xander had to breathe, and the kisses trailed along his face, removing tears that still fell.  “I’m sorry.”  Nibbling delicately at an earlobe, before returning to press hard at lips that welcomed the contact, craved it, never wanted it to end, except there was that breathing thing—

I love you.  I’m sorry.  I’m here.  Beautiful, special, wonderful, strong.  Mine.  Mine.

The words poured out in between the kisses and Xander wallowed in the emotion behind them, became a sponge, the Sahara, desperate for the liquid relief the words brought.  More kisses, and this was the first time, he realized.  The only time.  Over a month, and never had there been kisses, let alone like these.  There had been everything but kisses, and he hadn’t realized he’d wanted them until he had them.

Had him.


The ceiling was pretty.  Swirls of black were worked into the wood planing, creating a soothing pattern he ran his eyes over again and again.  He figured it wasn’t random, maybe some kind of Asian character?  He didn’t know.  But it was pretty.  Soothing.  That was good.

He had no idea how long he’d been studying the pattern above him, but he guessed that it didn’t matter.  He was warm, resting on oddly shaped yet strangely comfortable cushions.  The pain wasn’t even too bad, so long as he kept his body mostly still.  His mind was calm, staring up at the pretty patterns.  They made it easier not to think about—other things.  Made it easy to think about nothing but the patterns.

Which was wrong.

He remembered coming home.  Little fag’s finally showin’ his face?  Prick!  Look at wha’ y’ve done t’ your mother!  He remembered when the beating started, remembered when it got so horribly worse.  No son o’ mine’s gonna be a fag.  Your mom didn’t raise a fuckin’ fudge-packer.  Icy hot pain that dragged through his skin, followed by rivers of blood.  The sharp crack and dull thuds as his body was pummeled into submission.

Xander!

The drunken, cruel look in his father’s eyes.  Pretty little boy.  The look in his mother’s as she ran her hands along his body, uncaring of the injuries she touched.  Oh, Alexander.  I’m so disappointed in you.  You were such a promising boy.  Her weight upon him and the sticky, slimy feeling of warmth wetting—

Let me in!

“Come in,” he whispered in the stillness of the room.  His voice was hoarse, but not scratchy and weak the way it had been the first time.  His eyes returned to the whirling patterns above him, visible in the warm sunlight, tracing them in a more conscious attempt to calm down. Being agitated made him hurt more.

But not enough.  Not as bad as it should.

Broken leg.  Dislocated arm.  A host of cuts, some of them quite deep, on his front, the ones on his back—reaching from neck to knee—intermixed with bruising that felt down to his bones.  Ribs were at the very least cracked, possibly outright broken.  The hot, wet feeling in his gut that had followed a particularly vicious hit with the crowbar had to have broken something, which meant internal injuries.

He should be dead now.  Or in traction.  Or screaming in tortured agony, waiting for a break in the pain so he could beg for morphine, for an overdose, for something.

He wasn’t.

Not that there wasn’t pain—there was definitely that.  But manageable pain.  Bearable pain.  The kind he imagined he’d feel if he went several rounds with a Slayer who wasn’t pulling her punches, followed by a few very active patrols, finishing with a trip to the gym.  He hurt and he knew it was going to take time and work to feel okay again. . .

But he would.

Xander!  Let me in!

He’d let Spike in.  He remembered that.  Thank god he’s okay, he thought inanely, suddenly remembering why Spike hadn’t been there to begin with.  He’d die if he had to go back to the Initiative.  Trapped behind glass with too-white walls and people poking and prodding and dissecting and taking every—

Pretty patterns in the wood.  He traced them for a while, his mind circling warily while he gathered his thoughts.  They had a tendency to fly away and it was so pretty above him. . .

Spike saved me.

He understood that.  It was hard to miss, given he was lying here in a strange room that wasn’t a hospital, feeling. . . recoverable.  What he didn’t understand was why.

Opening aching eyes, twisting his head just enough that he could see the familiar combination of white and black glowing eerily in the doorway.  Something in him forcing lips and tongue, throat and lungs to produce the combination the voice demanded.  Sinking back down onto scratchy cloth, fighting a smile because now, now it was over. . .

All that blood, soaking into everything.  A feast for a starving vampire, with two humans ready and willing to act as pre-chipped hands.  Xander had slipped away to the peaceful realization that at least Spike would benefit.  He’d get a good meal, and Xander was happy that his death would give that to the vampire.  That his death would be good for something.

Spike saved me.

There was something that was supposed to accompany that thought.  An addendum, a clause, an explanation, a something.  He didn’t know what it was.  He hated that more than anything; the parts of his life where he would do something, say something, and it would be lost to the void of black unconsciousness.  This time, though, the lack of memory tore at him, ripping apart gray matter to find the something that would make him breathe easier, the bit of knowledge that would explain why he felt so—

“Good morning, Xander.”

He froze.

A whisper of cooler air across his skin told him the door was opening, quiet footfalls approaching him.  He did not look away from the ceiling, even when whoever it was knelt beside him.  “How are you feeling?”  Something was unsnapped, making him start violently.  “You must breathe, please.  He was rather insistent about that.”

He?  Pack-leader.  Pack-leader says I have to breathe.

He inhaled too quickly, coughing as sweet air turned rough and cut into his already abraded throat.  Warm, small hands touched him and this time his violent reaction propelled him up against the wall.

Or it would have, if those same small hands hadn’t held him down.

“None of that, please.”  The hands did not move, resting comfortably where they touched his chest and shoulder and he gradually relaxed into their warmth.  “Will you stay calm?”

Will you hurt me if I don’t? he thought.  The fear was instantaneous.  Deep in his mind, something wailed and keened in counterpoint.

“You must stay calm, Xander.  You must breathe.  If you do not, I fear for what William might do.”

It was the amusement rippling through the smooth silk of the voice that made him finally calm down.  That, and the realization that pack-leader would be upset if he wasn’t well behaved.

Spike saved me.

“Now, then.  Let me do most of the work.”  With that bizarre admonition, Xander lay passive as the small, warm hands exerted a startling amount of strength in moving him around.  Soon he was in a sitting position, able to actually see more than the pretty ceiling that still called to him.

The small room seemed covered with candles.  Most had gone out, but a few still burned fitfully.  Beside him a small woman in a black-and-silver kimono watched patiently.  “I know you,” he whispered, his throat still not particularly happy at being used.  “You own the magic shop.  Willow likes it.”

