Spike was pacing. He hadn’t had a need to do that for nearly a week, something of a novel experience for him. He always paced when he was nervous or frustrated or worried or. . . just damn antsy. And since the moment Spike had taken Xander to their new place, gotten him settled in, there had been no need.
Yeah, an’ that went all to pot now, didn’t it?
It was nearly six o’clock. Xander had left around ten, promising to be good and call later just to keep his over protective vampire from worrying. For a while, too, it’d been okay. Spike had things he needed to take care of, like checking up on his various monies and verbally intimidating a few recalcitrant lackeys. Most demons didn’t use technology, but Spike was perfectly content to use both internet and telephone to do things for him for now.
Not forever, mind. He still preferred the hands-on method.
But since his hours were now that of his boy’s, he had an entire day trapped in the brand new flat. The one he’d designed to his tastes, stuffed full of things he loved to do. Hours and hours of entertainment, he’d though, picking out videos he didn’t want to watch. Shelves full of books and the privacy to read without getting caught. Should keep him occupied, shouldn’t it? But it wasn’t. Why? No Xander. Because Xander was at work.
Growling in frustration, Spike threw himself down on the sofa. Oh, he’d tried to find something to do—scanned the paper, hunted through the jumble of CD’s for one worth listening to, and there was nothing, not one sodding thing was enough to take his mind off the fact that Xander wasn’t there. That Xander was currently somewhere far enough away that even if the contented place in the back of his head flared in fright, it’d be twenty minutes or more before Spike got there.
Sod this. M’goin’ t’pay him a visit. Appropriate for the first day, yeah?
Well, no. Especially since he knew that Xander was okay—the connection between them was slumbering brown with hints of gold and softness like down would even calm him down, if he let it. But he didn’t want it to, and he didn’t care anymore. Grabbing his duster, Spike clattered down the stairs into the basement, where the sewer entrance resided. Wasn’t really safe, having one inside the house, but he’d gotten Song Li to put enough wards around it that only Spike or someone with his permission could use it. They’d already tried it once with Xander, so he was pretty certain that they were the real goods.
The last two days had been just fantastic. Xander had overdone it at the party—an’ you goin’ all cave-vamp on him didn’t help none, wanker!—and Spike had been allowed to pamper his boy until the still-healing body had recovered. He may not be very proud of his desire to play mother-hen so damned much, but he’d been aware of that particular facet of himself for decades, now, and had. . . come to terms with it. Even if he did sound like the blinking Watcher when he thought of it that way.
Speaking of the Watcher, there was something odd going on under those greying curls. Spike was pretty sure he hadn’t figured it out, yet, but he was damned close. That was going to prompt a decision he could really do without, too, and a chat with Xander that he’d give someone’s lung not to have. Just ’cause the little witch knows doesn’t mean he wants them all to know. Or how much of it he wants to tell. Or why. Or what I’ve been doin’ on the side.
Oh, definitely not that. Not how it all started, the witch’s tacit blessings or not. Because from an outsider’s point of view, Spike knew how it looked. Oh, they were lovey-dovey and sappy enough for a brace of chick-flicks, with the witch probably sighing about how romantic it was, a vampire taking care of a human, loving him, even. The witches I can win over, since I’ve been takin’ care of him. That should convince the Slayer not to stake me on sight, and the Watcher would do some checking before he came to that, make sure my boy is really happy where he is. So yeah, can manage to stay unstaked that long.
But when they found out that he’d raped Xander, all bets were bloody off.
Didn’t rape him. I didn’t, an’ they’re never gonna convince me that I did. He wanted it, just as much as I did, needed it, even, and was practically beggin’ for it. And I didn’t hurt him, didn’t use him, just took what was bein’ offered. Nothin’ wrong with that, is there? What’s a vampire to do when he’s got a hot, sweet boy like my puppy beggin’ to be taken and. . .
But that wouldn’t matter to a group of kids who’s definition of black and white was still iron-cast. They’d form a hunting party—wouldn’t bother asking Xander for his side of it, just assume they were helping him—and destroy the monster that hurt their friend. Might convince ’em not to stake me ’cause of the bond. Maybe. But that was a flimsy hope, and even if he did, they’d never let Xander hear the end of it. He’d be miserable, they both would, and sooner or later Spike’d leave to spare him.
Or worse, the Watcher would get involved. Of all of them, the Watcher would understand what was going on, the good and the bad of it, and he could figure out a way to make Xander want to leave. Convince him that Spike was a lying, manipulative bastard who could never do more than take and use, or figure out a way to banish the hyena from Xander’s mind totally, cut their bond off at the knees, leaving Spike. . .
Leaving Spike alone. And deserving it.
