orchidluv (orchidluv) wrote in bloodclaim,
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Nothing the Same, Book 4, Ch. 15 & 16

Nothing the Same, Book 4
Chapters:  15 & 16
Pairing: S/X, established relationship
Rating: PG13 - NC-17  Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers:  Primarily season 5, but anything from Season 1 on.  
Summary:  sequel to Nothing the Same , Books 1 - 3
WARNING:  CHAPTER 15 CONTAINS EXPLICIT SEX
Previous parts here

Two chapters posted together because I haven't had posting access this past week.  I've just put them both in the same entry rather than linking them.

Chapter Fifteen

Despite curtains and blackout blinds, enough light crept through the bedroom window by mid-morning for human eyes to see clearly.  Which wasn’t particularly helpful when you were lying awake and trying to find something to do besides watch the numbers on the alarm clock click over, one after the other.  It was 8:17 now and Joyce would be in the operating room in less than two hours.  Xander had only the vaguest notion of what was involved in the actual surgery, but he did know that it would be hours before they heard any news.  

Strong arms wrapped around his waist and Spike pulled him closer, spooning their bodies together.  “Gonna be fine, luv,” he said reassuringly.  “Joyce will come through this.  Not going to lose her.”

Xander shifted in the circle of Spike’s arms until he could see the blue eyes, watching him in the dim light, with no trace of the sleepiness that usually filled them at this hour of the morning.   Instead of answering, he slid an arm around Spike and leaned in to kiss him, knowing Spike was as worried and unable to sleep as he was.

Spike tightened his arms, prolonging the kiss, and Xander was caught off guard by the sudden intense flare of arousal.  He hadn’t intended to start anything but found himself responding hungrily to Spike’s kiss, lips moving aggressively over Spike’s, hands sliding into the short white hair as his tongue darted inside Spike’s mouth to taste and claim.  Spike returned the kiss passionately, his tongue dueling with Xander’s, teeth clashing, lips sliding against each other, as each fought to control the kiss.

Xander pushed forward aggressively, shifting across the bed until he was on top of Spike, their bodies aligned full-length:  tanned, heated flesh meeting cool, pale skin as they kissed for endless moments.

It wasn’t enough.  

There were times when the two of them would kiss for hours, lost in the sensation of tasting and exploring each other with their mouths alone.  Not today.  Dimly, Xander recognized that this sudden desperate passion was something more than just sexual arousal - it was an aching need for connection, for the feel of another body twined with his own, something to distract himself from the agony of waiting.  It was obvious Spike felt it too, his strong hands moving over Xander’s body urgently, pulling them close until it felt like they were one skin.

For long moments they remained in that position, flesh fused together, bodies shifting and rubbing, cocks hardening, arousal building to unbearable levels until Xander tore himself free, sitting up, breathing heavily, staring down into Spike’s heated gaze.  Without looking away, he reached down and began pumping Spike’s cock, his strokes quick and harsh, loving the way Spike growled and thrust up into his grip.

Releasing Spike’s weeping erection, ignoring the snarled complaint, Xander rose to his knees and positioned himself over Spike, reaching back and spreading his cheeks, then began lowering himself down.

Spike caught him around the waist, stopping his downward movement, blue eyes searching his and finding nothing but arousal and burning need.  He didn’t want to be careful, didn’t want anything slow and easy, and he didn’t care if this would hurt.  He wanted it fast and rough, something that would completely overwhelm his senses and stop him from thinking.

After a long moment, Spike relented and eased his grip enough for Xander to begin descending onto Spike’s rigid erection.  Spike kept tight control over his downward movement, forcing Xander to move slowly and gradually when he would have hurried the pace, wanting Spike buried inside him now.

His unprepared muscles burned as they gave way, stretching to accommodate Spike’s girth as the vampire’s cock stretched and filled him, entering with exquisitely painful slowness, a fraction of an inch at a time, as Spike controlled the pace with inhuman strength.

Xander flung his head back, ragged breaths sounding harsh and loud in the otherwise silent room, every fiber of his being concentrated on the sensations battering him.  His awareness faded to nothing more than the ever-increasing sensation of being filled and stretched to the brink of agony, pain that was laced with the most intense pleasure he’d ever known.
 
How long it went on, that agonizingly slow penetration, Xander would never know.  He only knew that after what seemed an eternity, he found himself bent over Spike, forehead resting on the smooth, pale chest, still straddling his body with Spike’s throbbing erection buried to the root inside him.  

He lifted his head and saw Spike watching him, lips quirked in a smile, the earlier feverish passion calmed but still present in his eyes.  As Xander straightened up slightly, he gasped as the movement caused Spike’s cock to brush against his prostate, sending an electric jolt of pleasure surging through him.