“Indeed.”  Which was an odd answer, and he was able to catch several different nuances in it.  If only he knew what they meant.  “I must check your wounds, now.”  Hands touched him again, but this time to turn his face so that he was looking in her eyes.  Deep, dark eyes. . . depths so dark that they were the absence of light. . .  “I will be as gentle as I can,” she said quietly, “but this will hurt. Do you understand?”

He nodded, throat suddenly tighter.

She worked quickly, occasionally interjecting comments about his recovery and the means she had used to get him there.  It did hurt, but concentrating on her voice and the patterns above him helped immensely.  I’m going to be okay.  That was what she stressed again and again.  Glancing down at himself only served to convince him of it.

He knew what he should have looked like—a lifetime at home and years with the Slayer had given him many mornings to examine injuries from the previous night.  Instead, smooth, mostly unbroken skin stared back at him.  There was an occasional bandage, which was carefully removed.  Most revealed reddened patches of skin, already in the final stages of healing.  His leg was bound in black strips of some material he couldn’t identify, which were also removed.

“Scars?” he asked while she rubbed something cool and tingly into his back.  It felt good, which surprised him.  She’d hurt him plenty before, and this should have hurt like hell.  Wasn’t the first time the crowbar had been used, and he knew how long cracked bones and the bruised flesh atop them remained painful.

“You will have them,” was the immediate response, “but not many.  There is a salve you must apply regularly.  It will help convince the skin to knit back seamlessly.”

No scars.  Well, no more scars.  Which, given what they’d done to his front—

A sharp tap to his temple made the world loose its red-tinged madness.  “You are here, and you are safe.  No one will hurt you, Xander.”  A brief hint of a smile crossed stern features.  “Well, no more than I have already.”

“Okay,” he replied dumbly.  She got him turned over again and a tray containing a bowl and a glass appeared in his lap.  He blinked at it.  “How—what—how did—”  His mouth seemed unable to get the words out coherently.

“You are here because William brought you here.  I have been tending to you for four days.”

Shock kept him docile as she began feeding him a rich chicken broth.  Four days?  I’ve been here days?  God, Willow never lets me go two without calling—  Click.  Oh, god, she knows.  Those unreadable eyes, watching him and waiting. . .  She knows, she knows, she knows, she knows, she—

“Enough!”  Black eyes glared at him, pinning him to the cushions, unable to do more than gasp.  “You were hurt, and I healed you.  I neither know nor care what hurt you, so long as I know it will not happen again.  I do not like my healing to be undone.  William has promised to see you safe, and that is all I care about.”

“But I—but you—must—”

Whatever she read in his face softened her grim demeanor.  “I have guesses, yes.  William has not confirmed or denied anything, so they remain guesses.  I do not, however, think they are wrong.”

Wrong, bad, dirty, don’t touch, bad, ugly, stupid, broken, broken, bad, go away, don’t touch!

“I think no less of you for what I guess,” she continued.  “If I had, William would not have brought you here.”  She caught his eyes, something sparking in their depths.  It made him take a deep breath and pay attention to her words.  “You are safe here, Xander.”

The litany halted, shocked at what he couldn’t have seen.  He couldn’t have.  Because it looked like she. . . cared for him.  But that couldn’t be true because he was . . . he was. . .

Spike saved me.

Lost in his thoughts, he remained quiet while she spoon-fed him the soup and helped him drink the liquid in the cup.  It wasn’t water, but it tasted cold and clean like water did and quenched his thirst.  It was nice.  Then she helped him lie back down and he looked at the patterns some more while she bustled about the room.

She doesn’t bustle, he thought muzzily.  She glides.  Floats.  Mm.  Cool.

She finished whatever it was she was doing and went to the door.  “I’ve closed the shutters,” he heard her say quietly.  “He is dazed, and will possibly grow more so as my medicines take effect.  Perhaps not.  He is coherent.  I will leave you, now.”  The door shut.

The sound of someone settling beside him and a cool, gentle touch on his cheek.  “Hey, puppy.  How you feelin’?”

“Spike.”  He leaned into the touch, just a little, keeping his eyes on the ceiling.  “I don’t hurt.”

“Yeah, Song Li’s good.  Very good.”  Feather light touches caressed him, and he hummed a bit, under his breath.  “Hey.  You awake in there?”

“Pretty.”  It was too hard to look away, so he didn’t.  Just pressed himself closer to the cool, soothing touch as it moved up to pet his hair.  “Nice.”

“What’s pretty?  The ceilin’?  Yeah.  Li was tellin’ me, got symbols up there, worked into the finish.  Supposed to be good for patients.”  More petting and Xander was feeling nice, now.  Not hurting.  Not really sleepy.  Content.  So long as the fingers didn’t stop moving.  “Can I see too?”

“It’s pretty,” he said by way of agreement.  Big, strong hands moved him with a gentleness he would have scoffed at a month ago, arranging him so that another body could lay next to his.

“You make a good pillow,” he said from the crook of Spike’s shoulder.  One hand continued to pet, pet, pet, pet him, the other rubbing slowly over his un-damaged arm.

“Glad to oblige.”

They lay quietly for a while, lulled into a half-doze by the twisty, curvy patterns.  It was nice.

“What do you remember?”

Xander!  Let me in!

“You saved me.”  His voice wasn’t supposed to be that high, was it?  Swallowing only made him notice the lump in his throat.  “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”  It was too tranquil to yelp, but that’s what it sounded like.  Just with less volume.  “Pet, Xander. . . what the hell are you sorry for?”

“I was bad.  I went back.  I knew you didn’t want me to.  I knew you—”

“Shhh, now.  Don’t cry, luv.”

“I’m not.  M’not a baby.”

“Not a soddin’ baby.  Gonna quote me, do it right, dammit.”  But the humor was strained and Spike let it die a muted death.

Silence again.  The feeling that he was missing something important was back, stronger than ever and very much connected to Spike—but it was hard to stay worried about it.  With the pretty pattern and nice, safe touches on him, and the smell that exuded pack and safe and home, it was hard to do anything except lie there.

“You knew.  Didn’t you?” he blurted out, even though he knew he shouldn’t be talking.  He shouldn’t be pressing this, because he didn’t want to know.  Not really.

