orchidluv (orchidluv) wrote in bloodclaim,
orchidluv
orchidluv
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NTS, Book 2, Chapter 7 (all)

Nothing the Same, Book 2
Chapter: 7 (all)
Pairing: Spike/Xander
Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapter will carry specific warnings.
Warnings:  This chapter has explicit sex
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on. 
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same. 
previous parts here

The first part of this chapter has already been posted, but I did some tweaking, so I'm re-posting the whole thing, but you can skip down about halfway if you don't want to re-read.  I'm back from vacation and ready to resume regular updates.  Thanks for your patience, everyone.

Chapter Seven

There was a sharp crack overhead as wood met wood in a neat parry and Spike immediately reversed his motion, spinning as he swung his quarterstaff around and down, only to be blocked again as Xander shifted his grip on his own quarterstaff and managed to get his pole between his body and Spike’s blow. Xander was panting, his sweat-soaked shirt clinging distractingly to his chest, his face intent as he worked grimly to prevent Spike’s weapon from landing.

Usually his boy was laughing and playful during their training sessions. Although Xander took the lessons seriously and was progressing well, he generally filled their sessions with joking comments on his own errors, mock taunts whenever he managed to knock Spike off balance and triumphant cheers when he had mastered a new move. Today, he was unusually silent and had picked up the quarterstaff at the start of their session without a single joke about Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, humor that had peppered their last two training sessions after Spike’s introduction of the weapon.