Spike waited until Xander had straightened fully, settling back on his haunches, their eyes still locked together, before he began moving, thrusting his hips upwards with effortless strength, cool hands still gripping Xander’s hips and holding him in place as he pushed deeper inside him with every movement of his hips.  Xander arched back with a gasp of pleasure, closing his eyes and riding the movement, letting the sensations batter him as Spike thrust into him over and over again, hitting his prostate again and again and sending pleasure washing over him.  

Xander reached down and began desperately pumping his own aching erection, needing release.  It only took a few strokes before he exploded into orgasm, sending his semen spurting over his hand and Spike’s chest as he came with silent intensity, mouth opened in a soundless scream.  His body clamped down hard on Spike’s cock and Spike thrust up one last time and the silence was shattered by Spike’s cry of release as he pumped his seed into Xander’s tight heat.

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

“I have consulted with my relatives,” Mr. Okolo told Xander.  

He was always a little vague about his relatives.  Xander knew Mr. Okolo’s mother was full Teer’ah and over a thousand years old, but he didn’t know how many others relatives he had, or how old they were, or where they lived.  He always sort of assumed they were in Europe or Africa, or somewhere like that, but that was mostly because the whole immortal thing made him think of countries older than the U.S.  For all he knew, Mr. Okolo’s mother lived in New Jersey or something.  

“They have heard of several esoteric objects referred to as keys:  the Lost Key of L’mhynnoff, the Key of Aelfric the Wanderer…,” thankfully he stopped, and handed Xander a list, with the barest hint of a smile in his black eyes.  “I have listed them for Mr. Giles to investigate, but I believe the most likely candidate is the key that is sought by the Knights of Byzantium.”

“The who?”  Xander asked blankly.  Weren’t they the guys in the last Indiana Jones movie?

“An ancient order of warrior priests.  They have sought something known only as the Key for more than a thousand years, believing it to be an object of immense power.  They still search for it today and there are rumors that they have journeyed to this country recently.”  Mr. Okolo’s eyes were grave now.  “According to my family, the Knights of Byzantium and another group:  a handful of monks from a monastery in eastern Europe, both have been seeking the Key, one wanting to harness its power, the other wishing to destroy it.”  Mr. Okolo made an infinitesimal motion with his hands that on someone else might have been hand-wringing worry.  “Nearly three months ago, the monastery was destroyed.  As far as anyone knows, none of the monks survived.”  He looked at Xander, his face still and grave.  “If the monk you spoke to is a survivor of that monastery, and he brought the Key here, then he has made this town the target of several opposing forces.”

“Several?” Xander asked.  “If the monks are dead, doesn’t that just leave the Knights?”

“The Key has also long been sought by a dark power the Knights refer to only as ‘the Beast’,” Mr. Okolo told him.  “It is not the Knights of Byzantium who are believed to have destroyed the monastery.”

This was beginning to sound uncomfortably close to apocalypse-level bad.  “Any idea who or what the Beast is?” Xander asked, after a moment.  

“That, I do not know.  Presumptively, the name refers to an actual being, but my family is not aware of the nature of that being.  The monks and the Knights have guarded their secrets jealously over the centuries.”

“Well, whatever it is, they’re not calling it the Bunny Rabbit, so it’s probably safe to assume it’s bad news.”

