Spike had always liked Sunnydale’s cemetery in the moonlight. In a sense completely separate from the obvious ironic-humorous one, it felt like . . . home. Well, it was like home. The poor sections of London in his mortal youth had largely been one big charnal pit. The smell, the sense of death and decay were almost comforting in their familiarity. His comparatively brief mortal life had given him a deep and abiding appreciation of immortality. Spike lived on; with a few exceptions, everything else died. He was satisfied with that arrangement, and the cemetery was a pleasant reminder of it.


It was also an excellent place for a midnight, or in this case 10:42 p.m., snack.


He’d taken early leave of this evening’s meeting of the Scooby Gang, earning himself a disapproving glare from Buffy and Giles, not that he bloody cared. Talk, talk, talk. They could have it. When the time came to do something, they’d let him know, seeing as how they seemed to view him as their bloody slave boy. In the meantime, it wasn’t as if his opinion meant anything to them.


It should have. By and large he knew more about whatever supernatural problem of the day than they did, but generally he kept that knowledge to himself with considerable satisfaction. Let them ignore him, let them sneer. He knew, they didn’t, and if one of them got themselves bitten in half by one of Sunnydale’s nasties because of that fact, he’d grin ear to ear and say, “Well, you never asked, did you, ey?”


Not that they showed any gratitude when he did tell, which made his silence all the sweeter. Oh, nooooooo. Far be it for the bloody Slayer and her Slayerettes to say thanks to one of the “slimeball undead.” Noooooo, he was lucky that they were kind enough to occasionally throw him the odd packet of fucking pig’s blood, for Christ’s sake, or a few dollars of pocket cash, and not stake him now that he couldn’t fight back or fend for himself.


Spike smirked. He could’ve told them a thing or two about that, too.


They thought he was dependent on their protection. Not hardly. The chip in his brain only kept him from hurting humans, and apart from the bloody Initiative, which he took precious good care to avoid, most of the threats in Sunnyhell were decidedly non-human. Over considerable protest from the Watcher and the Slayer, Spike had moved out and into Angel’s old basement digs (feeling absolutely no need to ask Tall, Dark and Broody, who had apparently bought the empty building and paid ahead for the utility, for permission for the appropriation). It was quiet, dark, defensible and had a nice secret exit in the basement leading into the sewers – everything a cautious vampire could want. Comfortable bed, too, and a telly to while away the daylight hours when he wasn’t sleepy. And no bloody Watcher telling him he couldn’t put his feet up on the coffee table or lecturing him about leaving a ring of blood in the coffee mug.


They thought he was dependent on their feeding him – and he’d have been in hard fucking times if he had been, seeing as how the meager ration of pig’s blood he was given was enough to leave him half starved. Hah! Spike smirked again. Blood wasn’t so hard to come by as all that. Demon blood, not nearly as nice as human but a good mark above fucking pig’s blood, could most generally be had by a cruise through the alleys or on the wharf. Vampire blood, a nice notch above demon blood, could be had with little more effort; now that Angel was gone, Spike was the only master vampire in town, and the lesser minions were easy pickings, hardly more than a nice bit of exercise. If Spike was feeling lazy or really desperate, a few bills under the counter at Willy’s could get him packaged human blood, no details offered as to where it came from, but Spike didn’t like to do that; bagged blood was always his last choice, and besides, it wouldn’t do to have folks wondering why a master vampire was paying to buy packaged blood, f’r chrissakes. Even fresh animal blood was better than that damned refrigerated swine, and that emergency meal was as close as the nearest family backyard-dwelling Pet.


But there was another treat available, one the Slayer & Co. had doubtless never thought about. If Spike wandered around the favorite vampire haunts – say, this very cemetery – it wasn’t all that rare for Spike to come across a vampire or demon or werewolf or whatever making a meal on a freshly dead, or better yet, dying human. Whereupon Spike could dispatch the predator and earn himself a hefty two-course meal. He could even, if he cared to bother, bottle up leftovers for takeaway. Mostly these days he flushed away Giles’ Porky the Pig Specials, but he didn’t say so (never a good idea to cut off the emergency supply; besides, he liked putting Giles to the trouble). A beautiful full-moon night like tonight, however, practically guaranteed a happy tummy for William the Bloody at the mere cost of a pleasant stroll through the graveyard and maybe a nice workout, just enough to let him feel fierce and feared again.