He hated that realization, found buried under covers warmed with Xander’s heat, solid flesh pressed against his own, tracing barely-visible silvery scars with a gentle finger. It wasn’t rape, wasn’t even close to rape. But it was taking when Xander wasn’t in the right mind to give, the hyena personality forcing an issue that normal humans—hell, even normal vampires—couldn’t really understand. And the Watcher would see that easy enough. The rest wouldn’t, but he would and he’d calmly and slowly work away at Xan, using that bloody great mind of his to manipulate a boy he’d spent years getting to know, until the boy finally left him. Probably stake him before Xander took off for good.
Never! The flare of anger made him hurry his steps until he was practically running through the sewer, desperate to see Xan and reassure himself that this was all just the leftovers of an incurable worrywort and that Xander was his.
The chill of air-conditioned air slapped at him as he popped out of a small grate, in the building next to where Xander was working. Probably should tell him this entrance exists, Spike thought, then dismissed it. Might make him think Spike was crowding him or something, and that’d undo all the work he’d been doing. Because he did trust Xander.
He just didn’t trust anyone else.
The alley was nicely shaded and didn’t smell worse than the sewer had, at least. Plastering himself onto simple brick walls, Spike peeked through the back window.
“Did you find that medallion yet?” a querulous voice demanded from the shop proper. “Garon will be here in a few minutes. He said six fifteen which is. . . a few minutes from now.”
“Was that three arms or three heads?” Xander’s voice, relaxed and with only the smallest tinge of his ever-present nervousness. Dark brown curls bobbed into view and Spike pressed his nose harder onto dirty glass. “Because I’m seeing lots of threes. And wow, I really don’t want to meet whatever has three of those.”
“Oh, that’s the Rikatt. From the no-flowers dimension.”
“No flowers dimension? Like the world without shrimp?” Spike could almost see Xander’s grin, even though his eyes only saw the back of Xander’s skull. That, or Spike was further gone than he’d thought. ’Cause sneakin’ out to spy on him, that’s a sign of total security and sanity, right.
“Yes, exactly. It’s gold.”
“Um, what’s—oh, the coin! And hey, there it is!” Picking up the appropriate coin, Xander closed the black-foam book and replaced it out of Spike’s sight. Heading back into the main room, he paused for a few seconds, swivelling around like he was a hound almost catching a familiar scent.
“Xander? He’ll be here soon.”
“Oh, right,” Xander said, leaving the back room totally.
See? Perfectly bloody fine. Knew Keller would take care of him, he’s a good guy, owes me a bunch. Sides, he likes me an’ he likes kids, so that’s doubly sure, yeah? Nothin’ at all to be worried over. Xander’s fine.
Ten more minutes, with the sun just barely below the crust of the earth, and Spike was following a demon dressed in a parka and a baseball cap into the shop proper. He snorted as he caught sight of what was supposed to be hidden. “Uh, mate, word to the wise,” he said, watching another demon—well, smelled demon, but it looked human enough—purchase the three-armed gold coin. “Know a lady down by the docks, charges a pretty penny, but does a decent illusion spell. Might wanna call her up—you’re ears are pokin’ through an’ the grey skin’s a bit of a give away.”
The demon just grunted at him, stumping forward as the Goran pocketed the coin and left. Spike slid his hands into the duster, wandering around examining things without touching them. Touching in this place was liable to set off traps—both the owner’s and the object’s. There was a general set-spell to prevent theft, but the more expensive items often got individual spells, if they didn’t come with any on their own. No wonder Song Li has all the best merchandise. Got a nice little back-scratchin’ arrangement here.
He thought idly how to get in on it, not really interested but still pondering a few possibilities. Just to keep his hand in, as it were. He was still evil, even if he was a love-struck fool.
The store was cluttered and warm, the smell of wood polish and old parchment dust strong in the tiny space. Paths were narrow and treacherous, since objects were not placed out for optimal viewing, so much as left wherever Keller dumped them. Least, that’s what it seemed like, with the haphazard, floor-to-ceiling layout. A child’s room, tumbled and dirty without mum to force it clean, and Keller doting on his merchandise the way a child would their favorite toys. It was warm, though. Soft yellow walls and a feeling of safety and peace.
Given the charms Keller had on this place, it was peaceful—would take a godling to fight through that magic.
“Ah, Master Spike, so good to see you.” Keller smiled genially from behind the counter, old man persona in full control. Like the poncy bastard doesn’t know I know how old he isn’t. Seeming old and a little hard of hearing was a useful appearance for an antiques dealer, though, and Spike was used to seeing him like this. Wasn’t going to blow his cover, neither, not unless there was a reason for Xander to know. “Come to check on your boy?”