“I knew.”

“I’m s—I thought I hid it better.”  The cool form beside and below him tensed.  Apologies were bad, then, and he accommodated the knowledge instantly.  “I thought I hid it better,” he finished softly, relieved when the muscles below his head relaxed.

“You hid it well enough.”  Spike turned his head so that he was speaking almost directly into his ear.  “Too well, really.”  More silence, and Xander wondered what that comment was supposed to mean.  “I smelled the blood.  An’ the makeup.”

Oh.  That was. . . bad.  He wasn’t supposed to be bad, except the words were being pulled out of him because he was bad and— “I’m sorry.”

Arms tightened around him, and he was nuzzled gently.  “For what?  For gettin’ beat on by them you couldn’t fight against?  For takin’ it when you coulda fought back?  Not your fault, luv.  Not ever your fault for that.”

But it was.  Wasn’t it?  Spike was right, of course, he could have fought back for. . . for years, now.  He could have, but he never did.  “But—but only you can—can hurt me.  That’s what you said?”

Spike growled low in his throat, freezing Xander’s tears before they fell.  Shifting, he repositioned them so that they were both on their sides, Xander’s head still on Spike’s arm, blue eyes boring into brown.  Blue, blue eyes. . .  “Not about that.  Not about mine or theirs, just about you.  An’ hurtin’.  You shouldn’t hurt, Xander.  Not ever.”

When has Spike ever called me by my name?

Xander!  Let me in!

“But you knew,” Xander protested weakly.  “You knew, and I was lying and that was bad and I don’t—I don’t want to be—you knew.”

“I knew,” Spike confirmed, “an’ I never pushed you away.”  How had he known what Xander was trying to say?  Was Xander trying to say that?  He didn’t know, but it sounded so good that he didn’t argue it.  “I knew, an’ I never thought you broken or worthless.  I knew, Xander, an’ I kept you closer.”  Big hands, killer hands, brushed away a stray tear.  “Told you, pet.  You’re mine.  Not about them touchin’ what wasn’t theirs to play with.  Bout you not believin’ I’ll keep you.”

Something deep within the back of his mind flared bright, a glorious cry of happiness sounding even as tears rolled down his face.  “Keep me?”

“Told you, puppy.  Don’t do anythin’ less than forever.”

“Oh.”  The something was there again, he could see it in Spike’s eyes.  But he didn’t know what it was and even as he watched the light faded into a muted pain.  Within his mind the happiness became twisted, tainted.  He was hurting pack-leader.  He didn’t know how, and he didn’t know how to make it better, but he was.  That was bad.

Spike didn’t seem to think so, content to pull Xander closer and hold him until the tears stopped.  “Um, S—Miss Li, she—she said. . . four days?”  Spike made a soft hm noise when spoken to, eyes half-closed in drowsy contentment.  “What happened?  I don’t. . . I can’t remember.  After I heard you.”

Lids flickered up, and for a moment Xander swore he saw—  “You invited me in.”  The words were flat, and this time Xander did see pain and remembered rage flaring in dark blue eyes.  “Got in.  Got you out.  Took you here.”

“F—four days?  Ago?”

“Yeah.  Four days.  Li, she’s. . .she’s a healer.  Of sorts.  When I—when—” he cleared his throat roughly.  “Figured here was best.  No officials askin’ funny questions, no Scoobies clusterin’ about.  An’ better healin’ too.”

“Oh.”  He bit his lip, wishing he could concentrate more.  There was something he wanted to—oh, that was it.  “Is she human?”

Rueful chuckle, but the pain and rage lessened so that was good.  “Don’t know.  Don’t rightly care.  She’s powerful, very powerful, so I’m not about to go askin’ after her parentage.”

“She said she used. . . magic.”

“A bit.  Mostly was just Eastern medicine, ’stead of Western.”  The comforting croon he vaguely remembered was back in Spike’s voice, slurring the words together.  It was nice.  Comfy.  He liked being comfy.  “But yeah, some magic.  That a problem?”

“No.”  He thought about it some more.  Turned his head so that it was pressed deeper into Spike’s neck.  His lips tickled white skin stretched over a collarbone.  “Giles says that magic can’t be used to heal people.”

“Yeah, cos the Watcher knows everything’ ’bout everythin’, he does.”  A sigh and Spike cuddled closer.  Pretty Spike.  “He’s half-right.  Can’t use magic like he knows to heal, um, sickness.  Illness.  But injury, that’s different.  Wounds, specially those done out o’ violence, they leave a signature, an echo, in the magic.  Least, that’s the way Li tells it.  She can use that echo to tell your body the way it should be, whole an’ healthy an’ not hurtin’.  Makes the healin’ faster an’ better an’ you won’t scar as much.”

“That’s good,” he said placidly.  “Is Willow mad at me?”  He wondered why he sounded so dreamy.

“Christ, I know she warned me that you’d act funny, but you sound like you’re bloody stoned!”

Xander turned his head again; that was a weird answer.  “M’not. . . stoned.  Not a druggie.”  He wondered why he sounded so petulant.  And childish.

“No, you’re just flightier’n hell.  Right.  S’been long enough, I think.  C’mon, puppy.  Time to get up.”

“Don’t wanna.”  He pouted outrageously, knowing he was pouting, but surprised when Spike just rolled his eyes.  The pout usually worked.  “Sleepy!  And, it’s pretty.  Don’t wanna leave the pretty.”

“There’s more—pretty where we’re goin’.  Now, don’t fight me, pet.  Gotta get you in there.  Come sunset, we’re leavin’.”

“Leaving?  Leaving where?  I like it here.”  He grinned inanely as Spike swung him—carefully—up into his arms and carried him from the room.  “Bouncy!” he exclaimed, wondering why Spike was giving him that look.  “What?” he pouted again.

“This is not just you regressin’.  You are stoned.  Bollocks.”  Spike shifted him so that he was being carried with only one arm.  Whoa, he thought; Spike wasn’t even straining.  Vampire strength is so cool.  He watched as Spike poured some gloppy green stuff into a big bathtub and then ran water over the top of it.

When the water was steaming invitingly, Spike shifted him and Xander suddenly realized just what was going on.  “Hey, no!” he said and began to struggle.  It hurt, but he didn’t care.  “That’s green!  And slimy!  I’m not going in there!”  But despite his protests he was being lowered into the greenish goo.

