Chapter 13

 

 

Soft, gentle licks from a warm mouth.  He knew that mouth, remembered teaching that rough-slick tongue to trace the outline of his abs, dipping into the creases where he was just slightly ticklish.  He stifled a groan as that sweet, wet mouth traveled down past his navel to suck on the juncture between hip and thigh.  Stretching luxuriously against soft sheets, cradled by firm support instead of the broken down—

“No!”  Spike bolted upright, shoving himself out from under that delicious mouth.  “No,” he said again, forcing his voice level while he tried to will his erection away.  Damn me for trainin’ him so bloody well!  Swallowing, he regained control and concentrated on the hunched, shivering form at his feet.  He could practically hear the tumbling thoughts underneath the tousled curls: I’m sorry, I’ll be good, let me be good, don’t be mad, please don’t be mad at me, let me be good, want to be good, don’t be mad, don’t be mad. . .

Cursing himself, Spike gathered the boy into his lap and held him close.  “Shh, precious,” he whispered, kissing the stubbled jaw, “not mad at you.  You did good, luv, you were a good boy.”  More kisses, leaning up to press against lips bitten raw.  Licking the bruised flesh, he tried to put as much affection as he could in the touches.  “Not you, luv, never you.  My good boy, yeah?  My good boy.”

Xander relaxed slowly, obviously mistrusting the constant reassurance.  Spike continued to whisper and touch, kiss and caress, until taut muscles loosened and warm flesh melted into cool skin.

“That’s it,” he crooned, rocking them slightly as he cocooned them in blankets.  Burning hot to his own dead flesh, the goose-bumps he could feel appearing everywhere on Xander’s skin told a different story.  “See, luv?  It’s safe here.  We’re home, puppy.  This is home.  Jus’ you an’ me now.  Safe here, luv.  I promise.”

Wide, liquid-dark eyes stared up at him, unblinking and unreadable.

Bugger.

Mouth tight and eyes hard, he pulled Xander back against him so the boy wouldn’t see his reaction.  It wasn’t like it was permanent.  He’s just scared, that’s all.  Wakin’ up someplace new an’ different, not really rememberin’ too well. . .   That’s all it is.  Right?  Cause. . . he can’t be that broken.  He can’t.  He’ll get better; I’ll bloody well make him get better!  It’ll be fine.  It will.

Those sable, gold-flecked eyes were heartbreakingly familiar.  Innocent.  Artless.  The direct stare of a child who doesn’t know how to deceive for protection.  Only knowing hurting and not hurting.

Dru’s eyes.

Spike took a deep breath, expanding dead lungs and wishing he could still feel the constriction, the pressure so close to pain.  Opening his eyes, he forced himself to smile gently, to look as calm and compassionate as he could.  Right now, he knew Xander wouldn’t be able to sense anything but what Spike wanted him to, but that didn’t stop the need to make it as real as possible.

It was the way he had cared for Drusilla.

“Okay, luv?  You okay now?”  A slow, careful nod, teeth catching a lower lip and biting down until the skin turned white.  “Yeah, you are, precious.  You’re fine.”  Another kiss—he had to make the boy stop biting his lips, didn’t he?—and then Spike finally began to relax.  “Hungry then?  I could make some, um, eggs for you?”

A shake, although this time he got a slight whole-body shift with it—which put Xander’s cheek right on his shoulder.  Spike brushed back sooty curls, unable to look away from the depths of his boy’s eyes.

“What’s wrong with eggs?” Spike teased gently, hoping to draw the man out from the child.  “I know you like my omelets, an’ I can whip one right up.  Dead easy to make, eggs, and hey—easily digestible, too!”  That earned him a slight grin—more like a quirk or a twitch of full lips—but he’d call it a smile and take it.  Even if it meant he had to channel Willow.  “Eggs?  No peppers or onions like you like, but lovely, nummy eggs. . .” he trailed off, laughed a little at himself.  “Listen t’me.  Sound like a right wanker, I do.   C’mon, Xander.  Are you hungry?”

“Little.”  The whispered voice was high and soft, lacking an adult’s depth and control; the voice of a little boy.

What did they do to you, luv?  What was so horrible that you go here, where you’re barely past infancy?  He knew regression—too many years with Dru not to know it—but it was different from what hers had been, and it didn’t fit the profiles he’d read about either.  Yes, in fact, I do read, an’ not just crap.  So Rupert and Red can go sod their big squishy brains somewhere else.  Song Li believed the differences were due to the hyena’s growing influence.  She theorized that Xander’s increased dependency on childishness wasn’t necessarily because of the old childhood fear—but because it was easier for the hyena to control mind and body in that state.

All of which Spike could agree with. . . but he’s a child.  A baby practically, can hear it the way he forms his words.  Sometimes won’t even speak at all, jus’ whines an’ babbles the way only real little ones will.  An’ the hyena may be manipulatin’ this, but it isn’t causin’ it.  What the hell did they do to a kid of maybe two, three years that here is the only time he feels safe?

This time when his lips touched Xander’s there was minuscule movement.  Not really a response per se, but certainly better than anything else.  An’ what does that say about me, that the only time we’ve kissed—despite being lovers for the past month an’ change—is when he’s too zonked to know it?

“A little?  Well, how about we get you up and dressed, yeah?  Gotta get your medicines.  Mebbe by then you’ll be hungry?”

Maybe by then you’ll remember that you’re nineteen years old an’ it’s safe here.

Tiny nod and Xander tucked his chin under just a bit, hunching his shoulders in a little boy’s classic posture of uncomfortable shyness.  Spike brushed his fingers against the lowered chin, tracing over lips and across a cheek that had nearly a week’s worth of stubble covering it.  A few more days and it’d be an outright beard.  “You are so good, luv,” he whispered.  “Such a good boy.  My good boy.”

“Yours.”

A flash of intelligence and understanding and Spike wondered just how much of this was regression and how much was the mojo in his boy’s head.  Lifting Xander required no effort whatsoever and Spike made a mental note to start cooking more.  Sod his image; five days on gruel and thin soup shouldn’t have made the boy feel this light.

Xander blinked in surprise when they entered the bathroom—the only room he hadn’t seen.  “Biiig,” he whispered, curling a little closer in Spike’s arms.

“When you have the nose I have,” Spike admonished, “then you’ll understand why keepin’ clean’s so important.”  Xander giggled a little, cutting off abruptly when the sound echoed.  “Hey.”  Setting him down on the rim of the tub that dominated the entire left half of the room, Spike crouched in front of him.  “Don’t hide that, precious.  Like you laughin’, I do.”

