“No, no, no,” Spike scolded. “Put more back into it and less shoulder. Less up, more out. Losing all your thrust, you are.”


“I’m trying,” Willow said unhappily. She was becoming discouraged, and Spike could see why. She was trying, that was the hell of it. Her aim was decent, too. Only problem was, casting spells and turning book pages hadn’t built any strength in her arms and shoulders. Try as she might, the practice spear was barely sticking into the bales of hay Spike had set up behind the target. And he knew from personal experience that a body was a hell of a lot harder to stick something through than a bale of hay.


“Here, Willow.” Xander took the practice spear. “Let your whole upper body go with the throw. Like this.” He threw. His aim wasn’t quite as good as Willow’s – he missed the center of the target by a hair – but the spear impaled the bale of hay solidly, the point and most of the shaft emerging from the other side.


“Wow!” Tara said, impressed. “I don’t know why the Tooth didn’t choose you, Xander. You’re really good at that.”


Xander grinned, flexing his arm to make his bicep bulge.


“Just call me muscleman,” he chuckled. “All that heavy lifting on the job ought to be good for something.” Spike didn’t comment. There was a hell of a lot more behind that throw than construction muscles, but of course he wasn’t going to say that.


“Does it have to go all the way through like that?” Willow asked worriedly.


Spike smirked.


“Couldn’t hurt,” he said. “Actually, bit of good news. Dunno whether you actually have to skewer this Tiger in Red for the Tooth to work; as far as I know, just a scratch might do it – but then again, it might not, so I’d keep working for a good stick if I were you. Anyway, if our fellow is really biplanar, it’ll be easier to heave something through him seeing as he’s not quite solid here. So I expect once you work up the strength to stick those bales of hay good, you’ve probably got him nailed. Kind of like staking a vampire, only you get to do it from a nice safe distance.”


“Oh.” Willow retrieved the spear thoughtfully, then gave Spike a worried look. “Does that bother you? I mean, talking about staking vampires.”


Spike shrugged.


“Nah, why should it?” he said. “Long as you’re not practicing up for me, that is. I’ve done my share of ‘em. Be different if they were my fledglings or such, I guess. Strangers, nah, just a nice workout. Not much loyalty among vampires outside the bloodline; we stake each other all the time. Even inside the bloodline sometimes, over territory or power or a dozen other reasons. Hell, I’ve staked me own minions if they got too ambitious, or just too plain annoying.”


He retrieved the practice spear and walked around behind Willow, grinning to himself when she shivered at his proximity. He gave her the spear, wrapping his fingers over hers.


“Right, let’s go through this again.” He guided the spear back. “Relax, Pet, even if I was minded – not to mention able – to bite you, I’d scarcely have put a wooden stick in your hand, eh? Right, back like that. This time when you throw, follow through like this – right, you’ve got it. Try again. Back, then follow through. Good, you’ve got it.” He released Willow’s hand and stepped aside. “Now, this time you got to get mean, Red. Don’t look at that target and see bales of hay. See some mean scabby demon who’s gonna pull out Tara’s guts while she’s still alive and use ‘em for shoelaces unless you stop him, and you’ve got just the one chance. Now throw that thing like you mean it.”


Willow’s face flushed and she threw. This time the spear sank several inches into the hay.


“There you go, Red,” Spike applauded. “Keep practicing, you’ll work up a good arm.” He glanced at his watch; it was nearly midnight. “Gonna try that tracking spell tonight?”


Willow was panting. She shook her head.


“We wouldn’t have time tonight,” she said. “Tara and I have to get the spell ready, and you have to catch something for us to use it on, something that we know came out of one of the portals and will probably go back to it.” She gave Spike a worried glance. “And it’s got to be in good enough shape to go back.”


“And even then, we’ve got to have everybody ready to track it right away,” Tara added unhappily.


Spike knew what she meant; that meant Buffy. He couldn’t really argue, much as he would have liked to. Following some creature blindly down into the tunnels under Sunnydale, they were bound to run into a hell of a fight. The witches had spunk and meant well, but their sort of gifts weren’t much good when the fighting got hot and close, and Spike knew Xander would insist on leaping into the fray with him. Better to have the Slayer there. She could fight with the best of them, Spike couldn’t deny that, and two more fists between Xander and danger was a Good Thing.


Besides, there was always the possibility of a bonus, the Slayer getting slain by something. Spike had promised not to kill her, but he didn’t think even Xander at this point would shed too many tears if Buffy got torn limb from limb by some other nasty.