Let them think him helpless and dependent and controllable as long as they liked. Let them make a habit of it, in fact. Sooner or later he’d be rid of the bloody chip, and then he’d vastly enjoy . . . re-educating them. For example, it might be fun to break one of Buffy’s bones for each and every sarcastic barb she’d flung his way, plus a few extras for the way she’d snubbed him when he’d been crazy enough to think he fancied her. That thought made him smile. Although the human body housed only 200-odd bones; he wasn’t sure that was enough. Of course, he could always finish with his trademark railroad spikes, nail her up to a tree. There were lots of places to drive them through that wouldn’t finish her too quickly.


And Giles? Hmmm. Maybe he’d take the Watcher’s precious stapler, tear out the pages of his precious Watcher’s journal, and staple the pages to the Watcher (all, right, ex-Watcher, but one got into these habits and it wasn’t worth his trouble to break it) – one for every gripe and fucking order the Watcher had made him endure. “Don’t drink blood out of my good tea set, Spike.” “Feet off the coffee table, Spike.” “No, you may not play the stereo while I’m researching.” “Turn the television off, Spike, you’ve watched long enough.” “Oh, do get out of the way for a while, Spike.” Or better yet, maybe he’d just lock Giles away with nothing to eat but the odd packet of pig’s blood now and again. See how he liked the stuff.


Dawn? Truth to tell, he felt sorry for the whiny little bint. Her destiny, plus her relationship to Her Blondeness, plus the loss of her mother (whom Spike had actually liked, sort of) were punishment enough for anybody.


Then there was the little witch and her witchy lover. Spike shook his head. He didn’t really have much animosity toward Willow and Tara. Tara was hardly a factor, so shy as to almost be a nonentity, and Willow, strangely enough, had always been rather kind to him. But then, she was rather kind to everyone. She’d even spoken up on his behalf a time or two when Buffy had gotten too nasty and pushed him around, knowing he couldn’t defend himself against her.


And Xander. Spike shook his head again. Strangely enough, despite all the times he’d tried to kill, torture, fold, spindle or mutilate the dark-haired lad in the past, he felt rather – well, affectionate towards him now after actually spending some time around him and watching him with the gang. Probably because the poor git had a worse lot with the Scoobies than he did, especially since Anya had broken up with him in a rather nasty way, announcing – in front of the Scoobies, mind – that she was leaving Sunnydale to find “a real man that I can have a real relationship with.” After some brief sympathy, mostly from Willow, after that public humiliation, everybody had pretty much gone back to treating Xander like shit. Spike only got contempt, sarcastic remarks, threats, and the occasional punch or kick – nothing more than he was used to in life, and he was, after all, their enemy, which sort of made it fair. Xander got ignored, dismissed, belittled, ridiculed, pushed aside literally or figuratively, and demoted to a humiliatingly menial position in the group. When they bothered with him at all. And they were supposed to be his friends. Shame, really. Looking back on it, Spike could recall plenty of times when the boy had had good ideas, clever thoughts. He had a way of thinking ‘round corners sometimes. And he didn’t look half juicy on the rare occasions when a surprisingly luscious body could be glimpsed despite those horrible clothes his mother picked. Spike couldn’t find it in him to wish the lad any ill when life had already dealt him such a rotten hand of cards.


And speaking of Xander, the whelp hadn’t been at the meeting tonight, rather odd for him, but Spike certainly understood. Why bother, when his supposed friends treated him like that? They’d barely noticed his absence, Buffy merely dropping some crack about Xander probably out applying for Minimum-Wage Job Number 822. Hell, maybe Spike would break a bone or two on the Slayer for a few of the dismissive or contemptuous remarks she’d thrown Xander’s way, too. What was another bone or two? The more the merrier, Spike always said.


