“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Spike snarled as Xander helped him through the door.


“Thanks, not in your condition,” Xander said wryly.


“I’m getting bloody sick of this!”


“It’s your own fault,” Xander said. “If you didn’t insist on taking those things on by yourself – “


“Somebody’s got to.”


“And there’s a whole Scooby Gang of somebodies planning to do it later this evening. And of course there’s your faithful sidekick, who strangely enough is never allowed to do much more than spectate.”


“Well, if a hydra can do this to me,” Spike growled, “What the bleedin’ ‘ell you think it’d do to you?” In point of fact Spike didn’t want to think what a hydra could do to Xander. Hydra venom couldn’t hurt Spike – his blood made him immune – but what it could do to humans . . . Spike shuddered slightly. Hydra venom killed humans. Slowly. Horribly. Of course, they generally went mad with the pain long before they died.


“Guess we’ll never know now,” Xander said patiently, settling Spike into the bathtub. “Seeing as how it’s dead, I mean. Yuck. At least no guts hanging out this time, but that arm is definitely broken.”


“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Spike said sullenly. “Look, go see what’s in the fridge, will you, Pet?”


Xander went, and came back looking worried.


“Um, Spike? There isn’t anything. Nothing.”


“Huh?” Spike shook his head. “Thought I had a couple bottles left from those revenants – “


“You had that yesterday,” Xander said anxiously. “After that fight with the morlocks.”


“Oh, bloody ‘ell,” Spike groaned, remembering. Shit, shit, shit, now what am I –


“I can go to Giles’,” Xander offered. “But I know that pig blood doesn’t help much.”


“May have to do,” Spike said unhappily.


Xander unbuttoned his sleeve.


“I could – “


“No!” Spike said sharply. “Not when I’m so hungry, Pet.” He forced a calmer tone. “Sorry. Just – it isn’t safe, you know.”


“I know.” Xander flushed. “But you need blood. Isn’t there something I can do?”


Spike sighed.


“Yeah. Get in my wallet, pull out a few hundred quid, and go to Willy’s place.”


Carefully Xander extracted Spike’s wallet.


“Willy’s? The bar?” he asked.


“Yeah. Tell ‘im I sent you for at least five pints of his special reserve. You may have to push a bit; he don’t like selling to mortals. Take the cooler with you.”


Xander stood there, staring at Spike.


“Willy sells blood? What, human blood?”


“Yeah.” Spike grimaced. “Look, it isn’t what you think, Pet. I’ll explain when you get back, but I’d rather you hurry, if you don’t mind, all right?”


“ . . . right.” Xander hurried, taking Spike’s wallet with him, but Spike didn’t care. He slumped back in the tub and tried to relax, knowing it would probably be close to an hour before Xander returned.


Why the bloody hell was he piling into every battle with every creepy-crawly in Sunnyhell? Sure, it was a lark beating things up, but a hydra? He’d been bloody lucky to come off with nothing more than hellacious bites and scratches and one broken arm. So why’d he dived in like that?


Xander, of course. Why anything, these days? Xander. He didn’t give a rat’s bollocks about the Slayer, but Willow and Tara couldn’t seem to keep out of harm’s way, and Dawn seemed to share Xander’s uncanny luck for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If they were in danger, Xander would charge right in and get hurt. If they were hurt, Xander would eat himself up with guilt – and would throw himself in harm’s way twice as vigorously the next time. Therefore Spike was stuck with watching out for the Scoobies. Which occasionally meant taking stupid risks, fighting stupid battles, and even getting the snot kicked out of him now and again.


For Xander.


Spike had estimated an hour for Xander to talk Willy into the sale and get home with the blood. In fact it was thirty-six minutes – which meant either Xander had been damned persuasive or Willy hadn’t had any merchandise available. Spike heard the squeal of tires outside a split second before the door opened. Xander plunked the cooler down on the vanity; his expression was strange, anxious and slightly fearful.


“He didn’t have any?” Spike asked, trying not to panic.


“No, I got it,” Xander said. He cut open the corner of one plastic packet and handed it to Spike, picking up the cooler again. “Go on and drink that, I’ll warm the rest up for you.”