“So what are you guys doing for Christmas?” Willow asked, wiping her sweaty face fastidiously with a handkerchief.


Spike frowned.




“Yeah, big winter holiday, three days from now?” Willow teased. “Tara and I are leaving day after tomorrow and meeting up with a group of cyberpagans celebrating midwinter. Buffy’s off visiting her dad, so we can’t do anything about the tracking spell till she gets back anyway, so we thought we might actually do something fun for a change. Don’t you two have any plans?”


Bloody hell. Spike had Xander’s present – one of them, at least – stashed away, but in the excitement he’d completely forgotten the holiday. Bloody fucking hell. He meant to give the whelp a holiday to remember this year. Somebody had dropped a comment at one of the Scooby meetings about Xander having to camp out on the lawn every Christmas Eve, because of his worthless parents, no doubt. He wanted this Christmas, Xander’s first as Spike’s Consort, to be memorable. Special.


And now he had only three days – or nights, rather – left to make it so.


“You got Christmas Eve off?” he asked Xander, trying to sound casual. Hopefully the whelp would be working, giving him that much more time to get things set up.


“Uh, no,” Xander said apologetically, looking a little panicked himself. “They’ll probably let us go early, though. There probably won’t be enough people there to get anything done anyway.”


Fuck. Two and a half days, then. Not much time. And there wouldn’t be much chance for shopping. Xander would be home evenings, and by the time he went to bed, the shops would be closed. Well, thanks to Angel, Spike had a credit card and a telephone. He was starting to learn that very little in life couldn’t be procured with those.


On the drive home, Xander was uncharacteristically silent. Spike, lost in his own thoughts, took a while to notice, but at last he realized that Xander’s typical chatter was absent. Realizing that his Consort was probably brooding over past unhappy Christmases, Spike wondered how to cheer Xander up without giving too much of a hint of his plans.


Abruptly, however, it was Xander that opened the conversation.


“Spike . . . I guess vampires probably aren’t much for celebrating Christmas, but would you mind if we got a Christmas tree?”


“Hmm?” Spike raised his eyebrows. “If you like, Pet. Why should I mind, unless you’re planning to hang crucifixes and garlic all over the bloody thing?”


“Nah, I just – “ Xander shrugged a little uncomfortably. “It’s just, until this year I never really had much to celebrate at Christmas. And this year I do,” he added shyly.


Spike was touched.


“Then we’ll have one,” he said. “Want a real one? Live one, I mean?”


Xander frowned.


“Uh . . . fake, actually,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road. “You know, they aren’t really. Live, I mean. I mean, they look alive and everything, but they’re actually dying right there before your eyes. It’s kind of nasty to think of. There’s something kind of heartless about cutting a tree down, hauling it home, decorating it up while it’s dying, and then after the holiday’s over, you just throw it out to finish dying somewhere where you don’t have to look at it fall apart.”


Spike glanced at Xander and frowned. The whelp looked truly depressed now, and Spike had a pretty good idea of what was on his mind. He was thinking about his mortality versus Spike’s immortality. Did he see himself as a Christmas tree, something Spike would enjoy for a short time and then discard when he began to wilt? Well, it wasn’t an unreasonable thought; there had been times back at the beginning of their relationship when Spike had thought of Xander as temporary or disposable.


Spike left Xander to his thoughts until they were home. As soon as Xander hung up his jacket, however, Spike led him to the bathroom.


“C’mere,” he said, drawing Xander in front of the mirror. “Want you to see something. Look there, tell me what you see, right?”


Xander shrugged uncomfortably.


“Me,” he said shortly. “No reflection of you. Why?”


“Missin’ the point. Hang on a mo.” Spike ducked into the bedroom and pulled out their box of pictures. It was getting pretty full now, considering their love of camera play. He picked out one he’d taken that first time, while Xander’s bruises were still slightly visible, and carried it into the bathroom. “Here, look at this, then look in the mirror. Tell me what you see.”


Xander glanced at the photograph and bit his lip.


“Well, the bruises – “


“Sod the bruises, look at you,” Spike instructed. “Look at your color. The texture of your skin. Your hair.”


Xander glanced from the picture to the mirror. Looked again.


“I guess I look healthier,” he said, shrugging again. “Fatter. I don’t know what you want me to say. It’s a Polaroid, not exactly fantastic photography.”


Spike sighed exasperatedly.


“Your new clothes, Pet. Had to size you up, didn’t we?” He ripped open Xander’s shirt abruptly, exposing his chest and abdomen, smooth healthy skin over hard muscle. “Look. You see any fat there?”


“Uh, no.”