He shook himself out of his revery. If he wanted to eat something fresh tonight, he’d best get his mind off revenge and on hunting. He saw a figure moving up ahead and smiled. If he was lucky, there was dinner, right on schedule.


He pursued, frowning as he realized his quarry was human. Well, no matter; humans wandering through Sunnydale’s cemetery at night most always came to bad ends, and Spike planned to be there to pick up the pieces, so to speak. Anyway, this particular human had “Kill me now!” written all over him – he was carrying an overnight bag, and his haste and furtive manner meant for certain he was fleeing something – or someone – already. More, he was limping and moving stiffly as though he was injured, and from far behind him Spike could smell a trace of blood scent. Yeah, that would draw every nasty in the vicinity right quick. All Spike had to do was follow along and let somebody or something else make the kill for him, and if Spike was lucky, he could get to the human just as the last flutter of life slipped away and the blood was still nice and warm. Spike’s mouth began to water, and he could feel the tingle that meant he’d soon shift to his game face. Then more of the scent reached him and –


Maybe he wouldn’t have recognized it so easily if he hadn’t only just been thinking of the Scooby Gang. But the scent was unmistakable, and Spike groaned.




Fuck, that boy was such a bloody danger magnet. What sort of stupid git went walking alone through Sunnyhell’s cemetery in the middle of the night, on a full moon no less, smelling of blood and obviously unfit to fight?




Bloody hell.


Fucking bloody hell.


Groaning again, Spike set off to follow.


By the time Xander reached the middle of the cemetery – despite his haste he really wasn’t moving all that well or that quickly – Spike had stealthily intercepted and quietly dispatched two vampires and one miscellaneous minor demon. Unfortunately the need to look out for the next attacker kept him from lingering to make a meal of any of them. At last the stupid bloody git made it to safety, or at least out of the worst part of the cemetery, and Spike raised his eyebrows when he saw where Xander was heading. It was the big crypt where Buffy had stowed Angel after Soul Man returned from hell. Xander turned out to have the key, too, probably swiped from Giles, and he opened the rusty metal lock, pulled the door open, and slipped inside.


For the first time, Spike allowed himself to wonder, really wonder, what the hell Xander was doing tonight. And where he’d been while his “friends” were eating pizza and swilling pop. He didn’t allow himself to wonder, however, why he’d felt any obligation to protect the whelp who, up till a few weeks ago, would have gladly put a stake through his heart.


Peeking into the large crypt, Spike got his second big surprise of the evening – this was obviously not the first time Xander had been here, not by a long shot. A sleeping bag was rolled up by the fireplace, together with an air mattress to go under it. A few wooden crates served as storage for some tinned food and bags of crisps and the like, and a couple of books and what looked like a big first-aid kit. A bit of firewood was stacked up beside the fireplace in bundles that looked like they’d been purchased at the local market – well, of course; where would Xander get firewood, except maybe the park? and even while Spike watched, Xander laid a clumsy fire and, after several attempts, finally lit it.


Knowing that Xander couldn’t be fool enough to leave the door standing open forever, Spike slipped stealthily inside and concealed himself behind a pillar where he had a good view. It was harder to move around inside with the stone floor; once Xander had the door closed and the night noises shut out, the slightest sound was going to echo around in here. Spike didn’t ask himself what he was going to do about getting out.


As he’d predicted, Xander closed and locked the door as soon as he had the fire going for light. Moving stiffly, he pumped up the air mattress with a foot pump – it was one of those nice ones, an air bed they were called, big as a double bed – spread the large sleeping bag out over it, and sat down on it with a sigh of weary relief. He worked himself out of his jacket with evident pain, and when he turned parallel to the fire, Spike got an idea of why.


