Waiting Here

By Alexandria

Part One

The flickering of candlelight provided the only brightness in the room, all the rest was shaded in black. It was essential that this be so, that all other sources of light be blotted out, that the focus of everything was this, this square of black silk and the gleam of the silver. But it was not easy to make this so, indeed that was part of the ritual. Removing the dark cloth, swathing it over any other source of light. Draping the windows, the doors, the television, the stereo, anything that might glow. After the room was shrouded, the music was set. The same way everytime, lift the fabric, insert the CD, select track fourteen, hit repeat, lower the draping.

When all that remained was the glow of the two pillars, he slowly reached into the chest for the bolt of silk. He took his time in unwinding the fabric, relishing the way the silk caressed his fingertips. He draped it over the now clear surface of the table, piling it up slightly on the sides but making sure the centre was flat and smooth. He brought the candles closer, placing one directly in front of each hand. The pool of silk reflected the light, rippling across his skin.

Dipping back into the chest, he pulled out an intricately carved box. The box was of dark wood, some vaguely Celtic design weaving across the top. It was long and thin and smelled faintly of polish. The latch and hinges were gold but old and worn, contributing to the sense that the box had seen many years. He placed it reverently in the centre of the circle. The light danced across the surface of the wood, seemingly making it glow. It was time.

He slowly leaned up, hit play then felt more than heard the whisper breathe into the room, the words exactly reflecting his soul.

I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel

The words slowly wrapped themselves around him, as he continued to stare at the box. Slowly he reached out a hand and slowly lifted the latch.

I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real

He reached out and ran a finger along the blade. He remembered when he first saw it sitting in the shop window. He had been walking somewhere, alone as always, when a gleam caught his eye. He slowed, glanced over, and then stopped. He saw it there, sitting in the box, the lid open, the blade pure on the background of red velvet. It was perfect. Long, thin, the edge razor sharp with a short, maroon handle. He had no idea how long he stared before yanking the door open. Within moments he bought it, not caring that he could ill afford it, not caring that it meant another month of spaghetti and ramen noodles, not caring for anything but the need to hold it in his hands, to feel the edge of the blade run up the pale skin inside his wrists.

He reached out and lifted the blade from its secure place in the box. He lifted it, twisting it in his hands, watching the flames reflected there. He clearly remembered the first time he had cut his own flesh, the memory was the cleanest in his mind. His first kiss, his first orgasm, his first time diving into the flesh of another were nothing compared to that. He had been fourteen. His father had been in a drunken rage and had beaten him to within an inch of his life. When he was broken and bruised and lying motionless on the floor he had felt his father ram into him, again and again, until the pain in his body and the pain in his mind has merged into some indescribable blackness. His father had left him there to bleed, uncaring as to whether he lived or died. He had been dragging himself across the floor, some animal instinct still reaching for survival, when he had crawled through the broken glass of his mirror. His forearm brushed through the glass, and he caught his breath as this fresh pain hit. Propping him against the foot of his bed he had looked down to see a piece embedded there. He had been trying to pull it out when he accidentally ran the jagged edge up his arm. His eyes had shot open at the feel. It was like nothing he had ever experienced before. All the pain in his body and all the pain in his mind had concentrated on that one line, the heat and length of it burning through his soul. When that edge had parted his skin he FELT, just FELT, and the purity of it was overwhelming. Hands shaking, he had reached down again and this time drew the tip slowly along his arm. The most exquisite pain arced through him, shutting down all thoughts, all emotions, all sensations other than this burn. He knew at that moment he had found his home.

He turned and tilted the blade, unwilling to start just yet. The anticipation was part of the thrill, letting the heat and anger burn in him, knowing the whole while that release lay in his hands. He had never told anyone of this, knowing instinctively that they would not understand. As he had grown older he secretly read everything he could find on the subject. He had learned that his instinct to conceal was the right one, that his talent at finding portions of his body to score which no one would see had been essential to his charade. He remembered the words of one of the books, "Ritual self-mutilation, expressed primarily through purposeful cutting, is a signal cry for sexual abuse." He wanted no one to know, no one to guess. And no one ever had.

Through the years the desire had waxed and waned, overwhelming at times, completely dormant at others. He had once gone nearly two years without reaching for a blade. But he always came back, always returned to this one true thing, the only constant in his fucked up life.

In recent months the desire had become overwhelming. It had started slowly, beginning when Buffy and Willow had started college without him. They had slowly pulled away, leaving him even more alone than before. Then his father's attacks had become more frequent. What had once been a rare event became more frequent, more violent, evolving to the point he was afraid to sleep, never knowing when those hands would strike. As he pulled further and further into himself, the blade became his saviour, his safety, his line to reality. This was true, this was pure. If he could feel this, then he was still alive. Some part of him knew the insanity of these thoughts, but he no longer had any idea of how to stop. He became ever more adept at hiding the lines, reverting back to using broken pieces of glass, sharp edges of metal, even his own fingernails if forced to that point. He had long ago learned that no one, even Anya, looked closely at the soles of his feet, or under the wristband of his watch. Besides, the effect of the lines was heightened if he could feel them as he walked or used his hands.

Then Spike was forced on him. He knew, as soon as it was decided, that he would have to stop. No matter how careful he was, he always drew blood. And Spike would smell the blood. This was something else he had never shared with the Slayer or any of the others. He understood the bloodlust that raged through the vampires they killed. It was not merely the burn of the cut, the slow, agonising thrill of watching his skin grow red then part. No, an equal part was watching the blood ooze through, lifting his arm to his lips and drinking it down. That was the best of all, saved only for the truly desperate times, the times were the game hit its highest peak. At its best, it was a dance. To creep up to that line that separated release from true danger, to dance on that edge where the blood would not seep but pour. To know that one more push, the tiniest bit of extra force and his escape would be final, that his blood would pour from his veins and down his arms and carry him away forever. That was the truest and purest of them all.

But not with Spike there. He had been forced to stop. Thankfully, whatever gods still took amusement in his little life had seen fit to make sure his father did not touch him during that time. He did not know if he would have been strong enough to stop otherwise. But his father had left him alone and so he poured his pain into sex, driving into Anya again and again, the fury of it burning to his core. So good, so sweet but not quite enough. Just enough to dull his fever.

Then Spike had gone and he was alone again. He had shocked himself when he did not reach for a blade the second the door had closed behind the leather duster. He was still for some time after that, entranced in the idea that Anya could make him whole. He began to hope again, to think that someone could heal him, ease that ache.

Then she had left him. One week before. They had been sitting on his bed, doing nothing really, just idly talking about the day. Anya had suddenly stood and swung around to face him.

"I have to tell you this and there will never be a good time. I am leaving you."

"What!", he blurted out, unable to think of anything else to say.

"Yes, I am leaving you. You do not love me, you just use me for sex. And while I know that is what men do, I do not want a man doing it to me. I deserve better." And with that she walked out the door. He had tried to run after her, but the look on her face made him stop cold.

Since that time she had been nothing but pleasant to him. She had told the Scooby gang that Xander and she had decided they were too different to be together, that her lack of restraint had been too much for him. They were eager to accept this explanation and other than Willow's quick, "I'm sorry, Xan, do you want to talk?", not too much had been said.

He had sleepwalked through the week, going to work, going to slay, going home. He felt bereft, his anchor yanked from his life. Then last night his father had come home, drunker than usual, and had burst down the stairs and slammed him into the wall. He had been knocked out immediately and regained consciousness to find himself being kicked repeatedly in the ribs. Eventually, as he knew he would, his father had ripped down his pants and proceed to pound into him, ripping him to shreds. When the violation ended, he crawled to the bathroom. He had showered, trying to clean the blood away, oddly thankful that his father had not ruptured anything. He woke that morning stiff and sore and covered with bruises. He had called off work, slept some more and then made his decision. No more. He could take no more. He needed the release only his blood could bring.

So here he sat, twisting his salvation in his hands. Finally, the rage and the pain became too much. Grasping the blade in his left hand, he pushed up his right sleeve. The perfectly clean expanse of arm sang to him and he pulled the blade across. He hissed in a breath as his head fell back. Heaven. It was heaven. Slowly he moved down his arm, each slice bringing some relief to the screaming in his mind. Looking down, he saw the ten parallel lines stretching down his arm. Too soon, too soon he needed more, had to have more, craved it like nothing he had ever known. He switched the blade to his right hand and began on his left arm. The cuts were faster now, more frantic, the need burning bright. It had been so long and there was too much pain to ease. The precision stopped and slashing began.

Reaching his left arm high into the air, he brought the tip of the knife to the outside edge of his wrist. With one final yank, he dragged the blade diagonally down the length of his arm to the inside of his elbow.

**Too much, too much, too deep, gods no stop stop stop no no no NO NO NO**

He knew immediately that he had finally crossed the line. Blood began to pour out of him, the cut much, much too deep. His control had snapped and what was meant to be salvation turned to danger. He jumped up and leapt for the bathroom and the gauze he kept there. He had to stop the bleeding. He did not want to die, not really, he had just wanted some relief from the pain. Frantically he grabbed a towel, pressing it firmly down. Still the blood flowed, coating everything around him. He slumped against the tub as the dizziness struck him. Too much. Too much. Red everywhere, the smell of it assaulting his senses. He yanked the towel away and grabbed a fresh one, reaching for a belt to tie it on. It had to stop, had to stop, he hadn't meant it. He did not want to end like this. His eyes began to flutter and he sank down to the tile, his arm falling across his face. The blood continued to flow.

Part Two

Spike walked slowly down the street which led to Xander's house. He wasn't sure why he was there, just that he had felt compelled to see the boy that night. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was something wrong in the way Xander had smelled recently. The whelp usually smelled of heat and light and humour and lust. But over the last week, since that bitch of an Anya had dropped him flat, the scent had changed. He didn't believe for a second that the break-up was mutual. He had learned a lot about Xander during the time he lived with him and knew that the boy was besotted with the little ex-demon. Besides, he didn't really believe that she had stopped torturing men, he thought that she just did it in a subtler way now.

The boy had held up well though. Didn't flinch when he saw her, didn't try to blame her, didn't do anything which would give away his pain. Spike respected that, there was no better measure of a man than the way he took a punch. And it was clear to anyone who could be bothered to look that Xander had taken a punch. His usual sarcasm was more bitter, his wit more brittle. Xander wouldn't look anyone in the eye nor would he allow any true attention to be paid to him. He was trying to slip away, and Spike wanted to know why. He hated to admit it but he had grown to admire the boy, the way he fought on no matter what, the way he saw the humour in any situation, the way he faced down death like it was no big deal. To watch that slip away troubled the vampire on some deep level.

That was why the events of the night before had scared him so badly. He and Xander had been paired together. Spike had slowly grown to look forward to these times, to the chance to listen to Xander talk about everything and nothing, to hear those little quips. But Xander had been quiet, not responded no matter what bait Spike had thrown at him, not bantering back like he always did. Then they had come across a group of vampires, eight in all, and Spike had thrown himself into the battle, confident that Xander could take care of himself. He had thoroughly enjoyed the fight, snarling and spinning and kicking away, when he realised that his were the only shouted taunts. Snapping the neck of the fledgling he had been fighting then staking the vampire before he could hit the ground, Spike had turned, an insult rising in his throat.

"What's the problem, pet, cat got your . . ." he stopped in shock at the sight before him.

Xander was fighting an older vampire, but not with his usual heat. The other vampire was on the offensive and it was clear it was only a matter of time before Xander lost. Just as Spike began to move towards them, Xander tripped over a tree root and fell heavily back. The vampire he had been fighting pounced and leaned down. Spike saw a flash of something, relief, joy, something else, flick for a second in Xander's eyes before they closed. Horrified, Spike yanked the vampire off the boy and staked him.

"Holy shit, Harris, what the hell was that, you were almost killed," Spike screamed at him as the dust slowly settled.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't so just shut up", came the weary reply. The lack of heat behind the words had stopped Spike's lecture in its tracks. They had finished patrol quietly and then parted ways without saying another word.

So here he was, heading towards that basement, determined to find out what was wrong. Spike knew he probably wouldn't be welcome, but was truly fascinated by whatever Xander was experiencing. It was a mystery to Spike and Spike did not like mysteries. Besides, he had spent the whole day preparing a lecture on how the Slayer would stake him if anything happened to Xander while he was on patrol with Spike and how selfish that made the human.

Spike stopped at the door to the basement and pounded.

"Come on, pet, open the door", he called. There was no response.

Spike pounded a little harder. "I said open the door, whelp." This time with a growl and a snarl. Still, there was no response.

Spike began to worry, just a little. He could see the flicker of candlelight through the window and hear the low tone of some song. It was obvious someone was there. He tried the handle but the door was locked. Growing more concerned by the moment, he pushed on a window, tipping it open. He leaned down to yell in.

"What are you doing, pet, spanking the . . ." He flinched back as the overpowering scent of blood, Xander's blood, slapped him in the face. Without thinking, he kicked the door open and rushed in.

"Xander, pet, luv, where are you?" His eyes darted around the room, taking in the odd altar and the strange black hangings.

"Xander, can you hear me, what happened?" The scent was overpowering, intoxicating and Spike was rapidly becoming frantic. Moving towards the bathroom, he called out again, an odd waver to his voice.

"Xander, are you all right?" He stopped cold at the sight before him. Xander, slumped against the bathtub, blood pooled around him, gouges down his arms and a knife in his hand. One small part of Spike's mind spoke up **well at least he did it right** while the rest stopped cold.

"Bloody fucking hell", Spike whispered as he crouched beside the still body. He could hear the slow heartbeat, hear the faint trickle of the blood. He carefully reached out to move the arm from across Xander's face. As he did so, Xander's body slid further down the tub, revealing his right arm. Glancing down, he saw the lines on the other arm. He looked up sharply. He knew what this was, he had seen this before. Suddenly, the picture clicked. This boy, this goofy manchild, this supposedly blithe soul had fooled them all. The pain had always been etched there for anyone who cared to look.