Innocent eyes stared back, round and solemn.

Sighing, Spike began gathering the medicines he would need.  He wanted to go downstairs for this, but right now the high-powered jets would probably frighten his boy all the more.  That, an’ he don’t need his blood-pressure screwed about with, he mused as he turned on the spigots above the tub.  Besides, we go down there an’ he’ll try to seduce me again.

Not that he was averse to having sex.  Ignoring the fact that it had been five days of celibacy after an extremely active month with his boy, it was also a good way to release some tension—something they both needed.  That, and he’d really liked the boy’s habit of waking him with a blowjob or a quick ride.

No, it wasn’t the sex that was the problem.  It was why Xander would seduce him.

Not cause he’s horny and wants to have a bit of fun.  Not cause he knows I’m horny an’ thinks it’s a good idea.  No.  That’d be okay and a century of experience don’t hurt when one of us can’t move so well.

The problem was that Xander wasn’t interested in sex—at least, not sharing and allowing both partners to get off, something Spike had been insistent about.  Pavlov’s rule.  I cum, he cums, an’ suddenly makin’ me cum don’t seem that bad a deal, now, does it?  Except now Xander was solely interested in pleasuring Spike, making Spike happy.  There was an almost desperate, slavish quality to his desire, consumed by the belief that his role was to give others pleasure—at the expense of himself.

The soft, limp flesh against his thigh had been a very rude wake-up call.

So, no sex.  Not until they worked out that little quirk, because Spike would not have that in his bed.  Twenty years of Angelus wanting it from him had taught him just how humiliating, painful, and potentially debilitating it could be.  A person’s spirit could be utterly broken that way.

He is not broken, Spike snarled at his own line of reasoning.  Won’t let him be.  I’ll bloody well put him back together if I have to find psychological super-glue t’do it.  A slight gasp behind him made him stiffen and curse himself—gettin’ to be bloody non-stop this is.  Look, boy, I ain’t gonna hurt you!

But Xander didn’t know that.  All Xander knew was that he’d been hurt, badly hurt, and it was easier to run away than have to deal with the pain.  Wish I had some o’ Song Li’s mojo, he thought ruefully as he began to calm his boy with soft words and softer touches.  The loopy, curvy writing worked into the walls and ceilings had done wonders to keep Xander relatively calm and content while his body healed.  Wonders he hadn’t fully appreciated until he didn’t have them anymore.  The only reason Xander was as calm and pliant as he was came from the hyena in his skull—Spike was pack-leader and pack must submit.  Spike had no doubt that other people would not be tolerated.

Don’t know whether to curse the beastie in his head or bless it.

One of Spike’s primary goals was to get his boy used to physical contact again.  Not the hyena that would take anything pack-leader might give; the human boy Xander who cowered and winced at the mere thought of contact, certain that what started out gentle would end in pain.  So Spike was extremely gentle as he washed, shaved, and then held his boy, letting the warm water and Song Li’s potions work in tandem with his words and touches.

It took approximately an hour before he felt the subtle shift as Xander lay cradled against him.  The regression into a tiny, terrified little boy lessened just enough that Xander the man could peek through and start controlling his own actions again.  Not a lot—he could see the struggle and knew Song Li was at least partially correct, if not more—but some.  Enough that Xander actively sought out his touch, still totally platonic, instead of shying away from it.

Relaxing himself now that his boy was, he applied the various medicines and dried and dressed them both before leading Xander to the kitchen.  He’d objected to being carried again, but Spike was fairly certain that had more to do with reasserting maturity, than his distrust of physical contact. 

An’ don’t I sound the bloody psychologist.

“Still want eggs?”  No response, so he set about scrambling two eggs on the stove.  Xander was seated by the small island, his eyes tracking every move Spike made.  Don’t need supernatural skills to feel that, now.  Whether it was the slow return of awareness or the focused gaze, Spike had two large holes sizzling through the skin on his back.

He fixed himself a mug of blood while Xander began eating.  He started off slow, obviously distrustful not only of what he’d been given but why he’d been given it.  How long is it gonna take to get you t’trust me again, boy?  You did a week ago.  Stood up to the ruddy Slayer, you did for me.  Against the closest thing you got to family.  So why do you look at me like I’m gonna take it away an’ punish you for eatin’ till you aren’t hungry no more. . .

Sitting down to read the morning paper, Spike felt his boy’s eyes flicker rapidly between himself and the plate on the table, eating faster now that Spike’s attention was turned elsewhere.  Like it’s gonna disappear—oh, fuck me.  Dammit, I shoulda. . . they starved him.  I shoulda seen that, the way he lived for those bloody candy machines!  Only good food he ever ate was what I made him.  Didn’t cook, didn’t even order takeout that much.  Bloody, buggerin’ hell.

He didn’t think Xander had been intentionally starved; that was a little too cruel, even for those two psychotic wastes of good blood.  Who, unless Spike was mistaken, wouldn’t be bothering Xander for a long time.  No, it hadn’t been intentional, but making food for a growing, hungry boy would have been far more work than Mrs. Psycho Bitch would have been interested in.  She would feed him when she felt like playing Mommy Dearest—and if he made a mess, as children usually did, she’d have her henpecked husband discipline Xander and probably take the food away.  It explained his penchant for wolfing down chips and candy bars—cheap, easy to conceal, high-calorie food.

Right.  Gotta get him used to touch.  Gotta get him used to eatin’ normal.  Gotta get him t’feel comfortable here, so he stops bloody regressing’.  Gotta get. . . fuck, Xander, you are too much damned work!

Not that he wouldn’t do it.  He hadn’t come out and said it, not when Xander was truly awake and aware enough to understand it, but. . . but it’s a promise.  An’ I always keep my promises.

He was nothing if not stubborn.

“Right, then,” he said when Xander finished, taking the plate and quickly washing up.  Bloody nursemaid. . .  “How ’bout we go upstairs, then?  Get your room set up?”  A flash of utter terror and Spike was across the room before he realized he’d moved.  “Hey, hey!  Luv, puppy, I’m gonna be with you!  Well, not in the same room with you, it bein’ day an’ all.  Just thought you might like to make the place yours.”