Spike didn’t know what was bothering Xander, but at the moment he wasn’t in any condition to ponder the issue too deeply. He gulped down the blood – it was slightly cool, but very fresh, and it still had a bit of that precious zing of life left in it. By the time he’d finished the first bag, Xander had returned, carrying a big mug of heated blood, and he could hear the microwave in the kitchen warming the next batch.


“Drink up,” Xander said, watching worriedly as Spike set the mug aside.


“Not yet.” Spike adjusted his position in the tub. “Help me set the arm first. Don’t want it to heal up crooked.”


This was just a simple break, not nearly as bad as the fracture from the Vorgost fight, and Spike was able to stay conscious and direct Xander’s efforts. When that was finished, he found the mug of blood still warm enough and drank up while Xander fetched the next. He drank gratefully, feeling his tissues knit and mend, feeling his body nourished and energized. He sipped the last mug more slowly as Xander cleaned him up.


“Ummmm . . . Spike?” Xander asked while he worked. “You said you’d explain how come Willy has human blood for sale.”


“Oh. That.” Spike shrugged uncomfortably. “Remember Riley? There’s plenty of mortals who’ll sell their blood and glad to do it. Some do it direct, in feeding houses like Riley went to. Not the safest or smartest thing to do – they’re banking on a vamp’s willpower to cut off before they kill their donor.


“Smarter donors do it this way, sell blood by the pint. Pays better than selling to a blood bank. If they don’t mind hanging about in back of the bar to give fresh in an emergency, pays even better.” Spike shrugged again. “That’s what special reserve is. The ‘house red’ goes a lot cheaper.” He didn’t mention that the ‘house red’ was often far less scrupulously obtained – when someone brought in bottles of human blood to sell, Willy didn’t ask any questions as to where it had come from.


“Oh.” Xander kept working, not meeting Spike’s eyes. “There were a lot of other vampires in there. A lot. I didn’t think – I mean, it was daylight outside, and I didn’t expect – “


Shit. Bloody, bloody hell. Spike fought down a groan. I didn’t think. Could’ve gotten him killed.


“Sorry, Pet, I didn’t think,” Spike said quietly. “Willy’s got an access in his basement from the sewers. I shouldn’t have sent you.”


“No, I was okay.” Xander glanced up, wearing a strange expression on his face. “Ummm . . . some of them started kind of hassling me, you know? Calling me ‘Renfield’ and ‘daywalker’ and stuff. And then Willy came out from the bar, told them to leave me alone, that I was your Consort. And they all got real quiet after that and stopped bothering me.”

Oh, bloody hell. Spike sighed.


“So are you going to tell me what that was about?”


Spike grimaced. He hadn’t planned on confronting this particular issue just yet. Apparently rumors had gotten around faster than he’d have liked. Probably Lissik.


“Well, Pet, it’s like this – remember Renfield in the movie Dracula? He got about in the daytime, sort of took care of Vlad’s errands while the vampire was stuck underground?” he said, waiting until Xander nodded. “Well, sometimes vampires have a mortal like that, somebody to protect their lair or take care of their daytime business. Sometimes the vampire feeds on ‘em now and again, sometimes not. They’re called renfields or daywalkers. It’s – not a particularly flattering term,” Spike admitted.


“I kinda figured that, from the way they said it,” Xander said wryly. He put down the sponge. “Why would anybody want to do that? Take care of a vampire?”


Spike gave Xander a pointed look; the mortal flushed.


“Uh . . . “


“All kinds of reasons for a renfield to hang around and do ‘is job,” Spike said. “Threats to the mortal’s loved ones. Money. Blackmail. Drugs – not usually, though. Power. Protection. The promise that the vampire’ll turn him one day. All sorts of things.”


“Uh-huh.” Xander looked at Spike searchingly. “And what about Consorts? Why did Willy call me that?” He swallowed. “Does it have something to do with you feeding me your blood?”


Spike froze.


“Wh-what?” he asked softly.


Xander glanced down.