Spike knelt there, concentrating solely on hearing that heartbeat, ignoring the bloodlust which was keening in his ear at the sight of all that blood. He knew at a glance that Xander had lost several pints and that anymore could be fatal. However that heartbeat, though slow, was steady and strong. Carefully, Spike lifted the boy in his arms and carried him to the bed. His first instinct had been to run out the door and get him to a hospital but he had stopped on the first step. This would look for all the world like a suicide attempt, and Spike knew that he could not explain otherwise without revealing Xander's secret. The heartbeat was still holding steady and the flow of blood had stopped. With a quirk of his head, Spike thought of his only other choice.

He reached for the phone, dialling the number by rote. It was answered on the sixth ring.

"Willy, it's Spike, you will listen and do exactly as I say. I need a doctor, someone discrete, to come to where I tell you and he needs to bring five pints of human blood, whatever that universal type is along with whatever he needs to perform a transfusion. The doctor will be here in fifteen minutes with all his supplies or I will make sure your life is a living hell."

Spike listened to the sputtering on the other end for a few seconds before growing impatient.

"I don't care what have to do, just get it done. You know what I'm capable of." The last words were delivered calmly but with such icy menace that there was no question as to the threat. There was a short pause, then Spike heard the bang of the other man's head on the bar.

"Good, then we understand each other. I'll be watching." Spike gave him the address then hung up.

He sat down on the side of the bed and listened again. That heartbeat was still there, faint, slow but steady.

"Hold on for me, luv, just a little while longer." Spike slowly looked him over, hissing a little as he saw just how flayed the skin on Xander's forearms truly was. He could clearly see the progression, the slipping of the control, in the length and depth of the wounds. What troubled him was the control the first ones showed. There was an art to cutting enough to hurt but not to HURT. He knew how difficult it was to learn that art and this bespoke of years of practice.

"What drove to this, pet, who did this to you. You have to hold on, you have to wake up and then you have to tell me," Spike whispered softly. He reached a hand out and ran it down Xander's face. Something had been ripped from Xander's soul and Spike had to know what and had to know who and had to know why. He wasn't sure why but he knew it to be true. Xander had never backed away from anything and to run like this - whatever it was he had to know. And then he would try to fix it.

Part Three

The room was quiet and still, the only sound the slow, steady breathing from the inert form on the bed. The very air seemed heavy, all attention drawn to the sound. In. Out. A slight wheeze on the exhale from the constriction of the bandages wrapped around his chest, holding still the battered ribs. In. Out. Slowly counting the seconds in between, making sure the rhythm continued, that nothing interrupted the pace. In. Out. No longer haggard, no longer desperate. In. Out. The quiet and calm peace of sleep.

The other figure in the room suddenly stirred, breaking the spell. Reaching down he grabbed the lighter and cigarettes, suddenly desperate to move, in frantic need of some activity. Spike tapped out a cigarette and sparked the flame. He lit it smoothly and paced away from his vigil at the foot of the bed, not wanting to disturb Xander's sleep. It had only been an hour ago that Xander had crossed that threshold from unconsciousness to peaceful sleep. As much as he craved the nicotine, Spike did not want to wake him yet, knowing that Xander desperately needed the sleep to recover from the ordeal of the night.

Spike moved around the room, trailing the smoke behind him. He had not had the opportunity to examine it before now, as preoccupied as he had been with ensuring that Xander would survive. The entire time, however, the strange nature of the room had tugged at the back of his mind. He reached out and smoothed his hand down the cloth with swaddled every light emitting item in the room. It was obvious that great care had been taken to deaden all light, to make the basement as dark and dank as a cave. Or as his crypt. He reached up and felt the thick fabric. It was clear that this was some ritual, some deep and private need, some religion to which all care was lavished. He circled around again to windows, seeing the small gap where the weight of the fabric had pulled away. This was where he had been able to see the flickering of the candle. Crossing back again he saw the mounded hump of the television and stereo. With a start he realised that whatever song he had heard when he first opened the window was still playing. He reached out, uncovering the stereo. He saw the CD player was set to repeat the same track. Fourteen. Hitting eject he pulled out the CD. His eyes widened slightly, he knew this record. Nine Inch Nails. The Downward Spiral. Hurt. His eyes squeezed shut, a tic running up his cheek as he ground his teeth.

Finally, he moved to the true centre of his attention. The altar. There was nothing else to call it, really, it was clear that was what it was. His eyes roamed over the table. A pool of black silk. An opened box. Two candlestick holders, the candles long since guttered out. The stain of dark blood spreading out and running over the side of the table. He stalked his way along the path of the blood. The large gap between the initial pool and the next splash on the carpet. The stream which must have trailed behind Xander as he ran. Into the bathroom, the huge stain which was congealing on the tile. Two blood drenched towels with the imprint of Xander's forearm. The white stamp of the hand where he had desperately held the towels blazing out from the black stain of the blood. The smear along the tub where Xander had collapsed. Spike's head dropped a little and a huge sigh escaped him. He felt his shoulders slowly unclenching as a small amount of the tension which still vibrated through him was released. He had been almost entirely sure that he had read the situation correctly, that Xander had not been trying to commit suicide but rather that he had been purposefully cutting himself and had somehow slipped too far. This scene confirmed that. Spike could still faintly scent the smell of fear and desperation that permeated the space. Underneath it all was that familiar scent, that deep musky smell which set Xander apart.

Spike cast another glance around, then set to work. He quickly gathered the towels and threw them in the washing machine. He was tempted to set them aside to burn, but remembered that Xander had almost nothing and this small loss would mean much to him. That done, he pulled out the cleaning supplies from under the sink. He remembered where everything was from the time he had spent there. It had surprised and amused him to discover that as messy as the rest of the apartment may be, Xander was almost compulsive about keeping the bathroom clean. He efficiently wiped down the tile, fighting back the urge to taste. Not like this. He would be lying to say that he did not want to learn the taste of Xander's blood but he would be damned if he would do it now. Stepping back, he cast a critical eye around the room. It softly gleamed back; showing no trace of the agony it had recently contained. The only jarring note was the knife that still lay on the tile. Spike could not bring himself to touch it, eyeing the blade as if it were a living thing that could turn on him at any time. He recognised the fine craftsmanship, the burnished silver glowing softly through those spaces not drenched in blood. The finely honed edge, the blade able to smoothly slice through flesh. Spike stared at it for some time and then turned his back, unable to stand the image of Xander's still body which had greeted him when first entered the room and which was still burned in his mind as he looked at the room.

Spike returned to the living room. As much as he wanted to strip everything down and return it to normal, to erase any sign of what had happened, he knew that this was something that Xander needed to do. He paused for a moment at the foot of the bed and listened. The breathing was still calm and true, the heartbeat growing stronger and steadier. Satisfied, he moved to sit on top of the washing machine, his eyes locked on Xander's face.

He lit another cigarette and let his head slowly drop down, unfocused eyes staring at the floor, his only movement the slow rise and fall of his hand to his mouth. He let the events of the night play out in his mind.


It had taken exactly twelve minutes and ten seconds from when he hung up with Willy to when the long Mercedes pulled along the street. Spike had moved to stand in the open doorway and dashed out to meet the man who slowly climbed from the car.

"Bloody hell, mate, what are you waiting for," Spike hollered as he rounded on the doctor. The doctor's eyes widened in shock when he saw who was glaring at him, gameface, mere inches from his throat.

"Spike." The terror contained in the hoarse whimper had thrilled the vampire to no end. At least someone still feared him.

"Yes, now where's your supplies, we haven't got much time." The doctor had simply pointed to the backseat. Spike yanked the door open, gathered up the small ice chest, the stand and the doctor's bag and ran back into the basement, the doctor right on his heels. Spike carefully dropped the equipment at the foot of the bed and turned back around. The doctor was simply standing there, staring with open mouthed shock at the blood drenched human in front of him.

"What happened?"

**Christ, who did Willy send me, this bloke can't take a little shock.** Shaking off his rage, Spike hissed out his reply.

"What happened is none of your business, not now, not ever. Look, he's lost a lot of blood and I know you can fix that. You better get started." The doctor had made the mistake of raising his head to look in Spike's yellow eyes and the rage that burned there snapped him out of his fog.

The IV was quickly set up and within a minute a line had been taped into the back of Xander's hand. The blood was placed on the stand and began to flow back into Xander's body. Hungrily watching the flow, Spike suddenly was hit by a wave of terror. Grabbing the man by the throat and fighting back the sudden wave of agony this move engendered, Spike slammed him to the wall.

"How do I know that's human, mate? Huh, how do I know that's not pig's blood and that you're not killing him right now? How do I know that's the right type? I'm just supposed to trust you, think not, luv."

The doctor's eyes looked like they would burst straight from his skull. Despite the hand clenching his throat he managed to choke out a reply.

"Blood bank, from the blood bank, the bags are sealed."

Spike abruptly stepped back; leaning against the wall as the dizziness which accompanied the pain slammed into him. Reaching into the ice chest, he pulled out a bag. Sure enough he saw the labels and the seals, the large TYPE O.

The doctor was bent over, sucking in air. "Do you really think that I would come here and do that? And risk being ripped to shreds? All Willy told me was that a Master needed blood for a transfusion. Do you think I would really mess with that?" The high pitch of the voice proved the truth of the statement.

Spike just nodded his understanding back. "Yeah, well, can never be too sure now can you. Think I'll just have a taste. Stop the flow and give me a glass."

The doctor rushed to do just that, desperate to prove his trustworthiness. He quickly stopped the IV and squeezed a small amount into a cup that he found by sink. Hands shaking, he handed it to the vampire. Spike raised the glass to his lips. The strong, pure taste of human blood rolled down his throat, yanking his demon to the fore. He licked his lips savouring the taste, even cold. Looking up, he stared the doctor down.

"Fine, you aren't poisoning him, start it back up. But I get to taste from each bag before you give it to him." The doctor nodded and rushed back to work.

Spike slowly slid down the wall, shaking from the effort it had taken to go after the man and then to hide the pain. The human blood eased the pain while at the same time causing his bloodlust to burn.

The transfusion restarted, the doctor knelt by the bed, casting a critical eye down Xander's body.

"Does he have any injuries other than the, the wounds on his arms?"

"Don't really know," came Spike's reply. "Didn't check"

"If you don't mind, I think I should examine him, make sure that the blood we're putting in isn't just coming right back out. If that's all right with you, Master Spike."

Suppressing a completely inappropriate grin at the doctor's use of the honorific, Spike nodded. That certainly made sense and Spike did not want to go through this again.

Reaching down, the doctor carefully began to remove Xander's clothes, gratefully taking the small knife that Spike pulled from his boot to cut the sleeve away from Xander's right wrist so as not to interrupt the drip of the blood. By this time the first bag was nearly empty and the doctor moved to replace it. Spike took the opportunity to examine Xander's face. The dusky hue to his skin was fading and the ever so slight blue tinge to his lips was gone. His breathing was settling into a steadier pattern and he seemed less unconscious and more asleep.

The doctor pulled a new bag from the ice chest and again squeezed some blood into the cup for Spike. The vampire quickly tasted and nodded his approval. The doctor satisfied himself that the new transfusion was set up correctly and then returned to removing Xander's clothes. He carefully rolled Xander up to pull the shirt from under his back, finally exposing his chest.

Spike went rigid. Xander's sides were covered in bruises, the separate blows to his ribs quickly becoming one huge black mass. Despite this, he was clearly able to make out the shape of the toe to a boot. There was no way that this had happened during patrol the previous night. Nothing they had fought had worn blunt toed workboots. Someone, no something, else had done this. The doctor ran his hands over Xander's sides, cautiously pressing and pulling.

"Well, it's impossible to be sure without taking x-rays, but it doesn't look any of the ribs are broken, just sprained and cracked. I want to tape them up, however, just as a precaution." Spike just nodded, still stunned by the sight.

"Could you possibly get me a bowl of water and a washcloth, I would like to clean the wounds before I apply the antiseptic."

The doctor was stunned to hear this request come from his mouth, he, a mere mortal, making such a menial demand of a powerful master vampire. He was even more shocked when Spike quickly stood, turned on his heel and went to get what he requested. He heard the sound of running water, of the noise of someone rummaging in a cabinet in the bathroom and then the vampire returned, a look of almost comic concentration on his face as he attempted to carry the bowl without spilling. Nodding gratefully the doctor reached up and took it from the vampire's hands. He dipped the cloth into the water, startled to find the vampire had made sure the water was warm but not too hot. Slowly he set to work cleaning the wounds. Taking out a penlight, he checked Xander's pupils, pleased to see that they were even and reactive. The man's colour was coming along well and the doctor ceased worrying that he would be killed when the vampire's charge died.

The stress of imminent death removed, the doctor's concern began to centre solely on the patient. Obviously, the man had been beaten and attacked with a knife. He did not think it was the vampire who had done so. While vampires did use transfusions to keep their toys alive, they were usually prepared well ahead of time. Besides, the tension and rage present in the Master spoke of some other attack on the man. Deciding he would live much, much longer if he drove such thoughts from his mind, the doctor instead concentrated on cleaning the wounds thoroughly, taking the time to wash the blood off the mortal's face. He was aware the entire time that the vampire's eyes followed his every move.

Looking up, he caught Spike's eye. Moving back on the bed, he dared another look into Spike's face. Something in those yellow eyes tugged at the doctor and he slowly reached to lay a hand on Spike's arm.

"He's coming along well, don't worry, there should be no lasting effects." Spike just continued to stare at the doctor, shocked by the man's boldness in laying a hand on him. The anger quickly faded when he heard the words. He nodded, never ceasing his careful attention to the doctor's actions.

The doctor moved up from the bed and reached into his bag, removing the tape he would need to strap Xander's ribs. He slowly moved next to the man and began his work. He moved calmly and steadily, the rhythm of the work helping ease the stress of the situation. Quickly, Xander's ribs were taped; another bag of blood was retrieved, sampled by Spike, approved and set up. The doctor checked Xander's pulse and blood pressure, pleased at the results. The vampire continued to silently watch his every move.