Xander was a right mess, and no two ways about it. His face was swollen and covered with bruises; one eye was swelled almost shut. The blood smell had come from a split lip and the slight remaining flow from a bloody nose; more had spattered the front of his shirt. Spike couldn’t see what injuries were hidden under Xander’s shirt to make him move like that, but he could see the shirt sticking to his back in a few places and smelled more blood there, and from that evidence he could make an educated guess.


More than guess.


He could remember.


“Well, you’re a right mess,” he said, not realizing he’d spoken aloud until he saw Xander jump violently, then turn quickly, belatedly groaning at the pain the movement cost him.


“Easy there, Pet.” Spike crouched down at Xander’s side. “Let’s have a look.”


Xander jerked away from Spike’s touch, and this time he went pale when he groaned.


“How did you get in here?” he gasped. “Did you – you were following me, weren’t you?” he accused.


“Yeah, and bloody good thing, too,” Spike said sourly. “Or you’d have been dead three times over at least.”


“I wish,” Xander mumbled almost silently, but not so softly that Spike’s vampiric hearing couldn’t catch the words.


“Nonsense, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “Undead’s not bad, but dead’s no fun at all, especially if it hurts a whole lot getting there. Now let me have a look.”


This time Xander froze instead of pulling away, which was good. Spike ran his hands carefully over Xander’s torso, careful not to press and cause pain – he didn’t especially fancy a headache from the bleeding chip – frowning as he touched Xander’s ribs. Vampire sensitivity magnified his sense of touch enough that pressure wasn’t necessary.


“Might have cracked one there, Pet,” he said. He sat back, gazing into Xander’s eyes. “What’d your bleeding folks use on you, a fucking baseball bat?”


“They didn’t – “ Xander flushed darkly. “I fell and hit the pool table.”


“Yeah, well, that must be one bleeding feisty table to do all that,” Spike said with a chuckle. “I figure it must be possessed or something. Suppose we just go tell Giles about that demonic table, ey? Might need exorcising, that, before it eats someone.”


“No!” Xander flushed even darker. “I mean – “


Spike raised an eyebrow.


“Well, Pet?” he said, waiting patiently.


Xander dropped his eyes and took a deep breath.


“I really did fall and hit the table,” he mumbled.


“Yeah, when your dad was beating you half senseless with what?” Spike said inexorably.


“Belt,” Xander whispered.


“And?” Spike said mercilessly. Some of those bruises weren’t caused by any belt, or a fist, either.


“Pool cue,” Xander whispered, almost inaudibly.


Spike sighed.


“Right,” he said. “Come on, Pet.” He stood, picked up Xander’s suitcase in one hand, and extended the other to help the younger man up.


Xander didn’t budge.


“Where?” he asked apprehensively.


“Back to mine,” Spike said patiently. “You’re going to need more than a couple of bandaids, Pet. And you can’t stay in the cemetery, not smelling of blood and too beat up to defend yourself.”


“I’m not going to your place,” Xander protested angrily.


“Fine,” Spike said, less patiently now. “Then I’m going straight back to Giles and tell him where you are and what state you’re in and why. Better?”


Xander made a face, but he accepted Spike’s outstretched hand, although he went pale again when Spike carefully pulled him to his feet. Xander silently followed Spike back to Angel’s old rooms, standing awkwardly in the middle of the living room when Spike put the suitcase down.


“Right,” Spike said. He grimaced. “Well, make yourself comfortable. I’m ‘round to the chemist’s for a few things.”


“Chemist?” Xander echoed worriedly, frowning.


Spike rolled his eyes.


“You Yanks say ‘drugstore’,” he said. “Sit down, relax, help yourself to a beer – don’t drink anything that looks like tomato juice, mind, or you’ll have a bit of a shock.”


It felt strange, wrong, to leave somebody else – much less a mortal – running loose in his lair while he went out – now that he actually had a lair of his own again, that is. He found a drugstore and made his purchases; then he looked up an old acquaintance, made another purchase, and hurried back to the apartment. Xander was sitting exactly where Spike had left him, as if he hadn’t moved, but there was an opened beer beside him. Xander looked pale and wan under all the bruises.