Get you t’feel safe, t’feel comfortable, and mebbe my Xander’ll come back.  Miss you, boy.  Wanna hear you makin’ jokes ’bout the stereos, tellin’ me what a right arse I’m bein’, houndin’ me about what I’m havin’ done to your parents.  Not starin’ at me like I’m gonna leave you.

A half-memory of Song Li’s voice floated through his mind, roughly shot down with a snarl.  I will not control him like he was a fucking animal!  Don’t care what the fuck the hyena wants.  I’ll force him if I have to, but dammit . . .!

Too many years with Dru, too much time spent under Angelus’ thumb.

Concentrating on the rest of what she’d told him, Spike focused deep within himself.  She’d said it would probably feel. . . brown.  Rich and warm, like the color of Xander’s eyes, effervescent and sparkling among the blackness of his demon—

There.  A shimmering, twisting knot of fire that meant mine.  Following the thread it provided, Spike concentrated on making his boy feel the bond that was already between them.  He was Pack-Leader.  Xander was Pack.  So long as Pack-Leader accepted Pack, the bond would be there.  A kind of metaphysical leash, Song Li had called it, able to be used for communication and comfort, as well as tracking and a bit of controlling.

“My pack, luv.  You’re my pack.  Never leave you, pet.”  He forced nervous, innocent eyes to meet his.  “Never leavin’.  You get hurt, or scared, or alone, you tell me.  Like this.”  A wordless burst of emotion—not love, not tellin’ him I love him again, s’just, um, affection—traveled from Spike to Xander.  “See?” he asked kindly while large eyes widened and blinked in amazement.  “Now, you do the same.”

It took some coaching, but fortunately Song Li had given him that over the last few days.  Not that he’d been available all that often; if he wasn’t with his boy, he’d had a million and one things to do, getting the house ready and making sure that his boy would be safe when they finally left.

Nothin’ hurts what’s mine.  Nothing.

A tentative touch of uneasy astonishment made him grin and pay attention again.  Never thought takin’ care of Dru for soddin’ decades would come in handy again.  Damn them.  “That’s my good boy!” he crowed, leaning in for a short kiss.  “Can you do that again?  Yeah?  Good.  Now, listen, pet, this is the important part.  You use that, okay?  After I get you set up, I’m just gonna be down in the basement, but you need me, you use that.  I’ll be there in a flash, luv, promise.  An’ you know I keep my promises.”

Slow nod, a hint of wonder still edging big eyes.  Spike hadn’t stopped sending emotions to his boy, designed to keep him aware of the fact that he could trust Spike, that Spike wasn’t going to leave him, and that Spike would always protect him.  It wasn’t much, but. . .

But I have t’get him t’calm down an’ relax.  Gotta.  Do that an’ hopefully he’ll. . . wake up.

Spike got him set up in the third-floor room, explaining—again—that Xander could do anything he wanted here.  If he wanted to bring things downstairs, he could make a pile and they’d do that later, otherwise, there were tools in the corner for almost anything he might need.  “You wanna tear down the wall, lemme know and we’ll do that tonight.”  Noonday sun lay bright and golden on a patch of carpet Spike studiously avoided.  “You wanna just sit an’ do nothin’ today, that’s okay, too.  All right?”

Xander nodded; after stealing another kiss, Spike went downstairs.

Fast.

Forgot how hard this was, he thought as he stripped off everything but his shorts and surveyed the room.  Did it for so long with Dru that it was second nature, but now. . .  Hm, what should he start with first?  Right, punching bag in the far corner.  Duh, as the boy would say.  He turned on something loud and punk—although not too loud—and attacked.

It felt good to just pound on something.  Not quite as good as it had that first night, when he had killed anything and everything he could, desperate to return to the tiny, candle-lit room where his boy lay so small and hurt.  Once Xander had truly fallen asleep, Song Li had banished the hyped-up vampire to go kill things and calm down before he disturbed the healing slumber Xander lay in.

At the one Scooby meeting he’d gone to, Giles had asked him if he knew of any new demons arising; both the Initiative and Buffy’s own patrols had discovered dead demons in surprisingly large number.  Giles was concerned, considering the brutality of the mass slaughter and the unusual fact that the corpses had been left to rot where they fell.  Bodies usually disappeared by sun-up, although none of the Scoobies had ever questioned this fact before. . .

If I didn’t have this god-buggerin’ chip, the night would have been red with blood.  Start with the Psychos themselves but after that. . . after that. . .

After that, Buffy would have staked him.  The kind of blood-bath he was envisioning would convince Buffy that the ‘stake now, question later’ policy was a good one.  It was also extremely doubtful that the gang would have been appeased by Song Li’s deception.  One look at him an’ they’d blame me, Spike thought, as the punching bag flew off its chain and burst as it impacted against the wall.

Shaking his head in disgust, Spike worked through several of the weight machines and hoped that would help some.  He grinned, imagining Xander’s reaction when the boy saw the gym Spike had created in the basement.  First he’ll ask me if I did it all for him, gettin’ all ashamed an’ flushed-like.  Then he’ll remember that I’ll use the damned thing more than he will, which’ll prompt a few comments about undead bodybuilders an’ why the hell I need t’pump iron.  An’ then he’ll start thinkin’ about Buffy an’ how much she’d like this place for trainin’, what with the dojo-like area between here and the ’tub. . .

He tried to concentrate on the pull and burn of his muscles as he worked on the various machines, the weights set as high as possible in order to offer his supernatural strength some actual resistance.  It wasn’t helping.  His thoughts swirled, settling back on something he’d tried hard to ignore since the first time he’d realized it.  Really realized it, not just moaning about losing his bite or snarling out impotent threats for when he was freed.

Five nights ago something had hurt what was his, and he’d been powerless to stop it.

That did not sit well with a vampire used to taking whatever he wanted and never caring about the consequences.  He’d started actively searching for a way to remove the chip and some promising leads had turned up. . . nothin’ like a little application of blood an’ terror t’get minds workin’ right.

Except that led to yet another problem.

The chip had given him Xander.  It wasn’t the hyena, although that had been the driving force.  It was the chip that allowed Xander to trust him enough to allow the hyena to get its way.

Without the chip, Spike could lose him.

Never! he snarled silently, hurling a free weight against a padded wall, not satisfied with the dull thump it made.  He’s mine, an’ I’ll never let him go!

Unless Xander wanted to leave.