"I would like to remove his pants, check to see if there's anything we are missing." He wasn't sure of the relationship between the vampire and the human but was positive that if the human was the vampire's toy and he simply removed the man's pants, then his life would be forfeit.

"Fine by me, shouldn't need my help with that though." Spike turned and moved to stand in the doorway, needing to smoke and not wanting to bother the doctor. Besides, he suddenly did not want to see Xander exposed, knowing the mere fact that the vampire had seen what he had would humiliate Xander enough. He lit a cigarette and gazed into the night.

The doctor took the chance to pull the human's pants and boxers down. The bruises on the human's ribs continued down his legs, but they were not as many and not nearly as bad. Carefully rolling Xander onto his side, he brought his gaze up from Xander's feet to the back of his thighs and then onto his ass. The doctor's eyes widened in horror as he saw the evidence of the rape. His heart racing, he glanced at the pensive vampire in the door. For some reason he had no doubt that the vampire had not done this. He had no idea who had. He prayed that the vampire would stay in the doorway, would ignore the sudden pounding of his heart. His mind raced. Should he tell the Master and, if he did, would his life be forfeit. All he had ever heard of Spike's reputation poured through his mind. One thing he knew, Spike would never share what was his. If this human was his and someone else had touched him, then everyone involved would be destroyed. The doctor leaned closer, seeing that the human was not bleeding and was not in any physical danger from the rape. He made up his mind. He would not say a word. Let the vampire find out for himself. He had no death wish. Daring a glance over he saw the vampire was still facing outside, throwing his cigarette butt into the grass. He had not noticed. The doctor was safe. He quickly pulled Xander's boxers and pants into place.

Leaning back, the doctor stretched, attempting to loosen the knots in his back. He bent back down and examined the knife wounds carefully, seeing that it was only the large one on the left arm that posed any concern. He stood and moved to stand by Spike in the doorway.

"I'll bandage his arms up right before I go. His left arm really should be stitched. I could do it now if you like, but you should know that it will leave a scar. I could give you the name of a good plastic surgeon if you like. As long as he goes tomorrow or the next day, there is a good chance that the scar could be minimised, if not entirely eliminated."

Spike glanced over. "I'll take him to the surgeon tomorrow. I take it whoever he is will be aware of my 'special circumstances'." He knew that Xander would be furious with him for making this decision but if there was any way to get out of this with no permanent marks, no scars Xander would have to explain away, then Spike would take that chance.

"She, actually, and, yes, she is used to a special clientele."

"What about infection?" The thought suddenly struck Spike. It would be just his luck that after all this some microbe would defeat him.

"As I said I'll bandage him up and leave antibiotic cream." Spike nodded and moved into the room and beside the bed, resuming his silent inspection of the body before him. He had to give Willy credit, this man was good.

The last of the blood drained from the IV. Spike moved to retrieve another bag as the doctor sat down and checked Xander's blood pressure again. His pressure was strong, well within normal limits, his pulse was strong and his breathing had evened out. His colour was good and his skin was warm. Turning around, he stopped Spike as he went to taste the blood.

"He's fine now." The look of relief in the vampire's eyes shocked the doctor. Recovering quickly, knowing the Master would never admit to such a thing, the doctor began to bandage Xander's arms. He worked quickly, anxious now to get as far away as possible and let this fade into a nightmare.

"Here's the antibiotic cream, make sure he uses it. Here's some more bandages for his arms, some antibiotics, a prescription for more. Be sure to tell him to take the entire prescription. It's very important to prevent infection." Spike took the offered goods and placed them on the table. Pulling a card from his wallet, the doctor presented it to Spike.

"This is Dr. Steven's number. She is the plastic surgeon I mentioned, have him call her tomorrow. Tell him to let her know Willy sent him and she'll understand." Spike took the card and nodded. The doctor gathered his bag and took apart the stand. Quickly the room was cleared of the medical equipment, Spike moving to help him carry his things to the car. Stopping next to the driver's side door, he again dared to place his hand on Spike's arm.

"Don't worry, he'll be fine. You got him help in time and there will be no lasting harm. I don't know if you were worried about brain damage or the like, but there is almost no risk of that."

Spike's head snapped up at the mention of brain damage, he had never even considered that possibility. He froze again, pondering the loss of Xander's voice, his sense of humour, the sound of the sarcastic cracks as some demon tried to kill him. A shudder ran through Spike's body at the thought of being left with a Xander body but no Xander mind. He realised the doctor was still speaking to him

"I left the final two bags of blood for you, I know its not the same but I thought you might want them if you are going to stay with him for tonight." Spike merely nodded. Finally finding his voice, he met the doctor's eyes.

"What do I owe you."

Now it was the doctor's turn to be shocked. He was just grateful that he had been allowed to live, now he was being offered payment.

"Nothing, nothing, Master Spike, I am yours to command. It was an honour to do some small service to you," he managed to stutter out.

A wry smile crossed the vampire's lips. Clearly his current emasculated state was not quite as well known as he had thought. Either that or the human was clever and was banking up for a future that included Spike restored to his former glory.

"This service will be well remembered. Know that you and your family go in peace from me and my court." The traditional words of honour brought a flush to the doctor's face. He started to get in the car when Spike's hand caught his arm.

"Only one last thing, pet. You never saw this, you never heard this, you do not know that boy exists." The menace in the vampire's eyes was matched by the steel in his voice. Wordlessly, the doctor nodded his understanding and sped off.


The shock on his fingers as the cigarette burned to its end brought Spike out of his reverie. The doctor's off hand comment about brain damage had shocked him to his core. He had seriously never considered any other option between live Xander and dead Xander. The thought of anything else was unthinkable. He hopped off the washing machine and stalked over to kneel by the bed. He stared into Xander's face, letting the sound of Xander's heartbeat calm him, letting the rhythm of the breathing still his shaking hands.

"Pet, you will never do this again. I will not allow it. You will not take such a chance." The harshness of the words was in sharp contrast to the shaking of the voice. Spike moved back to sitting on the foot of the bed, eyes locked on the sleeping human. Dawn was coming but Spike would not sleep until he saw Xander's eyes, until he heard his voice and knew his mind was clear. He settled in, unaware that one hand had crept out and was resting on Xander's leg.

Part Four

Xander lay perfectly still, trying desperately to keep his breathing even and calm. He was trapped. He could fell the constriction around his chest, the heavy chains wrapped up both arms, some cold, dead weight draped along his legs. He squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see what it was that finally captured him. He had always known this day would come, that he would wind up separated and alone from his friends, caught by some evil being and then tortured, long and slow, before finally being given the blessed release of death. All the hours he had thought about it, concentrated on it, preparing himself for the reality of it had done nothing to help. A wave of panic ripped through him and he forced himself to open his eyes, prepared for whatever horror awaited him.

Any horror that is, but the sight of his own ceiling.

His eyes darted desperately around as the familiar patterns of stains and mould registered in his mind. He heard the familiar noises, the slow drip of the faucet, the neighbour's dog, a creak as someone walked across the kitchen. He could tell by the glow around the dark curtains covering his windows that it was midday. He blinked slowly, his mind finally clearing a little.

He was on his bed. In the basement. The basement. The basement where he had . . . His mind stopped at that thought as he suddenly came wide awake. He closed his eyes again and tried to remember how he had gotten to the bed. The last clear memory he had was of running to the bathroom and then sinking to the floor, unable to stop the spill of his blood. A wave of shame washed over him and he shuddered slightly. God, what kind of sick fuck was he. He had done it again. Done it after he swore never again. Done it despite knowing everyone would see. Done it so bad he had almost died.

It was that thought that snapped him back, forcing him to figure out what happened. He had flashes of arms carrying him, a hand on his cheek, some kind of growling, a prick on his hand. That was it. Nothing else. How had he gotten on the bed? He opened his eyes and started to sit up. He was shocked when he felt the heavy bandages around his chest as he tried to bend.

**What the hell, who taped my ribs**

He reached his arms out to help push himself up. He glanced down and saw the heavy bandaging running up both arms from wrist to elbow.

**WHAT the hell is this, who bandaged my arms**

Shaking his head, he let out a heavy sigh and looked up. It took everything he had not to start screaming in terror when he saw the back of the white blond head lying next to his knees, saw the right arm protectively wrapped around his legs, the rest of the vampire curled up at the foot of his bed.

"Spike," he practically yelped, trying desperately to pull away from that iron grasp. "Holy shit, Spike what are you doing here?" Xander began to pant as he tried harder to pull away.

Spike's eyes flew open at the sound of his name. He hadn't realised that he had fallen asleep, let alone that he had wrapped himself around Xander. **You wanker, you wanker** he cursed as he yanked himself up and away from the bed. He stood, paused a moment to compose himself, then turned to face the boy.

"What, luv, don't remember asking me to stay the night," he drawled, a cocky grin on his lips and an arch to his eyebrow. The grin quickly faded as he saw the confusion cloud Xander's eyes. Sitting back on the foot of the bed, he sought the boy's eyes with his own, the doctor's words sounding in his head.

"Pet, I was just joking," he quietly said.

There was no response from the human staring down at the bed.

"Xander," he continued, feeling panic rise in his chest, "Xander, do you know where you are?"

It was the worry behind those words that snapped him out of his fog. He was thoroughly confused. Here he was, sitting on his bed wrapped like a mummy with Spike acting all concerned. It was much too weird. He realised he had to answer the question.

"The Bahamas," he snapped back, looking up to catch the vampire's eyes. Startled by the look of worry he saw, he continued. "Come on, I'm in my luxurious basement hell hole, what did you think I was going to say?"

Spike's panic eased some at the mocking response. Now that was Xander, insecure, uncertain of what was going on around him, so making a joke to hide. A bad joke to be sure, but a joke nonetheless.

Xander looked back down at himself then back at Spike. He could see the cloth still draping the room, could just make out the candlesticks and open box on the table behind Spike's head. **Oh gods, oh gods, how do I explain THIS, what did he see, why is he here, of all the people to find out** He sighed and looked at Spike.

"When did you get here?" he asked. He might as well get this over with as soon as possible - see just how bad it was.

"Last night," came the short reply. Xander was caught off guard. He was prepared for some smart ass comment, some mocking words, some insult, but not this quiet response. This was worse than he thought.

"Um, do you know who cleaned me up?" he asked. Maybe that would jar something out of the suddenly evasive vamp.

"Yes," came the simple reply. Nothing more, no mocking, no other information. **NOW he decides to give straightforward answers** a small voice asked.

"That's it, just yes, no big long explanation, no mocking, c'mon, Spike, give it up."

Xander couldn't believe it. The vampire was just sitting there watching him with an odd look on his face. Nearly a minute passed with the two just staring at one another. Spike finally sighed and looked away.

"Why don't you go get cleaned up, when you're done I'll tell you what happened." He knew this offer would surprise the whelp, maybe buy him some more time to brace himself for what he knew would be a long day and night.

Xander flinched back, startled. Spike, volunteering to answer questions? He slowly nodded. He did want to wash his face. And he really needed to use the bathroom. He started a little at the thought of going in there, of seeing the blood. However, he could think of no way to refuse without being obvious.

"All right," he said, "Back in a flash." He swung his legs off the side of the bed and stood up.

The world suddenly tilted sideways, spinning round and round. He began to fall, shocked by how weak he was. He felt the cold arms reach out and catch him, settling him back on the bed.

"Be careful, whelp. You're probably still pretty weak from the blood loss. Just move slowly." Spike jerked his head back as he heard the words spill from his mouth. **Oh hell, that's just great, you pillock, just the way to ease into the topic there, mate**

Xander's eyes turned to bore through Spike's.

"Blood loss, the blood loss, holy fucking shit what did you see," he hissed out. It was clear that the vampire knew at least some of what had happened - he just wasn't going to tell Xander how much.

"Look, just get this over with - what did you see, who all was here, who did you tell," Xander's voice began to rise. "Who, Spike, huh, who, who did the bandages, Buffy, don't think so, she's too impatient to do them this tight. Willow, nope she would be busy crying too hard. Tara, maybe. Anya, no, she would make sure my dick was strapped down too. Giles - sure what would he care. He could do it. So who did it Spike? And why did they leave you here, you draw the short straw, you get stuck on psycho duty? Or did they just figure that with all your experience with Dru you would just know how to deal if I lost it, is that it?"

Xander hadn't realised he was standing and screaming until he suddenly started to sway. "C'mon, Spike, what the fuck happened. You get a taste, they let you lick me is that it? Look, you bastard, just tell me."

Xander was nearly sobbing now, the shame and the pain burning through him. The voice started in his head.

**All over, it's all over, they know, they know. I'm a freak and they know. I'm insane and they know. They know, they know** No wonder they left him with Spike, no one else could stand to be near him. He sank back onto the bed and hung his head, bringing his left arm up to rub across his eyes. He hissed as the movement caused the bandage to pull against the wounds.

Spike just sat and listened to Xander yell, listened to the pain pour out of him. He knew Xander needed this, needed to lash out, to try to take control of the situation. Of course he assumed the Slayer and her gang had fixed him, why shouldn't he, it made the most sense. He could smell the fear and shame pouring off Xander's body, the fury and fear dark and rich. Spike let him rage, let him turn the anger onto Spike and away from himself. He felt the weight drop next to him on the bed, heard the hiss of pain.

"Xander, I will tell you what happened - and I will tell you the truth," Xander snorted as he heard that. "But I do think it would be better if you cleaned up first. Make you feel better."

Spike chanced a quick glance over. The frantic pace of Xander's heart had slowed and the sharp scent of fear had faded some.

"Look, pet, I've got more bandages, some cream you've got to rub on those cuts," Spike carefully looked away as he felt Xander tense up, "and I don't really feel like doing it myself."