“Funny how when I pour myself a glass of that V-8 it tastes different,” he said. “I didn’t start wondering until I kissed you that time after you’d bitten yourself. It tasted . . . familiar. And then – “ Xander took a deep breath. “I did this experiment. I had a bruise I got at work one day. So I came home and rubbed some of that liniment on it. Felt nice, but the bruise didn’t go away. I even put more on before I went to bed. The bruise was still there in the morning. Funny thing, though. After you brought me my morning V-8, the bruise went away. Fast. Real fast. Like the way the welts on my back went away. I mean, I watched it fade.”


Spike sighed.


“Help me out of the tub, will you, Pet?” he said tiredly.


Xander hesitated.


“Don’t you want – “ He touched his forearm uncertainly.


“Not right now,” Spike said, mustering a faint grin. “We’ll see what you think about it after we talk, eh?”


“Well . . . “ Xander helped Spike out of the tub, but stopped him on the bathroom mat. “Wait a minute, let me finish.” He wet a towel and finished cleaning the blood and grime from Spike’s skin, toweled him dry and wrapped him in a robe, then followed him out to the living room, installing Spike on the couch.


“Beer?” Xander offered.


“Sure, yeah.”


Xander brought back a bottle of stout for Spike and one for himself and sat down, not in a separate chair as Spike expected, but next to Spike on the couch.


“Okay,” Xander said quietly. “Go for it.”


Spike took a sip of beer and cleared his throat.


“Consorts are to renfields what Childer are to minions,” he said. “They’re not daytime errand boys or guard dogs or a handy snack when food’s short. They’re . . . companions. Trusted. Cared for. Chosen. Not there because a vampire needs someone; there because a vampire . . . wants . . . them.”


“Wants?” Xander repeated slowly. “As in – “


“Yeah,” Spike said, grinning slightly. “As in. Feeding, sex, the whole package. Only master vampires take Consorts, ‘cause only master vampires have the self-control not to drain their Consorts and the strength to defend their claim. Other vampires won’t touch a master’s Consort. Even demons respect the . . . “ he grimaced. “The bond.”


“Yeah, let’s talk about that,” Xander said. He leaned forward slightly. “Why do I feel so close to you? I have these strange thoughts, these . . . “ He shook his head.


“Desires?” Spike guessed.


“Yeah.” Xander stared down into his beer. “Why you’re feeding me your blood.” He swallowed, barely whispering. “And why it tastes so good.”


Spike sighed.


“Answers are all the same, Pet,” he said. “I gave you a little of my blood at first to help you heal up. Later I gave you more ‘cause you were feeding me your blood and I didn’t want to leave you weak. As long as a vampire gives his Consort a little of his blood each time, a Consort can feed a vampire almost exclusively. The exchange of blood makes a bond between them, sort of like the bond between Sire and Childe.”


“It’s more than that, though, isn’t it?” Xander asked, gazing into Spike’s eyes.


Spike grimaced. He’d hoped to stop there.


“Vampire blood’s powerful stuff,” he admitted. “Especially a master’s blood. Regular doses make you healthier – stronger, faster, more resistant to diseases. Have enough, or long enough, and you’d be a fair match for the Slayer, I guess.” He didn’t tell Xander the rest – that regular doses of Spike’s blood could keep Xander from aging.


“But that’s not all, is it?” Xander pressed. “I could taste your blood on your lips. That should’ve made me blow chunks. But I liked it. Your blood isn’t – “ He suddenly went pale. “It’s not, like, turning me, is it?”


“No.” Spike shook his head. “You’ve got a bit of a taste for it, that’s all. Sort of like the stout.” He gestured at the bottle. “Just ‘cause you like it doesn’t make you an alcoholic, see? Anyway, not much for you to worry about.” He shrugged deliberately. “You’re not my Consort, Pet. And probably won’t never be, either.”


Curious, he watched the expressions flit over Xander’s face – startlement, relief . . . hurt.


“Why – um – “


“Why not?” Spike managed a grin, reached out and traced one fingertip down the side of Xander’s throat. “Not what you’re thinking, Pet. Simple, really. Can’t bite you.”


“You can’t – “ Xander blinked. “You can’t?”


Spike smiled and tapped the side of his head illustratively.


“Chip, remember? Can’t do it.”


Xander licked his lips.


“And that, um, matters?”


