“So what’d you do, forget something?” Spike asked, turning where Xander pointed.


“Ummmm . . . not exactly. Just need to stop for a few minutes, okay?” Xander said, rather anxiously.


“Sure, Pet.” Spike gazed sideways at the mortal, a little worried. Xander had been nervous ever since he got home from work. Very nervous. Downright jumpy, in fact, not to mention preoccupied. He’d had to repack his suitcase twice, having forgotten his boxers the first time and his socks the second.


Spike could understand Xander’s worry. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to meeting with Angel himself. Still, he wasn’t really worried that Angel would actually try to stake him, and he thought he’d managed to pass some of that assurance along to Xander. But Xander was still jumpy, and now he’d made this rather bizarre request to stop at the construction site on their way out of town. Maybe there was a problem at his job. Spike hoped not; it would mean some under-the-counter dealings with Lissik, which would be hard to keep hidden from Xander. But Xander seemed to genuinely like what he was doing, and it looked like he might actually have a future in it, and if somebody was making trouble for him, Spike was ready and willing to take care of the matter. Or have it taken care of, if necessary, he added mentally, once more cursing the fucking Initiative who’d stuck him with this chip.


A security guard stopped the car at the site entrance, inspected Xander’s employee ID, then waved them through. Xander showed Spike where to park the car. Most of the workers had gone home, but there were still several people on the site, including a middle-aged man who waved to Xander from the second floor of the building framework.


“Hey, kid!” the man yelled down. “Clocking some overtime?”


“Nah!” Xander yelled back up. “Hi, Mark! Just wanted to show my friend around a little. Care if we go around back?”


“Okay, but get your friend a hard hat. And be careful back there, it’s a mess. We’re running cleanup tomorrow.”


“Will do! Thanks, Boss!”


Xander led a bemused Spike into a trailer and grabbed a hard hat for each of them, then led him around the building skeleton to the far section, where one of the old buildings that had occupied the property had been demolished. Spike was puzzled, but more worried; Xander seemed to get more tense with every moment, although apparently the problem hadn’t been with his job, as Spike had originally thought, based on the reactions of the man Xander had spoken to.


“C’mere a minute, okay?” Xander said. He led Spike over to two big stacks of concrete blocks, which served as a stand of sorts for a big metal disc suspended from the pulley of a crane set up nearby. Xander leaned against one of the brick piles. “I need to talk to you for a minute.”


Spike shrugged.


“Sure, Pet,” he said. “Why here, though?”


“I just – “ Xander flushed. “Um, Spike? Those things you said last night, about the chip and everything – did you mean it? I mean, are you really, really sure?”


Spike chuckled.


“Is that what this is?” he said wryly. “Think I’ve got morning-after cold feet, eh? Well, I got news for you, Pet. The feet are cold, sure, along with the rest of me, but that don’t mean I changed my mind. Promised, didn’t I?” He ran a fingertip down Xander’s cheek. “Wasn’t just pillow talk. I know you don’t have any reason to believe it, but a promise means something to me, Pet.”


“I hope so.” Xander’s dark eyes were intense. “Spike, do you trust me?”


Spike shrugged again.


“’Course, Pet,” he said. “What d’you mean? I’d’ve been dust if it hadn’t been for you, time or two now, innit? Hard not to trust somebody who’s stuffed your guts back in where they belong.” He offered a grin, which Xander didn’t return.


“Okay.” Xander took a deep breath. “Then I need you to, um, do something for me. Would you mind – wow, this is going to sound weird. I need you to – shit. Okay, let’s just do it this way. Take off everything you’re wearing, okay?”


Spike’s eyebrows shot up.


“Got a bit of a fantasy going, have we?” he grinned, already peeling off his duster. “Bold, Pet, very bold, but what happens if your boss catches us?”


“Then I’m in a lot of trouble,” Xander said under his breath. He gave Spike a weak smile. “Just humor me, okay?”