His boy smelled nervous and Spike decided to call a halt to the session. After a hot shower, maybe Xander would relax enough to let him know what was on his mind.

~~~~

“Spike, would you mind loaning me the money to buy a cell phone?”

Totting up his assets had brought home to Xander the depressing reality that he had none. He had a total of $8.37 in cash, one small box of personal stuff - comics and photos and other odds and ends - and that was it. Nothing he owned was worth selling, except maybe the clothes Spike had bought for him and that would be just… wrong. After a long internal struggle, he’d decided he would have to ask Spike for a loan.

He had to have a phone for potential customers to be able to contact him. He couldn’t even post an ad at the supermarket without a phone number for people to respond to and he would much rather use Mr. Olsen’s referrals than solicit work from random strangers. A referral was far less likely to stiff him for the money after the job was done and way less likely to eat him. Despite his new knowledge of the lighter side of demons on the Hellmouth, Xander wasn’t about to stop being cautious.

No, a cell phone was the only answer. He couldn’t exactly call the phone company and have a regular phone installed. Even if the phone company person survived the installation, which he doubted, Xander had noticed that vampires were really touchy about not living like humans. Even Spike, with his love of comfortable furniture and weird television shows, was snobby about it. Xander couldn’t count the number of times Spike had made sneering remarks about Angel’s mansion and about vampires so young they still acted like they were humans. It amused Xander that Spike blithely ignored the fact of their own, very human apartment. Talk about pot and kettle, he thought, with an inward grin. Of course, to be fair, Xander was sure that they were only living where they were because Spike had wanted a place that was Xander-friendly. Which was so incredible that little inconveniences like no phone were pretty darn minor.

There were other things he’d noticed, too, like that Spike never seemed to smoke around him anymore. It wasn’t that the vampire had quit - Xander tasted smoke in his mouth every time they kissed after having been apart for awhile. He gotten used to the taste - it was so essentially a part of Spike, like the whiskey and leather that also made up his unique scent - but it gave him a thrill when he realized that Spike must have quit for him. After all, as the vampire had once pointed out, it wasn’t like smoking was going to kill Spike.

None of which thoughts were solving his customer contact problems. Not that he had any customers yet but this wasn’t a chicken-or-egg kind of problem. The phone really did have to come first. Which brought him back to the fact that he needed one now in order to get the customers who would, hopefully, give him the money to pay for a phone. Ok, maybe there was a chicken or egg issue there. Which he could solve easily, if not without embarrassment, by borrowing the money. He’d considered asking Giles to loan him money but he knew that Spike would feel betrayed if he learned Xander had asked Giles and Giles might react weirdly - thinking that Xander was afraid to ask Spike, or that Spike was controlling him or something. He couldn’t ask Mr. Olsen, he was doing enough for Xander already. No, Spike was his only option. It wasn’t that he thought that Spike wouldn’t give him the money, but it was embarrassing to have to start your life as a grownup by asking your boyfriend for money.

He’d met Spike at Angel’s mansion as he did at least four days a week for training. Sometimes, he’d return to the factory in the late afternoon and he and Spike would walk to the mansion together as soon as the sun set. Other days, like today when he was running late, he’d meet Spike at the mansion shortly after dusk. They were working on the quarterstaff this week. Spike seemed determined to familiarize Xander with a wide variety of weapons as part of his self-defense training - which generally he had no problem with but he wasn’t sure about the quarterstaff’s usefulness in real life. Sure, they looked cool in Robin Hood movies but he was dubious about their usefulness in an actual fight. They weren’t exactly inconspicuous or something you could hide under a coat as you walked home at night, so Xander didn’t think he’d be using one all that often. Spike insisted that you could use quarterstaff moves with almost anything long and slender you found lying around and had ignored Xander’s grumbling that there were hardly ever any five foot sticks lying around handy when you were in a life and death struggle.

Privately, Xander suspected that Spike was emphasizing weapons training so much because he didn’t want Xander to have to rely on hand-to-hand in a real fight. Too many of the demons he might find himself in a fight with had superhuman strength and Spike thought it only made sense to be armed with something more than “a pointy bit of wood against something that can rip your head off while you’re still finding out that the middle of its chest isn’t a vulnerable spot.”

Spike had a point. The rules of sportsmanship didn’t really seem to apply when the other guy entered the ring with all sorts of enhanced strength, speed and reflexes. Using weapons against unarmed humans would be wrong on so many levels, but demons didn’t really come unarmed for the most part. If it wasn’t six inch, razor sharp claws, it was blinding speed or paralyzing mucus or something equally fun and exciting. Humans who weren’t gifted with Slayer strength had to depend on weapons to close the armament gap.

Plus, Spike was spending a lot of time teaching Xander how to avoid weapons, which was very much of the good in Xander’s book. He had far too much experience already in being shoved up against walls and trees and whatnot. Surprisingly, learning to anticipate an opponent’s moves and avoid them was as hard as learning how to wield weapons properly but Spike was a good teacher and remarkably patient. He seemed to accept that Xander had to practice a move for awhile before he would be able to execute it flawlessly. And, since a lot of their lessons ended up with them rolling around on the mats in a different kind of heated exchange - well, bonus.

Even without the sexy perks, Xander enjoyed the training sessions. It wasn’t just that he was pretty sure he would live longer with the skills Spike was teaching him. He felt different - more confident and like he wasn’t just a clumsy dork anymore. For the first time in his life, he felt like his body would do what he asked it to and he liked that feeling. It was like the clothes Spike had bought for him. At first, he’d been uncomfortable wearing them: they were too tight and too flashy and he’d felt stupid wearing them. But, as he got used to them, they stopped feeling like they were someone else’s clothes and began to feel almost as comfortable as his old stuff. For most of his life, he’d been uneasy when people focused on him - too often that had meant bad things: teachers ticked off because he hadn’t read the homework or, more frequently, his parents blaming him for something. So, it was a surprise when he realized that it no longer bothered him when people looked at him with more than a passing glance; he was beginning to think it was because he looked good.

And again, his thoughts were wandering everywhere but the issue at hand. His brain was obviously doing a darn fine job of trying to distract him from his nervousness over how to broach the subject of a loan with Spike. Money talks never went well, in his experience. His allowance had come to an abrupt end when he was ten after a blistering lecture from his father about what a useless drain on the family he was. He’d been too young then to realize that fifty cents a week wouldn’t actually have made a difference in the family finances and even though, now, he knew that his father was just being his usual jerky self when he’d pulled that stunt, it had been years before Xander had been able to think back on that incident with anger instead of humiliation and guilt. Yeah, he knew Spike wasn’t going to be that way about a loan but that didn’t make him feel any less weird about asking for money. On top of that, he knew Spike wasn’t going to like his plans for the rest of the summer. Spike had never said anything but Xander knew that Spike didn’t like it when he went out and about in the daytime where Spike couldn’t keep an eye on him, and a job would add to the hours that Xander was gone, exacerbating their nocturnal/diurnal issues.

It was a good thing Xander found that attitude of Spike’s kind of sweet - not that he’d ever tell Spike that - because Spike wasn’t nearly as good at hiding his possessiveness as he thought he was. Knowing that Spike worried about him and wanted to protect him was so different from Xander’s usual experience - his parents in particular rarely seemed to notice when he was gone and had sure seemed to write him off easily now with no more explanation than that he was moving in with a friend. Jesse and Willow had often gone off for a month at a time during the summers on vacations with their parents and, while they had missed him, they hadn’t ever really worried about him while they were gone. Of course, back then they hadn’t known they were living on a Hellmouth. Still, it was kind of nice to have someone in his life who worried about him and took things almost too seriously. Spike seemed to know when to back off and not push too hard, which was great because it left his possessiveness in the cute category, not the obsessive/stalking category.

To Xander’s relief, Spike had cut the lesson a bit short today, sending him off to the shower to get cleaned up. He needed it, with his stomach churning nervously and his mind racing, practice had seemed much harder than usual. Toweling himself off after a decadently long shower, Xander decided to just come right out and ask Spike. Beating around the bush would just make things worse.