“’Fraid so,” Spike said, sighing. “Puts my mark on you. Important, you know. Kind of – hmm. The vampire/Consort equivalent of a wedding, say.”


“Oh.” Xander finished his beer silently. Spike waited, not knowing what he was expecting to hear. At last Xander spoke again, very quietly, with obvious reluctance.


“Do you want to, um, stop then? I mean, if you can’t have, you know, everything.”


Spike sat silent, rocked to his core. He’d expected indignation that he’d kept this from Xander, anger, outrage; hell, he’d half expected the whelp to be out the door without bothering to pack. He debated his answer, settled on what was more or less the truth.


“Pet, knew I couldn’t have the whole package when I started,” he said simply. “Won’t say it doesn’t matter. It does. I bloody hate it. If you knew what I’d like to do to those Initiative gits . . . well, it wouldn’t do nothing for your appetite. Doesn’t matter, they’re gone and I’m here and I’m buggered and there’s nothing I can do about it.” He shrugged, meeting Xander’s eyes squarely. “I’d like to have what I can. That’s the truth. Wanted it enough that I didn’t tell you – hell, didn’t tell myself that that’s what I was doing. I always found some reason – healing your wounds, keeping you strong so you could feed me, such as that. Easier than admitting to myself that you mattered – matter – to me that much.”


Xander sat silent for a long moment, twirling the beer bottle in his fingers.


“I used to really hate you,” he said idly. “Then when the Initiative put that chip in your head, I – I don’t know, I didn’t hate you less right away, but it felt bad hating you, like, I don’t know, hitting somebody when they’re down. I don’t really know when I stopped hating you. I guess maybe around when Buffy’s mom died. The funny thing is, I started wanting you before I stopped hating you. Weird, isn’t it?”


Spike smirked, remembering his days with Angelus. He’d never stopped hating Angelus. Even when he loved him.


“Sorry, Pet. I’m the wrong one to call it weird,” he said.


“You really confused me when you brought me back here that night,” Xander said, giving Spike a faint smile in response. “It seemed – I don’t know, impossible, that somebody I’d hated so much could take such good care of me. Could care about me. I mean, I’d never given you any reason to do anything nice for me. You’d tried to kill me, I’d tried to kill you, but you brought me back here and took care of me when you didn’t have to. My parents were supposed to love me and take care of me and they – and they – but you, you were good to me. For no reason at all.”


“Wouldn’t exactly say it was for no reason,” Spike said, giving Xander what he hoped was a seductive look. But he hadn’t had any designs on the whelp that first night, had he? Oh, sure, he’d looked, thought, but there’d been no intent then.


“You know when I really realized it was – I don’t know, something?” Xander said. His face flushed. “When you took the pictures. I mean the pictures I knew about you taking. The me naked pictures. That was – I don’t know.” His blush deepened. “It made me feel, you know, beautiful. Nobody, not even Anya, ever made me feel – since – never mind.”


Spike reached over and clasped Xander’s hand, very loosely, stroking his fingers.


“’S all right, Pet,” he said quietly. “I know.”


Xander squeezed Spike’s fingers.


“You know what?” Xander said, staring at the floor. “You’re the first person who ever let me decide how far, how fast, and didn’t just push for what they wanted. You know? I mean, Cordy dragged me into closets, Faith just kind of threw me down on the bed and went at it, and Anya walked into the basement, held out a bunch of condoms and dropped her clothes. But even with that first blowjob, you’ve never pushed me to do anything for you. Maybe it was just the chip.” He glanced over at Spike. “But I don’t think so.”


Spike squirmed uncomfortably.


“Yeah – well – “ He shrugged. “There’s always the Slayer who’d gladly poke a stake through me if I did you wrong. ‘Course, she could be really cruel and vicious and leave me at the mercy of Red and her little chum.” Spike shuddered melodramatically. “Scary thought, that.”


Xander grinned, apparently as relieved as Spike at the change of subject.


“Of course, they could just tie you to a chair and let Giles lecture you for hours on end.”


“Bloody ‘ell!” Spike groaned, throwing the back of his wrist over his eyes as if swooning. “Not that! Anythin’ but that! Bring the stakes, bring the garlic and holy water, take me out sunbathing, but not that!”