Spike snickered and stripped. Now that he thought about it, the idea was pretty damned hot – mixture of roleplaying and exhibitionism all in one! Hard Men in Hard Hats, Volume I – he stifled a chuckle. Xander collected everything up and rolled it up in the duster.


“Ummm . . . “ Xander’s eyes raked Spike’s naked body up and down, but to Spike’s surprise Xander still looked more worried than horny. “Oh! Watch.” He held out his hand.


Spike shrugged and took off his watch, a bit uneasy now.


“Right, Pet. So what’s up here?”


“Just trust me, okay?” Xander was almost pleading now. “Back up a little bit – yeah, under there. That way my boss won’t see you – us.”


“Ooookay.” Spike backed up, glancing up warily at the heavy metal disc above him. Nah, it looked secure enough on the cement blocks; wasn’t likely to drop. “Now what?”


“Now – “ Xander took a deep breath. “Wait right there. Just stay there, okay? I’ll be back in just a minute. Just stay right there and don’t move an inch.”


Xander scampered off with Spike’s clothes and belongings. Spike frowned and crossed his arms. Xander was behaving more than a bit peculiarly tonight, and that bothered him. He’d been fine the night before, other than all the questions, and Spike had found those understandable. Sounded like something had happened at work to set him off, maybe. But he obviously hadn’t been fired. Spike would have to pry a little when Xander got back.


Spike cocked his head at the growing humming sound above him. He glanced up distrustfully at the disc. It wasn’t moving, just humming slightly. No sign that it might fall; still, Spike had no desire to become a vampire crepe.


Chink! Plink! Spike jumped slightly. A couple of small objects had just shot up from the ground beside him and collided with the disc. Spike glanced around, but nothing else happened. Then the humming above him abruptly cut off and –


“Owww!” Spike rubbed his head where something had hit it. He reached down and picked up the offending projectile – a small rusty bolt that had apparently fallen down on him. “Fuck, Xander, some bloody fantasy you’ve got going here.”


“Sorry,” Xander said, appearing around the corner of the cement block piles. He stopped beside Spike, looking, if anything, even more anxious than before.


“So what now?” Spike said patiently. He was willing to humor his lover, but this was getting boring.


“Now . . . “ Xander took a deep breath and held out his clenched fist. “Squeeze my hand, okay?”


Spike sighed exaggeratedly, took Xander’s hand and gave it a good squeeze, not hard enough to make the bones creak – he didn’t want a bloody migraine – but good and hard nonetheless, raising his eyebrows when Xander whimpered slightly and bit his lip.


“Okay,” Spike said, releasing Xander’s hand. “So what was that about, eh?”


Xander took another deep breath.


“This,” he said, opening his hand –


-- and showing Spike the thumb tack driven into his palm.


Spike yelped and grabbed his head.


And froze.


And waited.


And finally, his voice shaking, said, “What the FUCK?”


Xander pulled the thumb tack out of his hand, wincing. He handed Spike the thumb tack and held out his hand again.


“Go ahead,” he said. “Poke me again.”


Spike didn’t even bother with a retort. With trembling fingers, he took Xander’s hand in his own. Gingerly he poked Xander’s fingertip with the tack.










“Ow!” This time a ruby bead of blood welled up, twin to the one on Xander’s palm from the first wound.




“Bloody bleeding hell,” Spike whispered, staring. He raised his eyes to Xander’s. “What the fuck happened?”


Xander smiled tremulously.


“Electromagnet,” he said. “Remember when you first brought me home, and I went over to Willow’s for the afternoon? Well, we were talking, see, and I asked her about your chip, what might get rid of it or make it not work or whatever. I mean, I put it in the hypothetical context of, like, I’m living with Spike, what if he figures out something to do about it? How much danger is there that he’ll find a way to get rid of it?