“Put on muscle awful fast and easy, haven’t you?” Spike pressed. “Had any colds lately? Flu? Sore throats? How about headaches? Between work, patrolling, and shagging, you don’t sleep more’n four, five hours a night most nights. Feeling draggy, run down?”


“Uh. That’s a no.” Xander turned slightly, glancing uncertainly at Spike. “Spike, what are you telling me? That your blood – “


“Good for what ails you, innit?” Spike said, meeting Xander’s eyes squarely. “Heals you when you’re hurt, makes you stronger, keeps you healthy, lets you shag like a demon time after time . . . powerful stuff, innit, to do all that?”


“Yeah, uh, we’ve been through this, haven’t we?” Xander said puzzledly. “What’re you getting at here, Spike?”


“Vampires can see it, smell it, sense it, you know,” Spike continued. “The dying. It’s in the blood. Cells dying faster’n they can be replaced, systems slowing down, getting less efficient at maintaining themselves as things go wrong, as the life leaks out of the system. So tell me this, Pet: What happens if that don’t happen? What if something puts the life back into the system faster’n it’s lost? What happens if cells repair themselves, systems stay strong and healthy, maybe even better than before? What if it just kept on going like that? You tell me.”


Xander was silent a long moment, looking confused; then his eyes widened, his mouth opening slightly.


“I guess it wouldn’t – I wouldn’t – “ He swallowed hard. “Spike, are you trying to tell me I’m – uh – “


“You’re not immortal,” Spike said frankly. “You can die. You could fall off that building you’re building or some moron could drop a girder on your head. Some demon could rip out your liver and eat it up. Hell, you could walk out the door and be struck by lightning, I won’t say it couldn’t happen, this is bloody Sunnydale. But no Consort ever died of old age or ‘natural causes’, not unless they were cast aside or left an’ stopped getting the blood. I’ve heard of Consorts being kept for decades and not aging none. Now, that’s the best I can tell you, ‘cause most usually Consorts either get killed or turned before nearly that long. But far’s I know, failing unnatural causes, there’s no end in sight, Pet.”


Xander was still staring openmouthed. Spike gripped his shoulders hard, hard enough for Xander to feel the bite of his fingers.


“When I said forever, I meant forever,” he said. “You think I’d let you go? Not hardly. Way I see it, there’s three ways it can go. One, I turn you and we get Red to stick your soul on nice and tight. Two, we find some other way to make you immortal; could happen, it’s fucking Sunnydale, innit? Three, we take a chance on my blood keeping you young and healthy, and if later on it starts looking like that’s not working long-term, then we rethink our choices. But I’m not letting you go, Pet, and the fact of the matter is that if you don’t make a choice, someday – someday – I will. And that’s the truth. You’re mine, and what’s mine I keep.”


Xander shivered, but Spike smelt no fear about the boy, and the chocolate brown eyes darkened with arousal and something else, some nameless hunger that was not entirely of the body.


“If I’m yours – “ Xander murmured, licking dry lips. “If your blood’s running through my veins, does that make you mine too?”


“Mmmmm.” Spike smiled slowly. “Sure does, Pet. Bond works both ways, don’t it? Think I could ever find me another Consort who could do the like of that little knife-tease you done, tie me to the bed and shag me crosseyed, set me broken leg and fight demons back to back with me? Never found another in two centuries. If I was the breathing sort, I wouldn’t be holding my breath on finding another.”


Spike pulled Xander back against him hard, held him tight. He twined his fingers through Xander’s hair tenderly, then abruptly pulled his head back, exposing his throat. Xander moaned softly – still no fear! – and sheer arousal brought out Spike’s game face. He licked the taut length of Xander’s throat, let Xander feel the very tips of his fangs trace the vein throbbing beneath the skin.


“You think I wouldn’t turn you in a second?” he purred. “What do you think’s holding me back, eh? Fear of what the others might do? Don’t make me laugh. Think I’m afraid how the demon would change you? Not hardly. Been there, done that. Might change you, might not – and if it did, hell, Pet, might be a change for the better. ‘Course, Willow would probably insist on sticking you with your bloody soul, but that’s all right too. Wouldn’t much matter, would it? Either way I’d have you, immortal and my Childe, and a hell of a lot harder to destroy.”


Xander moaned again. One hand came up, caressed Spike’s cheek, cupped the back of his head. Pulled Spike’s mouth more firmly against his throat.


“Why haven’t you, then?” Xander whispered.