“All right, Pet?” Spike asked, carrying his purchases to the bathroom. “Come on, then.”


Hesitantly Xander followed the vampire into the bathroom, keeping his distance.


“You’ve really changed things around here, haven’t you?” he said. “I mean, I don’t remember it being so – looking so – “


“Lived in?” Spike suggested. “Oh, Angel couldn’t pass on a chance at his own misery, had to keep the place like a bloody monastery.” He chuckled, and Xander grinned, too, a little reluctantly.


Xander was silent for a long moment, then ventured another timid comment.


“There were a lot of bottles in the refrigerator,” he said quietly. “I mean, Giles just gives you those packets, doesn’t he? And those are labeled. So those bottles must come from somewhere else.”


Spike snorted.


“You really want to know, Pet?” he said.


Xander swallowed but didn’t retreat.


“Yeah,” he said softly. “I really want to know.”


Spike was rather impressed by the youth’s fortitude. One thing you had to say for Xander, he was no coward. He generally threw himself right into a fight, regardless of the intelligence of his boldness. That was brave twice over when you factored in that he didn’t have Slayer strength or witchcraft or the like going for him, like the rest of the gang.


“Most of that’s either demon or demon leavings,” Spike said indifferently. “Bit o’vampire, too, maybe.”


“Oh.” Xander grinned. “I guess you don’t want Giles to know you’re hunting on your own.”


Spike raised an eyebrow.


“And I guess you don’t want Giles to know your parents are pounding the daylights out of you, Pet,” he retorted. “Fair deal?”


“Fair enough for me,” Xander said quickly. He glanced at Spike rather shyly. “I wouldn’t have told him anyway, though. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be hunting demons and vampires and things if you want to. I mean, it’s not like there’s a law or anything. Heck, they should be grateful for the help.”


Once again, Spike was surprised and impressed. He concealed it quickly.


“Shirt off, Pet,” he said. “Sit down on the loo and let’s get you cleaned up.”


Slowly Xander worked his shirt off with what Spike thought was shyness – until he got a look at Xander’s back. He felt his lip draw up in a snarl as he surveyed the dense pattern of welts, some of them still oozing blood (and had probably stuck to the shirt, hence the care), and heavy bruises that crisscrossed Xander’s back. The marks continued down to the waistband of Xander’s jeans, and Spike realized that the damage was rather worse – and more extensive – than he’d originally thought.


“Right,” Spike said, keeping his voice even – Xander already looked scared, and no wonder, showing bloody welts to a vampire. “Pants too, Pet.”


“Wh-wh-what?” Xander sputtered, whirling to stare at Spike, then groaning belatedly as his body caught up with the motion.


“You’re a right mess,” Spike said patiently. “First off, you’re going to need a soak in a hot tub so I can get some of the lint and shit out of those welts. And even from here I can see that your back isn’t half the package, right?”


Xander’s face flamed.


“Look, Pet,” Spike said as gently as he could manage despite the rage that kept trying to push him into game face – a rage focused entirely on Xander’s parents. “I don’t know what’s running through your head, whether you’re thinking I’m going to bite you or rape you or whatnot, but you ought to know I can’t do any of ‘em, right?”


Xander glanced down miserably.


“I’m not afraid,” he whispered.


“Well, then, what – “


Spike stopped. Xander wasn’t afraid. He was ashamed. Ashamed of what his father had done to him, ashamed that he hadn’t been able to do anything but take it, ashamed that he needed Spike’s help now. Spike sighed mentally. Fear he knew; he’d been on both ends of it often enough in his life. Shame was rather a new one on him.


He forced himself to remember back to certain events he pushed to the back of his mind whenever he could. Days after his own beatings by whatever “uncle” his mother had brought home. Tears of anger and humiliation. All the belittling taunts and barbs and acts that Angelus had enjoyed using on him, knowing damned well that Spike’s pride was, if anything, his biggest vulnerability. Uncomfortably, Spike cleared his throat.