“So anyway, Willow told me all about computer chips,” Xander continued, averting his eyes. “And it turns out there’s all kinds of ways to screw them up. Electricity’s the most common, but short of giving you like electroshock treatments or something I couldn’t figure out a safe way to make that work – without maybe frying your brain in the process. Extreme heat and cold can do it too, but that’s got the same problem. But then there’s magnetism. Computer chips are real sensitive to that, which is why you have to be careful what you put on or around your computer, or you can wipe the whole thing. And anyway, we had this lifting crane here on the site with an electromagnet, and we were using it to load up debris and stuff. And I thought if that wasn’t strong enough to zap your chip, probably nothing would be, and – “ Xander took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew it worked. That way you wouldn’t, you know, get your hopes up and be disappointed. Are you real mad at me?”


Spike blinked. Mad? He was too fucking confused to be angry. So the chip was gone? Or not gone, just not working anymore. And Xander had been the one to neutralize it. And Xander had known how to do that for some time and hadn’t told him.


Trusts you with his life but not those of others. Right. You fucking old lizard, you and your riddles. Spike heard a sound and realized it was laughter, a short, barking laugh. Further, he realized it came from him. And it felt bloody good, so he laughed again. And then some more.


“Ummm? Spike?” Spike opened his eyes, still laughing, to meet Xander’s worried gaze. “Umm, waiting here to find out if I’m (a) in danger of imminent death and/or torture, (b) kicked out of home and bed, or (c) forgiven?”


Spike threw back his head and laughed again – hell, bloody howled with laughter. Just for good measure he grabbed Xander and swung him around, laughing harder. Then pulled the worried mortal close and kissed him hard enough to bruise those pouty lips, and he could bruise those lips, and he did it again just for bloody good measure.


“Uh, feels like forgiven, maybe?” Xander said tentatively.


“Forgiven?” Spike grinned broadly. “Pet, the two things I want to do right now are spank you till you can’t sit, and fuck you till you can’t sit.” He grabbed Xander and spun him again. “Know what? I love you, whelp! Hear me? I – love – you!!!”


“Uh – thanks, and thanks for announcing it to the world at large,” Xander panted when Spike let him down again. “I take it this means you’re not going to hurt me?”


Spike abruptly pulled Xander close, kissed him hard and deep again, then licked the length of his throat.


“Can’t promise that, Pet,” he breathed against the hot skin. “But I promise you this: I’m gonna hurt you in ways so hot and so good you’ll be getting hard at the memory for the rest of your life.” He’d slid into game face without even knowing it, and it was dizzying, the scent of Xander’s blood pumping fierce and hot under his skin, the hot hands that strove not to push him away, but to pull him closer, and he licked the sweaty skin again, just for good measure.


“Go on,” Xander whispered. “Go on, you can, you can mark me now and I want you to, please, okay? Please.”


Spike groaned and shuddered, bending his head, his fangs touching hot eager flesh and –


Oh fuck.


Spike groaned again and pulled back slightly, resting his forehead on Xander’s shoulder.


“What’s the matter?” Xander’s hands pulled at Spike’s shoulders. “Don’t stop, come on, want you to – “


“Can’t, Pet,” Spike sighed miserably.


WHAT?” Xander pushed back, gave Spike a little shake. “Of course you can! We just established that! Do we have to do the thumb tack thing again? Come on already! Ready here, all nerved up, good to go!”


“Xander.” Spike grabbed Xander’s shoulders and gave him a shake. “We’re going where tonight?”


Xander frowned.


“To LA.”




“To ask Angel about this Red Tiger thing.”


“Tiger in Red,” Spike corrected. “And we’re visiting who again?”


“Angel,” Xander said confusedly. Then he realized, and groaned. “Oh, fuck. Angel.”


“You damn well better not,” Spike chuckled. “But right, Pet. Angel. Who will know right away that I’ve marked you. And then what happens?”


“Uh – “ Xander swallowed. “Bad things?”


“I think we’re safe to say that,” Spike said, nodding. He sighed.