~~~~~

Xander’s quickly stammered question surprised Spike.

“Why d’you want one of them for? Annoying things. Just lead to people being able to reach you when you don’t want ‘em to.” Spike was sprawled comfortably on the couch he’d shoved out in to the courtyard when he’d first set up the mansion as a training site. The courtyard was a quiet oasis in the warm evenings and he and Xander often spent an hour or so after training talking and snogging on the couch before Spike walked Xander home and went off on vampire business. One of the more recent minions to join the Court knew about electrical systems and had arranged for the power to stay on in the mansion - which meant cold beer for Xander, a place to keep an emergency blood supply for Spike, and hot showers for both of them after a hard work out session.

Jose had proved his worth ten times over, taking over many of the boring administrative details of the Court. He screened the vampires who wanted to join the Court, weeding out the useless ones, and kept track of which minions had useful skills. When Spike had asked him to find someone disposable who could get the power running in a building so the authorities didn’t know, Jose had produced a large, recently turned, minion who had done a lot of construction work as a human. Spike had brought him to the mansion and he’d had the power up and running in a few hours. Spike had complimented him on his work before staking him. Not even Jose knew about the mansion and Spike intended to keep it that way. It was too convenient to give up and too potentially valuable as a bolt hole for Xander if one was ever needed.

“I’m working on a way to earn some money this summer, but I need a phone so customers can get a hold of me.”

“You don’t need to work, pet. How much money do you need?” Spike was mildly offended that Xander hadn’t come to him immediately if he felt he needed money but it was so apparent that Xander was embarrassed that Spike could only blame himself - he obviously should have explained to Xander before now that he just needed to ask and Spike would get him anything he wanted.

“Spike, I can’t let you keep supporting me without contributing anything.”

“Why not?” Spike was baffled. Why would Xander think Spike wouldn’t take care of him?

“Because I’m not a complete mooch.” Xander paused for a second. “Ok, right now I am but I don’t want to be.”

“You’re mine, pet, I take care of my own.”

“I know you do, Spike.” Xander gave him a quick, grateful smile. “But taking care of me doesn’t mean being financially responsible for my every need. Or at least it shouldn’t, not when I’m perfectly capable of earning money.”

Spike cocked his head to one side. “’course it does. You’re my Claimed. That means it’s my responsibility to pay for your kit and anythin’ else you need.” That should settle it, he thought comfortably, glad they had solved the problem so easily.

“Spike…” Xander seemed at a loss for words at Spike’s generosity and he smiled at his boy. He had to remember that Xander didn’t always understand things that went without saying in the demon world. “Spike, that’s… It’s incredibly nice of you to offer, but I can’t accept that.”

“Nothin’ to accept or reject, luv. ‘S just the way it is.” Spike frowned, not sure why Xander was having a problem with the idea of Spike taking care of him. “Xander,” he said seriously, “I’ve Claimed you and you accepted my Claim. By Claiming you, I took you under my protection. You accepted my mark, which lets other demons know that you belong to me.” He fought back the growl that threatened to sound at the idea that Xander didn’t want his Claim any more. A Claim was permanent!

~~~~~

“Ok, how about we back up and try this again, because somewhere this conversation took a left turn off reality street.” Xander scrubbed his hands through the still-damp waves of his hair in frustration, not really sure how they had gotten to yellow-eyes and growling on the part of his lover. “I am totally down with being Claimed, so you can stop with the growling.” Trying to think how he could explain it to his touchy partner, he said hesitantly: “Spike, you’re teaching me self-defense. Why?”

Spike looked puzzled at the switch in topic. “Don’t want you to get hurt, luv. Thought we were agreed on that.”

“Hey, I’m big with the Xander-not-hurting, but why doesn’t your mark automatically protect me from getting hurt?”

“Some demons are too stupid, or too arrogant, to honor a Claim mark,” Spike began stiffly and Xander sighed. He hadn’t meant to insult Spike but apparently he had. “Don’t want a repeat of what happened with Angelus,” Spike finished, looking angry at his Sire all over again.

“So, self defense is good because things can happen even with the mark,” Xander summed up. “You’re training me to protect myself even though it’s something most vampires don’t do for their Claimed humans, right?” At Spike’s puzzled nod, Xander finished triumphantly, “Well, me earning spending money is good too.”

Spike shook his head. “That doesn’t follow, pet. A Claimed human working to earn money is saying you think I won’t, or can’t, provide for you.”

No,” Xander said emphatically. “It says that your Claimed wants to be a full partner and contribute to the relationship. I want to take care of you, Spike, the way you take care of me.” He looked earnestly at Spike, willing him to understand.