“Oh, for bloody—!  It’s not gonna hurt you, pillock.  It’s gonna—just get in the—fuck, chip, I’m not tryin’ to hurt him—bathtub!”  Xander glared up from his position seated in the water before he realized—

Warm. 

He held very, very still while Spike slid behind him.  Why was he struggling again?  He wasn’t sure.  Then Spike’s voice was in his ear and he forgot.  “See?  Song Li has good stuff, yeah?  Gonna get some o’ this for us, in our place.  Take baths together just like this, all warm an’ tingly.”

It was warm and tingly.  Suffusing his body with soothing calm, and—oh!  There were patterns on this ceiling too!  Pretty!

He relaxed back against Spike’s chest, humming a little as strong arms encircled him again.  Legs brushed his, coarse hair scraping together and suddenly Xander realized he was naked.  Had been naked the whole time.  So was Spike, behind him.

The warm chuckle reverberated through him, legs tightening a bit to enclose him further.  Touching?  Touching. . . good?  “Just figured it out, did you?  Don’t worry, pet.  Song Li’s the discreet type.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Why is the water green?”

Muffled laughter bounced off his neck in response.

They stayed in the tub a long time.  It was nice in there, and he was losing some of the ‘flightiness’ Spike didn’t like, the more they stayed there.  Also, Spike was very happy to touch him.  Not in a bad way—his mind shied away from the very thought—but a nice way, petting like he was a puppy—my puppy, you are, boy—all over his body, in a soothing caress that felt very, very nice.

First, though, there had been the shame.

How could Spike want to look at him?  He was dirty.  Broken.  Ugly.  Worse, the heat, the incredibly sensuality of Spike’s gaze made him think. . . bad things.  Bad things about heaviness and sticky moisture and—

But Spike had slithered around so that he could face Xander, staring into his eyes, whispering things that Xander couldn’t believe.  Except Spike kept saying them, and there was no hint of mockery or bullshit or anything but utter sincerity in the eyes that wouldn’t let go of his.  There was just concern and honesty and something that blinded Xander even as it reassured him.  Something that he should recognize but he didn’t, and it made him so frustrated. . .

And then Spike was touching him, differently than he had been before, because this wasn’t just comfort—at least, not Xander’s comfort.  Sliding over skin that should have been red and raw.  Running over bones that should have been shattered.  Gliding over blood that should have filled the bathtub instead of his skin.  Spike just touched, tracing imagined patterns, rubbing soap into skin that was oily from sleep and sweat, rinsing it clean with fresh water.

He wanted to stop it.  He was ashamed, a disjointed litany of bad and ugly and broken circling in the back of his mind.  But the touch on his skin was gentle, almost reverential, and the look in Spike’s eyes when Xander dared meet them was blinding, and so happy.

He didn’t know why.  He couldn’t possibly fathom what was so great about touching his skin.  Even skin that was much more smooth and unbroken than it should have been.

He stopped thinking, eventually.  It was hard to think and easy to trust Spike.  So he just let go, relaxing back where Spike directed and allowed the vampire unrestricted access.  It felt good, what Spike was doing.  So good.  Those big, dangerous hands were so tender as they rubbed and massaged and eased.  He drifted under the caress, only noticing one little detail in the back of his mind. . .

“Hey, pet, no sleepin’.  C’mon, wakey, wakey.  Li wants t’see you, an’ we can’t be in here that long.  C’mon, puppy, wake up. . .”

Xander blinked to find Spike hovering over him, anxiously petting him.  “Don’t pet the puppy if you want him to stay awake,” he mumbled, still more than two thirds asleep.  “Hey.  Um.  We’re still in the bathtub.”

“Yeah.  She said that if I added more, it’d stay warmer longer.  It’s good for you, yeah, but too long an’ we turn into prunes.”  Spike waggled five very pruney fingers, showing off a subdued version of his usual smirk.  “Come on, then.  Time to get you out, yeah?”

Xander agreed.  He was feeling very nice, without the heavy lassitude in his limbs that meant too much sleep.  Still a bit silly and. . . fragile, though.  Part of him was rational enough to want it to go away, but not strong enough to do it. 

“Oh, pretty,” he said when Spike dried him off and dressed him in a silky green kimono.  There were pictures picked out in white, but he couldn’t focus on them long enough to make out what they were.  “Spike?  My head hurts.”

“I know, puppy.  Gonna go see Li, now, let her make it better.  Up we go.”

He likes carrying me, Xander thought with a mental giggle as he was once again swung up into Spike’s arms like a girl.  He wondered vaguely if he should be offended by that, but it was nice to rest his head on the muscled shoulder and listen to a heart not beat.

“Xander.  William.”  They were in a kitchen, now, Song Li working with green plants by the sink.  She gave them a brief smile as Spike settled them both onto the mats beside a low table.  “How are you feeling?”

“Good.  Kinda really good.”  He giggled, and this time he heard how drugged he sounded.  There was a flicker in her dark eyes, but she said nothing.  Another bowl and glass appeared and this time his stomach cheered at the sight.  He was hungry.

“Can you manage this on your own?  Or do you want William to help you.”  He could do it.  All he needed was to get the bowl in his hands and then he could tip it down his throat, no problem.  He was starving and the broth from before had been really good.  He stretched out his hands for the bowl, uncaring of the snort of amusement from Spike.  He held it to his mouth—and then realized he was being glared at.  Fine.  He sipped delicately, obscurely happy when Spike relaxed.

He finished the bowl quickly, watching with interest as Song Li began crushing various herbs with a mortar and pestle.  “Hey!  I know you!  You run the magic shop that Willow really likes, but she can never seem to get in it, but I never have that problem so she asks me a lot to go and get the things she needs, which is odd but kinda cool because it’s helping and I like to help, and you always smile at me when I come which is nice because you’re kinda scary sometimes and I don’t think you’re human and neither does Spike and did I say this already, I can’t remember?”

He inhaled a short breath to keep going, whoofing when Spike wrapped an arm around his waist and clapped a hand over his mouth.  “Mum?  Did you give him speed?” he asked very, very calmly.

The dry chuckle killed any desire to continue babbling.  He sucked his lips together, biting them, to let Spike know that it was okay to let him go.  The hand was removed but the arm remained.  Nice arm.  Good arm.  Ohh, nice hands stroking his belly.  It made him feel shivery—and why was Spike looking at him like that?