“But you can defend yourself now, right?” Xander said worriedly. “I mean, I know you’ve got your vest and all, but still, that’s why I did it tonight, really, because I wanted you to be able to defend yourself. I mean, Cordy hates you, and Wesley, and I don’t know about Gunn, and there’s street gangs in LA and everything.”


“Yeah, I can defend myself,” Spike said patiently. “You gonna tell me it’s okay for me to kill Cordy or Wesley when they come at me with stakes, hmm?”


“Oh,” Xander said in a small voice. “Didn’t think of that.” He sighed. “I guess we wait, huh?”


“Guess so, Pet,” Spike said reluctantly. They both sighed simultaneously, exchanging resigned looks.


Spike dressed and they walked back to the car, both silent; they were hardly out of Sunnydale before Xander laid his head on Spike’s thigh and fell asleep, having probably exhausted himself worrying about the whole chip thing. That suited Spike; gave him some time alone with his thoughts while he drove.


Free again. Free to kill, free to maim, free to bathe in a river of human blood.


And not free. Bound only by his word, true. It was also true that he lied pretty much at will. But he’d meant it when he made his promise to Xander, meant it for reasons that hadn’t changed in the past hour. He could accept the boundaries imposed by the promise he’d made, or he could give up Xander. And right now giving up Xander didn’t even sound like an option. He’d tasted freedom and solitude when Dru had left him. He didn’t want to be alone again. Freedom wasn’t worth it.


All right, it was frustrating to have those limitations, but even so, it was still an improvement. He could defend himself now. He could command the respect he was due as a master vampire. And he hadn’t promised Xander he wouldn’t hurt people. Just that he wouldn’t kill them. All right, that should be enough leverage to deal with anybody who wanted to test or annoy him.


He could finally truly claim his Consort, not to mention deflower the most gorgeous arse he’d probably ever seen, and those thoughts returned the broad grin to his face. He was fretting too much. Keep this up and I can start giving Angel brooding lessons, eh? I’m no worse off, lots better in some ways, and besides, it’s not forever and I know it. Either I give up on the whelp and can go do what I please, or I turn him and get a Childe who has to do what I say. And in the meantime I’ve got a hot, beautiful Consort – or I will, anyway. And won’t it be a chuckle next time Buffy’s working my nerves, knowing I could wipe that smirk right off her face, knowing she’s got no idea? Now that’s a good one!


The drive to LA didn’t take long, not as long as Spike would have liked. Driving along in the convertible, Xander’s warm cheek against his thigh, cool night wind ruffling his hair, Spike felt good. He felt . . . at peace. Happy.


Because of Xander. Because of my Consort-to-be. If I get to claim him before something kills him, that is. Like this bloody Tooth of Ryla shit. God, it’s good to be out of Sunnyhell, away from all that drama. Imagine if we really could get away from it. Just me and Xander someplace else. Fucking anyplace else.


Xander stirred.


“There yet?” he murmured sleepily.


“Almost. Turnoff’s coming up.” Spike reached down and stroked Xander’s hair. Suddenly he blurted out, “What if we just go on?”


“Hmm?” Xander yawned, stretched.


“What if we don’t take the turnoff. What if we don’t go back to Sunnydale.” Spike spoke fast now, letting the words spill out. “Suppose we just go on, find someplace. I’ve got money now, you’ve got some too. Suppose we get the hell away from Sunnyhell and everything to do with it and make a start someplace else.”


Xander sat up and gave Spike an incredulous expression.


“What? You mean just . . . take off?”


“Yeah. Just take off,” Spike said, eyes on the road. “Or we could travel, see the world. London. Paris. Dru loved Paris. No demons and Initiative and Slayers and a new armageddon coming up every month. Bit of breathing room, a few laughs – “


“Spike, where’s this coming from?” Xander asked, perplexed. “You want to avoid Angel that much?”


“Got nothing to do with Angel,” Spike snapped, exasperated. “Why does everybody think every fucking thing revolves around Angel?”