He’d never stay, Spike realized morosely.  Not if I started huntin’ again.  He’d run an’ not even the hyena could make him stay.  It wasn’t like Xander ignored who and what Spike was—quite the opposite.  He made sure Spike had human blood, even if it was nothing more than old, expired bags from a blood bank, didn’t seem to mind when Spike beat up demons that harmed humans, and the sex. . .

Could I stay like this—chip or no chip—for him?

Posturing aside, he knew he’d never keep the boy against his will.  Because I’m William the Buggerin’ Stupid, is what, and I love him an’ want him to be bloody happy an’ if it’s me that’s hurtin’ him, I’ll. . .

Spike tried very hard not to think anymore.


He felt the quiet request for entry thirty seconds before he heard footsteps in the stairwell.  Pushing himself up off the low bench, he headed over to the free weight section and began selecting ten and twenty-pound weights.

“Spike?”  Still young, but not the puppy.  Old enough to control his own self, least.   Thank god.  Having Xander that dependent was frighteningly like caring for Drusilla.  “Um, Spike where are you?  All I see is the laundry room. . .”

Huh.  Looks like the bond is good for pinpointin’ locations.  We’ll have to work on that.  Never lettin’ him outta my sight again.  “Wooden door in the back,” he called.  “You feelin’ better?”

A tousled head peered around the slowly opening door.  “Yeah.  Fell asleep in the sun, or I would’ve been here soon—oh, wow.”

Spike didn’t give him a chance to go back into shock; that would only allow the regression to creep back in.  “Here,” he said, handing over the ten-pound weights.  “Start the routine; you gotta rebuild your strength.”  An’ I need t’see how fast Song Li’s stuff works.  Gotta get you in tip-top shape for tomorrow.

Xander obediently began doing curls, still studying the room while his body worked on autopilot.  “Um, Spike?  You’re a vampire.  You don’t gain or lose muscle like a human does.”

Hiding a smirk, Spike headed towards the small fridge.  He wanted water on-hand.  “Right.”

“So, why do we need a gym like this?  I’m the only one who—you’re going to be here twice as much as I am, aren’t you?”  A sparkle of amusement across the room and Spike was finally able to push back his uneasiness at Xander’s instant, unquestioning obedience.

“Sure.  Don’t want me t’get bored, do you?”

“So trying to become He-Man will keep you from being bored?”  Heh.  Now all we have left is. . .  “Hey, we should bring Buffy here.  I think she’d like it.  I know she and Giles are looking for a place for her to train since we blew up the school and this is nice and airy.”

Bingo.

“Not so sure I want her to train here,” Spike said with what he hoped was calm neutrality.  “But we can talk about it.  Right then, enough of that.  Do your stretches and we’ll hit some of the machines.”

“But I just got started,” Xander complained, even as he handed over the weights and began twisting his body into the proper positions.  “I like this, remember?”

Spike remembered how gleeful he’d been when the increase in strength and flexibility had trickled over into their bed.  “I know.  But you’re still healin’, an’ I’m not gonna rush you just cause you like the endorphin rush.  Gonna build up slow.  Sides, you been sleepin’ for what, couple hours?”

Xander flushed, hiding it by lowering his body to do pushups.  “Yeah,” he grunted out when he was more in control.  “Can we get a, umph, futon for the back room?” he asked as he pumped up and down.  No sex until he’s better! Spike ordered himself sternly, forcibly turning away from a warm, sweaty Xander.  “It’s nice to just lie in the sun, there.”

Spike made sure Xander couldn’t see his smirk of triumph.  He couldn’t wait until Xander was better, pulling that golden, sun-warmed body against his, basking in the only sunshine that wasn’t deadly to him, licking salty sweat from skin that still glowed faintly. . .

I was not this horny before.  What the hell?

“Anything else you need?  Make a list and we’ll go shopping tonight.”

Pause, mid-pushup.  “Out?” a small voice quavered.  “We’re going—”

Spike pushed soothing reassurance through the bond.  Useful thing, that.  Shoulda started usin’ it long ago.  I’m his pack-leader, ain’t I?  “Not out, luv.  Heard of the Internet?  Handy for those with a sun allergy.”

“Oh.”  Quiet as Xander finished up the routine Spike had created for him.  He was growing tired again—although it wasn’t overly worrying given the severity of his injuries and the medicines Song Li had him on.  Then, while he drank water and Spike wiped him down, trying very hard not to think about taking the boy right there, “We have a computer?”

Huh?  “Course we have a—oh, right!”  Grinning hugely, Spike hugged the boy.  “C’mon, pet.  You can make a list of what you need an’ start playin’ while I fix you some supper.”  It was nearly eight o’clock now, the dying sun probably what woke Xander in the first place.

“Oh, I had some stuff already.”  Hurried words, the boy’s back firmly turned towards Spike.  An’ what did we eat, hm?  Chips and Hostess products?  Not a chance, luv, you’re too skinny by half right now.  Gotta build you back up.  An’ I gotta stop buyin’ that shit.  Don’t care that you like it, y’need to eat proper.

“It’s no problem,” Spike said comfortably, pulling the nervous-but-pliant boy along behind him.  “Can fix up some tomato soup and grilled cheese in no time.”  Xander didn’t even try to argue, although Spike could feel his reluctance.  “I know you’re hungry, precious,” he continued as he dragged them both into the kitchen.  “Here, sit.  Remember that bond I told you about?  Between pack and pack-leader?”  The one you’ve been touchin’ every few seconds all ruddy day, just to prove to yourself that I’m still here an’ not leavin’?  Xander nodded, flushing faintly.

With a sigh, Spike crouched at his boy’s feet.  “Xan, pet, look at me.  I am not mad at you.  But I know you’re hungry, an’ Hostess is not a food group.  Okay?  Now, here.  You play while I cook.”

Grinning, he retrieved the laptop from its place near the entertainment center.  “Um, Spike?”  He did not hesitate sayin’ my name.  He didn’t.  “I don’t know how to use a computer.  That’s, uh, that’s Willow’s thing. . .”

“You learn by playin’; s’how I figured it out.  Look, there are these nice little tutorials.”  Spike clicked on the various program tutorials he’d already found for his technologically illiterate boy, watching with amusement while Xander worked his way through them.  “There’s a desktop waiting to be unpacked—wasn’t sure the best place to put it without you—an’ I got the wireless network all set up.  All by meself, too,” he added proudly.  Not that it hadn’t taken a few hours of screaming frustration before the damned thing had cooperated.  Bloody useful, having a Sparva demon that was fascinated with all the techie junk; got him good prices on everything, too.