“’S all right, Pet,” he said softly. “Nothing I haven’t seen before. Come to that, nothing I haven’t felt before.”


“Huh?” Xander looked up, startled.


Spike turned his head, fingertips brushing over a slight scar at his hairline.


“One of my mum’s men did this,” he said. “Wasn’t even one of the really bad times. Now go on, get your kit off.”


Xander hesitated a moment longer, then slowly unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them down, groaning hollowly as the effort forced him to bend.


“Hold on there, Pet,” Spike said quietly. “I’ll take care of that, ey?” He crouched down at Xander’s feet, expecting an argument or blank refusal, but Xander said nothing and made no resistance as Spike lifted one foot at a time, removing shoes and socks, giving Xander time to get used to the idea of Spike undressing him. Xander let Spike slide the jeans down over his legs, but when Spike reached for the waistband of Xander’s boxers, Xander grabbed Spike’s hands.


“Wait,” he gasped.


“Look, Pet – “ Spike began, but Xander cut him off.


“It’s not that,” he mumbled, not meeting Spike’s eyes. “It’s just – I mean, I think they’re going to stick to the welts like my shirt. And if you hurt me, that sets off the chip, right?”


Sheer astonishment left Spike wordless – that Xander was worried about Spike and the fucking chip when he was in such a state; hell, that it even occurred to the boy! A pang of some emotion Spike couldn’t identify shot through him, leaving him both inordinately pleased and somehow vulnerable at the same time. He didn’t stop to analyze it; self-analysis wasn’t Spike’s strong suit.


“Right, then,” he said, surprised at the momentary unsteadiness of his own voice. “Just wait a moment, then, and I’ll run the tub. You can get in just as you are.”


“In my boxers?” Xander said, his eyebrows shooting up.


“Right, they’ll peel off easy once we’ve soaked those welts a bit,” Spike explained. He moved over to fill the tub. “No, don’t sit, it’ll hurt more getting up again. This’ll only take a moment.”


He got the water adjusted to what he hoped was a bearable temperature for the mortal – he really needed the water as hot as Xander could take it – and laid a towel down in the bottom of the tub for extra comfort and traction.


“Right, now let’s get you in,” he said.


“It’s not full yet,” Xander protested.


“I know,” Spike said. “Be easier that way, and we won’t splash any out getting you in. Slow and easy now, there’s the ticket.”


Slowly, carefully, they got Xander into the tub; Xander sighed with relief as he settled back, the hot water creeping up his sides as the tub filled.


“Oh, God, this feels good,” he moaned.


“Well, getting you out won’t be much fun,” Spike admitted. “But it probably nets out as an improvement.”


“How am I going to get these boxers off like this?” Xander said, sighing unhappily at the prospect of trying to raise his hips, maneuver the garment down –


“You’re not,” Spike grinned. “I’m going to, and you aren’t to move a muscle, mind?”


“But how – “ Xander started, only to gulp when he saw the scissors in Spike’s hand. “Oh.”


“They’re likely ruined anyway,” Spike said practically. And no great loss, either, he thought, stifling a contempuous laugh at the Roadrunner figures on the cloth. He carefully cut through the boxers up each side, then simply cut the front away, leaving Xander sitting on the back piece. He’d get that later, when it had had more time to soak.


Xander looked surprised, and more than a little embarrassed, when Spike picked up a soft cloth and began to wash him, but once again he didn’t protest. When he started to do Xander’s face, however, Xander stopped him again.


“Better let me do it,” Xander said awkwardly. “It might – I mean, it’ll probably hurt.”


“I’ll be careful,” Spike promised. “Trust me.” He grinned saucily.


As he expected, that cracked Xander up and eased the tension. Xander sat quietly as Spike cleaned his face with tiny, careful dabs of the cloth. When he helped Xander carefully sit up, however, and turned his attention to Xander’s back, the mortal protested again.


“I know this is going to hurt,” Xander said firmly.