“That would seem to be a safe assumption.”

~~~~~

Mr. Okolo had less information on the woman Spike had fought - there simply wasn’t enough to go on.  No name, no description - other than human-looking and strong.  Even the assumption she was a third party looking for the Key didn’t help narrow things down much.  She could be someone acting on her own, like Gwendolyn Post had been, trying to seize control of a powerful object for her own purposes, or someone acting for the Knights.  Hell, maybe she was one of the Knights, assuming she wasn’t was probably sexist, he though with a wry grin, remembering various lectures from Willow over the years.  He supposed it was possible she was the Beast but, if so, someone was commenting on her personality, not her looks.

Leaving Mr. Okolo’s house, Xander couldn’t help thinking that nothing that he’d learned was any help with his dilemma over what and who to tell about Dawn.  Even the little information he’d learned was scary as hell and none of it sounded good for Dawn.

The monks were apparently out of the picture, and between something called “the Beast” and the Knights of Byzantium, Xander ordinarily would have been all for the Indiana Jones guys, except for the part where Mr. Okolo said they wanted to destroy Dawn.  The monks had been trying to hide the Key and wanted to protect it, but they were dead, thanks to the Beast.  And anything called the Beast that destroyed monasteries as a hobby was not something that he was planning on getting friendly with.  

So, the monks were dead, the Knights untrustworthy, and the Beast was dangerous.  

Great.

He supposed the question was pretty simple after all.  What was the best way to keep Dawn safe?

The Key was powerful, but Dawn wasn’t.  The monk had said that she was human now and needed to be protected, which meant it was no good hoping that Dawn was going to pull a superpower out of her hat at the last second and save herself.

So, was Dawn safer if people knew she was something other than Buffy’s kid sister?

All that hiding in plain sight stuff worked great for a while, but eventually someone always noticed the letter on the mantelpiece, or the real jewel in the Halloween tiara.  Sooner or later, one of the bad guys was going to figure out what the Key was now.  And when that happened, it would be too late to start warning people that Dawn needed extra protection.  Which meant he had to tell Buffy and Spike, because they were the only ones strong enough to protect Dawn.  

Buffy could have this week, he decided.  This one week to worry about her mother without having anything else dumped on her.  She was going to have to be the one who would have to decide whether to tell Joyce and Dawn, and none of them needed that right now, while Joyce was in the hospital.  

Besides, he thought with a flare of bitter humor, it would give him a chance to practice what he was going to say on Spike first.  Xander believed, because a torture victim had used the last of his strength to convey information he obviously had considered worth dying for.  Without that same life or death urgency lending credibility, getting Dawn’s sister to believe that Dawn wasn’t real was going to take some doing.

Decision finally made, Xander looked around him, realizing he’d been walking blindly as he pondered, and caught his bearings.

It was late afternoon.  Never the best time to talk to Spike, who tended to be sleepy and grumpy when woken up in the middle of the day for less than an emergency.  He’d tell Spike tonight.  Plus, there was something he’d promised to do and hadn’t done yet.  He needed to call Riley.  He‘d put off talking to him, having had better things to do, like morning nookie and meeting with Mr. Okolo, but he couldn’t put it off any longer.  

First, though, he was going to stop and pick up a new cell phone for Spike.  Changing direction to head for the store, Xander wondered if he should get two phones, in case Spike decided to call Angel again.

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

“Hey, Riley.  How’s it going?” Xander asked as Riley entered the shop.  He’d asked Riley to meet him at the Magic Box, since he needed to help Tara.

Suspecting it was going to be a difficult conversation, he’d asked her to take a long coffee break, then shamelessly hung a ‘Back in 20 minutes’ sign on the door.

Riley didn’t respond to the pleasantry.  “You said you had news.  Does it have something to do with the fact that Buffy isn’t returning my calls?” he asked, looking more irritated than worried.

“Buffy’s mother is in the hospital,” Xander told him, with deliberate bluntness.  “She had surgery this morning and Buffy and Dawn are waiting to see how it went.”  

He watched in satisfaction as shock replaced the annoyance on Riley’s face.  “My god.  Why didn’t she call me?  I should be there.”  He turned, obviously intended to head over to the hospital immediately.

“She’s in LA, not Sunnydale General,” Xander told him, stopping him in his tracks.  “They found a tumor and they wanted to operate immediately.”

“Los Angeles?”  Riley asked blankly.  “They had to airlift her?”

Tempting as it was to lie, Xander was not going to create that mess for Buffy to clean up later.  “No.  We made her an appointment with a specialist in LA and they found the tumor.  They wanted to operate right away, so she’s still at the medical center there.”

Riley frowned.  “I don’t understand.  Why didn’t Buffy tell me any of this?”

“She asked me to fill you in because she wasn’t up to talking to anyone after she got the news.”  He shrugged.  “The appointment in LA was set up at the last minute.  They didn’t have time to do much more than pack.”

“They clearly had time to explain it all to you,” Riley began stiffly.