“W-why are you—I mean, how are w-we paying for all. . . this?”  The final word encompassed not only the sleek laptop and peripherals but everything—the entire building from top to bottom.

Spike stirred the soup quietly.  He’d been expecting this question for some time.  The question Xander hadn’t voiced, though. . .

‘Why are you bein’ nice to me?’  That’s what he wanted to ask.  Like in the beginnin’ when he was constantly waiting for the other shoe to fall an’ conk him on the head.

“Told you, pet,” he said patiently.  He could do patience when he felt it was necessary.  Right now, it was.  There was something off about Xander and he was never going to figure it out if he pursued it in his usual manner—rushing headlong into any given problem.  That would just frighten his boy.  “You’re mine an’ I take care of what’s mine.”

“By buying a house?”  Spike winced; that cracking voice must be scraping Xander’s throat raw.

Push him down on the table, ripping off clothes.  Grab up long legs, holding them back while he shoved his way inside, chanting “Mine, mine, mine,” as he thrust and took and—

The bolt of lust caught him completely off-guard, forcing him to turn back to the stove so Xander wouldn’t see his suddenly raging erection.  The flash had been in surround-sound, complete with the rights smells and feelings. . . and was utterly wrong.  He was horny, yeah, but he would never do that to Xander—not while the boy was half-healed at best.  He wanted to take the boy desperately, but slowly, gently.  Allow Xander to want it as much as he did and to enjoy it as much.  To finally erase even the slightest hint of a claim that insane bitch had over his boy.

Oh.  Buggerin’ hell.

“Eat this.  Sandwiches’ll be done in a bit.”  Filling another mug for himself—gotta remember not t’confuse it with the soup—Spike finished cooking and brought everything over.  “Think you got some misconceptions goin’ here.”  He motioned when Xander just stared at him, encouraging the boy to begin eating.  The movements were mechanical, but Spike wasn’t willing to argue the point yet.  So long as the boy was eating. . .

“You look at me an’ see a vampire.  Think we all live in dirty ol’ crypts or abandoned warehouses, wherever we can hide in.  An’ yeah, to a point, you’re right.  When we ain’t planning on stayin’, anyway.”  He paused, raising an eyebrow until Xander began—again—to eat.  The fascinated look in those wide eyes made him hide a grin.  “Me’n Dru, sometimes we’d blow in an’ blow out of a town in a couple days.  Take what we wanted and hightail it before anyone noticed.  Sometimes, though, sometimes we’d set up and hang around a bit.”

“But—you lived in a warehouse before,” Xander said hesitantly.  “A-and you used to talk about going and f-finding a crypt o-of your own?”

Now I know why that shy bit of innocence bothers the hell out of me.  I fuckin’ well hate stutterin’.

“Yeah, cause we were new here.  Didn’t know the layout so well an’ Dru was sickly.  Was worried about gettin’ her better, not findin’ posh places to put her up.  Sides, once we figured out Angelus was here, we needed a place we could run from, an’ quick.  If Angelus took it into his head that we were too much the reminder of when he was soulless. . .”

Not that that had actually occurred.  Instead, he went back to bein’ fascinated with Dru, just like bloody always.  Kept me on my toes, he did.  Always wonderin’ where Dru was off to, worried about us havin’ too high a profile.  All that just so she could bugger off with him when he was her bloody Daddy again.  No time for Spike then eh?

Fuck them both.

Muscles squeezing him, so tight, so warm.  The harsh, wet sounds of a human panting, groaning, moaning.  Sweat dripping onto the table to slick the constant back and forth motion.  Himself, still pounding above, fangs extended and salivating with a chance to taste that rich, heady blood, spiced with pheromones and the physical need to be taken, to be claimed— 

“Spike?  S-Spike are y-you—?  Spike?!”  The frightened, desperate voice brought Spike abruptly out of the vision.  Xander was half-standing, white face making his eyes dark holes of pure panic.

“Shh, now, still here.”  Forcing his erection to subside—vampiric control was a wondrous thing—he pulled Xander down into his lap.  “Sorry ’bout that, luv,” he whispered as he rocked them both gently.  Wrapping his arms tightly around his boy he stroked and soothed while Xander shivered against him.  “Just got lost for a bit, that’s all.  Quiet now, shh.  I’m here, pet.  Told you, precious, I’ll always be here.”

An’ I have no idea what the fuck that was.

“You were g-gone,” Xander quavered, words muffled by Spike’s neck.  “You d-didn’t hear me, you j-just stared and—”

“I know, pet.  I know.  C’mon now, eat your supper.”  Sniffling, Xander obediently twisted—still on Spike’s lap—and dragged the remaining half of the sandwich over to him.  Spike watched as the boy nibbled at the gooey, fluorescent yellow cheese squashed between toasted bread.  An’ he complains my food is gross?

“Spike?”

“Yeah, pet?”  Spike glanced down, catching the shy, waiting expression.  “Oh, right.  Like I said, when I was here before, had to keep an eye out for too many things, so I couldn’t do what I normally do.”

“And that is?”  No stutter there and Spike caught a hint of Xander’s old impatience.

Shrugging, Spike made his expression as self-deprecating as possible.  “Like my comforts, I do.  A nice, soft bed with warm covers on it.  Whatever toys I can grab, a good view, whatever.  Normally, Dru’n’me, we’d find some old mansion or villa off outside the city limits.  The kind no one knows is still there, really, with no servants or caretakers, just a big, posh old house an’.  S’what we did in Prague.  Found this big mansion used t’belong to the cousin of a king or somethin’.  Old bastard’d been dead for days when we got there, rottin’ up this gorgeous house.  So we just settled in.  Went out at night, spent the day playing with whatever we could find.  Was only when someone realized that no one had seen the prior owner in months that we had trouble.  They found Dru an’. . .”

Covered in blood from her latest snack, she’d been branded a witch and a demon—neither of which was wrong, precisely—and there had been too many of them for her to work her own brand of magic on them.  Her only saving grace had been that the sun was nearly down when they reached the house and by the time they dragged her out to that damnable fire, it was fully dark.

He could still remember his utter terror when the mob went by the alley he was in, Dru’s screaming alerting him that this particular witch-hunt wouldn’t result in a bit of fun for all—

Shaking off the memories, he turned a grin to a still wide-eyed Xander.  “I like my comforts,” he repeated.  “Besides, haven’t I been buggin’ you to get a better place for weeks now?  Well, got tired of waitin’, I did.”  He pressed a quick kiss on the boy’s temple.  “Right, then.  You done?  Good, time for medicines.”