“Why, you abusin’ him?” So glad he’d learned the trick of keeping his eyes and his mouth separate. Made smiling back with eyes nice and wintery in warning pretty easy. But then, Keller knew what Spike’d do to him, if Xander got hurt here. He’d been told, in detail. Bloody buggering chip. If Keller hurts him, though, gonna find awayaround the soddin’ thing. Just to beat Keller m’self. Shrugging, Spike dropped the threatening look. “Need some artwork for the walls. Was thinkin’ of them Japanese screens of trees an’ stuff. Puppy likes ’em.”
There was a startled ‘meep’ from the backroom and then hurried feet sounding on thick carpeting. “I’m what? And I like huh?”
He couldn’t stop the smile as Xander tumbled into view, scraggy hair falling into his eyes, face slightly flushed from surprise and a bit of a true blush, body half twisted as he leaned against the wall to scan the outside room. Not a hint of true fear, though, the coil in the back of Spike’s head still calmly complacent, despite the boy’s agitated appearance. Spike took a casual half-step towards his boy, inhaling deeply and trying not to be obvious when checking him out. Boy was covered in dust and smelled of cobwebs, sweat stains darkening the collar of his shirt.
Spike looked from the stains to Keller, mildly glaring. “Thought I told you no heavy liftin’ for a bit, yeah?”
“I’m fine, Spike,” Xander replied automatically, still scanning the store. “And hey, where’d everyone go? Not that I want them back,” he added, tossing Spike a distracted glare, “because then they’d hear Spike call me ‘puppy’.”
“You don’t like it when I call you puppy?” The pout was faked, his lips twitching too much to maintain it for long, but it got a positively delicious reaction out of the boy: burst of pheromones, sweet and salty, plus more embarrassment and pleasure. True pleasure, the kind Spike savored. “An’ they saw me an’ hightailed it. Vampire of my rep can do that, you know. Clear a whole room.”
Xander didn’t even bother to respond, looking towards Keller. “I thought night-time was busy time?”
“It is,” Keller replied, favoring Spike with a glare of his own. “Give it an hour or two and I’ll have more customers. Spike, I haven’t been overworking him, it was just hot in the cataloguing room.”
“Aw, what happened to ‘master’?” But that was a reasonable explanation and Spike was willing to let it go until he had reason to pursue it. He did trust Keller. . . to some extent. “So, he behavin’? Don’t need to. . . remind him who’s boss, do I?”
Xander flushed heavily at that, dark eyes screaming to please stop embarrassing him. And turning him on, because Spike knew damned well what that voice did to his puppy, which was why he’d chosen it in the first place.
“No, no, Xander has been quite helpful. We managed to go through the cataloguing room in record time this morning and so far, I’d say that this arrangement is going to work out just fine. He’ll be allowed longer hours as he gets used to it, I assume?” Without waiting for Spike’s response, Keller headed behind the counter and popped open a small drawer. The smell of sulfur and camphor drifted out. A magically lock drawer? Paranoid. Not that Spike hadn’t known that before. Not that Spike hadn’t banked on that, when sending the most precious he owned to Keller for the day. “Here we are. A small token of appreciation—I’ve never had a helper before. Didn’t realize how much fun it would be.”
Fun? Spike sidled over, wrapping an arm around Xander’s waist and was pleased when the boy immediately leaned against Spike, not even thinking about it. “What’s that, then? Told me you were gonna pay him normally, end of every other week, direct to his account. S’what all those forms I gave you were about, yeah?”
“Oh, yes, of course he will. But this isn’t wages, this is thanks. I told you, I didn’t have helpers before your boy, and he’s very useful. I may even hire more, if you and your boy run off together into—well, the moonrise, I suppose.”
And that was just all kinds of weird, but Spike accepted the small token and examined it closely. A coin, silver and shiny from fingers rubbing over it again and again, the image on one side of two vampiric canines, elongated with a hint of blood running down them. Unnerving, but—on the other side was a person, could’ve been a vamp, but Spike knew it was a human. Surrounded by smaller images of the canines, untouched. It shocked him, like static on a blustery day, when he touched it, which explained the lingering smell of sulfur—the coin was witched.
A protection coin. Against vampires meaning Xander harm. Wouldn’t stop the determined, but it would give them pause long enough for Xander to do something about it on his own.
“Now you keep that with you, Xander. Put it in your wallet.” Keller smiled grandfatherly, heading back towards his beloved cash register. “You two are going to see Song Li a little later, I believe Xander said? Mind giving her this? That’s a long walk for a man of my age.”
Xander, good little human that he was, ignored Spike’s snort and immediately picked up the small white parcel that Keller placed on the counter, not even bothering to sniff or shake it before tucking it under his arm. Stupid, that, even from someone you trusted. Gonna have to instill a proper amount of paranoia in the boy, it seems.
“Anything else?” cheerful, intrepid employed lad asked anxiously. “Or am I done?”
“You’re done. Come on back tomorrow around noon—you can help me set up that big desk in the back.”