“’Cause you don’t want it,” Spike whispered back. “Not yet, at least. I love you, and you don’t want it. That’s why. But one way or another, I’m keeping you. This tree’s staying green forever, you got that?”


Xander shuddered, and Spike smelled the dark musk of his arousal.


“Got it,” Xander gasped.


“Want to show you something.” Still holding Xander tightly, Spike pushed the bathroom door shut with his foot. He turned Xander so they were facing the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. He’d put the mirror up for Xander, trying to encourage the whelp to see how good he looked in his new clothes and hopefully bolster his pitiful self-image.


Well, if this didn’t do it, nothing would.


“Look at you,” Spike said. He stroked Xander’s flat stomach, dipped under the open edges of his shirt to thumb his nipples. “Nothing there but you, touched by me. Loved by me. Look at the heat in your eyes, the glow on your skin. That’s my blood in you, my touch on you. Hot and hard and so fucking alive. That’s what I see when I look at you.”


Spike flicked open the button on Xander’s jeans, slid the zipper down. He pushed jeans and boxers down impatiently, forcing Xander to hastily toe his sneakers off so he could step out of them. Some mortals would look idiotic in a ripped-open shirt and socks and nothing else; Xander just looked that much more naked. That much hotter.


“Look at my Consort,” Spike purred in Xander’s ear. “Look how fine he is. Strong shoulders, good broad chest – there’s a man who can take my weight in bed and give back as good as he gets. Strong arms to hold me tight when I want to be held, or make it enough challenge to be fun when I want to play rough. Hard, flat belly – don’t I love to run my tongue down here, right down this little trail of hair?”


Xander was panting now, trembling, but he made no effort to pull free of Spike’s grip, made no effort to raise his hands from where they hung at his sides.


“Look at my Consort’s cock, how long and thick it is. Big enough to fill me up good, mouth or ass, just as I please, but not so huge that it’s more work than fun to get it in either end. I like it that my Consort’s cut and I’m not. Like the difference. Makes it interesting, don’t it? Look how hard my Consort is, how ready. Just as hard and strong here as he is everywhere else. Looks like an angel, fucks like a demon, that’s my Consort. And the taste of him. Almost as fine as his blood, that is.” Spike slid his fingers up Xander’s cock, gathered the welling pre-come, and licked his fingers. Xander couldn’t see the gesture in the mirror, of course, but he could hear, and he shuddered.


“Look at those strong thighs,” Spike continued relentlessly. “Strong enough to grip my hips tight. He’s tough, my Consort – can take it rough or gentle, and give it back the same. Love to see those thighs spread wide for me. Makes me want to nip my way all up the inside of ‘em. And you should see the arse on my Consort. A work of art, that is. A thing of beauty. But you’re not gonna see it right now, ‘cause it’s going to be too busy.”


He pushed Xander almost roughly to his hands and knees on the bathroom rug, following him down, detouring only long enough to snatch up the little tube of waterproof lube from its place on the rim of the tub – Bloody hell, didn’t we have fun with that? Nearly swamped the place, too. Stuff’s a bit on the goopy side, but never mind, it’ll do.


Xander was glancing over his shoulder at Spike, and the heat in that gaze made him shudder, but he didn’t want Xander looking at him.


“No, Pet,” he said, grabbing Xander’s hair again and turning his face forward by main force. “Look in the mirror. Want you to see what I see when I look at you. Not me, only you. The beauty of you, the strength of you, the heat of you. Just look.”


No kisses, no tender caresses, not this time. Spike prepared his lover hastily, Xander groaning and pushing back against the slick fingers. Yeah, no need for extended foreplay tonight. Xander needed this just as much as Spike did. More.


Spike withdrew his fingers, substituted his cock, and slid into his Consort in one firm thrust. Xander let out a primal howl and pushed back just as hard, impaling himself violently on Spike’s length. Spike allowed himself and Xander a few deep, hard thrusts before he pulled Xander up and back, still inside that boiling heat, Xander’s back arched against Spike’s chest now.


“Look,” Spike growled, pumping Xander’s erection in time with his thrusts. “See yourself giving me everything. See how you look when I take it all – your ass, your pleasure, your love, your blood. It’s all there in your eyes, all naked and hot and alive. All mine.”


And it was there, laid bare as Xander’s body, and briefly Spike wished just once he could see himself too, see if the heat and emotion in his own eyes was half as intense as that of his Consort. But he couldn’t, too bad, and he had to lose the spectacle of his Consort, too, as he pulled Xander’s head back and sank his fangs into his Consort’s throat, barely maintaining enough presence of mind to miss the main artery.