“Don’t be an ass,” Xander said impatiently.  “I called Buffy’s old Watcher and he pulled some strings and got the appointment set up.  Buffy only found out about it Thursday night and they left Friday morning at the crack of dawn.  It was a last minute thing, not a conspiracy to keep you in the dark.”

“It’s Saturday afternoon and she hasn’t called yet.”

“Jesus, Riley, do you have to work at being this self-centered, or does it come naturally?” Xander snapped.  “Her mother is having surgery today, she’s responsible for her kid sister in a strange city, and you’re complaining because she hasn’t called you.  What the hell’s wrong with you?”

He glared at Riley, who just set his jaw stubbornly.  “I don’t think it’s out of line to be a little upset when my girlfriend, who says she loves me, doesn’t seem to want me around.”  His shoulders slumped and he ran a hand through his hair, anger fading to hurt.  “Why won’t she let me help her?” he asked plaintively.

“You know, for someone who claims to love Buffy, you don’t seem to know her very well,” Xander told him quietly, folding his arms and leaning back against the counter.  “Buffy’s whole life since she was 15 has been about being in control, being the strong one.  As the Slayer, if she’s weak, she’s dead.  She can’t just turn that on and off.  And right now, she has to think about her mom and Dawn and what they need.  She can’t throw herself into your arms and cry and let you take care of everything, even though it’s probably what she’d like to do, because she’s afraid to show that weakness when her family is depending on her.”

Riley shook his head.  “No one can be strong all the time.  She can’t keep hiding her emotions like that, or eventually she’ll crack.  She needs to let go, let someone else be strong for awhile.  But she keeps pushing me away instead of letting me in.”

“Well, apparently you only want to give her what you think she needs.  Riley, this is her mother.  Pretty much her only parent since her Dad walked out on them.  Buffy’s only concern right now is what her mother and sister need.  The rest of us aren’t even a blip on her radar and that’s how it should be.  Stop worrying about your hurt feelings and what you think Buffy needs, because the last thing she needs right now is you dumping a guilt trip on her.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”  Riley stood up abruptly.  “And frankly, my relationship with Buffy is none of your business.”

Xander didn’t move, looking at Riley calmly as the other man bristled at him aggressively.  “Buffy’s my friend.  That makes it my business, especially when you’re sounding like a jealous five year old.”

“When you hear from her, tell Buffy I hope her mom’s feeling better,” Riley said bitterly.  “She knows how to get ahold of me if she wants to.”

Xander just shook his head as Riley stalked out.  If Riley hadn’t gotten his back up the moment he walked in, he might have been a bit more diplomatic in talking to him.  He could sympathize after all.  He’d rather be in LA, not sitting here three hours away worrying about what was happening.  But Buffy needed Giles, not either him or Riley, and that was what was important right now.  He sighed.  He really hoped Riley pulled his head out of his ass before he talked to Buffy.

He stared at the phone, willing it to ring.  Giles had promised to call again as soon as they knew anything but the phone remained stubbornly silent.  Sighing, he called Tara’s cell phone to tell her it was safe to return to the shop.

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

“Are they sure?”

It was too much to take in at once and Giles obligingly repeated himself.  “Yes.  The doctors are extremely pleased with how the surgery went.  It’s too early to know for sure, but they aren’t expecting any complications.”

Giles hadn’t called until after dark and Xander had been going crazy, picturing all sorts of disasters.  

“I’m terribly sorry I didn’t call earlier, but the doctors wanted to wait until Joyce woke up before they would tell us much of anything.  There was a bit of a feeling that saying anything too soon might jinx things, I’m afraid.”

Relief swamped him and Xander sat down heavily on the couch.  Spike had leapt up from the couch and begun pacing the minute he heard Giles’ voice on the phone, but now he was standing motionlessly behind Xander.   “That’s…” he cleared his throat.  “That’s great.  The best possible news.”  He reached behind himself blindly and Spike took his hand in a strong comforting grip.

“Yes, it is,” Giles agreed.  “Joyce is going to remain here for a week, so the doctors can keep an eye on her.  They’re moving her to a rehab center tomorrow, where she will be under strict instructions to do nothing but rest and recover from the surgery.”  

“Sounds good.  The three of you will stay there, right?”

“Buffy and Dawn will stay, of course,” Giles said immediately, “but I don’t want to impose on you and Tara.”

“You should stay too,” Xander told him firmly.  “Tara and I have the shop covered, and Sgt. Morgan’s on top of the patrolling schedule.  Besides, when’s the last time you took a vacation?”  Relief was rapidly turning into near giddy happiness.  “Do you even know what the word means?” he asked, laughing with sheer exuberance.

“I’ve spent two summers in England, since I became Buffy’s Watcher,” Giles said primly, but Xander could hear the smile in his voice.

“Yeah, but you can’t tell me you didn’t spend the whole time in the Council library, catching up on all the new books.”

Giles ignored that.  “In any case, we are far ahead of you.  Joyce will spend most of her time resting.  Buffy and Dawn will be able to visit her twice each day and I believe there are plans afoot for their free time, what they are referring to as ‘quality shopping’.”

“You’re in hell, aren’t you?” Xander laughed, picturing Giles being dragged to clothing stores all over Los Angeles.