Xander slowly nodded. It was true, he would feel better if he showered. He carefully stood up, not wanting to collapse again. He cautiously made his way to the bathroom, dreading what he would find. Opening the door, his eyes widened in shock. It gleamed in the light, perfectly clean, fresh towels hanging on the rod. No trace of blood anywhere to be found. He glanced around again, startled. It was clear that someone had taken the time to do this, to erase any trace of what had occurred. He took another step into the room and looked down. There. The knife. It was still lying where it had fallen from his hand, dried blood now turning the blade black. He stood still for long moments, staring at the blade. He swallowed again, shaking slightly as the memory of the pain crashed into him. How had he been so stupid. How could he have lost so much control. Gods, he sickened himself. Swallowing hard, he closed the door.

Spike heard the bathroom door slam shut. He leapt from the bed and grabbed his cigarettes. He quickly lit up and began to pace back and forth. **At least that cloth has some use** he thought as he passed under the windows. **Couldn't have put them up while I was staying here, though, could he** It actually had not gone as badly as he had anticipated. He had been prepared to try to defend himself from an attack. The anger was actually good, he had no idea what to do if Xander had started to cry.

He still couldn't believe that he had fallen asleep. He had been determined to stay awake until Xander regained consciousness. However, the stress of the night had caught up with him and he had basically collapsed. Still, he had stayed awake for a long time, merely watching Xander as he slept. It had given him time to think - to determine why he had reacted as he did. It had only been when the phone rang about 9:00 a.m. and when he heard Red's voice leaving a message that he realised that it had never occurred to him to call the Slayer, the Watcher, Red, any of the whelp's friends. At first, he told himself it was because there simply hadn't been time. He had to get the boy help immediately or he would have died. That excuse didn't last long. If that had been the case, he would have just taken him to the hospital. Spike knew that he hadn't called the Scooby gang for the same reason he hadn't taken the boy to the hospital, too many inconvenient questions. Spike didn't want to answer the questions and he sure as hell didn't want to watch while Xander tried to answer them either.

Spike continued to pace the room, striding faster and faster the more he thought of listening to the idiotic questions he could just hear coming from the group. They would never understand the purity of blood, the craving that always existed, the need to feel flesh part under your hands. Spike now understood why he had always felt an odd kinship with Xander, it was that faint hint of bloodlust that ran in his veins.

But it was more than that. He stopped in front of the altar, looking down at the silk and blood. It reminded him of Dru. She too loved blood play, loved to trace a blade across his throat while he fucked her, to wait until he would whisper out the words of love that she dragged from him, then to trace the tip across his throat. In those early days, before she had become completely his, she would return from her time with Angelus and reach for her knife. She would trace and trace circles on her skin, whimpering out her pain and pouring it into herself. He would hold her and run his hands in her hair.

He had instantly known what those lines on Xander's arms meant, just as he had known that Xander did not want to die. That was the dark beauty of it, the way that those who did not taste the blood would never know that it was life that those cuts sought, life that the blade represented.

But he knew. He knew and he understood. And now he understood a little more about that dark boy. He had always seen something more there, something deeper than Xander let on. The boy was bright, no matter what his friends thought, and he was braver than the rest. The Slayer had her strength, the Watcher and the witches their craft, Anya was an ex-demon. The whelp was just a boy. And he went out there just as they did. And they treated him like shit.

Spike tilted his head towards the door, listening to make sure Xander hadn't collapsed again. He heard the sounds of the running water, the slight splashes as he washed. Spike began to pace again. So, now he knew one secret. But where there was one there were more. Like where those bruises were from. And how the boy had learned this in the first place. And what had pushed him over that edge. It was obvious that the boy had been doing this for some time and that he knew what he was about. It had taken all of Spike's control not to strip him down and search for the other scars. And he knew the secret places they would be. To be pushed this far, something outrageous had to occur. Spike was determined to find out just what that was. He heard the water stop and moved back to lean against a wall, waiting for Xander to appear.

Xander slowly unwound the bandages around his chest, wincing at the pain in his ribs. Looking in the mirror he gasped. His chest was a mass of black, no single bruise standing out. He was grateful that none of his ribs had been broken, this he could hide. He next turned to his right arm, slowly unwrapping the covering. Ten perfect, parallel lines greeted him. They started as faint shadows by his elbow, deepening down to dark gouges by his wrist. He would have to wear long sleeve shirts for about, oh three weeks, he figured, eyeing the wounds with long practice. He ran his finger along the second from the bottom, his eyes misting slightly at the sensations it produced. Shaking his head, he turned to his left arm. This took much longer to uncover, with portions of gauze still clinging to the skin. He looked down, appalled at what he saw. His forearm looked as if some madman had gone after it with a cleaver. No perfect length, no matching lines, no discrete space in between. Instead, it was a mass of wounds, deep, shallow, jagged, thick, thin. All were there. And finally, the master cut. It ran the length of his arm and he knew it would scar. He had finally done it. Made it impossible to hide. A bitter smile unconsciously crossed his face. Well, this would take some explaining. He could always blame it on some demon or other.

He adjusted the water then stepped in the shower. He gasped a little when the water hit his bruises and ran down his arms, but the soothing heat soon dulled that pain. He leaned against a wall and just let the water run down him. He was so weak it was frightening. He wondered how much blood he had lost. He also wondered how it had been replaced. And why. And who.

His thoughts finally settled on Spike. Why was he there? What had he done? It was obvious that Spike had helped him for some reason, but why? And why hadn't he made any comments on the state of the basement? And was he the one who cleaned the bathroom? Xander suspected that was the case, Spike knew where everything was. And the towels had been folded just how he liked them. Not too many people knew that piece of trivia. Why was Spike still here - well, all right it was day so it wasn't like he could go anywhere, but why was he there in the first place? Xander sighed heavily. Well, he would deal with one disaster at a time. A small, hidden part of him, however, was thrilled. He could tell that Spike knew, if not the details, then the basic nature of what he had done. And he wasn't disgusted. Maybe even understood.

The water began to run cold, and Xander started to shiver. Turning the taps off, he got out, dried off and then rubbed the antibiotic cream onto his arms, smiling slightly as he thought of the look on the vampire's face when he had pressed in into Xander's hand. The look that made it clear that Xander would be using this one way or another. He quickly and expertly re-wrapped his ribs, having grown used to the process by now. He carefully bandaged his arms, wincing at the pain. He grabbed his clothes, dressing slowly. He turned back, thinking of anything else he could do, any reason to stay here and not look Spike in the eye. He brushed his teeth for the second time, ran a comb through his hair again but was finally forced to admit defeat. Time to face the music.

Spike looked up as the door opened. A burst of steam came out and Xander appeared in the mist. He looked noticeably calmer, but still very pale and shaky. He moved over to the chair in which he had chained Spike and looked up at the vampire. They stared at each other in silence.

"So, why don't you tell me just what the hell happened last night."

Part Five

Two sets of shocked eyes stared at each other. The words hung in the air between them, spoken in unison and with the same note of anger, curiosity and fear. Long seconds ticked away as they locked eyes, neither willing to speak first. A small smile suddenly curled the corner of Xander's mouth.

"Jinx," he said, catching Spike completely off guard.

"What," came the incredulous reply. "Why the bloody hell would you jinx me?" The vampire was thoroughly confused now. He felt the rage beginning to build in his chest.

"Here I help you, hell only knows why, get you a doctor, clean you up and you want to JINX me, bloody ungrateful if you ask me." Spike pushed himself away from the wall and began to stalk towards the boy in the chair. "Ungrateful whelp, should have left you there to bleed. . ."

Xander flinched back, shocked both by Spike's reaction and by the revelations unwittingly being divulged by the furious vampire. He reflexively raised his hands as Spike stopped directly in front of him, yellow flickering around the rims of his eyes.

"Um, Spike, it's just a thing, you know, when two people say the same thing at the same time, one says jinx and the other has to buy him a drink." He knew he was babbling, but he was desperate to calm Spike down before something happened. He knew that Spike couldn't really hurt him, but he didn't particularly want to have to replace whatever it was that Spike threw across the room. "Didn't mean anything by it, I'm glad you helped me, please calm down, I wasn't trying to hurt you."

Spike glared down, trying to force the anger away. As strange as the explanation was, he could see that Xander was telling the truth. The boy hadn't been trying to curse him, he had just been trying to break the tension.

"Bloody humans, playing with things they don't understand, jinx, indeed." He shot Xander another angry glare, then returned to leaning against the wall. His eyes suddenly closed when he realised what he had said. A low growl rumbled through him at his stupidity. **Oh, you're just the master of discretion today aren't you. Pillock**

Xander cleared his throat, trying to work up the courage to ask the questions swirling through his mind. **C'mon, he said he'd tell you**

"You said you would tell me what happened after I got cleaned up, well, I'm cleaned up, so tell me. What happened last night?" He tried to keep his voice calm and steady, but he could hear the slight waver underneath the words. He closed his eyes, not wanting Spike to see the tears which had suddenly filled his eyes.

Spike looked over at the boy, scenting the anguish coming off him in waves. He sighed, knowing that the only reason he had attacked Xander was to try to delay this moment. It was going to hurt, no matter what. He had decided during those long hours of watching over Xander as he slept that he would tell him the truth, just not all the entire truth. There were some things he wasn't sure of himself, and he was not about to bring up certain subjects until he figured out his motives first. He moved to sit on the bed, staring straight ahead, in profile to the boy.

"I stopped by last night, wanted to talk to you about why you suddenly lost all ability to fight. Knocked, no one answered, knocked again, still no answer. Could see light, hear music, knew you were there. Opened a window, smelled blood. Kicked open the door, found you in the bathroom. Saw the blood, knew you needed help. Called Willy, got him to send a doctor. Doctor gave you a transfusion, checked you over, saw your ribs, strapped you up. Finished the transfusion, said you would be fine, left. It was almost dawn so I stayed." His voice was flat and emotionless, the only sign of tension being the clenching and unclenching of his hands.

Xander stared at him in shock. He hadn't really expected Spike to answer him, or, if he did, he expected some story about being forced there by Buffy and everyone and how they found him. Not this. He mind raced as questions poured through his head. Finally picking the most important one, he turned to look Spike in the eye.

"So, you found me. None of the rest know?" Again, that damned waver to his voice. Shit, he was such a wuss. He stared at Spike, dreading the answer.

"No, they don't know." Spike steadily met his gaze, the truth apparent there.

Again, the simple response shocked him. This was completely unexpected. Here was the ultimate item to blackmail him, to humiliate and destroy him. But apparently not only had the vampire not told anyone else, he had gotten help from sources which would never tell his friends. Knowing he was pushing his luck, he still had to ask.

"Why, why didn't you call them or just take me to a hospital? Not that I don't appreciate it, I do, but why?"

Here was the question that Spike had been dreading, why. Why had he done what he did. He had known that would be almost the first thing that Xander would ask, it was what was foremost in his mind as well.

"Because a hospital would have thought you were trying to kill yourself and the Slayer would think that somehow I had done it. Don't want to get staked now, do I." He watched carefully, hoping this half-truth would be sufficient. He really didn't want to have to tell the truth, that he understood the need and the pain behind it and that he knew that the whelp's friends **Yeah, such wonderful friends that they never noticed** would only make things worse.

Xander slowly nodded. That made sense and he truly was grateful that he did not have to explain. He didn't think he was up to it, he was too exhausted to think up some believable lie.

"Well, thanks. I mean, for everything, not just getting me a doctor. I appreciate it." He sighed as he looked around the room, still draped in the black cloth with a trail of blood leading to the bathroom. **That's going to be a bitch to clean** He went to stand, to begin stripping down the room when a cold hand shot up and pushed him back.

"My turn, now. What the hell happened last night? And no joking around, I want to know. And just because I haven't told that little gang of yours - yet - doesn't mean that I won't if I don't get answers. So, what happened?" Spike's eyes burned into him, pinning him to the chair. It was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to get out of this with some story, some joke or evasion. He knew the vampire, knew he was serious, knew that if he did not answer the questions then Spike would have no hesitation about telling everyone exactly what he had seen. He looked up, trying to get the words together, to find some means to explain.

Spike watched the emotions play across Xander's face. He wasn't sure what response he would get, but he had to know. He knew that Xander would never willingly tell him, but he also knew that the threat of telling the boy's friends would get him some type of response. He needed to know what had pushed Xander to this point, what had caused this loss of control. He needed to make sure that it wouldn't happen again, that whatever, whoever, had hurt him would never have that chance again.

Xander dropped his eyes to his hands. He didn't know where to begin, how to explain what he had done. He didn't want to speak, didn't want to have to try to put into words the sheer necessity of the pain. He opened his mouth, then closed it, at a loss for how to start. He heard a low growl begin above him, then felt a cool hand reach to lift up his chin. He saw that Spike was kneeling in front of the chair, gently grasping his chin, forcing him to look in the vampire's eyes.

"Pet, I know it's hard, but you need to tell someone about this. I'm certain you would rather it be me than someone who wouldn't know how much the pain can cleanse." A small sigh, then the hand dropped away. "Don't worry, as long as you tell me, I won't tell them." The voice was quiet and soothing and the eyes were concerned. "Luv, please tell me, it will help."

It was those words that pushed him over the edge. Tears started to roll down his face, unbidden, unwanted. He couldn't stop himself as the sobs racked through his body. It was all too much. Just too much. First Anya leaving, then his father and now Spike knowing how sick he was. His world had fallen away and there was nothing left. His only method of survival had nearly destroyed him. He tried to bury his head in the chair, humiliated to his core. On top of everything else, he was crying like a baby in front of the one person who would most delight in seeing his pain. He was shocked when he felt himself wrapped in a tight embrace, heard soothing words muttered into his ear, felt a hand trace through his hair.

Spike just held Xander as he sobbed. He hadn't expected this, wasn't sure what to do. His reaction to wrap himself around the boy had been instinctive and immediate. He was stunned that the boy didn't try to push him away, then realised that he was in so much pain that any comfort would be acceptable. He continued to run his hand through that dark hair, whispering words of comfort. He could feel the tension drain from the body in his arms with every sob, could feel the pain which burned like a flame. It tore through Spike, drawing out every protective instinct he had. Whatever was causing the boy this agony went deep through him. It was obvious this was the rage and pain of years being poured out in his arms. Spike just held on, hoping his presence would help somehow. Slowly, the wrenching sobs quieted and turned into hitching breaths. The tears slowed and Xander's breathing began to steady. Spike loosened his grip slightly, pulling back to look in Xander's face. He reached a hand up and pushed the hair out of Xander's eyes.