Xander was screaming, and Xander was coming, but Spike barely noticed it – hell, barely noticed his own orgasm – as he drowned in the maelstrom of his Consort’s blood/ecstasy/pain/love, so much, so fucking much, more than Spike had ever had or ever dreamed of having, almost more than he could bear. And he might have drowned, might have taken too much or, hell, maybe given too much, who knows, if Xander hadn’t given one final howl of pleasure and passed out in his arms.


Spike gently withdrew, fangs and cock, and lowered Xander to the rug, turning him over on his back. His mortal was a beautiful mess, come and sweat and blood, and Spike was sorely tempted to just start licking him clean. But that would start the game all over again, and Xander had had a busy night already, and he needed some sleep before work tomorrow. So Spike wet a washcloth with warm water and gently sponged Xander clean, frowning slightly as he did so. Xander was pale, and no wonder; Spike had bitten harder and drunk deeper than he really should have.


In fact it took a few moments before Xander stirred, long enough for Spike to begin to worry, but when Xander’s eyes opened, they were full of love and wonder.


“Wow,” he whispered. “I passed out.”


“Sure did, Pet, and no wonder,” Spike chuckled ruefully. “Here, have a bit of a pick-me-up.” He bit into his wrist and offered it, smiling as Xander unhesitatingly pulled Spike’s wrist to his mouth. Yes, Spike’s blood was working in Xander more than the mortal realized, but that was probably to the good; didn’t want the whelp panicking, after all.


Xander let go of Spike’s wrist reluctantly when the bite healed, licking his lips to get the last drops.


“ . . . good,” he murmured drowsily.


Spike grinned broadly.


“Not half, Pet,” he said affectionately. He bent down to kiss Xander, exploring the mortal’s mouth deeply, savoring their mingled flavors. He pulled back slightly, enough to see Xander’s eyes. “Liked that, then, ey?”


Xander flushed but nodded.


“Yeah,” he whispered. “You made me feel – “ He blushed even more deeply.


“Feel how, Pet?” Spike insisted, combing back Xander’s sweaty hair with his fingers.


Xander was silent for a long moment; then, almost inaudibly, he whispered, “Special. Beautiful.”


“You are,” Spike said simply. “Always were.” He sighed. “Come on, Pet. Floor’s hard and you’ve got work tomorrow. Stagger just a few steps and we’ll cuddle some more, and you can sleep.”


Stagger was right; although the bite mark on Xander’s throat had healed with the infusion of Spike’s blood, and his color was normal again, Xander was plainly exhausted, and they fell into bed in a comfortable tangle of limbs, Xander already more than half asleep. Spike sat up for a while, watching his Consort sleep. Xander had had a good drink of his blood tonight; that and the exhaustion afterward meant the blood was having a profound effect. Already Spike could see the difference – a finer texture and tautness to Xander’s skin, more of that vital glow. Spike would have to be more careful in the future. A few more exchanges like that and Xander would be setting off Buffy’s instincts, and neither Spike nor Xander were ready for that confrontation – not quite yet. Better if it could wait until after the current crisis, when maybe Spike could persuade Xander to leave town if the choice came down to that versus a dead Buffy or dusted Spike.


Silently Spike picked up their digital camera and took a picture of sleeping Xander, then reached for the box of photographs. Picking out a few in sequence, he shook his head, smiling ruefully. Xander couldn’t see the difference until it was pointed out, but he looked in the mirror every day. To Spike the changes were glaringly obvious. Sooner or later somebody else had to notice. He was amazed they hadn’t already.


Then again, was it so surprising? The others had been ignoring Xander for years. They’d missed signs of abuse which, in retrospect, seemed to Spike just as obvious as this. Nobody had noticed Xander’s ring; hell, nobody had even commented on Xander’s drastic change in clothing! So what if the whelp looked uncommonly fine and strong of late? If they didn’t notice him hurt, why should they notice him healthy? The thought was both relieving and infuriating.


Spike put the photos back in the box and slid down beside Xander, smiling when the sleeping man instinctively moved closer.


“Never mind them, Pet,” he murmured softly, wrapping his arms around his lover. “Gonna take good care of you. No tree on the trash-heap for you, no, love. Healthy and strong forever, that’s you. Forever young and strong.”


Xander sighed in his sleep and threw one arm over Spike’s chest. Spike glanced at the ring on Xander’s finger and smiled. He couldn’t have chosen better if he had picked the ring out for his Consort. Darkness and light. Demon and mortal.


‘Always together’.


Yes, Pet, I believe that’ll do.

Email: Shadow