“Again?”  The complaint wasn’t quite what it should have been, but it was a damn sight closer than anything else.  “Don’t like those.”

“Too bad.  You don’t get to argue about this one, pet.  I want you healthy and you’ll do what you’re bloody well told.”

The minute the words were out of his mouth, Spike knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say.  Xander quietly rose and headed to the bathroom, gathering the necessary medicines and brought them back to Spike.  Then he stripped off and waited, a hint of complacency on otherwise unreadable features.

Spike had given him an order.  Xander—the hyena? the boy? who knew?—had obeyed it.

Fuck.  Fuck fuck fuck.

Song Li had warned him about this: that perhaps the only way to get through to Xander would be through commanding him.  She wasn’t entirely sure why, there were too many possible factors given his past and the hyena that still resided in his mind, but whatever the reason. . .

Hiding his discomfort, Spike began applying the various creams and salves as Song Li had directed.  The boy was getting better, that much was clear.  Already he looked, well. . . not healthy, but certainly no worse than he would with a bad cold: a little on the pale side, weak, and moving gingerly; all but the worst of the bruises had faded and the few scars that remained were thin and pale pink.  Put him in normal clothes and only Spike would know anything was wrong; no one else would know where to look.

Xander was warm putty in his hands, moving where directed and clearly enjoying Spike’s attentions.  This is wrong.  This morning he’d barely touch me without flinchin’.  Not twenty minutes earlier he was still more’n a bit wary!  Okay, yeah, might see him bein’ a bit more touchy after I disappeared like that.  He got scared, don’t want me to leave him, but. . .

But while there were elements of that fear coloring the boy’s current actions, they weren’t because Spike had disappeared.

Could take him right here.  He wouldn’t fight me, just let me slide right in an’ use him, claim him, take him, till I pulled out an’ spread myself all over his golden sk—oh, bloody hell.

Spike swallowed convulsively and forced himself to remain calm.

That’s why it had taken all day for Xander to recover to the point where he was nominally functional.  That’s why he was still so nervous and frightened, except when Spike’s hands were all over him.

I claimed him through sex.  Cum and control.  When I stopped him this morning. . .

He’d rejected him.  Rejected the hyena that was currently controlling his boy’s actions, because Xander wasn’t ready to yet.  Like I thought, wakin’ up in a new place, unable to figure out how he got there or why.  The hyena coulda slipped right in, took right over.  An’ once it was in control, it needed to reassure itself. 

That’s why he’d withdrawn, especially when Spike had left him upstairs to deal with the room by himself.  That’s why he was receiving overpowering images of sex and claiming; the hyena wanted—needed—the reaffirmation of the claim and was desperate to make pack-leader understand what was wrong.

They’d never gone more than a few days without sex before.  Three at most and then Spike spent a considerable amount of time making sure the boy knew he was still wanted despite the lack of physical proof.  It was his nature to do that, not because of some ridiculous leftover animalistic personality.  He was always demonstrative with his lovers.

Hang a mo’.  I’ve been touchin’ him ever since Song Li bloody let me.  Done nothing but act like some soddin’ romantic git, kissin’ him an’ being pathetically sweet.  So why. . .

Song Li’s words floated back to slap him across the face.  “Hyenas are predators and will react much like other predators.  Rank is determined through strength and force; without both the hierarchy is unstable and can be. . . influenced by outside events.”

The hyena wouldn’t recognize a vampiric ritual claiming, despite the extreme overtones of domination and possession in the words—because they were words and those were meaningless sounds the hyena would not understand.  The hyena registered only physical shows of mastery.  I’ve been treatin’ him like an equal.  Like he matters, more than just a quick fuck.  Even a long-term fuck.  I’ve been treatin’ him like. . . like I love him.

The hyena didn’t know what love was.

Ice gathered in his belly and he resolutely ignored the sudden burn behind closed eyelids.  The Big Bad did not cry, not even when he proved himself to be Love’s bitch yet one more time.

So I fuck him.  No hardship there, eh?  I fuck him, the hyena goes back wherever the hell it came from an’ my—Xander’ll be in control an’ normal when his chums drop by tomorrow.  He acts normal, his friends don’t worry, and Spike stays not-staked.  One big, bloody dysfunctional family.  That’s all this is, see?  Just makin’ sure I get to greet another sunset.

But his hands remained gentle as he worked in the final salve and a single tear slipped out.

“Spike?”

“Yeah, pet?”  It took surprisingly little to keep his voice even and calm.

“I’ve—I’ve got some stuff upstairs,” Xander said shyly, twisting slightly so he could look back towards Spike.  The table had to be hard and uncomfortable underneath him, but he hadn’t complained once.  “Some pictures and things?  Can—can we bring them down here?”

“Sure we can, puppy.  Told you, this is your place too.”  Washing his hands, he helped Xander dress himself in one of the loose kimonos Song Li had gifted them with.  They looked silly—Spike was waiting for the sarcastic comments about wearing a dress—but the smooth fabrics were the best thing for the still-healing skin.  “Wanna go get ’em now?”

“Okay.”  Spike followed as Xander went up the stairs, unable to stop the frisson of pleasure as he noted how comfortable his boy was moving around their new home.  Xander moved like this was the place he’d grown up in, the place he felt most comfortable in.

Well, that’s good.  His home now.  Not lettin’ him go back there.  Not fuckin’ ever.

Not even if it meant Spike had to leave.

Posters, some clothes, a few books and a lamp shaped like a fish were piled in the corner, everything else put neatly away.  The shelving units had been filled and the walls contained poster after poster of different bands, movies and television shows.  Collector plates from some sci-fi show had a prominent place on top of the shelves.  Spike ran a finger down the bright finishing.  He’d taken the plates, still in their original packaging, hopeful that the boy would feel settled enough to take them out of styrofoam peanuts and protective plastic cases.  Before, displaying such obviously treasured pieces was to risk their destruction. . .

“Can I move those downstairs, too?” Xander asked quietly.  His voice still lacked the depth and breadth of an adult, still had that damnably nervous waver to it, but there was still real Xander behind it.  “I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to be just for me or. . . can I?”

“Sure.  That—that’s fine, puppy.”  Downstairs.  He wants them downstairs.  In our place.