“Yeah, well, you can’t do this yourself,” Spike said practically. “Besides, I got a secret weapon.” He picked up the bottle of Chloraseptic and showed it to Xander, then held up the bottle of pills in his other hand.


Xander raised an eyebrow.


“Thought that was for sore throats,” he said. “What are the pills?”


“These are painkillers, the really good stuff,” Spike told him, hefting the pill bottle. “And your Chloraseptic here is a topical anaesthetic. Numbs bloody anythin’, or so I’m to understand. So you’re gonna pop a couple feelgood pills, I’m gonna spray down your back, and then we’re in business.” He shook a couple of pills out into his hand and fetched a cup of water.


Xander looked at the pills skeptically, then grabbed the bottle and read the label.


“Um, no offense, but how did you get these?” he asked. “They’re prescription.”


Spike smirked.


“Let’s just say I’ve got friends in low places,” he said. “Go on, tip ‘em up.”


Xander hesitated a moment longer, then swallowed the pills, washing them down with the water. He shivered when Spike sprayed the Chloraseptic over his back, then sighed in plain relief.


“Oh, man, that feels better,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that for the next – “ His voice trailed off


Spike bit back a snarl. Won’t be any next time, he told himself firmly. I’ll see to that.


To his surprise, Xander didn’t even wince as Spike carefully cleaned the welts, although he was sure it had to hurt at least a bit; even more surprising, the chip didn’t give him any grief either. Apparently since Spike was helping Xander, not harming him, he got a bit of leeway. Or maybe it was because Xander wasn’t showing any pain? Who knew?


The welts were bad, the bruising deep. Xander was going to be hurting for some time. Spike cleaned down as far as he could without leaning Xander too far forward – ribs, after all – then sat back, perplexed. At last he sighed.


“Right,” he said. “Hands and knees, Pet.”


“Wha – HUH?” This time at least Xander only whipped his head around, not his entire body, staring at Spike incredulously.


“Well, you can’t very well clean the stripes on your own arse,” Spike said patiently. “I suppose I could get you out of the tub altogether and you could lean over the sink like, but that’s likely less comfortable and you’d have to stay that way for a bit, and we’ll get water all over the bathroom floor.”


Xander bit his lip but slowly obeyed, letting Spike help him. The towel helped, cushioning his knees from the hard tub bottom. Xander was really flushed now and shaking slightly; Spike figured the vulnerability of his position, plus maybe a little delayed shock setting in, were to blame.


“’S all right, Pet,” he said soothingly, smiling slightly at Xander’s surprise. What was so strange that Spike could soothe and comfort? He’d tended to Dru, after all, for bloody decades of her frigging visions and babblings and whims and mad tea parties with Miss Edith, and hadn’t that been a bloody bore? Spike carefully dabbed Xander’s arse dry, and a mighty fine arse it was when it was at home, wasn’t it? and gave it a good spraying over with the chloraseptic. The damage here wasn’t as bad, probably because Xander’s jeans had offered more protection than his thin shirt, and the soaking before taking off his boxers had kept as much fuzz from sticking; but there was still plenty of deep bruising, and sitting down was going to be no fun at all for some time.


“Right, now we’re going to get you up while all the medicated parts are already out of the water,” Spike said patiently. “Now, just let me do the work and don’t bother yourself, or those ribs are gonna scream and then I’m gonna scream, get it? I’m plenty strong, so don’t be a brave git, just let me do it.”


To both their surprise, Spike managed it without hurting Xander and setting off his chip, Xander steadying himself on the tub edge but thankfully making no effort to push himself up. When he was standing, Spike made sure none of the welts were still bleeding, decided that letting the wounds get air was better than covering them, and helped Xander into a black silk dressing gown.


“Wait a minute,” Xander said suspiciously, although his words were a little slow and slurred – yep, the painkillers were kicking in nicely. “Isn’t this robe – “


“Yup, used to belong to Mr. Broody himself,” Spike chuckled. “Mine now, innit? He took off with hardly a bloody thing, just a few of his best books, and left it all. The refrigerator was a thing of beauty to clean out, wasn’t it, eh? More mildew than a Tharst demon’s lair. Right. Now, before you get too muzzy, toddle over to the loo and take a piss, all right?”