~~~~~

With the brown eyes of his Claimed holding his own, Spike couldn’t immediately reject the outrageous concept. The notion that his boy wanted to take care of him was unheard of, ridiculous… and bizarrely touching. It wasn’t a matter of trust. He could, and had, trusted Xander with his unlife. Still, the idea that Xander would feel the need to be an independent being outside the Claim was so unusual that Spike couldn’t think of a single example of a Claimed human with a life separate from their vampire.

He smiled, noticing that Xander visibly relaxed as he did. This was clearly important to his boy and Spike had never been one to follow anyone’s rules but his own. No harm in letting the boy stretch his wings a bit and it would be good for Xander’s still tentative self-confidence to think he was making his own way in the world, even if it was just a summer job. No harm in giving it a try.

“So, pet,” he said teasingly. “Where are you taking me after you get your first paycheck?”

Xander’s brilliant smile was reward enough for his flexibility.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Typically, Spike had simply gone out that night and gotten a top-end phone which he tossed casually to Xander. “Right, pet. First thing, learn to set it so it won’t always be blasting our ears when it goes off.”

“Thanks, Spike,.” Xander stared at the phone dubiously. He’d wanted the telephone equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera, this one looked complicated. “Do you know how to work it?” he asked hopefully.

Spike gave him a look. “When I want to call someone, I steal a phone from some idiot who’s already talking on one. Makes working it pretty simple. Don’t keep ‘em afterwards.” Xander smiled to himself and waited for it. “Not like my bleedin’ sire, am I? Angelus is the only vampire I’ve ever known who had a phone installed in his lair. Bloody embarrassing it was.” Spike made a disgusted noise. “Any self respecting demon just steals one when they need to make a call - dinner and a phone call in one.”

“Thanks for sharing that lovely image,” Xander said wryly. “I’ll be careful where I use it. Just another of the Hellmouth’s little perks, I guess.”

“Just don’t use the bloody thing outside at night.” Spike gestured towards the table, “There’s some kinda instruction book, you’ll figure it out.”

“Thanks, Spike.” Xander didn’t ask how much it had cost, he knew Spike would just say it was a gift. Since it was a moot point right now anyway, given his lack of actual money, he had plenty of time to figure out both how to work the thing and how much it cost. Setting it down, he crossed to the couch where Spike was sitting, watching one of his weird tv shows and straddled Spike’s lap, reaching for the remote as he did and shutting off the tv. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

“Not recently, now that you mention it,” Spike answered, his arms sliding around Xander’s waist. “Might be time to refresh my memory on the subject.”

Xander opened his mouth but Spike beat him to it. Growling slightly, he said dangerously: “If you say one word about detailing my soddin’ car, pet, you’ll regret it.”

“Spike,” Xander tried to look hurt, like the very idea had never even crossed his mind. “Would I do something like that?”

He ignored the “too bloody right”, letting his arms drift from Spike’s shoulders to his back and leaned away from Spike, letting his head fall back slowly, his shaggy hair brushing his shoulder blades as he deliberately exposed the long length of his neck to his vampire. He could almost feel Spike’s stare fastening hungrily on the exposed veins in his throat and his Claim mark. He grinned to himself before sitting back upright and looking innocently into the now golden eyes.

“I can’t offer to have sex with you,” he said with mock regret, “because that would be wrong. I don’t….” he broke off, laughing, as Spike snarled and, in one agile twist, flipped them both so that Xander was on his back on the couch with Spike lying on top of him, his hands buried in Xander’s hair, reminding him again of why he kept putting off cutting it.

Settling himself comfortably, Spike leered down at him. “Getting bloody evil yourself, luv, offering me your neck then saying I can’t touch you.” He shifted his grip until he had both of Xander’s wrists in his hands. “How about you lie there and I’ll just take my thanks.” He swooped down and kissed Xander hard, pulling Xander’s wrists over his head and pinning them firmly as his lips ravaged Xander’s.

“Sounds like a plan,” Xander agreed breathlessly, when Spike finally lifted his head. “It’s not…” Spike’s lips cut him off again, kissing him until he was dazed and panting.

“A little less talk from my helpless victim,” Spike growled.

“Helpless?” Xander bucked up hard, trying to throw Spike off, but between the depth of the cushions and Spike’s grip on his wrist, he didn’t stand a chance. The vampire rode his struggles out easily, grinding down onto his groin until Xander forgot about trying to escape and just pushed his hips up to meet Spike.