“Good.  I wasn’t sure you’d want them down there.  It’s so nice there and these are just—”

“Here now.”  And nothing else really mattered, did it?  Not the why’s or the how’s, just the results.  Hadn’t he stayed with Drusilla for decades, knowing no matter what he did or how hard he tried that she’d never be truly his?  And Xander was his.

Whatever the reason.

“Told you, luv, this is our place,” he said softly, taking Xander into his arms and cradling him gently.  Xander pressed his face into Spike’s neck and inhaled deeply.  “You want somethin’ changed, we’ll change it.  Want somethin’ different, we’ll go an’ get it.  What, you want different color walls?  Want me t’go get some paint samples?”

“No.  I like blue.”

“Okay.  Somethin’ else, then?”  Xander shook his head, hair whisking against his neck and chin.  “Whatever you want, luv.  Whatever.”

“Can we go look at the moon?”

Spike hid a grin; he’d thought Xander would appreciate the window-room and apparently he’d been right.  The room was comfortable, the warm brown walls and plush carpet giving it a safe, almost cave like feel to it.  It had originally been painted in the same blue as downstairs, but Spike’s first trip to Xander’s old bedroom had convinced him that the boy liked the close, cave-like feel and had tried to recreate it for him here.

His second trip removed every single personal item the room contained.

Blankets were layered in the corner where a futon or some kind of sofa would be placed, and Spike was glad he’d purchased so many when he was picking out linens.  And that Xander’d had the initiative to get them when he wanted them.  Yet more posters were up, but these were older, more worn, and Spike knew that these were his most private, prized possessions.  Against the far wall was a small painting of an older woman which Spike had found shoved under Xander’s bed, buried in a box full of junk.  All of which told him it was very prized.

“That’s my grandmother,” Xander said quietly.  For the first time, not a hint of little boy colored his voice.  This was just Xander.  “She died when I was four.  She used to take me to the park.  She’d sit under a tree and knit while Willow and I played on the swings.  Then Willow would go sit with her and learn how to make scarves while Jesse and I would chase each other for hours.”

Spike slipped his arms around his boy’s waist, resting his chin on a broad shoulder.

“I don’t really remember a lot, but Willow does and she always talks about how much she loved my grandma.  Her parents were never around a lot either, so it was mostly my grandma who took care of us.”

She’s part of it.  Whatever happened to him, whatever the initial trauma was, it involves this woman.  He stared at the picture through a few wayward strands of dark brown hair.  She had Xander’s laughing eyes and strong bones.  She looked kind.  She looked old, even though she couldn’t have been more than forty in this painting.  Like she’d seen too much life.

“I thought—I thought she might like to see the sun again.”

I can show her somethin’ better.

He kissed right on the juncture between neck and shoulder, resolutely pushing Song Li’s strident concerns and everything else out of his head.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered except that Xander was his.  Peppering kisses along the column of his throat, Spike delicately nibbled at an earlobe while he pressed his palms against a suddenly quivering belly.

“Can say no, precious,” he whispered, moving his fingers in soothing patterns until the boy began to breathe again.  “Don’t have to do nothing you don’t want.”  Xander shook his head, pressing back in what Spike took to mean wordless acceptance.  Turning him around, Spike dragged his lips along the exposed jaw until he met parted lips.  “Shh, luv.  Nice an’ slow, yeah?” he whispered as hot breath feathered his skin.  “You’re still hurt, precious.  Gotta be careful, then, keep you from gettin’ worse.  Right?”

“Please. . .”

Spike chuckled at the wanton note of desire.  Has been five days an’ my boy’s always been willing.  He rose on his toes just a little, rubbing his hardness against Xander’s.  Kissing deeper, allowing his tongue to slip inside that hot, hot mouth, he ran his hands up his boy’s back, down strong arms to thread his fingers with Xander’s.

Still kissing—why the hell ’ave we never done this before?  Boy can kiss!—he frog-walked them back to the waiting pallet, twisting at the last moment, so that when Xander predictably lost his balance Spike was there to take the brunt of the remaining drop.  Once on the blankets, Spike rolled them so that he was on top again, settling himself in between Xander’s legs.

“Wanna fuck you,” he whispered hotly, releasing Xander’s hands to drag his fingers back to the heaving chest.  “Can I have you, pet?  Can I?”

Xander nodded frantically, unable to say anything through his harsh panting.  His hips worked uncontrollably and Spike knew that the hyena still had too much influence.

“Shhh, luv.  Slow tonight, remember?  Slow can be good, too.”  He circled the areola before pinching lightly at already taut nipples, using the smooth, sensuous feel of the silken kimono to heighten the sensation.  Xander moaned, head falling back.  The moonlight fell through the wide window, highlighting the boy’s Adam’s apple as it bobbed and moved.  Leaning down to kiss right on the protruding bit of flesh, he chuckled as Xander’s moans vibrated against his lips and tongue.

His hands wandered to the kimono’s belt, tugging the material undone and spreading the top part open.  Returning to pinch and tug pebble-hard nipples—a place relatively free from injury and therefore safe—he began kissing down Xander’s throat, along the collarbone and down the center of his chest.

“You taste so good, puppy,” he whispered in between kisses.  Hot, sweaty hands scrabbled at his back and he chuckled again.  “All right—hey, enough!” he yelped as the fabric tore slightly.  Sitting up, he toed his boots off while quickly pulling the shirt over his head.  Xander was tugging at his jeans, but Spike pushed the boy away—buttons apparently beyond his capability at the moment.  Shoving the offending material away, he slid back to his prior position, moaning as his erection rubbed against the silk.

“Please, Spike, please!”  Two minutes, and already the boy was desperate.  Shaking his head in amusement, Spike slid a little to the right, throwing one leg over so that he was balanced along Xander’s right thigh.  Mm, gonna have t’thank Song Li for these robes, he thought with lusty appreciation.  Feels nice, it does.  Real silk, warmed and supported by Xander’s heat and strength, moving slowly back and forth as he thrust leisurely against his boy.

One hand slid down to cup Xander’s already dripping erection, smoothly curling his fist around it and stroking lightly.  Hyena don’t know the words, but it’ll recognize the tone.  “Gonna fuck you, puppy.  Gonna push myself inside that pretty pussy of yours.  Gonna pound you into the floor.”  Slow, gentle pulls as he kissed and licked over every scar he could see and all the cuts and bruises he could still so vividly remember.  Rubbing himself to make sure Xander knew how much he was enjoying this.  How much they both were.