“Not at all, I am not required to go shopping with them.  The hotel has a delightful courtyard and I have an excellent book.”

“You need a life in the worst way,” Xander told him.  He knew he was grinning like a crazy person, but he didn’t care.

Giles promised to call with updates on Joyce’s recovery and Xander promised to notify them of any looming apocalypses and hung up the phone.

“Well, that’s all right then.”  Spike said calmly.  He’d been listening to both ends of the conversation and Xander just shook his head at Spike’s attempt to react indifferently to the news, as if he hadn’t been worried sick.  He reached up and grabbed Spike, pulling his willing lover down onto the couch on top of him.

Wild, giddy laughter was just waiting to burst out of him, and he felt like he should be dancing to obnoxiously loud, pulse pounding music, or howling at the moon like a lunatic, or maybe being shagged through the mattress.

As Spike’s lips met his and he tasted Spike’s own mad happiness in his kiss, he decided that option three was definitely the best way to go.  

As they wrestled each other’s clothes off, Xander remembered that he was supposed to tell Spike about Dawn.

Tomorrow, he promised himself.  Spike’s tongue down his throat made talking impossible anyway and tonight was for celebrating.


Chapter Sixteen

Xander had opened his mouth three times and then subsided, looking frustrated and worried.  Something was bothering him and Spike didn’t think it was about Joyce, not after the Watcher’s call last night.  

He took a moment to quietly savor the knowledge that Joyce was going to be fine.  Like all humans, she healed slowly and it was going to take a while for her to recover after the surgery, but she’d be back soon and everything would go back to the way it had been.  

“Should probably just spit it out, luv,” he advised, seeing Xander once again fail to actually say anything when he’d obviously intended to.  “Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there all day.”  

“That obvious, huh?” Xander asked ruefully.

Spike just lifted an eyebrow.

“Right.”  Xander sighed.  “You remember the monk from the warehouse?  I kind of left something out when I told you what happened.”

“Knew you’d tell me when you were ready, pet,” Spike told him casually, not making a big deal about the fact that Xander had been holding things back.

Xander gave him a fleeting smile but it vanished immediately.  “He told me where they’d hidden the Key.  He said… they changed it into a person, Spike.”

Spike sat up slowly, hiding his surprise.  That hadn’t been what he’d been expecting.  From the waves of anxiety coming off Xander, he suspected he knew the answer before he asked.  “Anyone we know?”

“Dawn.”  If not for vampire hearing, he never would have been able to hear the whispered name.  

“Come again?”

“It’s Dawn.  She wasn’t born human.  They made her out of the energy of the Key.”

Xander was watching him anxiously and Spike narrowed his eyes, aware that they had shifted color.  “Anyone else know?”  He wasn’t particularly interested in the fact that Dawn wasn’t human, or at least hadn’t originally been human.  Not like he was human himself, or had that much use for most humans.  If anything, it made him feel smug.  He must’ve sensed something about her all along, he thought, pleased with the idea.  Would explain how he came to like a human teenager.  He conveniently ignored the fact that Xander had still been in his teens when Spike first met him.  That was different.

“I haven’t told anyone,” Xander said.

Spike shook his head.  “Not what I meant.  I’m guessing the monk didn’t do that little bit of mojo by himself.  Who else knows she was the Key?”

“No one.  According to Mr. Okolo, the monks are all dead.”  

Spike listened with mounting concern as Xander described what he’d learned from the Teer’ah hybrid.  “So, we got two, maybe three players left on the board,” he summarized.  “The Knights, the Beast, and the woman.  Question is…,”

“Is she a third player or the Beast?” Xander finished for him.

“May have to ask her.”

Xander raised his eyebrows.  “Uh, Spike, she kind of kicked your ass last time.  What makes you think she’ll answer questions if you meet her again.”

He scowled at Xander for reminding him.  “Plan on asking with weapons this time.”  He ignored Xander’s skeptical expression.  The skank couldn’t be all that tough.  He’d just been unprepared, that’s all.  He wanted to see how well she held up against something with sharp edges.

Xander was staring at him with baffled exasperation.  “What?” he asked, wondering what was bothering his Claimed.

“That’s it?” Xander asked.  Spike had no idea what he was asking and just looked his confusion.  Xander made a frustrated sound.  “Do you have any idea how annoying that it?”

“’m not doing anything,” Spike objected.

“I freaked out for days over this, Spike.  And you’re just:  ‘so what, she’s not human’?”

“I’m not human,” he pointed out, not understanding what Xander’s problem was.

“Bloody annoying vampire,” Xander muttered, but his lopsided grin and the relief washing over his face gave the game away.  Spike just shook his head.  Humans got fussed over the weirdest things.

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

Giles called every evening at the same time, giving them the latest bulletins on Joyce’s recovery and then passed the phone to Buffy and Dawn.  Joyce had insisted they spend several hours every day having fun instead of babysitting her while she slept.  

Cordelia had taken Buffy and Dawn shopping, showing them her favorite designer resale shops, and Xander had listened with a grin and uncomprehending ears as they enthusiastically described the dresses and shoes they’d bought.  They’d gone to movies and amusement parks and the beach, and the week had ended up being more vacation than anything else.  Even Giles had ended up doing more than reading when Ethan showed up unexpectedly and quietly badgered Giles into going out with him in the evenings after the girls were settled in the hotel for the night.  