“Ok, thanks,” Xander waved, hustling Spike out of the store and into the semi-darkness. “Keep walking,” he gritted out when Spike made to stop, keeping the pace at a fast clip.
Curious, a little offended, but willing to humor the boy, Spike kept up a rambling monologue about the trials of being popular and important among Sunnydale’s demons as they walked all the way to Song Li’s place, clear to the other side of town. Not that there was a whole lot of town, mind.
“Ah, Xander, thank you.” Song Li was dressed all in white today, hair separated into two long braids down her back. She accepted the package, looking it over briefly before sliding it onto a shelf on the wall behind her. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. I started my first day of work today!” Xander hopped up onto the counter, totally at ease as he babbled on about his day.
Spike listened with half an ear wandering through the downstairs part of the store. Where Keller’s shop was warm, this place was cool, with hints of otherworldly mystery hanging over all of it.
Does he ever shut up? Spike thought irritably, ten minutes later. Rush all the way out here, just to check on him, an’ does he care? No, would rather butter up to Song Li about what an ‘incredible’ day he had. I got him that job, damnit, should be me he’s blatherin’ on to. But oh, no, he don’t care. Got him a captive audience, an’ why should I want to listen? I’m just a vampire. Just a soddin’ rapist that took him away from the ones who truly hurt him an’—
“Spike?” Song Li’s tilted head meant she’d been trying to talk to him for a while. And Xander was looking bloody impatient, the insolent, ungrateful brat. “I asked if you had much of the pain-dulling salve left.”
By the time he figured out which salve Li meant, Spike realized that it wasn’t impatience writ onto Xander’s face. It was severe discomfort and the beginnings of pain—all emotional, but pain nonetheless; in the back of his mind, the brown was shading towards grey, and the streaks of gold turning brittle and icy.
“Only a bit left,” he answered, moving as casually as he could until he was plastered up against Xander, arm around his waist again. Drumming a pattern on his hip, Spike tucked his shoulder underneath Xander’s arm, forcing Xander to lean on him again. Much better like this. “Don’t suppose we can get a bit more while we’re here?”
“Of course.” And why the hell he rated that look of disappointment and disapproval, Spike had no clue. What had he not done for Xander? “You must be sparing with it,” she explained again, this time for Xander’s benefit. “I cannot give you much more. Use it carefully.”
Spike stared at the small vial and then back up to Song Li, while Xander stuttered on about more prosaic forms of lube. What the hell did the bloody woman mean, use it carefully? Like he slathered it on so much that Xander felt nothing? And besides, she’d given them plenty of other lubes, better smelling and of a better texture, but not that different from what you found in a normal porn shop, like the one on 15th. He hated when people played word-games like this, and he had no idea what the bloody hell she was saying!
But if she was saying it, then it had to be important. Which pissed him off even more.
“Yeah, right, careful. We done now?” Barely waiting long enough for Song Li’s nod, Spike eased Xander off the counter and outside. “Dinner, yeah? Gotta celebrate my puppy’s first day, don’t I?”
Xander didn’t fight as Spike hustled him outside and down the deserted street, though Spike could read the mulish expression without the benefit of the colors in his head curdling like rotten milk. This bonding bit took some getting used to, it did, no matter how sodding useful it might be. Xander did pull away from Spike’s touch as soon as he could, though.
When Spike tried to reestablish a connection, Xander fucking flinched, and stopped dead. “Okay, Spike, what gives? I get the bored, stuck in the apartment all day thing, but you just blew off Song Li. The one who healed me? The one you repeatedly told me not to offend?”
“She’s not so tough.” Why the hell was he sulking again? Just cause Xander had a good day, no Spike-contact at all. . .
Xander snorted, suddenly sounding like the annoying brat Spike had conked over the head with a microscope, more than a year ago. “We’re going home.”
Oh, no. Oh, hell no. “No, we’re not.” Grabbing Xander’s arm, he tugged—not hard, but enough that it got Xander’s attention. “Sorry to destroy your little fantasy, precious,” he snarled, “but this is my show. I go where we say, an’ when, you clear on that? I don’t give a Slayer’s fart for how good your day was, that never gives you the right to talk to me like that, puppy. Never.”
Spike wanted to go to a bar. Play the Big Bad, pound his chest and rip some heads off, maybe tie knots in a few spines. Something to shake the feeling in his belly, and remind himself that he was no one’s toy to jerk around.
But that wasn’t possible, was it? He was bonded to a human child who was still hurt and starting to shiver in the cool night air. There were things creeping about, too, and Spike could only protect Xander from roughly half of them—which made the damned shivery feeling even worse. Sulking, fuming, and refusing to admit to either fear or worry, Spike went to the only destination he had left. Xander followed behind, drawn for the same reasons Spike was.
It was a very quiet trip.