“Okay, okay, not about Angel,” Xander said quickly. “I guess . . . there’s not much in Sunnydale for you anymore, is there? I mean, to start with, you came there to kill Buffy, and then there’s been other things to keep you there – looking for the Gem of Amara, or trying to find a way to get the Initiative chip out and things. I guess – I guess there’s nothing for you there, huh?”


Spike glanced at him sideways.


“’Cept you, and you don’t want to go, do you?” he asked quietly.


“Not now,” Xander admitted. “Not while there might be serious trouble. I couldn’t leave them to cope with that.”


Spike grinned unwillingly.


“Pet, it’s the Hellmouth. When is there ever not serious trouble?”


“There’s times in between,” Xander protested. He smiled shyly. “Maybe after this latest problem, we could, um, take a vacation. Just you and me?”


Spike sighed.


“I’d like that,” he said briefly. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it would do. And he couldn’t explain to Xander that he wanted the mortal out of Sunnydale, out of danger. If his own fragile mortality wasn’t enough to keep the boy from charging headlong into every dangerous situation that came along, Spike’s overprotectiveness wasn’t going to do it either. All he could do was protect the boy the best he could – keep him safe when he could, and offer him the added strength and durability and speed of Spike’s blood.


There was something else that worried him, too: Angel, although not for the reason Xander thought. Spike was pretty sure he could mend his bridges with the vampire who for all intents and purposes was his Sire. But he wanted more. He wanted to tell Angel about Xander, wanted Angel to know and understand and approve of Spike taking Xander as his Consort.


Not bloody likely. He actually might stake me over that. Or just tell Buffy, which would’ve been about the same thing before Xander fried the bloody chip. Spike shook his head angrily.


It wasn’t bloody fair. As Spike’s Sire, Angel should have acknowledged Spike’s Consort – given his blessing, as it were – and extended his own protection to his Childe’s Consort. Sure, it was only a formality, but it was Spike’s right, damn it! It was Spike’s right as a master vampire to take a Consort. It was his right to have his Sire acknowledge the bond between them and welcome Spike’s Consort into the family. But because Angelus had to go and get himself stuck with a friggin’ soul, Spike was more likely to get staked for his trouble. It just wasn’t bloody fair.


Angel’s building. Spike sighed and parked.


“We’re here,” he said glumly.


Xander looked as unenthused as Spike felt.


“Do we just go up to the office?”


Spike considered, then shook his head.


“Uh-uh. Don’t know whether Angel’s told the others we’re coming. He might not, might want to keep things peaceful. Anyway, office wouldn’t be open right now, don’t imagine – it’s almost midnight. Don’t fancy a stroll through the sewers – just cleaned the boots, after all – so I’ll just ring the pouf up and tell ‘im to let us in. That way if he’s got anybody around, he can send ‘em off.”


Spike held out his hand, and Xander handed over his cell phone. Spike glanced down at the display, grinning at the “ROAM” signal that meant he was going to rack up roaming charges, and smirked as he punched in Angel’s private phone number. The cell phone had been given to Xander – or rather been given to Spike to give to Xander – by Giles. In the aftermath of the “Where the hell have you been” dispute in the parking lot, Tara had apparently come up with the helpful suggestion that all the Scoobies have cell phones so they could always be reached. Giles had pointedly told Spike that although he had set up the accounts and therefore had to pay the first month’s bill, after that first month Xander would be responsible for his own charges. Xander had, with difficulty, prevented Spike from immediately dialing Bangladesh or Australia.


Apparently anticipating Spike’s irresponsibility with a cell phone, not to mention the small fact that Spike didn’t legally exist, Giles had purchased a pocket pager for the vampire instead. Spike had sneered and handed it back.


“Phone’s one thing,” he’d growled. “But you’re not keeping me on a bloody leash.”


Whereupon Buffy had suggested that they cut off Spike’s packet blood supply unless Spike carried – and responded to – the pager. Whereupon Spike, still chipped, had threatened to sneak into the Magic Box some night and piss on all the books. Whereupon Giles had hurriedly intervened and said that since Xander had the cell phone, and Spike and Xander had been patrolling together, he didn’t see any need for Spike to carry the pager.