"Luv, you all right, how are your ribs, that had to hurt." He was careful to keep his voice even and low. Xander's eyes were still closed and he could sense the embarrassment. "Do you want some water or something . . ." His voice trailed off, unsure of what to do now. Whenever Dru had wept like that it was followed by sex. He was fairly certain that wasn't next in this case.

Xander forced himself to open his eyes, afraid of what he would see. Spike looked back at him, the only thing present in his eyes concern, some understanding and a little confusion. No mocking, no laughter, nothing but care. Xander shook his head slightly, trying to clear his mind.

"Water, water would be good. Throat hurts." Spike nodded, released him and went to the sink. The vampire grabbed a glass, filled it and handed it to him. He drank slowly, wincing a little as his ribs let him know they did not appreciate what they had just gone through. He eventually finished the water and put the glass on the floor next to the chair. Spike had moved so that he was sitting on the table facing him, the black silk pushed to the side. He ran his hand slowly through his hair then took a deep breath. **The sooner you start the sooner its over, so buck up little camper and just do it** He released the breath and began to speak.

"Sometimes, whenever things get to be too much, I, I, I cut myself. It helps. Makes me feel, lets me know that I'm still alive. I mean, if I feel pain then I feel something, you know. And when things are really bad then I need it the most, I need to see and taste my blood. It's just so pure, so good and right. And I know it's sick but I can't stop. Well, things have been bad for months, my friends all leaving for college and I'm stuck in this basement doing work I hate. Feeling more and more useless with the gang, I mean, I don't have Buffy's strength or Willow's magic. Then I had Anya and everything was okay for awhile, she made it better. Then she left me, said I was just using her. After Anya left, it just seemed that everything was gone, that there was no reason for me to be around anymore. Then that vamp almost killed me and I just didn't care. I think I wanted him to do it on some level, just wanted everything to stop. I came home," he stopped, catching another breath. There was no way he was going to tell Spike what actually happened next, there was no way he would let anyone find out about that. He started again, "I came home and hurt so bad from the fight. Called off work. Needed it, needed it more than ever before. Got the room set up. Got out my knife. Started to cut," his voice began to waver again **shit, haven't you made enough of a fool of yourself** took another deep breath **almost done, just a little more** "I just lost control, I never meant to really hurt myself. I mean the whole reason I do it is so that I don't want to kill myself. And I know that doesn't make sense but it's true. Anyway, I realised as I was making the last cut that it was too much, but I couldn't stop. When the blood started to gush out I ran for the bathroom, tried to stop the bleeding, couldn't, then I passed out." He could feel his whole body shaking, desperately waiting for Spike's reaction.

Spike just stared at him for a moment. He couldn't believe that Xander had actually told him all that, he had expected some brief explanation, some defensive response. Not this honest baring of Xander's soul. His insides twisted at the echoes of the pain underlying every word. Another part of him raged at the thoughtlessness of those people who were supposed to be his friends. No one had ever sensed the anguish, the horror which was obviously eating Xander alive. Yet another part realised that there was more unsaid, that this explanation didn't account for the bruised body. He could also sense some deeper pain which Xander has holding close and that he would not share. Spike could see that Xander was afraid of how he would react, could see the tension in every line of his body.

"Well, pet, as much as you may need it to stay alive, this time it almost killed you," Spike now heard an answering waver in his voice as the image of Xander sprawled bloody and still on the floor of the bathroom appeared before his eyes. He shook his head, trying to wipe the vision away. "I've seen this before, you know, and I know that you've been doing this for years. I know that there's something else there. If you don't want to tell me now, fine, but know that I will find out." Xander's head shot up at that but Spike didn't stop. "Your 'release' almost killed you, still might, what if those cuts get infected. And what if I hadn't found you, what if it had been the Slayer or Red or the Watcher, then they would know." Spike stopped, wanting to see the reaction to his words.

"Yeah, well, they'll know now, won't they," came the quiet response. "This is gonna scar and scar bad."

Spike turned, picked up the card the doctor had left and handed it across. He saw Xander take it, read it and look up, confusion written on his face.

"The doctor who took care of you left that, I called this morning, we have an appointment for 9:00 tonight. I know you don't want anyone else to know and, for some reason, neither do I. Won't help and will only result in that lot asking a bunch of stupid questions. Here's the deal, I won't tell but you are NEVER doing this again. Never. And to make sure of that I'm moving back in here." Spike's voice had taken on an air of command. It was clear that this was not negotiable. "We'll just have to find something else for you to do."

Xander stared at him in shock. He wasn't sure what surprised him most, that Spike wanted to help him, that Spike wasn't blackmailing him too much or that Spike actually sounded like he cared what happened. Xander clearly recognised that a deal was being offered to him, let Spike stay or Spike would tell. He was surprised that the prospect of Spike staying with him actually brought a sense of relief. As much as it hurt to discuss, he actually felt slightly better now that someone else knew. Besides, Spike actually was fairly good company, once you got used to his odd sense of humour. **What about your father, what will you do when he finds out**, a small voice asked. He decided to ignore it. He would deal with that when the time came. It would be nice to have some company. He knew he had to object, just for form's sake. Had to have some dignity left.

"And what if I tell you that you can't and get Willow to do the un-invite spell?"

Spike leaned forward, yellow again flickering in his eyes. "Then you won't have this little secret anymore and you can explain to them."

Xander nodded, swallowing hard, no matter how much his mind knew Spike couldn't hurt him, his body still hadn't quite gotten the message. "All right, deal."

"Deal," repeated Spike. He looked at the clock. 5:00. Three hours to sundown, four to their appointment. "Well, I'm going back to sleep, didn't get much this morning. Red called, you might want to call her back. Make some excuse for not seeing them tonight. The doctor said you had to get that arm stitched today to avoid scarring. And since I went to the trouble of making the arrangements you're going." He threw himself on the bed, drained from the events of the last night and day. "And clean up this room, even I think it's odd."

Xander looked down at Spike and then moved for the phone. He was still confused, still shaky and weak and still a little in shock at finding Spike protecting him. He decided to push all those thoughts aside for later. For whatever reason, Spike had helped him, wanted to help him and wanted to continue to help him. That was enough for now.


Spike woke the second the sun went down. He felt much better, usually he didn't need much rest, but the intensity of the last day had drained him. He sat up, looked around. The room had been restored to its normal state, perhaps a little cleaner than usual, but the hangings had been removed from the room. He noticed that Xander had left them over the windows. He could hear the television and smell the milk that Xander had poured into his cereal. Xander sat in the chair, flipping through the channels as he ate. Spike got up, walked to the refrigerator, reached in and removed the last bag of blood. Opening it, he poured it into a mug then put the mug into the microwave. Once heated, he took it out and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, savouring the warm taste of human blood.

Xander glanced over, a little unsure of what to say. He had called Willow, told her that he was sick and couldn't come out. He had persuaded her not to come over with some rather convincing descriptions of his supposed illness and promised to call her the next morning. He had then removed the draping from the room, carefully folding the cloth and putting it away. He had left the hangings over the windows, realising how much they helped keep out the sun. He then had straightened up a little, knowing he was avoiding going into the bathroom. He finally ran out of excuses and went to retrieve the knife. He picked it up gently, careful to point the edge away from his body. He had tenderly wiped down the knife, forcing himself to see how much blood caked the blade, to realise just how close he had come to death. Once the blade was cleaned he placed it back into its box. He caressed the lid, then pulled a lock box from the closet. He opened the lock box, put the box with the knife inside, then locked it back up. Removing the key from the ring, he placed in on the table. He then had scrubbed at the blood staining the floor, finally getting the majority of it out. He had then showered again, feeling the tension drain from him. He realised he was starved and had sat down with the cereal just before Spike woke up.

Spike finished the blood and then regretfully set the mug down. There was never enough in those bags, just enough to calm one craving and start another. Looking over, he saw the uncertainty on Xander's face as the boy looked at him. He sighed, knowing that the boy still had to be a little nervous about what the vampire would do.

"Well, you did a good job of cleaning up, mate, looks almost nice in here." He heard Xander slowly release the breath he had been holding. Glancing at the clock he saw it was just after 8:00. "I'll be right back, gotta grab some clothes before we go." He pulled himself up and out the door, heading for the DeSoto which was parked up the street. He had gotten in the habit of parking away from the house during the time he had lived with the boy and had automatically parked a few blocks away the night before. He reached the car, opened the trunk and then retrieved the spare set of clothes he always kept there. Returning to the basement he saw that Xander had stripped the sheets off the bed and folded it back into a couch.

"Let me get cleaned up and then we'll go, don't want to be late." Xander just nodded.

Spike quickly showered, not wanting to leave Xander alone for too long. He knew that the boy would be feeling lost right now, and he wanted to make sure that Xander realised that he wasn't toying with him. He didn't understand this need he had to make Xander feel safe, but he liked it. He had always enjoyed having someone to care for, it made him feel needed and wanted. Since Dru had left, he had felt empty and alone, completely useless with the bloody chip in his head. Now, Xander needed help and he could help him. He wasn't going to question beyond that, just enjoy it while he could.

He dried himself off and dressed quickly, coming out to find Xander sitting on the couch, fingering a key. A small lockbox sat on the table. He sat down next to him, waiting to hear whatever it is that Xander was going to say.

Xander twisted the key in his fingers, not sure how to start. He felt like everything he knew had changed in the space of a day. He had almost died, his mortal enemy had learned his secret and then had offered to help. It made him feel warm inside, to know that someone, even if it was a vampire, cared about him. He knew what a gesture it was for Spike to keep this secret and he wanted to do something to show his appreciation.

"I put the knife back in its box and then put the knife in this." He picked up the lockbox and unlocked it. Inside sat the box containing the knife. He opened it and handed it to Spike. Spike took it, his eyes never leaving Xander's. "I want you to know that I appreciate this. Here, put it back in and I'll lock it up. I want you to have the key."

Spike heard the determination in Xander's voice. He hadn't expected this, had no idea that the boy was determined to prove his strength. He nodded and carefully closed the box, then placed it into the larger lockbox, careful not to scrape the box with the knife against the side of the lockbox. Xander slid his hand across the wood, and Spike could smell the longing and desire begin. Xander quickly slammed the lid of the lockbox shut, locked it and handed over the key.

"Here's the key, do whatever you want with it, I don't want to know," Xander abruptly stood and paced away. It was done. He wouldn't be able to get at the knife now without going through Spike. He was certain that would not go well if he tried.

Spike stared at the key for a moment and then put it in a pocket of his duster. He would keep it safe until Xander was ready to take it back. Standing, he shrugged into the duster then motioned to Xander.

"Let's get going, whelp. Not sure exactly where this place is and we don't want to be late."


They pulled into the parking garage of one of the medical buildings downtown. According to the business card, Dr. Steven's office was on the ninth floor. They silently rode the elevator, each tensing at the thought of what would come next. They emerged into an elegant office, all pale colours and blonde wood. A smiling young woman greeted them as they walked through the door.

"Mr. Harris, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Sandra, Dr. Steven's nurse. If you'll both come with me, I'll take you back to meet the doctor." Her quiet, pleasant voice calmed them a little as she led them to an examination room. She opened a door and led them into a room with large armchairs and a padded table. It was obvious that every effort had been made to minimise the medical equipment.

"The doctor's been expecting you, she'll be just a moment, there's some water in the carafe." She smiled as she gently closed the door.

Spike moved to examine the pictures on the wall while Xander sat in one of the chairs. "Bloody hate doctor's offices, don't care what they do can still smell that doctor smell," he muttered, tension building again.

Xander just sat there, too nervous to speak. He had no idea what to say, how to explain the wounds. Maybe she wouldn't ask. The door quietly opened and a small, dark-haired woman entered. Xander automatically stood as she approached.

"You must be Mr. Harris, I understand that you're a friend of Willy's. Well, just let me assure you that whatever you need, I should be able to help." She reached out her hand and Xander shook it, calming a little at the kind look in her eye. There was a small sound behind her as Spike turned from the wall to look her over.

Dr. Steven turned and then went white. "Master Spike, I am so sorry, I did not realise that you were here, that he was," she realised she was still holding Xander's hand and turned even paler. She released the hand and then moved a step away. "Master, truly I meant no dishonour, please tell me how I can serve you."

A delighted grin went across Spike's face. Well now, this was going to be fun. Yet another poor mortal who didn't know his fate. He knew he shouldn't do this, that it was sure to just confuse Xander but he couldn't resist.

"Well, I will let this little slip pass this once. I was told that you could provide a valuable service to me. You see, my boy there stupidly got himself into a fight and, unfortunately, the demon had a knife. Managed to cut the boy's left arm up fairly well before the boy ripped his spine out. As you can see, he is much too lovely to be scarred so I asked and was given your name. Just need some stitching done right to make sure that the only marks he bears are the ones I give him." The words came out in a bored drawl while Spike's eyes caught Xander's over the doctor's shoulder. A quirk of an eyebrow at Xander's confused expression and then his gaze returned to the woman before him. "So, have I been informed correctly, that you can help? I would hate to think I've been misinformed."

It was all Xander could do not to burst out laughing. The sheer number of lies which Spike had so confidently told was impressive. He could tell that Spike was relishing this chance to assert authority over the poor doctor. He settled his face what he hoped was an appropriately penitent expression, biting his lower lip to keep quiet.

"Oh, yes, I will do everything I can to help," she practically stuttered. "Please if he could move over to the chair under the light so that I can examine him."

Xander moved to the indicated chair and placed his arm on the table. She slowly unwrapped the gauze, taking care not to cause him any pain. Once the arm was unwrapped she carefully examined his arm, forehead wrinkling in concentration. Spike had moved to stand directly behind Xander, a hand protectively on his shoulder. Finally done with her examination, Dr. Steven looked up at Spike.

"Well, the only cut that really needs attention is the one that runs down his arm. When did this happen?"