Xander howled with laughter and collapsed into Spike’s arms. Spike, laughing too hard to kiss his almost-Consort, gave him a big hug.


At last, when Xander had regained his breath, he looked up at Spike and said softly, “Does this mean you really want me to be your Consort? I mean, as much as we can?”


Spike swallowed. Hard.


“Guess so,” he said as nonchalantly as he could. “As much as we can, yeah.” Xander had an odd look on his face, and Spike decided he still wasn’t convinced. He reached out, tracing his fingertip down the side of Xander’s neck again, making the mortal shiver. “I’d do the lot if I could, Pet. Believe it.” He gave Xander his best seductive gaze. “Would you want me to?”


Xander shivered again, still wearing that odd look.


“Yeah,” he whispered. “I think – I think I would.”


The mortal swallowed heavily.


“Does that mean you still want – “ He half extended his forearm.


“Want? That’s putting it mildly, Pet,” Spike said wryly. He gazed at Xander more seriously. “Two things first, though, Pet. First off, the stuff from Willy’s will do me. I’m all right. So don’t think you have to if you don’t want to.”


Xander blushed.


“I don’t mind,” he mumbled. “I like – “ He swallowed. “I like how much you like it, if that makes any sense.”


Spike grinned.


“Makes sense to me, Pet.”


Xander took a deep breath, steadying himself.


“Okay, what’s the second thing?”


“Second thing.” Spike mentally braced himself for argument or downright refusal. “If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right. That means anytime you feed me – anything more than just a taste, say – you have a bit of my blood. Enough to make sure you regenerate your own supply fast. You don’t like the taste, I can keep mixing it in something, but that’s the way it’s gonna be, Pet.”


Xander glanced down, then up into Spike’s eyes again.


“ . . . all right,” he said, very softly.


“I’m telling you,” Spike argued, “It’s important for – “


He stopped.




“’All right’?” he repeated. “Just – all right?”


Xander flushed again.


“Uh-huh,” he said, a little defensively. “I mean, if I’m your Consort, that’s how it works, isn’t it?”


Spike held perfectly still, feeling a grin growing, growing, until it threatened to split his face.


“Yeah, luv,” he said quietly. “That’s how it works.”


Xander licked his lips.


“Okay,” he said. “Just making sure.”


He pulled something out of his pocket – Spike’s scalpel.


“You carrying that around with you now?” Spike asked, amused and a little unsettled by the implications of that.


“Sometimes,” Xander admitted a little embarrassedly, but he met Spike’s eyes. “When we patrol. Just in case. Because you keep getting hurt.”


“Hmmm.” Spike took the scalpel, glanced at it. “You sterilize it?”


“Uh-huh.” Xander looked slightly offended. “I’m not stupid.”


“No, but if you planned on giving me your blood first off when I’m badly hurt, you’re a bloody fool,” Spike said bluntly. He handed the scalpel back. “You’d do better to pack up the cooler and put it in the trunk of the car, maybe. And if we’re going to keep doing this, we’ll have to get you something better to use.”


Xander’s eyebrows rose.


“Better than a scalpel?”


Spike shrugged a little sheepishly.


“Doesn’t seem right,” he said. “Considering some of the things I’ve used that for.” He shook his head. “’Sides, it’s sharp, but scalpels aren’t made of a metal hard enough to hold that edge, and we can’t put that kind of edge on it, either. A good knife would be better.”


“Oh.” Xander smiled shyly, as if he liked the idea of Spike planning for the future. “Okay. Then we’ll find a good knife. But in the meantime – “ He uncapped the scalpel and made a shallow cut in his forearm, offering the wound to Spike.


Spike gave Xander a dark smile and deliberately licked slowly up the shallow cut, savoring the hot droplets that welled up from the cut. He licked again, slowly, contentedly, like a cat, careful not to hurt, just enjoying the rich flavor of Xander’s life willingly shared. Ahhhhhh, good, so good. Finally, reluctantly, he bit the inside of his lip and closed the cut, purring contentedly as he sat back.


“Gimme that, Pet,” he said lazily, holding out his hand for the scalpel. Xander looked surprised, but handed it over. Without even blinking, Spike cut deeply into the fleshy base of his thumb, holding his hand out. “Quick, Pet, before it heals.”