“Huh?” Xander wasn’t too fuzzy to gape at Spike’s words.


“Want to make sure there’s no blood in your urine, Pet,” Spike said patiently. “All that bruising over your kidneys, might be a problem. Go on now.”


It took Xander a few minutes to relax enough to urinate, and when he did he let out a hollow groan. There was indeed a trace of blood in his urine, but Spike, who over a century or so had become pretty damned familiar with human physiology, could tell it wasn’t serious.


“Well, I’m sure it don’t feel any too good, but you’ll heal up on your own,” Spike said with satisfaction. “Here, you can put these on now.” He helped Xander step into a pair of black silk boxers and carefully pulled them up.


“I ought to put my clothes back on,” Xander said fuzzily. The pills were working fast now that he was standing up. “I should go – “


“Nah, don’t bother yourself,” Spike said. “You’re not going anywhere in such a state, at least tonight. Come on, you’ll have the bed and I’ll take the – “ He paused. “Ah, bloody hell.” He couldn’t take the couch. There were only two small, dirty windows in the basement apartment, but despite the heavy curtains over them, a little light did leak in, just enough to keep Spike from getting any rest. There was a spare bedroom, actually bigger and nicer than the one Angel had set up in, which Spike had used for storage, but it needed cleaning out. It also had a window, which was probably why Angel hadn’t used it, and the curtains in there were no better than those in the living room.


“I’ll take the couch,” Xander offered immediately.


“Nah, not with those ribs,” Spike said. He shook his head. “’S all right, Pet. I’ll just nip back to the crypt and fetch that fancy air bed, it’ll do me fine on the floor in the bedroom.” He grinned at Xander. “Unless it’s gonna give you the willies, the big bad vampire dossin’ on the floor there.”


Xander snorted.


“No offense, Spike,” he said, grinning ruefully. “But right now you’re the least of my worries.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Um. Thanks. For everything, I mean.”


“No bother, Pet,” Spike said easily, although it was a bald-faced lie. The whelp was going to be a hell of a bother, but then again, compared to Giles or Buffy or Drusilla, even, Xander truly was no trouble at all. He kept a hand on Xander’s elbow, steadying him but giving the boy the illusion of walking under his own power to the bedroom, where Xander took off the robe and slid between soft dark satin sheets without any comment whatsoever; he was already half asleep.


“I should help you,” Xander protested foggily.


“Nah, Pet, just doze on off,” Spike said. “I’ve got things to do, may be a while. Sleep yourself out.”


Xander was asleep before Spike finished speaking. Spike grinned and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him.


Back to the cemetery, where Spike resumed his interrupted dinner hunt. There wasn’t all that much of the night left now, but Spike was a skilled hunter and it wasn’t long before he found a weak-assed revenant to provide a hot – well, all right, a fresh snack. After that he headed back to the crypt, bundled up the whelp’s belongings – most of them, anyway – and fetched them back. Glad for the foot pump, he reinflated the air bed and chucked it down in the bedroom. It would be bloody underfoot, but what the hell, it would be comfortable enough with the sleeping bag opened out and spread over the top.


Xander never stirred throughout these preparations, and that gave Spike an idea. Angel had left his Polaroid camera behind, and Spike fetched it, turning the lights up gradually in the room until he had enough light to not need the flash. Xander stirred restlessly but didn’t wake. Spike snapped pictures of the sleeping youth, craning around at awkward angles to capture all the injuries – except those under the boxers, of course, but enough welts disappeared under the waistband that one could get a pretty good idea of the damage regardless. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d do with the pictures, but what the hell – he could always hold them over Xander as blackmail if he had to, threaten to take them to Giles. He hid the pictures and went back to the bedroom. Spike could feel the sun creeping toward the horizon, and he was glad enough to strip off, flop onto the unzipped bag and let sleep claim him.


Email: Shadow