“Did you give him a lot of speed?  Maybe a bit of amphetamines on the side?”

“He will calm.  One of the side-effects of several of the medicines in him augments the regression.”  Regression?  What does that mean?  “He will sleep deeply when he—” she paused, obviously searching for a word.

“When he crashes like a hundred ton rock?  Yeah, I get it.  You wanna look him over again?  Sun’s nearly down, an’ I wanna get him over to the new place.”

“New place?” Xander turned to ask Spike, wobbling when his lower half didn’t turn as well.  “Ow.”

“Oi, don’t do that,” Spike scolded.  Gathering up his twisted body, Spike plunked him down in the vampire’s lap.  Hm.  It was nice, there.  “Now, let her look at you, okay?”

Touch?  Touch. . . bad.  “Don’t wanna.”  The sullen tone was back, and he shrank against Spike.  He’d been good and let her look at him before and he didn’t want her touching him now.  Only pack-leader could touch him, because pack-leader didn’t care that he was bad and broken and dirty and ugly and—

“. . .due to the nature of his healing.  It will pass.  However, the emotions are already there, William.  He is simply switching between them faster.”

“Yeah, I get that, but—listen, here he goes.”

Why were they looking at him like that?  He curled his arms tighter around himself, rocking a little and—he was talking?  Was that what they were listening to?  Cause Spike had his head cocked just a little like he did when he was concentrating on something.  He listened and heard someone with his voice saying, “Bad, dirty, broken, bad, ugly, stupid, bad, broken, bad. . .” over and over again.  Why was someone doing that?

“Dunno what sets him off, but he’s done it at least once a day,” Spike said, even as he began petting Xander.  “Sh, puppy, no more now.  Quiet, please, luv?  Be quiet now?”

The words died off, but the rocking stayed.  Spike tightened his arms, holding Xander forcefully to his chest.  Trapped, Xander started to struggle.  His mind flashed, and the pleasant little room dissolved into cold and grey and Again, Tony

“Let go.  Let go—don’t touch!”

“No, luv, no, it’s okay it—”

Little asshole.  Why the hell your mom wanted t’keep you. .  He was vaguely aware that the litany had started up again, but all he heard was such a bad boy, Alexander. 

“Fuck, I didn’t want to do this and damn you, mum, for bein’ right, but—Xander!  That’s enough!”

The harsh, authoritative voice shut Xander up.  He trembled, wanting to crawl away from the bad sound, but knowing instinctively that pack-leader would not be happy if he did.  So he sat there, trembling, waiting.

“Look at me, Xander.”  He didn’t think he’d ever seen Spike look so forbidding.  “I’m your pack-leader, right?”  Nod.  “So that means when I tell you to do somethin’, you do it, right?”  Another nod.  “Now, it also means that if I trust someone, you do too, yeah?”  Pause, half-glance towards the patient, silent woman, before he looked back and nodded.  “Right, then.  I trust Song Li.  She isn’t gonna hurt you.  So if she asks you to do somethin’, s’like me askin’ you to do it.  Okay?”

Xander nodded again, too afraid to speak.

“Good, that’s good, luv.  Now, you’re gonna sit here an’ let Song Li look you over again, okay?  I’ll stay with you the whole time.  Just relax now.”

Xander slumped back against pack-leader, trying not to move as Song Li again approached him and began to look him over.  She made clucking sounds when she examined his leg, and rubbed a cream over his entire body, even his face.  Spike crooned and whispered to him the whole time, petting him.  Xander let himself relax into pack-leader’s touch, but he refused to meet his eyes, the few times Spike tried.  Not because he was ashamed, although he was—he was being bad, and pack-leader had every right to scold him.  He avoided Spike’s gaze, though, because it hurt.

Dark blue eyes were silently screaming out in torment Xander couldn’t identify, couldn’t understand.  All he knew was that every order made the pain worse.  So much worse.

I’m bad, he thought, quietly in his own head so that pack-leader wouldn’t hear.  Bad pack, to hurt pack-leader.  He saved me. . . and all I’m doing is hurting him.

“There,” Song Li said eventually.  “Remember my instructions, William,” she admonished.  “Follow them, and be gentle with him.  He will look healed long before he is healed, and the pain will linger longer still.”

“How long we talkin’, here?”  Spike helped him to his feet, redressing him in the long kimono.  The silk felt nice.  “Pain-wise, I mean.  Don’t like him hurtin’.”

“A few weeks at most before he feels perfectly normal again.  Follow my instructions and all will be well.  He will sleep often, especially two hours after an application of the salve in the blue jar.  That forces the body to heal faster and must work much harder.  It will exhaust him.  Use it sparingly, and only upon signs of trouble.”

“Yes, mum.”

“Bring him back in five days, and if there are any problems—”

“I know, mum.”  Xander didn’t think he’d ever seen that amused, respectful exasperation on Spike’s face before.  He wasn’t even sure Spike could do that kind of look, previously only seen on Willow or Giles.  “Ask you, immediately.  Don’t worry, I will.”  He snorted, and the amusement got stronger.  “Good thing you like us both, eh?”

Song Li bowed, tactfully not answering.

While Spike was obviously debating on helping him walk or just carrying him outright, Xander studied Song Li.  The stuff she’d rubbed in him was making him feel. . . clearer.  The silly fuzziness was starting to fade.

He remembered when he’d come to her store for the first time, clutching a list of what Willow wanted.  She’d complained over and over that she never had time to shop herself, so Xander, ever the knight-errant, had volunteered.  His trip was uneventful and unimpeded, something Willow said was impossible for this store.  She always seemed to remember something she had to do, right then, and the magic items were never bought.  She’d cursed herself for a forgetful mind and Xander had wondered, even then, why she didn’t see there was something wrong.

He’d been nervous, right up until he made it through the doorway.  Then he relaxed  completely.  Even when meeting the proprietor—who had terrified him and even now pretty much scared the crap out of him—he’d remained. . . calm.

Just like he was now.  And really, even though he knew he was being crazy and childish and not mentally healthy. . . it was never as bad as it could have been.  He could see that very clearly.

“It’s in the air, isn’t it?” he asked abruptly.  He felt Spike turn to look at him, but kept his eyes on Song Li.  The tiny, fragile little woman who had healed him.  Who had accepted Spike as a friend.