Xander blinked, hesitating for a brief moment before he took Spike’s hand in his own – Spike could feel the warm fingers shaking slightly. He watched through slitted eyes as Xander raised his hand; then there it was, that first amazing touch of warm lips against his skin, the hot wet flicker of a tongue. He’d expected the grimace that appeared on Xander’s face even before the mortal had the chance to taste, but that expression was quickly replaced by others in rapid succession – surprise, relief, wonder, then hot greedy desire, and Spike shivered as he felt Xander draw on the wound, tentatively at first, then harder.


He didn’t take much, no more than a mouthful, which neither surprised nor dismayed Spike; the cut was small and would close up before Xander swallowed any appreciable amount anyway. Spike hadn’t drunk much either. It was the gesture that mattered right now, the acknowledgement.


Xander apparently understood, because when the cut closed, he gave the skin a gentle kiss, then went straight into Spike’s arms. Spike held Xander close, listening contentedly to the steady lub-dub of his mortal’s heartbeat. Under other circumstances, such an exchange would be a passionate thing, quenching one desire and igniting another, but not now. They’d both just been given a lot to absorb.


“They’ll be waiting for us,” Xander said, breaking into Spike’s revery.


“They who? Oh, bloody hell,” Spike groaned, remembering.


“Buffy & Co.,” Xander sighed. “Remember? Going to head out tonight to kill the hydra you already killed.”


Spike snorted.


“Suppose we should call ‘em and tell ‘em they might as well stay in and order pizza?” he smirked.


“Not unless you want another garlic facial,” Xander chuckled.


Spike sighed.


“Don’t imagine you’d rather just stay here and fool around?” he said hopefully.


Xander grimaced.


“Muchly,” he admitted. “But we’ve hardly seen everybody in the last couple of weeks. If we don’t show up, they’re going to start wondering.”


Spike sighed again, but he released Xander resignedly.


“Guess I’d better clean up, then,” he said unhappily. “Going to have to go shopping soon, Pet. I’m going through shirts and jeans bloody fast nowadays.”


“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” Xander said speculatively. “We could go tomorrow night if you want.” He hesitated. “I’ll let you pick stuff out for me, how’s that?”


Spike perked up at the thought of his Xander wearing something other than those hideous mum’s-boy disasters he called clothing. All right, so he’d have to buy a little goodwill with another nasty evening with the Scooby Gang. He’d weathered worse in his life. At least they’d be out chasing down an already-dead hydra instead of cooped up at Giles’ house. Who knew, maybe they’d stumble across something to kill.


In fact, however, the evening turned rather exciting, due to an unexpected fight with a pack of ghouls welling up from a broken-down crypt in the cemetery. Ghouls were slow-moving and stupid, not horribly dangerous although their bite was notoriously filthy, but they were rubbery and tough and hard as hell to kill – they either had to be beheaded or burned or pretty much cut in two at the waist – and a pack of them was a lot more troublesome than a single ghoul or two. Fighting them and chasing down the stragglers took up most of the rest of the night, and although Giles was worried about what might have driven the ghouls aboveground, nobody was ready to investigate the crumbling hole at the bottom of the crypt from which they’d emerged. Nobody even gave more than a weary sigh of relief when they found the hydra already dispatched, although Buffy managed one suspicious glance at Spike, who did his level best to look innocent. They all returned to Giles’ briefly to scrupulously disinfect any ghoul bites or scratches, then split up to stagger home in the dim predawn light.


Spike was glad the next day was a day off for Xander; between getting up early for his construction job, trying to spend some time with Spike, and fighting whatever nasties they encountered on what Spike cheerfully called his grocery shopping for blood, the mortal was short on sleep already. Spike, too, had been fighting his natural sleep schedule, trying to sleep at night when Xander slept in order to maximize their waking time together. But tomorrow – today, rather – was Saturday. They’d both sleep all day, then brave a hazard worse than Sunnydale’s cemetery.


The shopping mall.


Spike gave a little shiver, curled tightly around Xander, and wearily closed his eyes.



Email: Shadow