Xander opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when Spike squeezed his shoulder.

"Last night, I believe, he came crawling back all bloody so I had one of my minions clean him up."

The doctor nodded, her eyes never leaving Spike's face. "I can microstitch the cut, thankfully, the knife had a fine blade so the edges are nice and clean. It should heal nicely, there may be a faint line for a few months, but eventually that will also fade. I would like to give him a local anaesthetic to block any pain. It should take about half an hour to complete the stitching."

Spike merely nodded. The doctor picked up the phone and asked Sandra to bring in the necessary equipment and medication. Spike's grip on Xander's shoulder never let up.

Sandra carefully prepped his arm, then the doctor injected something near his elbow. His eyes widened a little as the needle went in, but quickly his arm went numb. The doctor sat next to him, organising her equipment.

Looking up at Spike, Dr. Stevens saw the worry cross the vampire's face. "Don't worry, it won't hurt him now, and other than itching, it won't hurt when I'm done." Spike's face cleared slightly, a look of concern moving into the space. Obviously, the boy was important to him. She dared another question. "Would it be all right if I addressed him directly, it will be easier for me to determine if everything is going right."

"If it will help, then by all means," came the reply. His other hand came up to rest on Xander's shoulder on its own accord.

She nodded her thanks and then bent to work. Xander watched as she carefully knit the edges of his flesh together, using such small stitches they could barely be seen. The methodical nature of her work gave him time to examine his arm. He hissed slightly as he realised just how badly he had hurt himself. Spike's hands suddenly clenched on his shoulders.

"Did she hurt you," came a growl from above. "If she does you say something immediately, do you understand?" Again, growled out with rage underlying the tone.

Dr. Steven immediately stopped, her eyes widening. "I didn't hurt you did, I, really he's right, you just say something and we can take care of that." If she hurt the vampire's boy, well, she couldn't begin to imagine the punishment she would endure.

Xander quickly shook his head, "No, no, nothing like that, I just, I didn't realise how bad it was, that's all." He hadn't meant to upset anyone like that, it had just been a reaction to seeing the cuts under the bright light.

"All right, continue, I want to leave here as soon as possible." Spike relaxed his grip, slightly mollified by Xander's words.

The doctor resumed, still taking as much care as before. Finally, she finished, washed the stitches down with antiseptic. She tilted her head, critically inspecting her work. Satisfied, she looked at Xander.

"You need to keep this clean, I'll give you some more antiseptic. Wash it down at least three times a day." She turned and reached into a cabinet behind her. She handed him a bottle of pills. "This is penicillin, are you allergic?" Xander shook his head no. "All right, then you MUST take all the pills. Take these three times a day, with food. It is very important so that you don't get an infection." Both Spike and Xander nodded at that. "I want you to come back in three weeks so that I can see how the stitches are healing, the same time will be fine. If you have any problems in the meantime, just call any time, day or night." Again, both Spike and Xander nodded. Seeing that her instructions had been heard and understood, she bandaged Xander's arm.

When she was finished, Spike dropped his hands from Xander's shoulder and pulled him to his feet. Turning to face the woman, he let some of the gratitude he felt show on his face.

"Thank you, I can see that Willy's confidence was well placed. This will not be forgotten." Spike saw the pleased flush creep up the doctor's neck. "Come, boy, let's get back, the rest are sure to have caused some problem by now."

Xander just nodded, dying to find out just what had transpired. It was clear that Dr. Steven was in awe of Spike and that she would do anything he asked. He was curious to know what that had been all about.

They rode the elevator back down in silence, with an amused smile playing around Spike's lips. Finally, when they reached the car, he threw his head back and began to laugh.

It had been so long since anyone had shown that level of fear and respect. To hear a human call him Master, to be afraid to touch what they assumed was his, when Spike could do nothing to hurt her amused him to no end. He had never had really had any use for the trappings that came with his status as a master, but he had enjoyed the automatic fear and respect that it had instilled. He hadn't realised just how much he missed it until then. Well, at least it came to good use now. He laughed again, to think that he would want to use his power to help a human. His unlife just became odder by the day.

Xander listened to Spike laugh. He was dying to know what the laughter was all about. He assumed it was a result of the respect and fear that the doctor had shown. It was obvious that she hadn't known about Spike's chip and still feared him. He supposed the vampire would find it humorous that a being whom he couldn't harm to save his life was sure that if she failed then Spike would kill her.

They got into the car, Spike still grinning slightly, and started home. Xander shot a quick glance over and saw the smirk still on Spike's face.

"Uh, Spike, you want to tell me what the hell that was all about? Why was she afraid to look at me without your permission? And what was that about me getting into a fight and you having minions? That was really weird, you know." He grinned a little, he had to admit it had been fun to watch.

Spike's smirk grew larger, this should be interesting. "Well, you see, pet, if a human is with a vampire that usually means only one thing. The human is the vampire's pet and belongs to the vampire. No one else is allowed to speak to or touch him without his owner's permission. When a master vampire is keeping a human, then anyone who dares to touch or speak to the human will usually be killed instantly. So, when she shook your hand and spoke to you then saw me, her first thought was that I would kill her." Spike began to laugh again. "Christ, it's been a long time since I've made anyone shake so quickly. Quite a lot of fun, that. As far as the rest, well, not her bloody business what happened, now is it? And besides, I rather enjoyed playing the master again." His smirk faded a little as he realised all he could do was play. **Let's not think about that, don't want to turn into a brooding pouf like Angel, now do we**

Xander stared at Spike in shock, she had thought he was a PET. Well, that was interesting, certainly explained things. He knew that Spike was not known for his restraint and if she had thought he was Spike's pet . . . No wonder she had been so concerned. Xander looked out the window as they drove. He had never really thought about what it must be like for Spike, now that the chip kept him from hurting humans. He had known that Spike was a Master, that other vampires had bowed before him. But he had never really seen that. Between Buffy putting Spike in a wheelchair and Angelus returning, Spike had never truly been at his most powerful. When he had returned from South America, drunk and pining for Dru, he had been dangerous, but more concerned with getting Dru back than building his power. Then he had been chipped and lost his ability to rule. Now that he was, however reluctantly, helping the good guy, he was held in contempt by those he used to lord. Xander couldn't even imagine what a loss like that was like. No wonder he had tried to kill himself. Xander couldn't even deal with the petty problems of his life, let alone imagine what it was like to lose everything that made him what he was. Maybe Spike did understand what Xander felt. Xander pulled himself out of his thoughts as Spike stopped a few blocks from his house.

"Thought it best to leave the car here, didn't think you wanted those wankers you call parents to know I was there," Spike explained as they got out of the car.

Xander silently agreed, he definitely didn't want to explain this. They made their way down the stairs, then both fell onto the couch. Spike grabbed the remote and began flipping through the channels as they fell into a comfortable silence.


It had been two weeks since Spike had moved back in with Xander. For some reason, neither had mentioned this arrangement to the rest of the gang. The subject had simply never come up. They had fallen into a routine. Xander made sure that the windows were draped before he went to work, worked and then came home. By that time Spike was usually awake and they would watch television while eating dinner, well drinking dinner in Spike's case. Then more TV, or maybe a movie, if they weren't patrolling. They would have long conversations about everything and nothing. Spike had shared a few choice stories about Angel and Xander could hardly wait to see the vamp again, just to let a few hints drop to see what reaction he would get. In turn, Xander talked about how it was before Buffy had arrived, what Willow had been like, how close they had been. They never mentioned that night but Xander knew Spike watched him carefully, looking for any signs that Xander was feeling the call for the blade. But he hadn't. For some reason the vampire's presence was calming. Spike made him feel good, like someone cared.

Within the last week they had taken to sharing the bed. They had stayed up nearly to dawn one night, getting drunk and watching bad Japanese monster movies. A heated argument over the relative merits of Godzilla v. Mothra and Godzilla v. King Kong had raged for about an hour. For some reason which Xander could not quite remember, they had pulled the bed out. Something to do with the being unable to stand due to the alcohol seemed vaguely right. For whatever reason, the bed was out and they had both fallen asleep. Or passed out. One or the other. The point was that when Xander woke up he found that he was on his side with Spike curled against him. He had frozen for a second, but didn't move. There was something comforting in that cool touch. Spike woke a few minutes later. He too had frozen but he didn't move either. Xander got up to use the bathroom a few seconds later. Neither said a word. That night, though, when Xander got ready for bed he looked over at Spike. "Um, it's okay if you want to sleep on the bed too, that chair's got to be uncomfortable." Spike just nodded, careful to avoid Xander's eyes. Every night since then they had slept together. Xander was getting used to the cool presence pressing into his back. He had to admit he liked the vampire living there.

Just not at the moment.

It was pouring rain and they had met nothing on patrol. Spike had made sure that Xander was paired with either himself or Buffy when they went out. Even when he was with Buffy, Xander could tell that Spike made sure to cross their paths a few times a night. He knew Spike was checking up on him, making sure he fought back. Xander took it as another sign of protection. And he had fought, he poured his rage into attacking the vampires and demons. He thought he understood how Spike felt, unable to do what he wanted, he had this substitute. He could only imagine how much it meant to Spike.

He watched Spike pace, looking for all the world like a caged panther. They had spent nearly every moment Xander wasn't at work together and Xander was craving some space. He finally looked up from his book.

"All right, that's it. Why don't you go get a drink somewhere, go out looking for something to kill, go get gas for your car, just go somewhere and stop that pacing."

Spike whipped his head around, his eyes narrowing. He had to admit that he was getting cabin fever. He was craving to go out, he just didn't want to leave Xander alone. The boy seemed to be getting stronger everyday, he hadn't sensed that desperation on him. And, just in the last few days, that scent that he had lost had begun to come back. Still, he didn't trust this.

"Why, you need to be alone for some reason I should know about. Awfully anxious to get rid of me all of a sudden." Spike stalked over and sat next to Xander on the couch. "Up to no good or are you planning on having a bit of fun without me?" The words were snarled out as he closely watched Xander's reaction.

Xander just sighed, he should have known this would happen. "No reason, just we've been spending a lot of quality time and I thought you might like to be alone for a little while. I don't feel like going out in the rain or I would leave. Don't worry, I'm not up to anything."

Spike leaned closer, inhaling deeply. There was nothing there, just the usual Xander smell. No pain, no rage. **It would be nice to go out, I could stop by the crypt, get some things, stop at the butchers**

"Right, mate, that sounds like a good idea." He grabbed his duster off the chair, surreptitiously checking to make sure the key was still there. He moved to the door before abruptly turning back. "I'll be back in exactly two hours, and I will know if you do anything in the meantime. If you do, then the deal's off and I'll call the Slayer straightway."

Xander just nodded. He was surprised that Spike hadn't fought him more on this.

"Go on, I'll be waiting here when you get back. Don't worry, nothing's going to happen while you're gone." He tried to sound put upon, ignoring the sharp tinge of pleasure at Spike's concern.

"Right, then, I'm off." Spike stared at him for another moment, opening his mouth to say something, then abruptly closing it. He turned on his heel and stalked out the door. Xander settled back on the couch, grabbing the remote. Finally, quality surfing time. The vampire thought the remote was his sole possession and Xander had missed the feel of it in his hands. **Oh, look Asteroid is on** Xander settled back for some uninterrupted TV time.

Spike pulled the car back against the curb. He had to admit, it had been nice to be out by himself. He had stopped back at the crypt, picking up some more clothes, some cigarettes and a few other odds and ends. He had come across a fledgling skulking about and had toyed with him for awhile before finally staking him. He had stopped by the butchers and picked up some more blood. He actually had stopped and filled the gas, wry grin crossing his face as he realised he had taken the whelp's advice. He knew he was killing time, but he had told Xander two hours and he didn't want to be early. It seemed important to show he trusted the boy, that he appreciated the thoughtfulness of this gesture. He stared into the night. Xander was slowly becoming more and more important to him. He hated it when Xander patrolled without him, when he couldn't make sure he was safe. He hated the boy had to work with idiots who didn't appreciate him. He hated that Xander had to live in that hovel. He sighed, deciding to stop there. He knew full well where this train of thought was headed and he wasn't ready to deal with that quite yet.

He got out of the car and began walking back to the house. As he approached he felt something wrong, something that made the hackles rise on the back of his neck. Something was wrong. He broke into a run, tearing down the stairs. The scent of Xander's blood flooded his senses as he ripped open the door.

**That bastard, I'll kill him, he promised, that bastard** Spike's thoughts raged as he dropped his packages and rushed into the basement.

The sight before him stopped him cold. Xander was lying face down on the floor, face battered and bruised. The blood Spike smelled was spilling from the broken nose and numerous other cuts on the boy's **MY boy's** face. Straddling him was some man, some man who was violently pushing himself into Xander's body.

"Oh yeah, you like it, you always like it, you know you want it" Spike felt his face shift instantly when he realised that the voice was that of Xander's father. In a split second everything fell into place. He knew why Xander did what he did, knew who gave him those bruises, knew why Xander flinched every time someone grabbed him from behind.

With a howl of rage, Spike threw himself onto the man **not man beast no man would do this** trying desperately to ignore the pain that exploded in his head. He ripped the man off Xander, throwing him to the floor. Grabbing Xander's father again, he threw him into the wall, vaguely registering the satisfying crack of his skull through the pain. The man collapsed on the floor, unconscious. Spike let out another growl and leaned down, trying to rip the throat out of this monster. Pain exploded in his mind and he dropped to the floor. Desperate, he tried to crawl closer, tried to gather every ounce of strength he had to destroy this being, this creature who had no right to live.

The seizure ripped through him before he could crawl a foot. He heard his head hitting the floor, heard his ribs crack. Still, he tried to move forward, uncaring as to whether he lived or died as long as he destroyed the person who had tortured his Xander for hell only knew who long. Another seizure ripped through him and he was unable to move. Tears of pain and fury poured down his face. He had never hated the bloody bastards who had done this to him more than at this moment.