“No,” she answered quietly.  “It’s in the heart.”

“Say your goodbyes,” Spike directed, watching with a father’s patience while Xander awkwardly tried to bow from his seated position.  Song Li waved him off, as well as his stuttering inquiries about compensation.

“Be well, Xander,” she said in parting.  Spike swung him up a third time.  He let his head rest on the vampire’s shoulder, part of him marveling at how easily the slightly smaller man handled his greater weight and bulk.  “And William, do not forget what I told you.”

“I won’t,” Spike answered evenly.  Then he nodded and headed down the stairs.

Outside, the sun had just barely set, lingering rays brightening the early-evening gloom.  A snapping, playful breeze tugged at the kimono he wore, flipping the edges about.  It felt weird, but good.  “Do you have my car?”  Uncle Rory’s latest DUI had resulted in the classic Bel Air residing with Xander.

“Yeah.”  Spike stopped abruptly, looking at Xander directly for the first time since Xander ate.  “You know I’m not takin’ you back to the basement.  Right?”

“No?”  He thought he maybe should be upset with that, but it was pack-leader.  If pack-leader said they weren’t going home, pack didn’t really have a chance to argue.  Right?  “Why not?  I have to go home.  It’s where the bed is,” he ended logically.

“S’not a bed, it’s medieval torture device,” Spike snapped back, leaning against a brick wall.  Still easily holding Xander like he was a swooning woman.  Thank god no one was around.  “We aren’t goin’ back there, Xander.”

“But it’s home.”

“No.”  Xander blinked, hearing patience where he expected frustration.  He was counting on that frustration, dammit, it was useful in convincing Spike that you were right and he was wrong.  He had to go home, the human in him was adamant about that. 

“Xander, it’s not home.  It’s hell an’ it’s torture an’ I am not lettin’ you go back there.  Not ever again.”  Eyes glittered in the growing darkness, oddly bright.  “That ain’t home.  But where I’m taking you might be.”

Xander wanted to argue.  He had nineteen years of training convincing him that he should go back, now that he was better.  He always did.  That’s what he was supposed to do, because. . . because it’d be different.  Wouldn’t it?  For a while, it used to be.  But then Daddy would find something wrong, and Mommy would look at me. . .

He shook his head, ridding himself of memories he couldn’t face.  Not now.  “I have to,” he whispered, little again and confused.  Because that was home. . . except pack-leader said it wasn’t.  He said it was a bad place.  And he hurt there.

“Hey.”  Spike bumped him with his chin gently.  “You’re my pack, yeah?  Means I take care o’ you.  I pick the lair.  Right?”

“Yes.”  Pack leader protects pack by finding a defensible lair.  The basement wasn’t defensible, even the little boy who was still repeating over and over again knew that.

“Right, then.  We’re goin’ to our home now, Xander.  Okay?  Tell me it’s okay, puppy.”

“Yes.  It—it’s okay.  Spike?”

“Yeah, luv?”  Spike walked up to the car, somehow supporting Xander one-handed long enough to unlock the door.  Xander didn’t think about cars and other homes, not right then.  It smelled so good where he was, face pressed up against Spike’s neck.  Except—oh.  Being put down.  In the seat.  Belted, the door slammed shut.

He had an instant of pure, absolute terror—before Spike opened the other door and slid inside.  “What is it, puppy?”

“I’m sorry,” said one last time.  Because he was sorry.  Something was making Spike upset, and pack-leader shouldn’t be upset, ever.  It was the pack’s job to make it better, not worse.  “I’m so—”

“Sh.  Don’t be sorry.  Nothin’ you need to apologize for, white-hat.”  Spike put the car in motion, his right hand dropping down to take hold of Xander’s.  “Now, you need to be calm when we get there.  You’ll wanna sleep soon, I’m guessin’, so I don’t want you riled up.  Will you do that?”

He made some kind of sleepy noise of agreement, enjoying the vibrations from the car like he did when he was a little kid and he’d been stuck on top of the dryer so he’d sleep through the night.  It was nice here, with pack-leader.  Going home.

Not going home.  Going to a new home.

Rational thought was returning slowly.  He had no belief that it would last, but at the moment he was calm and in control of himself again.  He knew who he was, what he was—and that there was no way in hell they could be getting a new place.

“Spike?” he said eventually.

“Back again, are we?  Probably wonderin’ what’s going on, too.”

“I really hate it when you patronize me,” Xander muttered, listening to the various voices in his head howl at his insolence.  Except. . . “I am back, so why don’t you explain what’s going on?”

“Not takin’ you back there.  Not fuckin’ lettin’ you near those arsewipes ever again.”  The tightly controlled fury convinced Xander that now would not be a good time to argue.

“Okay.  Except they’re usually very well behaved—afterwards.”  And way to go Xander’s mouth!  That’s gonna help with our next step, of convincing Spike that this was a one-time-deal.  The snarl of rage certainly wasn’t a good sign.

“Yeah, they might be.”  Spike was obviously trying not to break Xander’s hand or rip the steering wheel off.  He took a deep breath and lowered his voice.  “But I doubt they’ve ever gone that far, before.  An’ you’ve never been a ‘fag’ before.  So, no, Xander, we are not goin’ back there.”

“I—”  The sound came out, but there was really nothing to say.  They hadn’t ever been that bad before, not really.  All of the individual acts had been done, true, but never all at once and never with ferocious look of pleasure and. . . pretty little boy. . .

“Luv, look at me.”  Spike pulled the car over to the side and threw the break.  “Xander, we can’t go back there.  What if they were t’do somethin’ else?  I—I can’t.”  Forced, deep breath.  “I can’t protect you, Xander.  I was lucky, damned lucky that your da took off an’ your mum was too shocked to try an’ stop me.  If they try somethin’ again. . .”

Xander swallowed, imagination painting a vivid picture.  Spike was utterly defenseless against this kind of thing.  The only weapon he had left was his ability to fast-talk, and chances were his parents wouldn’t respond to that kind of thing.  Not if they were drunk enough.  And they would be.  If they found them living together in the basement, proving that Spike was his boyfriend. . .  He trembled violently, but he refused to let go of his mind again.  He had to stay focused.