“Like you helpless, luv,” Spike purred. “Helpless, spread out for my pleasure, all flushed and panting…” He broke off, disconcerted, as Xander sputtered, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

“Oh, please, you sound like a villain in a Harlequin romance.” His laughter escaped, and the sound filled the courtyard. Spike glared at him indignantly, which just set Xander off again.

“Oi! You talk pretty big for someone who knows what a Harlequin is.” Spike realized, too late, that he’d just admitted knowing what they were too. Wasn’t his fault that Drusilla used to read them to her dolls in some of her more insane, little girl, moments, he thought grumpily, his grip on Xander’s wrists loosening as the thought of the sappy romance novels took the edge off his lust.

“Before you get any ideas, Willow used to torture Jesse and me by reading them to us. I think it’s why I hated reading for a long time.” Xander hadn’t stopped grinning at him and, as Spike released his wrists and began to sit up, his grin suddenly turned wicked and his legs lifted, wrapping around Spike’s lean hips. His hands moved quickly, seizing Spike’s upper arms and rolling them both to the floor where he perched, triumphantly on top of the surprised vampire.

Spike’s frown faded into a delighted smile. “Not bad, pet.”

“A little less talk from my helpless victim,” Xander echoed mockingly, leaning down to kiss Spike, his hands busy unfastening Spike’s pants. Warm, strong hands, calloused from weapons, freed Spike’s penis and Spike groaned into Xander’s mouth as his boy began to touch him with light, teasing touches, tracing along the length of his shaft. He was already hard and aching, Xander’s arousal and his own perfuming the night air as Xander began moving down his body, mouthing at his nipples through the fabric of his shirt, before sliding further down.

The warm fingers released him, only to be replaced by an even warmer tongue mouthing along his shaft before closing around the head, the agile tongue swirling around the end and toying with the slit. Spike fought to keep his hips from slamming up, Xander was still learning to deep throat and had the annoying human need to breath. He inhaled himself, a long ragged breath as Xander took more of his length inside himself and deliberately opened his mouth, sending hot breath along the length of his penis. God, the heat of his boy was incredible. “Yes!” Spike hissed, his hips bucking up involuntarily, grateful for Xander’s strong hands holding him back.

Xander chuckled, the vibrations teasing Spike, and slid his mouth a little further down, beginning to suck hard. On edge already, Spike exploded into orgasm, his seed pulsing out, filling that warm cavity that continued to pull his release from him.

Spent, his hips collapsed back onto the floor, feeling Xander moving to lie beside him, wrapping one arm over his chest, his leg pressed between Spike’s. The scent of Xander’s own release was in the air and Spike turned to face Xander’s smug eyes.

Smirking back at his lover, Spike wrapped an arm around Xander’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “Your welcome, pet.”

He loved the sound of Xander’s laugh.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spike glared at the assembled Court, pacing back and forth in front of them. “Thought we were clear,” he snarled. “Thought the rules were simple enough that even the stupidest among you could understand them.” His tone was scathing and the minions shifted uneasily, clearly unsure of what he was angry about.

“Let’s review, for those so thick they didn’t get it the first time. One, you bring anything big enough to effect anyone besides yourself to me. Two, you keep a low profile in town. And three, you don’t do anything that would even MAYBE break the first two rules without my express permission.”

Stalking back and forth in the open area in front of the group, his duster flaring out with every turn, Spike paused for a second to light a cigarette before resuming his pacing. He let the tension build, smoking and pretending to ignore the minions, even while studying them out of the corners of his eyes.

There were nearly 30 minions attached to his Court now and two Lieutenants. He’d promoted a second minion two weeks ago, and now Anthony had joined Jose on the second floor. Michael had been given an unofficial recognition as chief minion - one of the few that Spike admitted to knowing his name. The minion seemed to have learned from his mistake during Ares’ challenge to Spike’s rule, he was keeping his head down and seemed intent on proving himself. He would undoubtedly be Spike’s third Lieutenant, but Spike was waiting before he promoted him.

Most of the rest of the minions were just that - extras in a de Mille epic, canon fodder, there to do Spike’s bidding. They were happy enough to shelter under the protection and companionship of a Court and most of them were too young to have a lot of ambition. Vampires on the Hellmouth tended to be either very young or fairly mature ones who had made a conscious decision to come to the Hellmouth to see what they could do with the ambient power that permeated the town. Most of the older vampires in town hadn’t joined Spike’s Court, which was fine, it wasn’t a requirement and Spike kept an eye of them, either personally or through his Lieutenants and, occasionally, Michael.