Angel answered on the third ring.




“’S me,” Spike said briefly. “We’re right out front. Want to let us in?”


Brief hesitation.


“I’ll meet you at the door.”


Spike half expected Angel to keep them waiting, but surprisingly they’d barely walked up to the front door when Angel appeared. For a moment he just gazed at Spike, those calm eyes always giving Spike the unsettling impression that he was being weighed, measured and found wanting. Spike had to fight the instinct to tilt his head back. He was long past baring his throat to his Sire.


Silently Angel opened the door, standing aside.


“Come in, Will, Xander,” he said levelly, his eyes still on Spike, and Spike got the message. By inviting Spike in, Angel was agreeing to at least a temporary truce. He was telling Spike that there was at least the hope of a resolution of their differences – if Spike behaved himself. Spike unclenched his hands, surprised at himself; he hadn’t realized he’d been so tense, fearing Angel’s rejection.


Angel gave Xander a long look as he entered, then sniffed. Frowned. Sniffed again. He turned to Spike.


“No bags? Planning to drive back tonight?” he asked Spike calmly, but his eyes sent a different message – We need to talk.


Spike shrugged uncomfortably.


“Giles got us a hotel room,” he said.


“No,” Angel said flatly. “I want you where I can keep an eye on you. You’ll stay here. I have an empty room – there’s no bed, but I’ll get a couple of cots.”


Spike scowled.


“No thanks,” he said. “Brought our air mattress.” At Xander’s surprised expression, he shrugged. “Hotel rooms have windows. Figured I might have to doss down in the bathroom if we couldn’t get it dark enough.”


“Fine,” Angel said, his eyes still on Xander. “Let’s get your things.”


Angel helped them carry in their bags: Suitcase; patched air mattress; cooler with blood, beer, pop and snack foods; bag of books. Spike admired Angel’s setup as he followed the older vampire down the stairs. Good security, good sun protection. He could go straight up to his office, do business during daylight hours if he wanted – and apparently he did – without danger. It occurred to Spike that if he took the notion, he could do something similar with their building, although it was a lot bigger and would be harder to secure. Still, it was a halfway decent thought. Would give him something to do with his spare time, if Xander wouldn’t leave Sunnydale permanently.


He was amused by Angel’s basement flat. God, the pouf’s living like a bloody monk still. Barely any furniture, nothing comfortable, nothing stylish, just dark and plain and broody-looking. All that’s missing is a bloody hair shirt and a flail for him to whip himself twice a day.


“Wow,” Xander said, glancing around. “About as homey as my old basement.”


“Guess we used the same interior decorator, then,” Angel said humorlessly. He opened a door, indicating an empty room with a shabby dresser in it and a few boxes stacked in one corner. “Will you both be all right in here? Or – “ He glanced at Xander. “There’s the couch.”


Xander blushed crimson, and Spike intervened before Xander started stammering out some idiotic cover story – or, worse, agreed to the couch.


“We’ll be fine here,” he said.


“Mmm.” Angel gave Spike another long look – long enough that Spike wasn’t surprised in the least when Angel said, “Xander, why don’t you go ahead and inflate the air mattress, find yourself something to drink? I think Spike and I need to go up to the roof for a little talk.”


Xander’s eyes widened and he glanced uncertainly at Spike.


“Um – I – “


“’S all right, Pet,” Spike said, giving Xander a reassuring grin. “Make yourself comfortable and I’ll be back soon.”


“Uh – okay,” Xander said hesitantly. He glanced down at Spike’s chest and back up again, and Spike knew he was taking comfort from the knowledge that Spike had put his vest back on. Spike didn’t tell Xander that the vest wouldn’t do him much good if Angel simply ripped his head off and threw it at him.


Angel held the door open, glancing at Spike pointedly, and Spike sighed and nodded.


Time to face the music.


Email: Shadow