“I know,” he whispered, “I get it.  I do.  But Spike, I can’t just—pick up everything and leave!  I’ve got things there, I’ve got—oh, my god, Willow!”

“Hey, hey, calm down.  Xander!”  The belt was unbuckled and Spike was twisting so that he had a lap for Xander to sit in.  “Easy now, easy.  C’mon, breathe, pet.  No, hyperventilating is bad, luv.  Breathe.  That’s right, in an’ out, there you go.  Calm down, precious.”

“Four days, Spike.”  Spike was running his hand up and down Xander back to the cadence of the breathing pattern he obviously desired.  Xander found himself matching it unconsciously.  “It’s been four days!  Willow must be going crazy!”

“No, she’s not.  Told you, pet, Song Li’s good at what she does.  She magicked it so that she sounded like you.  Told the Scoobies you were sick as a dog.  They’ve got some problems with the Initiative goin’, so they’ve been busy enough to let it pass.  For now.”

Xander could only imagine with Buffy or Willow must have said to engender that tone of voice.

“The Watcher, puppy.  Threatenin’ me with imminent stakin’ if I was hurtin’ you, he was.  Said they were all comin’ over this weekend, no matter what.  I dunno what the hell he was doin’ warnin’ me, but. . . what is it?”

“Giles?  Giles did that?”  It wasn’t that he didn’t believe they were his friends.  It was just . . . hard to remember, sometimes.  They all had this thing going, and Xander was just comic-relief donut-boy.  No special powers to keep him part of the Super Friends team, not even military background.  Just normal, Zeppo boy. 

It was nice to be reminded that they did care for him.

Spike snorted, but the look in his eyes said that he understood.  And didn’t mind.  Which was weird. 

“Yeah, he did.  This was after, mind, both girls took turns badgerin’ me to make sure I wasn’t lyin’—which I was—and demandin’ to hear you.  If it hadn’t been for Li mimickin’ your voice, they wouldn’t have bought it.”

“So, they’re coming to see me?”

“In two days time, at which point we should have our new place all tip-top for a decent house warmin’.  An’ you won’t look half dead.”

“I look that bad?”  Xander blinked, caught off guard by the blinding happiness that had shone from Spike whenever their new place was mentioned.  Like he was so pleased that he could do this—for Xander.  He wants me to be happy, he realized slowly.  He wants me to like this place.

“You look like crap,” Spike was saying.  “Now, back you go.  We’ll be home soon enough.”

Xander slid across the slick leather seat, leaning against the door for the rest of the trip.  It wasn’t long—Sunnydale was too small for it to be that long—and it was in the decidedly wealthier neighborhood that Spike turned into.  In fact, this wasn’t all that far from where Giles lived, and his condo complex was a definite step up from most in the city.

All that Watcher money, Xander thought.  It was getting harder to think again, although he wasn’t as loopy as before.  Just tired.  Wonder what he’s doing now that he doesn’t have anything.  No money from the council.  No money from the school—although I doubt that was enough by itself.  Hope he doesn’t get—yawn—evicted.

“Here we are.”

It was a warehouse.

Xander dissolved into snorting giggles, made worse by the look of effrontery on Spike’s face.  “Sorry,” he gasped, “but what is it with vamps and warehouses?”

“You stoned again?”  But he could tell Spike was teasing.  “Just you wait, boy.  You’ll be chokin’ on that laughter.”  Which only produced more laughter—and Spike was expecting it, watching with fond amusement.

That sobered Xander, just a little.  Spike was being. . . Spike was being different.  Even for Spike, it was different.  Nicer?  Maybe, except Spike had always been nice to him when they were in private.  It was something else. . .

He continued chuckling as Spike swept him up—again!—and carried him to the front door.  It wasn’t a big warehouse, only three stories and probably no larger than a decent-sized house.  “There’s a garage round the back, but I wanted to give you the grand tour.  I’ll move the car ’round later.”

“Hey, Spike?”  The front door opened to reveal—a lobby.  A large closet on one side, two metal doors directly in front and a second wooden door that revealed a short stair case.  “How can we afford this?  Warehouses aren’t cheap.  Even abandoned ones.”

“Not abandoned.  Bought this outright.  An’ don’t worry about money for a bit, yeah?  You’ll still need to work, but I got more’n enough stashed away to keep us comfortable if you hit a tight spot.”

Xander had no idea what to make of that but decided to just let it go.  He was too tired to fight about it, and Spike was literally vibrating with excitement.

“Go through those metal doors,” Spike was saying as they went through the wooden one, “an’ you’ve got the laundry room.  Figured it’d best be close, given how often we come home covered in muck.  Beyond that is—somethin’ I’ll show you once you’re feelin’ up to it.”

Whatever that meant.

They went up the stairs, around a corner and there—

“Oh, my god.”

The old barcalounger was in the corner, but that was probably the only thing there that came from the basement.  Dominating the main room was, of course, an entertainment center.  Xander had expected that—Spike lived by overloading his senses, whichever one he happened to be abusing at the moment.  So the decent sized tv, vcr, dvd, cd-player, receiver and the speakers scattered throughout the room were not a shock.

Everything else was.

The carpet was grey.  The walls and the high ceiling were a nice matte blue.  The sofa was black leather, but it worked, sprawling its way in a loose arc.  There was art on the walls; he had no idea who the artist was, but the prints contained rich, deep colors in unrecognizable shapes.  They were pretty, whatever they were.  A glass table in front of the sofa, two smaller matching tables on either side.  The barcalounger had a wooden one.

Spike carried him around, showing off what was obviously going to be where they spent the bulk of their time.  Xander noticed a play station and started drooling.  Behind the sofa the carpet abruptly cut out, leaving hard wood floors to support a small table.  The dark wood and the matching silver-and-grey patterned cushions on the chairs meshed well with the rest of the room.  Soft light from various fixtures gave the room a nice, cozy feel, while the high ceilings kept it from being claustrophobic.  There were no windows.

Past the table, they entered a decently large kitchen.  Refrigerator, stove, an island counter, pots and pans hanging above it. . . Xander honestly had no way of knowing if it was good or not.  Spike cooked on occasion, but he mostly burned popcorn.  So he was just going to trust in Spike that it was as nice as the rest of the place seemed.

Which is such an odd statement—even after the past month—that I’m going to ignore it.  Hey, I’m getting good at that.