Spike ran an informal Court. No more ritual than absolutely couldn’t be avoided, formal Court held only once a week and problems bloody well better wait until the next Court. Very few of the minions actually brought problems to Spike before the full formal Court - they were too scared of him, which was how he wanted it. He hadn’t actually dusted any of the minions at random, but his disapproval tended to be fatal for the minion, Michael was one of the few who had survived disappointing Spike and he was amused when he realized that Mark now seemed to consider the stomach wound Spike had given him to be a badge of honor.

Flicking his cigarette away, he wheeled once more and faced the crowd. “You. The git in the striped shirt. Get up here.”

The minion he’d pointed at actually looked down to check his shirt before hesitantly making his way forward. The other minions stepped away from him immediately, distancing themselves from him and rapidly clearing a path to the front. Where he stood before Spike like an errant schoolboy. Spike mostly ignored the “throne” the minions had set up for him, he was far more impressive in motion than sitting still, and thrones were for pretentious twits who needed them. Angelus had been big on having a throne.

“So, which rule did you break?” he asked the minion with deadly calm.

The minion made what was obviously a Herculean effort at thought, his brow furrowing anxiously, knowing he needed to get the answer right. Idiot. Didn’t even recognize that any answer he gave would be wrong.

“I’m sorry, Master Spike. I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong,” he finally said.

Spike scowled. “So you’re sayin’ you’re too stupid to even know when you’ve broken the rules, is that it?” He signaled and Jose and Anthony, who’d quietly slipped to the back of the room, stepped forward and with near perfect simultaneous moves, both pulled stakes out and dusted two vampires in the crowd.

The minion growled and Spike reached out and snapped his neck before the minion could even begin to fight back. Dropping him contemptuously to the floor, he stood over him. “This gifted idjit managed to break all three rules at once. He turned those two piles of dust without my express permission. Feeding’s one thing, vampires been munching on the population of this town for centuries and no one sees a thing. But turning your dinner leads to problems that effect us all. Just turned fledges tend to be noticed, tend to go home to visit the family, none of which is exactly low profile. If you lot feel you need to create minions, you get my permission first. Most of you got no business creating fledges for another few decades. You got a reason you think you’re an exception, you bring it to me.”

His speech had been punctuated by moans from the crippled minion at his feet and now he pulled out a knife and slit the minion’s throat. Blood spurted and Spike stepped back swiftly, avoiding the spray of blood. He wiped the knife clean on the minion’s clothing and re-sheathed it at his belt. Dispassionately, he watched as the minion bled out, until he faded into ash as the last of his blood left his veins. It was the slowest way to kill a vampire and, looking around the Court, Spike saw that the lesson had not been lost on the minions. “I trust we won’t be needing to have this little refresher course on the rules again,” he said and hid his smirk at the eager agreement that filled the room as the minions hastened to assure him that they understood.

“Good. Class dismissed,” Spike said sarcastically and was pleased at the rapid scattering of the Court. Jose and Anthony stayed long enough to check if he needed anything and he signaled that they were free to leave as well. Bowing, they left slowly in deliberate contrast to the minions. Anthony had picked up Jose’s formality and Spike kind of liked it in his Lieutenants. Minions were just annoying when they bowed and scraped but Jose in particular invested the gesture with an antique courtesy that seemed natural to him and Anthony was following suit.

When he was alone in the large room, Spike considered the meeting with satisfaction. The number of vampires on the Hellmouth was down and the quality was up. Fewer mindless fledges wandering around, snacking on the population and drawing official notice. The harmless demons were grateful to him and occasionally sent a delegation to his Court to talk about potential issues, which kept him in the know about things vampires usually didn’t have a line of information in to. Some of the minions were even beginning to appreciate the subtleties of the hunt, seducing rather than overpowering their prey and the pleasure to be had in hunting without killing. All of which meant that, for the first time in a century, Sunnydale was starting to be known as a well-run territory.

Before he became Master of a territory, Spike himself had acted more like a fledge than a Master at times. Mindless violence had its moments and he and Dru had enjoyed more than their share of them. Now, that he was settled in one area and responsible for it, he appreciated for the first time that leaving bodies where the local police would trip over them was just plain stupid. He could have all the violence his unbeating heart desired without attacking humans. Slayers aside, most humans weren’t any kind of a match for a vampire. Fighting the larger, aggressive demons was a hobby he’d come to appreciate. They caused problems in his town, and killing them was fun. He still hunted - he wasn’t bagging it like his poof of a Sire, but he was keeping his promise to Xander and limiting himself to feeding without killing.