“Yes, please.”

“You’re mine, puppy.  Mine to play with.  Mine to tease.”  He sucked at the distended bellybutton, making Xander buck and groan violently.  “Mine to fuck.”  His other hand burrowed under the heaving body to gently massage around his boy’s hidden entrance.  Xander let out a short, hoarse scream at the first touch.  “Shh, puppy.  Slow down, now, easy.  Don’t want you hurting yourself.”

But the wild eyes that stared up at him weren’t aware of pain, lust overwhelming everything but the need to be taken.  Mentally cursing, Spike drew his hand back up to gently tease a nipple again.  Increasing the speed of his strokes, he kissed his boy deeply, fucking the willing mouth.  “You wanna cum, puppy?” he whispered, pulling back slightly.  “You wanna cum for me?”

Xander could only moan his agreement.

“Yeah, cum for me.  That’s right, puppy, give me enough to lube you up good.  Gonna take you so good, puppy.  Cum for me.”

A short, sharp yell and Xander came hard enough that the blankets were splattered.  Amused, Spike gathered up the milky fluid, coating his fingers before bringing them back down to rest just against his boy.  “Look at me, pet.”

Xander opened hazy eyes, lust still clouding their depths as he stared down obediently.

“I’m gonna fuck you,” Spike whispered as he gently slid one finger inside.  Xander tensed, but did not cry out; still Spike continued to wait until Xander fully relaxed.  He was not going to hurt his boy, hyena be damned.  Once he felt the muscles loosen enough he began pumping in and out.  “I’m gonna take you.”  Another finger was added and Xander was hard again.  “I’m gonna claim you.”

A low, drawn out moan and the pressure that had steadily built up through the shared bond relaxed completely.

Good, Spike thought roughly as he quickly rubbed himself on Xander’s belly, lubing himself and giving Xander a quick bit of friction as well.  Now that that’s outta the way, we do it my way, furball.  He’s mine!

Quick as a flash, Spike had them both turned around so that he was leaning up against the wall, Xander in his lap with his back against Spike’s chest, impaled.

Oh, god, why the hell did I not want this again?  It was so hot; molten lava burning through him, ringed pressure squeezing him snugly, lighting every nerve in his body to a white-hot heat.  Mine, Xander, you’re mine.

It took Xander a moment or two to get over the shock.  “S-Spike?  Wh-what?”

“Told you, luv.  Slow tonight.”  Wrapping one arm around the boy’s waist—effectively stilling the tentative downward thrust the boy was attempting—the other playing absently with his boy’s sac, he nodded towards the window.  “Look outside, luv.  Look out there at the moon.”

Heavy and swollen with its fullness, the moon shone silver brilliance over the small, sheltered park below them, washed out colors fading into feathery shadows.  The posters on the walls gleamed white, their messages obscured in the reflection, making the whole room glow.

Spike would have given anything for a mirror just then.  Although he couldn’t see all of his boy, what he could see was just . . .

Beautiful.

Slowly, lazily, he began to thrust upward.  Xander moaned, head lolling back to rest against Spike’s shoulder, hips working just a little to meet and accept the thrusts.  Spike allowed the movement, concentrating more on keeping his balance while he lost himself in the hot, tight depths of his boy.  The position was awkward, but hey, that was what supernatural strength was for.

“S’pretty here,” Xander murmured, words slurred just a touch.

Spike grinned. Must be doin’ somethin’ right, then, he though, and thrust a bit harder.  “Yeah?”

“I—ohhh—like it here.  All of here.  Thank you.”

Spike resting his head against Xander’s, kissing wherever his mouth could reach.  “You’re mine.”

“Yours,” Xander whispered.

“Will you call me master?”  Xander went rigid, gasping, as man, boy, and hyena recognized the ritual.  The tempo of his breathing increased to the point where Spike feared he might start hyperventilating, body vibrating with shock and pleasure.  Spike couldn’t stop his moan at the feel of his boy’s—his beautiful, responsive boy’s—reaction.

“Yes.  Please, yes.”

“Will you call me Lord?”  He was afraid to touch Xander’s erection, settling for moving harder and faster into the warm, yielding flesh.

“Yes.  My Lord, my Master, my everything.  Please, god, please!”

“Will you—ah!—obey, always an’ forever?”

“Anything!”  He was hyperventilating now and Spike wasn’t sure if he should stop and let him calm or if he should just continue.  I stop now an’ it’ll kill him, he realized abruptly.  Hyena won’t take that rejection again.

Trusting to supernatural strength and balance, he gripped Xander’s hips and began a brutal pace.  Xander bucked against him, trying desperately to respond despite the bruising hold.  “Will you be my boy?”

“Always yours, always!”

“Will you stay—oh, fuck—stay with me, always and—and forever?”

“Yes!  Yes, yes, yes, yes—”

“Mine,” he snarled, pulling on his boy so that they’d cum together.  Always together, always.  Doesn’t matter why, doesn’t matter how, he’s mine.  Always.  “Mine.  MINE!”

Spike threw his head back and roared, taking and claiming the only way left to him.  Above him, bucking frantically, an ethereal, animalistic howling matched the roar, twining with it as it rose up to the moon.

For a long moment, neither of them could move.

“Xan?  Pet, you awake?”  Slow, even breathing was the only response.  “Right, then.”  Still a bit breathless—quite a feat for a creature that didn’t need air—Spike carefully examined the bond between them.  It lay quiet, satiated and content.  Claimed.

Slipping free, Spike cradled the long-limbed body in his lap, studying his boy in the moonlight.  He was so beautiful, body relaxed and content with a tiny, pleased smile on his face.  Skin washed silver instead of gold, every muscle highlighted in grey shadows.

Including the scars.

There weren’t many left, for which he owed Song Li anything she might wish for as long as he wasn’t dust, and the ones that were left looked old and faded but. . . Spike still knew where each one was.  He traced the longest, a horizontal slash right above the line of pubic hair.

Still rubbing over the scar, he turned to meet the washed-out gaze of his boy’s grandmother.  “I’m sorry you had to see these,” he said quietly.  “Shouldn’t ’ave let him get hurt like that.  But I swear to you, it won’t happen again.  Nothin’ will ever hurt him again.  Not even me.”

Swallowing an unexpected lump, he nodded to the representation of the long-dead woman, gathered up his boy and took him downstairs to bed.

Part 14

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