Back into the main room and towards the far wall.  There were two doors and another small stairwell.  Up that, and they were presented with three more doors.

“This, is my place,” Spike said proudly, going through the first.  It was two rooms, although Xander couldn’t see what was in the second.  The outer room, however, was lined with floor-to ceiling bookcases—already filled—another tv and a small stereo system.  “That room,” Spike gestured with his chin, “is gonna be the smoke room.  Cause I am bloody well not givin’ up smokin’.  I’ll just do it away from you.”  He smirked proudly, to which Xander gave him an appreciative smile.  He knew how much quitting irked the vampire, but he hated the smell of cigarette smoke.  When he wasn’t smelling Spike, anyway.

“The walls up here are soundproof,” Spike continued.  Xander was very happy about that.  While there were a great many things about them that were similar, there were times when he just couldn’t take punk at ear-shattering decibels.  Spike, he knew, felt the same about his occasional need for country.

The second door contained a bathroom, and the third. . .

“This is yours.  I got most of your stuff up here already,” there were boxes scattered about, “an’ you can sort it how you want it.  You wanna knock the wall down to create one big room, that’s fine.  But I figured you’d like this.”  The inside room seemed unnaturally bright when Spike opened its door, but it took Xander a moment to realize why. 

Windows.  Floor to ceiling, clear glass windows.  Facing south, and over looking the back-end of one of the few parks in Sunnydale.

“Can’t see in.  S’mirrored on the other side, so you can do anythin’.”

Tears burned in his eyes and he had to blink rapidly to get rid of them.  He remembered.  It had been an off-hand comment, made on an idle Saturday a few weeks before.  About how Xander missed being able to just lay out in the sun, like he used to.  How he was either too busy, or unwilling to leave the vampire just so he could go soak up the warmth.

“Keep the wall,” Xander whispered around the lump in his throat.  “So you can sit outside it.”  He put his head back on Spike’s shoulder, pressing his tears into the cotton t-shirt.

Spike made an odd sound, like he was choking and clearing his throat at the same time.  “If you like,” he said eventually.  “But this is your room, precious.  Your decision.”

They stood there for a bit, just looking out over the trimmed grass.  In the summer, soccer and baseball games were held there, with the occasional sun-bather.  There were no paths, so the dog-walkers and the joggers avoided it.  Most Hellmouthy mischief tended to take place in cemeteries so there was no danger of it being used against them.  Just a nice view with maximum sun exposure.

“Pretty,” he whispered eventually.  He was so tired, hanging there in Spike’s grasp.  It was comfortable, yes, but he was starting to hurt more and he really just wanted to go to sleep.  “Spike?”

“Yeah, puppy?”

“Where am I gonna sleep?”  When Spike gave him a baffled look, he pointed to the full boxes—and otherwise empty floor.  “There’s no bed.”  He was not going to say how much he hated the idea of separate rooms.  Because he didn’t.  He just wanted to go to sleep and he could deal with everything else in the morning.  He wasn’t upset, not at all.

“There’s no—oh, bloody hell.  You’re a moron, you know that?”  Still grumbling, Spike took them back downstairs.  “You honestly expected to sleep up there?” he asked, still totally outraged by Xander’s question, kicking open one of the two doors they hadn’t been through.  “Why, when you can sleep down here?”

Big bed.  Big, big bed.

It was a four-poster—although Xander had never seen a king-sized four-poster—with thick black velvet curtains surrounding it.  Spike pushed the curtains back, gently placing Xander on the wine-dark comforter.  Black carpet accented the red-toned wood of the night-stands and the dresser.  Yet another television was attached to the wall above the walk-in closet, facing the bed.  A lone window was carved out near the closet, and Xander understood the purpose of the curtains, now.

“This,” Spike said gently, “is the bedroom.  Now, you oughta be just this side of completely knackered, so lets get you in bed, yeah?”  He helped Xander slip off the kimono and get under the covers.  The sheets were soft cotton, cool and smooth against his skin.  “Be right back.”

Spike, don’t leave.  Xander clutched the covers looking around wide-eyed at what was now his room.  Not his room.  Their room—right?  It was their room. . . because Spike wasn’t going to sleep upstairs and leave him alone in this great big bed all by himself and—

“Xander, you don’t have to flip out every time I go.”  Spike sounded thoroughly exasperated and Xander tried to hide a wince in response.  Kicking off his shoes, Spike sat on the bed and handed over a cup.  “Just gettin’ your bloody medicine, all right?  Drink that down.  All of it.”

He obeyed, one eye on Spike as the shirt, jeans, and socks came off as well.  That was good, because it meant Spike was going to be sleeping with him that night.  Except the naked thing was. . . not comfortable.

“Um, Spike, I—”

“Hang on.”  Silk boxers were removed from the top drawer of the dresser, Spike sliding them on before rejoining Xander on the bed.  “What now?”

Xander shook his head, burrowing under the covers until he could only see a little over the top.  Spike snorted.  “Look like a child like that, luv.  Now come on, let me in.  S’cold out here.”

“Here?”  Xander tried to move over a little, but his body reacted rather negatively.  He whimpered, but then cool arms were gathering him up, pulling him closer so that he could latch onto the rest of the body.  Burying his face in Spike’s neck, he inhaled deeply.  Home, he thought sleepily.

“Sh, love.  Go to sleep, now.”

“Spike, this is expensive,” he mumbled into cool, soft skin that tasted like rain and thunderstorms.

“Nah, not when you got as many people who owe you favors as I do.  Close your eyes, puppy.  Time to sleep.  We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Okay.”  Spike began petting him again and Xander hummed his appreciation.  “Upstairs. . .”  He couldn’t say more, sleep and nervousness robbing him of the words he needed.

“Just a place for space,” Spike whispered, always knowing what Xander meant even if Xander couldn’t say it.  “Just a place where us hot-heads can take a break an’ not bother the other one.  That’s all.  This is our bedroom, Xander.  Ours.”  Gentle pressure on his head.  He hummed again, wishing he could purr like Spike did.  This bed was nice.  This whole place was nice.

If he weren’t so sleepy, he’d be nervous.

“Go to sleep, luv.  Just go to sleep. . .”  There was something in the words, that made Xander wake up, just a little, even though Spike was dropping off.  “I. . .”

The feeling that he was missing something very important grew.



* Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament

Part 13

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