They hadn’t been able to speak to Joyce yet, because she was asleep long before Giles called each evening but hearing the relaxed, happy voices of the others told him more than any words could have about how well things were going with her.  Everyone assured them that it was completely normal for Joyce to be so tired after her surgery, and that, when she was awake, she was very much her old self.  The doctors were extremely pleased with how well the surgery had gone and believed they’d gotten every bit of the tumor and everything indicated a full recovery.  

In Sunnydale, they were in a holding pattern.  Nothing had been heard from the blonde woman who’d fought Spike and everything was quiet on the demon front.  The magic shop had been open for three weeks now, and business was going well with a steady flow of customers coming in.  Never an overwhelming number, but Tara knew enough of them to report that the customers who’d patronized the shop under its previous owner had not only returned, but were pleased with the shop’s new look and some of Giles’ innovations.

Xander suspected that the pattern they had formed this week would last beyond Giles’ absence.  It had already become a comfortable routine to stop off at the Magic Box after work.  Tara and he had enough quiet time alone in the shop that he felt he was really getting to know her for the first time and was discovering a core of steel underneath the shyness.  Gentle and compassionate by nature, she could only be pushed so far before she dug her heels in and stood her ground.  As she relaxed around him, he learned she had a quiet sense of humor and strong beliefs about the use of magic - a topic easy to drift into in a magic shop.    

The shop was open only for four hours in the late afternoon, with Giles’ signs explaining the shortened hours were temporary and due to a family emergency.  Xander hadn’t heard a single customer complain, and most of them seemed grateful they had found a way to keep the shop going in the owner’s absence.  

This afternoon, there were two men in the store, one about Xander’s age and an older man, who were eyeing the contents of the shelves with disdain.  Tara was downstairs in the basement getting some supplies and Xander was behind the counter, ready to man the till if necessary, although with a week’s retail experience under his belt, he had decided that these two were lookers, not buyers.

Despite that, he kept more than a casual eye on the two.  Something about them seemed off and they reminded him of the one incident they’d had, right after the grand re-opening, with a couple of religious fundamentalists who had decided to express their disapproval of the “sinful” business by damaging some of the merchandise.  Xander and Buffy had hustled them outside with just enough force to make them think twice about returning and Giles had delivered a scathing lecture about ignorant, uneducated people and threatened them with a restraining orders.  He’d never been sure whether Ethan had done something to them although he thought he’d caught a gesture out of the corner of his eye and a flash of light.  Certainly the people had looked wide-eyed with terror for one instant before taking to their heels.  Ethan had never admitted anything and just smirked when they asked, but then, he smirked more than anyone Xander knew, except possibly Spike.  He suspected it was the reason that Giles had dragged Ethan into the back room for a lecture that was suspiciously quiet.  Xander had just shaken his head when Buffy made to follow them and Giles had emerged from the back room fifteen minutes later, looking dazed and thoroughly kissed.

Xander could hardly blame him.  He knew from personal experience what a turn-on it was when your evil boyfriend defended you.

So far, these two could just have wandered in to the wrong shop, rather than be deliberately planning trouble.  The younger one, whose round face was not improved by the scraggly beard framing his jaw line, looked like he thought the shop was a joke.  The older man had a pinched look of distaste around his mouth, his whole face tight with disapproval.  On the other hand, something about the set of his jaw made Xander suspect this was his normal expression, so it might not be the shop itself that was causing it.

Busy watching the two men, Xander jumped when the quiet was broken by the sound of breaking glass.  He spun around and saw Tara frozen in the entrance to the back room, staring wide-eyed at the two men, before she ducked her head and bent hastily to try and clean up before the spreading pool of liquid could scatter salamander eyes across the whole floor.

“Watch the glass, Tara,” Xander told her quickly.  “I’m coming.”  He grabbed the dustpan and a handful of rags Giles kept under the counter and crossed to join her, using the rags to dam the spreading liquid as a temporary measure.  “These things still salvageable?” he asked, looking at the chaos of tiny salamander eyes and broken glass.

Tara shook her head mutely and Xander saw her hands were trembling slightly.  “Hey, no biggie,” he told her.  “Accidents happen.”

“Tara.”

The voice came from behind him and Tara’s shoulders hunched before she straightened up slowly.  “Dad.  Hi.”

There was a surprisingly awkward silence before Tara stepped away from the mess and gave her father a stiff hug.  “This is s-such a s-surprise.

“One of your dorm-mates said I might find you here,” her father said, disapproval lacing his tone as he glanced around the shop, making no effort to hide that same expression of distaste..