Spike was vaguely aware that Xander was stirring next to him on the floor. He began to crawl towards Xander, desperately trying to find some way to touch him, to comfort him. Another seizure, not quite as bad, gripped him. He heard Xander stand, saw him reach out an unsteady hand to the couch. Spike managed to push himself off the floor and lean back against the wall.

"Sorry, I'm sorry," he heard the words pour out of his mouth. "I shouldn't have left, my fault," he hissed as the pain in his head grabbed him again. Xander just stared down at him for a moment, then dropped to his knees beside Spike.

"Shh, it's not your fault, don't talk, you're hurt," Spike heard Xander's voice coming from far away. He tried to reach up to touch him, but his vision was fading in and out. He felt Xander move away and turned his head to watch what he did. He felt a wave of panic grab him as he saw Xander slowly walk over and pick up a knife from beside the sink.

"No," he managed to wheeze out, "No, please." Spike didn't think he could watch this. He didn't blame Xander, he just didn't know if he could watch this, if he could stand to see the results of his utter failure to protect his boy.

Xander came back and knelt beside Spike again.

"It's not that, you need blood, you're hurt really bad." Xander's eyes locked with Spike's. Xander looked pale and his eyes reflected pain and shock. "There's no more human blood, and you need it." With that he raised the knife with his left hand and carefully sliced open his right wrist. The blood began to spill and Xander held his wrist to Spike's mouth.

"Drink, please drink, please don't leave me, drink, please." The desperation was clear in Xander's voice.

Spike shook his head. No, no matter how much he longed for Xander's blood he couldn't do this. He couldn't take anymore, Xander looked too hurt already.

"Damn it, don't get noble on me now, you're no help to me if you can't move, drink you fucker, drink," Xander grabbed the back of Spike's head and slammed his wrist on Spike's mouth.

Spike's eyes rolled back into his head as the heady taste washed through his mouth. Dark, rich, pure, light, heat, peace, fire, longing, fear all washed over his tongue. Better than he had ever dreamed. And underneath it all was the faint taste of hope. That was the scent that had been missing, that was what had started to come back. Hope. Spike began to pull at the blood, desperate to bring it into himself. He heard the gasp from above him, could hear Xander's heart start to slow. He gathered all his remaining strength and yanked the arm from his mouth. He looked up and stared into Xander's eyes just as they closed.

"Spike," he heard his name sighed out as Xander collapsed into his arms.

Part Six

He held him. He held him as if his life depended on it. He held him as if he was the only true thing he had ever known. He held him as if the world would end if he let go. He thought it just might. Spike knew that the fragile thread keeping him sane was strung between the sound of a heartbeat and the feel of warm breath on his neck. He also knew that the tremors racking his body came more from fury and fear then from any lingering effects of the seizures that had ripped through him. He was torn between blind rage at what had happened, at the absolute violation of the boy in his arms, at his inability to destroy that which had dared to hurt Xander and pure panic at the thought of what aftermath this would have on the fragile body he cradled. He was still shocked at what Xander had done, giving up his blood to heal the vampire. No one had ever sacrificed so much for him. Hell, no one had ever sacrificed anything for him. His mind stopped cold at the thought that Xander might die from this. He did not think he would survive if Xander did not.

Spike gripped Xander a little closer, trying to will his strength into the still body. He could hear the words echoing in his mind, "Go on, I'll be waiting here when you get back. Don't worry, nothing's going to happen while you're gone." He could see the slight smile on Xander's face, the happiness the boy had tried to hide that Spike had trusted him enough to leave. Spike's eyes closed as a wave of shame washed over him. It was all his fault, he should have known this was going to happen, should have sensed it, smelled it, something, anything, he should have seen this coming. He should have stayed to protect Xander. He knew that he would have gladly died to keep this boy, this pure soul, away from such evil.

Spike knew evil, had tasted it, touched it, bathed in its dark embrace. But there were certain depths which even a vampire would not descend. This was not the same as his Sire claiming rights to his body. No matter how violent, there was still a sense of asserting power, of attempting to draw him back to the family on those occasions. This, this was pure evil. Spike's hands began to shake as he slowly rubbed them down Xander's back, attempting to soothe and calm him. That beast was blood of Xander's blood, the strongest tie of all. And he **no IT** had betrayed that on the basest level. Spike wanted nothing more then to spend days torturing him, bringing to bear all he had ever learned in the art of pain to this sweet task of destruction. Spike knew he could make it last and linger, could push that sick fuck beyond any wall of agony to some higher peak, some last exquisite agony. And, at the end, when the last breath was nigh, Spike wanted to hand Xander the box with the knife, watch him open it and plunge it to its hilt in this monster's heart. But he couldn't, not yet, and the pain of that knowledge burned the vampire to his core.

He heard a sudden hitch in the boy's breath as Xander slowly lifted his head off Spike's shoulder. Spike stilled, anxiously waiting for Xander's eyes to open. He didn't know what to expect, could only hope that the eyes would be clear, that the spark of life he longed to touch would still be there.

Xander slowly opened his eyes. He felt battered, his face throbbing from where he had hit the floor, his ribs, which had only recently stopped aching every time he inhaled, were once again cracked and sore. He could feel the cool arms wrapped around him, soothing the pain. He could not believe how safe he felt here, wrapped in the arms of a vampire. A vampire he had just fed. The slice on his wrist burned, but not in the way his own cuts had. Rather, this felt like a brand, a kind of claiming. He had never felt anything like the pull of Spike's mouth on his wrist. He could feel the desperation, the need, the pure desire Spike had to draw his essence from him. It was not desire for blood, it was desire for HIM, to become part of him. Xander shuddered. The intimacy of it was greater than anything he had ever known. He looked up, catching Spike's gaze with his own.

Brown eyes stared into blue, a mixture of fear, pain, worry, need and longing mirrored there. For long moments they stayed like that, lost in each other's eyes, the relief at finding one another safe crashing over them. Xander slowly raised his hand, tracing a finger down Spike's face.

"You're okay, Christ, I was so worried, I wasn't sure what to do, it looked so bad, like it hurt so much," the words come flowing out as Xander's voice began to shake. "I thought that you were going to. . .," the words trailed off as the visions flicked through his consciousness. He had heard the breaking of Spike's ribs, the echo of the sick smack of Spike's skull on the floor still rang in his ears. "I didn't want you to hurt for me."

Spike reached up, covering Xander's hand with his own. "Luv, I'm sorry that this happened, that you were hurt, that you had to do that for me." Spike's voice too had a curious waver, a slight crack that hinted at greater pain. Dropping his hand, he carefully wrapped his arms around that warm body, pulling Xander down to lean back on his shoulder. "I promise you this, no one will ever harm you again. No one will ever touch you, you will never hurt, not while I'm here."

Xander allowed himself to be pulled into the embrace, the fierceness of the words piercing his soul. He nodded into Spike's shoulder. He wanted to tell Spike he knew, that he believed him, but didn't trust himself to speak. They stayed there a minute longer, each taking the chance to calm down, to realise the other was safe. With a small sigh, Xander leaned back. He didn't want to, but the pain was starting to overwhelm him now that the adrenaline was wearing off. He let out a shaky breath, trying to gather the strength to stand.

"You all right, pet, do you need something," Spike could feel the pain radiating from Xander, even as the sharp stench of fear began to fade. Xander just shook his head, clearly trying to gather his bearings. Spike carefully moved away, watching closely to make sure he wasn't hurting his boy. He pushed himself up the wall, then reached down his hand.

"C'mon, let's get you some aspirin. And I want to take a look at your nose. I think it's broken. Might need to get that looked at." Spike spoke quietly, trying to instil a sense of peace and calm. He knew he would need it. He was determined to get Xander to the hospital this time, no matter how much the whelp protested. That nose was definitely broken and had to hurt like hell. Besides, Spike wanted to make sure the ribs weren't broken too and he also had to make sure that Xander hadn't suffered any internal damage. His mind slipped at that thought as the rage he had been suppressing slammed back into him. He unconsciously slipped back into gameface as the full events of the night flashed before his eyes. He began to growl deep in his chest.

Xander's eyes widened when the growling began. He reached up, taking the proffered hand which pulled him to his feet. He had seen the emotions flick across Spike's face and instantly knew that Spike had seen everything. Xander had only been half-conscious when Spike had arrived and hadn't been completely sure as to what Spike knew. There was no doubt now.

"Spike, calm down. Please, calm down. It's okay," he flinched back as Spike rounded on him at those words, yellow eyes blazing. "I mean, I don't mean it's okay what happened, I mean I'm okay now, it's over, please calm down. I can't see you hurt again, please."

The desperation in Xander's voice stopped Spike cold. Taking long, harsh breaths, he forced himself to calm down, to step back. He knew that he couldn't go after that thing lying on the floor again, that he was still too weak. Besides, it was upsetting Xander, and he knew that Xander needed nothing more than calm at the moment. Nodding, he tried to slip back into human guise but was finding it hard to maintain his control. Every time he started to rein it in, some sight or sound would rock him, and the rage would begin to build.

He started when he felt a warm hand trace the ridges on his forehead. Instinctively, he moved closer to Xander, tilting his face up as the soothing caress calmed him. "Please, please, just, please talk to me, okay? Just say something." Xander's voice cracked, he was terrified that Spike would collapse again, that he would try to kill his father **and yes, I would love to see that** and that those seizures would rip the vampire apart.

Spike nodded, took one last breath and slipped back into human form. "Sorry, luv, just, can't bear that pile of shit over there even considering breathing, let alone breathing the same air as you."

They both turned to look at the still body lying on the floor. It was clear that Xander's father was still alive, they could see his chest rising and falling as he breathed. A trickle of blood ran from his forehead and trailed across the basement floor. Xander took a few steps forward to stand next to him.

Spike reached up, intent on tearing Xander away. He did not want Xander anywhere near that motherfucker, didn't want that piece of shit ever laying eyes on him again. His hands dropped, however, as he watched the emotions play across Xander's face. Fear, pain, rage, disgust, a glimpse of love which caused Spike's heart to constrict, immediately replaced by disgust, hate and rage. He heard Xander's heart begin to race, smelled the pure fury which was filling his boy.

Xander glared down at the still form. For the first time, he let himself truly feel the hatred which had burned in him for years. Enough, it was finally enough. His leg drew back and viciously kicked into his father's ribs. A satisfying thud resounded through the basement. Xander's mouth curled into a snarl as his leg came back again.

"You bastard, you sick fuck, you piece of shit, how could you do that to me, huh, why, I'm your child, you motherfucker, your flesh and blood, how could you, HOW COULD YOU" The screams rang out as Xander lashed out in fury, his words punctuated by the sounds of tearing flesh and snapping bones. He kicked and kicked, years of rage pouring out. "How could you, why would you, what did I ever do, what did I ever do," the words came out in a sob as Xander slowly started to fall. He never reached the ground as Spike's strong arms caught him and held him tight. Now it was Spike's turn to mutter soothing words as he held the sobbing boy.

"It's over, it's over, never again, never again, shh, I've got you," Spike felt a swell of emotions flood into him. He had savoured every sound, every drop of blood that Xander had ripped from that flesh. At the same time he had been terrified, knowing that Xander was still weak from all that he had gone through. He carefully walked them to the couch, wanting to let Xander sit and gather back his strength. Xander's sobs slowly stopped and Spike pulled back.

"Gods, you've got to think I'm just pathetic, crying all the time like that. Go on, say it I'm nothing but a nancy boy," Xander smiled weakly, embarrassed at losing control like that once again. He felt a firm hand grip his chin, forcing him to look up.

"Not quite, luv. In fact, you may be the strongest human I've ever met." Leaning forward, Spike pressed a cool kiss to his forehead. "Course, you're also one of the bloodiest, really need to get you cleaned up, or do you just want to wait and let them do it at the hospital." He hoped that the kiss had distracted Xander enough to blur the reference to the hospital. That wasn't why he had done it, of course. He needed to, needed to let Xander know that he would never think he was weak, would never look down on him. It was perfectly obvious that this was not the first time Xander had been attacked, and Spike could not begin to imagine the strength of character it took for Xander to not only survive but to be so open to the world.

Xander just stared at him in shock. He shook himself, this was Spike being nice to him, Spike making him feel so wanted. He couldn't begin to deal with this now, didn't want to think what this could mean. All he really knew was that no one had ever made him feel so secure. He realised what Spike had just said.

"What do you mean hospital," a stubborn look crossed Xander's face. "I don't need to go to the hospital. I'll be fine."

Spike sighed. He knew this was coming but he was determined to do whatever was needed to get Xander there. If for no other reason then he didn't want that handsome face marred by a broken nose. Xander's face was fine just the way it was.

"Be reasonable, pet, that nose is broken and needs to be set, your ribs need to be checked, bet some broke this time. And besides, we need to make sure. . .," Spike's voice cracked again. He didn't want to think about this, couldn't bear that he could still smell that vileness on Xander. **This is ridiculous, you're William the Bloody, continents used to cringe at the mention of your name, you can do this** He started again, his voice quiet and calm. "We need to make sure that nothing else happened, that there's nothing torn." He looked down, unable to bear the thought of what could have happened if he hadn't arrived when he did.

Xander swallowed hard. He knew his nose was broken, that was pretty obvious. He also knew that nothing had ruptured when **buck up little camper, you can face this** when his father had slammed into him. He had intimate knowledge of what that felt like and, besides, there was no blood flowing down his thighs. He had no idea how to tell that to Spike without the vampire completely freaking out. It was one thing for Spike to know. He was fairly certain the vampire could put two and two together and figure out that this was not a new occurrence. It was quite another to reveal just how much he had been hurt in the past.

"Um, I don't think that's a problem, it doesn't hurt as much as when that happens, and there's, well, er, there's, there's no blood." Xander's voice trailed off at the last part.

Spike's head shot up. "What do you mean 'it doesn't hurt as much as when that happens'. How the fuck would you know that?" His eyes narrowed and yellow began to flicker around the edges of his eyes. "How would you know? Bloody hell, what did that beast do to you?" He heard the quick intake of breath and felt Xander jerk away from him. The loss of Xander's touch was like a slap to the face. With a huge effort of will, he pulled his fury back. This was not helping. He slowly reached out a hand, not quite touching Xander's face, waiting until Xander could look at him, not wanting to scare him.