Some of the change in his outlook was Xander’s influence, Spike knew. Xander enjoyed hearing his stories of fights against demons and made a practice of “checking” Spike for injuries that was a reward in itself. His boy wouldn’t react that way to tales of slaughter of human sheep.

He was still the Big Bad, just in a slightly different way.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Leaving Giles’ apartment, Xander was still grinning. Giles’ last physical therapy appointment had been late this morning and he was done with doctors and hospitals and “bloody, know-it-all nurses”, as Giles had put it. Giles’ hands would never be quite the same, the fingers were scarred from the surgeries and a couple weren’t quite straight, but he had the full use of his hands now and had cheerfully told Xander that he expected the scars would fade with time. He’d been celebrating with a glass of whiskey when Xander arrived and had surprised Xander by bringing out a soft drink and a plate of cookies from a bakery.

Giles had been at his most human, his Librarian side firmly in hiding as he joked about how he had been worried about never being able to play the guitar again. Xander laughed at the idea of the staid Brit playing a guitar and told Giles he was sure the Dingos would be glad to add him to their act. Giles just laughed and said he’d think about it. Xander was amazed at the transformation. Usually Giles’ humor was quiet and dry, very proper and British for the most part. For once, he seemed to be letting go of the worry and responsibility that was so much a part of him. He’d been cleared to drive a couple weeks ago but now, chewing thoughtfully on a cookie, Giles admitted he’d felt tied down and resentful of the physical therapy he’d had to attend four times a week.

Giles had gradually been seeming more like his old self as the physical restrictions the doctors had placed on him had been lifted, one by one. Without the daily, physical reminders of what Angelus had done to him, it seemed like he’d been able to put it behind him but this was the first time Xander had seen him truly lighthearted. Granted, Giles had never been a real party animal even before Angelus but it was good, if a little disconcerting, to see.

They hadn’t even opened the books and Giles had proclaimed a holiday from studying. He announced that he was going to leave town for a week and Xander had the week off with no homework. At which point, Xander told Giles he wanted to check his bedroom for pods. Despite the fact that it was clear the Englishman didn’t get the reference, he’d still laughed, shooing Xander out the door and telling him to go have fun and forget about stuffy librarians and their demonology texts.

Shaking his head, still bemused from his encounter with the lighter side of Giles, Xander headed for home. Spike would be waking up about now and maybe they could plan something for Xander’s free afternoons. Running up the stairs out of Giles’ apartment building, Xander almost smacked head on into a person just starting down the steps. He put out an automatic hand to steady them and stopped, surprised.

It was Willow.

Xander knew that Willow was still visiting Giles in the mornings. He always went to the apartment after noon. Giles hadn’t tried to get them back together again, but he talked about Willow periodically - talking about how her training was going or mentioning her assistance in searching for Buffy through on-line resources that Giles didn’t know how to access. Xander assumed Giles was keeping Willow posted about him in the same way but he hadn’t asked. When the subject came up, he followed the same pattern he did with Oz and responded to the comments as if Willow was someone he barely knew.

From both Oz and Giles, he knew that Willow was spending a lot of time researching, and even practicing, witchcraft. Oz had talked to Xander about it several times. In his quiet way, Oz was worried about what he saw as Willow’s growing obsession with magic. Apparently, she spent hours reading books on witchcraft and was tinkering with actual spells. She told Oz that she just wanted to master the new subject, but he worried that it was more than that. She’d admitted to Oz that she was trying to find a way to re-open the portal and bring Angel back but swore she would clear any spell she found with Giles before attempting it. Apparently, she was also trying to find a spell that would locate Buffy. Oz reported that Giles was dubious about the possibility of locating Buffy by magic. Apparently, Slayers were somewhat immune to a number of types of magic, that being one of them. Xander supposed it made sense - it wouldn’t do for any demon that wanted to hunt a Slayer to be able to track them by magic.

He hadn’t talked to Giles about Oz’s concerns, although he had seriously considered it, because Oz had talked to him in confidence but he was worried. He hadn’t forgotten what Oz had said about the re-souling spell’s effect on Willow and he still vividly remembered that flash of… darkness he’d seen in Willow’s eyes.

He hadn’t seen to Willow in over a month. He’d known that, when school started, they were going to see each other on a daily basis and they were going to have to work something out. It wasn’t like he wanted Willow to apologize and invite Spike and him over for dinner, he wasn’t that much of a dreamer. What he wanted was some sense that she wouldn’t put Spike in danger again, that she accepted him as a person it was wrong to kill. Until she could see Spike as something other than “just” a vampire, a thing, not a person, Xander wasn’t going to forgive her.

Seeing her without any warning was a shock and it was obvious she was waiting for him. Unable to think of anything to say, he simply waited for her to speak.