Xander slowly worked on cleaning up the mess, spending more time watching Tara and her family than looking at the stuff he was cleaning up.

“Oh,” Tara said with guilty suddenness.  “Um, this is a, a f-friend.  Xander.”  She turned back towards him.  “This is my father, a-and my brother Donny.”

Xander lifted the hand holding the rag in a half-wave, half-apology for not greeting them properly.  “Hey.”

“Pleasure.” Mr. Maclay said, politely enough, although Xander would have bet serious money it was anything but. “I don’t mean to interrupt.  I know we’ve come on you kind of suddenly, but I thought we could have dinner.”

If anything, Tara looked even more alarmed.  “O-okay,” she said faintly.

“Why don’t I pick you up at six and we’ll do some catching up.”

Tara nodded silently and her father and brother left the store without another word.

Xander waited until the door had closed behind them.  “Tara?  Is everything ok?”  Her father had someone made “catching up’ sound ominous.

“Fine,” she said.  “I’m so sorry about the mess.”  She wrenched her gaze away from the door and brought him the waste paper basket to drop the broken glass into.

“Don’t worry about it.  Are you sure you’re alright?”  He gave her a searching look but she ducked her head and refused to meet his eyes.

“I’m fine,” she repeated.  “It was j-just a surprise.  I-I didn’t think they’d come.”

Xander frowned.  He hadn’t heard Tara stutter that badly in weeks, not since she’d gotten more comfortable with them.  “Are they here for a reason?” he asked cautiously.

“M-My birthday.”

“I didn’t know your birthday was coming up,” he said, surprised.  “You should have said something.  We could have done a small party or something.”

Tara managed a small smile.  “It’s not important.  I’ve never really liked birthday parties.”

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

The blonde wasn’t cooperating.  Spike had swept the town every night this week and hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her.  Whoever she was, she wasn’t hiding in any of the usual places.  He’d checked the tunnels, the cemeteries, the demon bars, all the typical places for a demon new to town and no one had seen or heard of anything that looked like her.  

The patrol volunteers had all been told to keep an eye out, but none of them had spotted anything either.  The week had been unusually quiet and Spike was frankly itching for a good fight.  

He was about to pack it in for the night, just taking one last swing through a cemetery, when he heard the sounds of a fight.  He stilled, listening, then made an exasperated noise.  He considered just ignoring the situation, but decided it would be worth the time to watch.  

He headed for the sound of the scuffle, crossing the ground with quick strides, not particularly worried about being quiet himself.  As he approached the source of the noise, he swung himself up to the roof of a crypt and settled down to watch.

Soldier boy and a vampire were trading blows in the middle of a small clearing.  Despite the dim light, Spike’s vision allowed him to make out the heavy scattering of ash that marked the place where a second vampire had recently been dusted.  

Finn was panting, sweat shining on his face as he fought.  The vampire was older than a newly-turned fledge, but not by much.  It didn’t have more than rudimentary fighting skills, still young enough to think that strength and speed would win the battle.  Finn was favoring his right side, like he’d taken a hard hit to his ribs.  Probably not broken, Spike decided, head tilted to one side as he watched the soldier, but enough to slow some of his blows.  Lucky for Finn, the vampire was too inexperienced to take advantage of the injury or he’d be food already.

Finn stumbled and went down and the vampire pounced, even as the soldier rolled rapidly, causing the vampire to miss.  Finn brought his arm down and around and the vampire snarled as the stake in his hand dug deep into his stomach, missing his heart but doing fairly significant damage.

Finn cursed, and scrambled ungracefully back to his feet, one arm cradling his ribs, as the vampire regained his feet.  The two of them stood facing each other, Finn panting hard, the vampire clutching the deep wound in his stomach and cursing.  The soldier’s foot lashed out and the vampire dodged, then drove his fist into Finn’s kidney as the soldier inadvertently exposed his vulnerable back and side when the momentum of the missed kick cost him his balance.

The soldier was sent stumbling to the ground for the second time, barely managing to flip over to meet the vampire’s attack.  

Spike shook his head as Finn lead with his stake and the vampire impaled himself on it as he threw himself at the downed soldier.  The explosion of dust set Finn coughing as he rolled to his feet, looking pleased with himself despite the pain he wasn’t even trying to hide.  Finn had obviously not learned anything from his recent heart troubles:  the idiot still thought he was invulnerable.  If he went hunting anything but newly-risen fledges, he’d be dead soon.  Finn had good training behind him, but too many of his moves depended on him being stronger than normal humans.  He hadn’t done anything to adjust his fighting style to something more suited to normal human strength.  A weapon bigger than a stake might be a good start.

Well, if Finn got himself killed, that would put an end to his annoying whining, Spike thought.  He supposed he should tell Xander that the soldier was out patrolling by himself but decided against it.  Xander had enough problems he was dealing with.  Let the Slayer handle her boyfriend.

Finn hadn’t seen him come, and didn’t see him slip away into the night, either.  Anyone that oblivious to their surroundings shouldn’t be patrolling at all, Spike thought to himself, heading for the magic shop to pick up Xander.