"It's okay, luv, you don't have to answer. You can tell me later if you want. You still need to go to the hospital, though. I can't set your nose and we don't want you looking beaten up, now do we."

Xander shook his head again. There was no way he was going to the hospital. There would be questions, explanations. And besides, Giles was listed as his emergency contact person. He couldn't begin to think of how to explain this.

"No, it'll be okay. Besides, it doesn't hurt that bad." The glazing of his eyes proved that wrong. He kept seeing black spots and was beginning to have difficulty sitting upright. "I'll be fine."

"Bullshit, you can't even sit up straight. You're going, even if I have to carry you. Now get up."


"Don't make me do this."

"I'm not going."

"Fine, I warned you." Spike quickly stood and scooped Xander into his arms, moving for the door. Xander's mouth fell open in shock.

"Put me down."

"No, bloody hell, where's my duster, need the bloody keys. Be a dear and pick it up would you."

"I said, put me down." Xander began to struggle and Spike tightened his grip. A wave of pain ripped through him, dropping him to his knees.

"Bloody hell, not trying to hurt him, stop it, stop it, those bastards, I'm going to rip their balls off and feed 'em to them," Spike managed to hiss out between waves of agony. Xander had wrenched out of his arms and crouched next to him. Spike rocked back and forth as the pain hit again. **Not fair, trying to help, would never hurt him, never hurt, not right** He felt warm arms reach out for him this time.

"Spike," a small voice in his ear. "God, I'm sorry, I'll go, you didn't hurt me, I don't know what made it go off. I'll go, really, I just didn't want anyone to know what happened, that's all, please be okay, I'm sorry."

Spike looked up as the pain faded. That was all, Xander just didn't want anyone to know? That was easily taken care of. Spike stood up, leaning against the wall for a second. For the first time since he had come back to the basement, the faint hint of a smirk crossed his face.

"That's the only reason you didn't want to go, didn't want to tell them what happened. Why didn't you say so, that's easily fixed. Just lie." Hell, these humans and their need to be so literal. Bloody ridiculous notions of truth which just got in the way.

Xander's jaw dropped. **Just lie, well, Jesus, that's too simple isn't it** "Lie, and say what exactly, I fell down? Isn't telling bald face untruths your department anyway?" Xander began to smile a little too. Lie. Well, why not. Technically, he HAD been beaten up. No need to mention the rest.

"Yes, lie. How about this, you stopped at the store and got jumped on the way back to your car, some wankers who wanted your wallet." Yes, that would do. "They knocked you down, kicked you a little, smacked you in the face and took off when you began to scream like a little girl." The smirk on Spike's face widened. Yes, this would work. People always underestimated his Xander, and he was sure that no one would question it too much, not in the busy ER of Sunnydale General.

"Screamed like a little girl, gee, thanks for the support," Xander grinned back, though. This could work. His smile faded a little. "Spike, what about the stitches? Won't they want to know how I got those?"

Spike just waved a hand. "Fell on glass a few weeks ago, hate to say this, ducks, but you do come across as a bit accident prone."

"What about the cut on my wrist," Spike caught Xander's eyes as the soft words. Reaching out, he carefully grasped Xander's right arm, turning the palm up so he could trace the wound. He could still feel the purity of the blood in his veins. This, this he didn't want to lie about, didn't want to deny what had happened. On the other hand, it was no one's business but theirs.

"One of them had a knife, went for your face, you put an arm up to block it." Xander heard the quiet response as Spike continued to trace his finger lightly over the cut. Xander just nodded.

"Only one more problem, Giles is my person to call in case of emergency. You know the whole gang will show up. What will we tell them about you?"

Spike yanked his eyes away from staring at the cut. **We, he said we**

"You want me to stay with you, then?" Spike heard the note of hope in his voice. **Bloody hell mate, acting like a schoolgirl here**

Xander just stared back, what, Spike thought he wanted him to go. "Of course I want you there," a smile curled back on his lips. "Gotta have someone to support this load of shit."

"Right, then," Spike nodded sharply, hoping Xander couldn't see the relief on his face. "Let's get going, want to be back before dawn and it's late." Both heads turned to look at the alarm clock. 11:23. They looked back at each other, shocked. It felt like days had passed.

"Spike, what are we going to do with, with," Xander stopped, not sure of what to say.

"Set him on fire." The answer was immediate and it was clear that the vampire wasn't joking.

"No, the house would go up too, he's got so much alcohol in him, he would go up like a torch." An evil grin crossed Xander's face. "I know, let's drag him outside and leave him in the yard. Something is bound to eat him while we're gone."

Spike nodded in pride. "Always knew you had an evil streak, which end do you want? If you take his head you could always gouge his eyes out," he added helpfully. This was more like it.

"No, let me drag him by his feet, that way his head will hit on the stairs." The look on Xander's face would have done any vampire proud.

"Be my guest."

Spike sat down on the couch and watched as Xander walked over, stopping to get one last kick in, before he reached down and grabbed this bastard's ankles. Xander made sure to slam into every possible obstacle on his way out the door, and Spike followed him up the stairs, luxuriating in every crack of the head on the concrete of the steps. Xander finally dropped him in the yard, a look of pure hate on his face.

"Ready, luv?" Spike was dying to get Xander to the hospital, knowing that he had to be close to collapse.

"No, I want to shower first. That way in case they want to do any kind of further exam," Xander's voice trailed off.

"Anything you want, pet," Spike battled back his impatience. He understood Xander's reluctance to let anyone else know, as much as he wanted to rub it into the faces of those supposed friends of his.

They returned to the basement and Xander headed to the shower. He really felt the need to wash, to remove the stench from his body. He knew he was delaying the trip, delaying seeing his friends, hearing their concern over something that wasn't real. He also didn't know how they would react to Spike's presence. He stepped under the spray, gingerly cleaning himself. **If Buffy starts up on Spike** Xander stopped his thoughts there.

Spike took the time to quickly look around. Amazingly enough, the apartment wasn't that destroyed. There was a fairly large patch of blood on the floor which he quickly covered with a blanket. A lamp had been knocked over which he set back upright. Other than that, there was nothing to show what had happened. He sighed. Nothing other than the stench which lingered in the air. He walked back and opened the door, letting the cool night air wash into the room. He knew the Slayer would insist on bringing Xander home, and he didn't want any evidence to remain. He already had his story planned, and he had decided that he would just follow them back and wait for them to leave. There was no way he was letting Xander out of his sight for a second longer than necessary. He heard the water stop and a few minutes later Xander came out. Luckily, it was still raining, so his wet hair would be explained. Xander quickly changed and walked over to Spike.

"Ok," he took a deep breath. "Let's go."

Spike simply draped his arm over Xander's shoulders and led him into the night.


Xander glared at his friends. **Why can't they just leave** It had been midnight when he and Spike had reached the hospital. Luckily, the ER wasn't that full and a doctor had been with him fairly quickly. No one had questioned his story too closely. It was clear that he had been beaten and a mugging seemed like an obvious explanation. Xander had learned one thing living on the Hellmouth, if there was an obvious explanation, people believed it. It was amazing how people saw only what they wanted to see. Sure enough, the hospital had called Giles and the whole gang had come roaring in, Willow all wide-eyed and frightened, Tara frightened on Willow's behalf, Giles fatherly and concerned and Buffy ready to hunt and destroy the supposed muggers. Exactly as expected. They had all stopped short when they saw Spike.

"What's he doing here," Buffy had spat out.

It took all Xander's self-control not to spit back "Saving my life, most likely" but he had been saved by Spike himself.

"Popped over to watch the telly, the one in the crypt's busted, and found the silly whelp sitting on his couch dripping blood all over himself. Got him to admit some humans beat him up and when I was done laughing, got him to come here. Didn't want you saying I don't take care of your pets there, ducks." The same drawl he had used on Dr. Steven. He sounded completely bored, but Xander could see the tension in the way Spike was holding himself perfectly still, leaning against the wall with his head tilted back, his eyes closed, one leg propped on the wall. Spike had not been more then ten feet away from him the entire time, except when Xander had been taken in the back for x-rays. Spike's face had been a study when he realised that he wasn't going to be allowed back with Xander. Xander had managed a quick squeeze of Spike's hand and it had been just enough to calm the vampire.

The x-rays had come back negative. No broken ribs, just cracks and sprains. He had been taped up, his nose had been set, luckily it was a clean break and he had been assured that it would heal nicely, he had been given some pain pills and sent on his way. Giles had insisted on taking him home and Xander hadn't had a chance to talk to Spike, to see if he would be okay around the whole gang. However, the vampire had come up behind him as they all trooped out the door. It was nearly 3:00 a.m. now.

"Can't stand to see that group, can't bear listening to them natter. I'll just lurk a bit, come back when they go." Xander had nodded at the low whisper in his ear, then felt a cold hand trace across the back of his neck.

"Well, I'm off then," Spike called out. "Love to stay for the coffee klatch, but, on the other hand, rather stake myself." Spike turned and walked away.

"Like we want you there," Buffy shot back. It was all Xander could do not to slap her.

And now here it was, nearly 4:30 and still they were there. The sun would rise soon and Xander desperately wanted to see Spike before dawn came. He had to know that the vampire didn't hate him, didn't think he was disgusting or vile, that whatever connection it was that he felt was real and not just some desperate projection of his need to find someone who cared.

Yawning hugely, he pointedly looked at the clock.

"Guys, as fun as this has been, wanna sleep. Get out." The direct approach always seemed to work best.

"You sure, don't you want some company," Willow said from her spot curled on the floor with Tara.

**Yes, just not yours** "No, I'm okay, just need sleep, thankfully I don't work tomorrow so I can sleep in. Get out."

Laughing, everyone left, with gentle kisses on the cheeks from the girls and a brief clasp on the shoulder from Giles. Xander stood in the doorway, waiting for Giles' car to turn the corner. He turned his head to find Spike at his side.

"Bloody hell, those bints yap your ear off or what," Spike growled as he looked Xander over. He looked very pale but calm. Spike has spent the last hour and a half stalking around the house. He had noticed the trail of blood going up the stairs and the light on in the window. The bastard was still alive. He wanted Xander out of that house immediately. He was not going to give that thing another chance to hurt what was his. He had given up all pretence the second he had seen Xander lying on the floor. He knew what he felt for the boy, there was no use denying it. He had meant what he said, he would never let anything hurt Xander, not if he could help it.

"Couldn't get rid of them, tried, finally threw them out." Xander reached out a cautious hand, then grasped Spike's wrist, pulling him into the basement.

"How do you feel, really?" Spike's eyes darkened as he saw the black eyes being to form underneath the bandages that covered Xander's face.

"Beaten, tired, sore, bruised, like I could sleep for a month." Xander let out a long sigh, it had been hard to keep up appearances around his friends, to pretend that he was okay. All he had wanted to do was curl up with Spike, to feel the safety only those cool arms could bring.

"He's upstairs, you know." Spike hated to hear those words coming from his mouth, but he had to say it.

"I know," came the quiet reply. "Don't worry, he usually avoids me like the plague for at least a week afterwards." Xander moved to pull out the bed, surprised when Spike stopped him.

"I don't want you staying here. Let's leave, get a hotel room, then we'll find you a place tomorrow." Spike could hear the steel in his voice. He wanted Xander away, now, he didn't know if he could think with the bloodlust that raged through him at the thought of that monster being anywhere near Xander.

"Can't," Xander started, only to hear a loud growl come from Spike. He turned to look into yellow eyes. Rolling his own eyes in return, he pointed to the clock. "Don't give me that, can't, sun will be up in like 25 minutes. Don't have time to get anywhere. Don't worry, I don't work tomorrow, I'll go look for a place for us then. As long as you promise not to go after them while I'm gone."

Spike's mind froze on one word. "Us?" he repeated quietly. Surely he had heard wrong.

Xander looked down for a moment, gathering his courage. "Yeah, us. I've gotten used to having you around. Thought it would be better than your crypt. We'll get cable, you'll be able to watch Passions all crystal clear." The joke rang hollow even in his ears. Dead silence greeted him. He could feel tears begin to gather. "Ok, stupid idea. Never mind." He turned his back and went to pull out the couch again.

Spike stared over at Xander. The whelp was serious. Realising Xander had interpreted his silence as contempt, he quickly reached over, running his hand down Xander's arm.

"Deal. I won't try to kill them while you're gone and you find a place for us tomorrow." The look on Xander's face ripped Spike's heart in two. From complete despair to wonderment in one second. **Oh hell, I'm just getting more pathetic by the moment. Wanker**

Xander just nodded, not wanting to speak. He felt a surge of joy. Spike wanted to stay with him. Then there was something there. He was too tired to think about it any further than that. He turned his attention back to the couch, finally pulling it out. He dropped heavily down, exhaustion finally overtaking him. He felt the small shift as Spike sat on the foot of the bed, the weight of an arm on his legs.

"Spike?" he sighed.

"Yes, pet?" came the questioning response.

"Will you, will you, could you," he couldn't quite bring himself to ask. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to screw up his courage.

He felt the bed shift again, felt Spike move to sit behind him. Now he felt a hand begin to run through his hair. He tilted his head back, amazed at how soothing it felt.

"Yes, pet?" again in the same quiet tone.

Taking a deep breath, Xander asked what he had been longing for since leaving the hospital.

"Could you just hold me, just for a little bit?" He stayed perfectly still, not wanting to see the look on Spike's face.

Instead of an answer, he felt the cool body curl into his, felt himself pulled into a tight embrace.

"Not hurting your ribs, am I," came a low murmur in his ear.

"No, feels nice." Xander began to drift off, his body screaming for sleep. In seconds he had dozed off.

Spike slowly lifted his head, propping it on one hand. Satisfied that Xander was resting peacefully, he dropped a quick kiss on his temple.

"Night, luv. Pleasant dreams." Spike dropped his head back down and followed Xander into sleep, their bodies wrapped into each other.