“Just what did you think you were doing, telling Mrs. Summers about Buffy?” she said, her eyes narrowed in anger.

He really should have expected this.

“It’s not fair to take out your anger on her behind her back like that.”

“Is that what you think?” Did Willow really think he was that spiteful?

“Why else would you have done it?”

“Because Mrs. Summers deserved to know the truth. And, hey, Buffy should have told her a long time ago. Mrs. Summers didn’t even know not to invite vampires into the house. Buffy’s lucky she still has a mother, Angel isn’t the only vampire that might like a shot at the Slayer’s mother.” It made Xander furious every time he thought about the fact that Buffy hadn’t told her mother anything about how dangerous Angel really was, just told her that her ex- was stalking her. Knowing Mrs. Summers, it was surprising she hadn’t invited Angel in to have a heart to heart chat about getting over it and finding a new girlfriend.

Willow didn’t look any less angry. “That’s just an excuse, Angel isn’t a danger any more and you know it. You’re just trying to make things harder for Buffy when she comes back.”

“Please, I’ve got better things to do than dream up ways to mess up Buffy’s life, if and when she ever decides to come home.” Xander left out the fact that Spike would like nothing better than to mess up Buffy’s life, even though that wasn’t really the reason he’d spilled the beans to Mrs. Summers.

“Like what? Hanging out with Buffy’s Watcher and my boyfriend?” Willow’s voice was scornful but her eyes were filled with resentment and… jealousy?

“Is that what you think?” Xander asked again, incredulously. “You think I’m hanging out with Giles and Oz because of you and Buffy?”

“Aren’t you?”

Xander laughed. It was so ridiculous, he couldn’t help himself. “Willow, I like Oz, he’s my friend. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“Why Oz and not me?” she burst out.

Oz never tried to kill my boyfriend,” he answered pointedly and Willow’s jaw tightened.

“You know that wasn’t on purpose,” she said angrily, “I never knew you were someone who would hold grudges like this.”

“I guess we’ve both found out things we don’t like about each other. I resent it when people think of my boyfriend as expendable and you think I should be able to get over things and move on. Tell me, why doesn’t that apply to Buffy?”

“What?” Xander was bitterly amused to realize he’d thrown Willow completely. She really didn’t get what he was talking about.

“You’re big with people dealing with things and moving on. Why don’t you expect Buffy to do that?” he repeated.

Willow’s jaw set stubbornly but Xander saw the flicker of embarrassment in her eyes. Oh, yeah. She had her own issues with Buffy running away, she just wasn’t going to admit it to him.

“Buffy just needs a little time to deal with losing Angel. Sure, running away wasn’t the best way to handle it, but it’s understandable under the circumstances. Giving her a little space isn’t too much to ask,” she said finally, but she sounded tired and a little defensive now, not angry.

Willow’s attitude about Buffy running away fueled Xander’s resentment and he couldn’t help thinking that he’d been expected to just get over his grief after Jesse’s death and move on. Why she didn’t hold Buffy to the same standard was a mystery to Xander. Did Willow really believe that the loss of a boyfriend Buffy had dated for a few months was so much worse than the loss of a life-long friend that Buffy was entitled to wallow in her grief and Xander hadn’t been?

Admittedly, he wasn’t being fair because he didn’t really believe Buffy and Angel’s love had been the stuff of star-crossed legend like Buffy and Willow seemed to, but he knew there wasn’t any point in re-opening those wounds by trying to talk about it with Willow.

“Just like I thought, Buffy’s always the exception. Are we through?”

He hadn’t really expected anything different, it was just the same argument they’d been having since Buffy first came to town. Buffy could date a vampire, Buffy got time to grieve, Buffy got to keep her boyfriend even though he was evil. It was always “different” when it came to Buffy.

“I don’t understand you at all anymore, Xander. You hurt people deliberately, you don’t care about anyone’s feelings but your own. You’re not the boy I grew up with.” Willow had tears in her eyes, whether from anger or hurt, Xander couldn’t tell.

Xander was surprised to find that Willow’s judgment of him hurt. He shook his head, after everything that had happened, you’d think he wouldn’t care what Willow thought any more.

“Just because I refuse to put Buffy on a pedestal doesn’t mean I don’t care about people.” He said finally, without heat. “But you’re right, I’m not the same boy you grew up with. Newsflash, Willow: you’re not the same either.”

There didn’t seem to be much else to say. The two of them stared at each other for a long moment and Xander thought there was regret on both sides. Willow stepped back and Xander walked away. Regret for what had once been, yes, but he liked who he was now. Even if he could, he wouldn’t go back, not even to recapture the friendship they had once had.

TBC

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