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

“They want me to go home with them,” Tara said quietly, her hands clenched, white-knuckled, in front of her.

She’d gone out to dinner with her father last night, and today, meeting her as usual at the shop, it hadn’t been hard to see that she was more than a little upset about something.  

“Oh.”  Xander wasn’t sure what to say.  Tara did not sound happy about the idea.  “Where’s home?”

“A little town in the hills a couple hours from here, you wouldn’t have heard of it.”  She seemed to huddle in on herself.  “I was never h-happy there after, after my mother died.”

“How old were you?” he asked gently.  

“F-fifteen.  She w-was like me.  A witch.”  She looked at him nervously and he just nodded encouragingly.  “M-my f-f-father always t-t-told me…” she took a deep breath and steadied herself and when she spoke again, her voice was under control.  “My family told me I had demon blood and that, w-when I turned twenty the demon would show.  Everyone w-would be able to s-s-see it.”

In the silence that followed, Xander could only think of one thing to say.  “I’m guessing that this is your twentieth birthday?”

She nodded.  “I wrote to my dad last spring,” she told him.  “When the c-coven was here and they did the spells to track demon energy?”  

Xander nodded, remembering how they’d used the spells to confirm the location of the Initiative cells and how many demons were trapped in them.  “That’s when I realized that I wasn’t a demon.  Th-that m-m-my family had lied to me all my life.  Willow, a-and the rest of the coven were great.  It wasn’t so much anything they said, just knowing them…” she hesitated, like she was having trouble explaining what she meant but Xander suspected he knew anyway.

“Maggie’s pretty amazing, isn’t she?” he said and Tara smiled at him.  “When I first met her, it was like I just trusted her immediately.  It’s impossible to think of her doing something deliberately cruel, or for the wrong reasons.”

“Willow’s like that too.”  She flashed him an apologetic look.  “For me.  I-I-I mean, about trusting her.  I know s-she’s done some things in the past…”

“It was a long time ago,” he told her.  “We’ve put it behind us and we’re friends again.”

“I’m glad.  She’s really worked h-hard.  She’s good for me,” she told him shyly.  “W-we talk almost every day, and she’s so good about helping me, encouraging me.”  She hesitated and Xander wondered where this was going.  They’d gotten a bit far afield from her family wanting her to come home.  “She thinks I should stay in school, not go home.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to stay.”  Tara’s blonde hair fell forward over her face and all he could see was the top of her head with the crazy zig-zag part she often wore.  “But I’m scared.”  Her voice was so quiet he almost didn’t hear the last few words.

“Of your family?” he asked, almost as quietly.

She nodded.  

“Tara, they can’t force you to go with them.  You’re an adult and they don’t have any legal control over you.”

“I know.”

Xander wished he knew what to do.  Whether or not Tara’s family had ever physically abused her, it was obvious they’d beaten her down emotionally.  No wonder she was so shy and reluctant to assert herself.

He had a sudden inspiration.  “Tara, do you need someplace to stay for awhile?  Some place where your family can’t find you?”  Buffy had given him a key to their house, just in case.  They weren’t going to be back for two more days, it was perfect.  

“Oh, no,” Tara protested.  “Th-they aren’t…”

What they weren’t, he didn’t learn, because the shop door opened at that moment.  Xander’s jaw tightened when he saw it was Tara’s father.  He entered, giving Xander a brief nod, then focusing on Tara.

“Tara, it’s time.”

Tara hunched her shoulders, just as her brother and a blonde woman Xander hadn’t seen before but who was obviously with the two men, entered the store.

He stood up.  “Mr. Maclay, this isn’t a good time.  Tara and I are in the middle of a conversation.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to interrupt.  Tara is coming with us.”

Tara had risen to her feet as well and stood facing her family, white-faced but firm.  “No.”

“Tara, we’ve talked about this.  What you are doing here,” he glanced around the shop with distaste “is just making things worse.”

“How is working and helping a friend, making things worse?” Xander asked, when Tara flushed and looked down at the floor.

“I don’t recall this being any of your business, young man,” Mr. Maclay said icily.  “We’re Tara’s family and we know what’s best for her.”

“I’m not going,” Tara said again.

“You’re going to do what’s right, Tara,” her father said sharply.

Tara shook her head mutely and Xander stepped forward, casually putting himself between Tara and her family.

“What’s right for Tara is staying here.  Now, this is a place of business and I’m asking you to leave.”

Mr. Maclay didn’t move.  “Tara belongs with us,” he said stubbornly.  “We know how to control her... problem.”

“And what problem would that be?”

“There is evil inside of her,” Mr. Maclay said with conviction.  “Where do you think all this -” his gesture seemed to include everything in the magic shop - “comes from?”

“You’re asking someone that who works here part time?” Xander began, only to be interrupted.

“Bollocks.”

Tara’s family swung around.  Spike leaned against the doorframe, white hair shining under the lights, wearing tight black jeans and t-shirt, with his favorite red silk shirt unbuttoned and hanging loosely over his lean frame.  His whole body radiated menace and Xander wondered enviously, not for the first time, how Spike was able to do that while leaning casually against something in what was a completely harmless pose when anyone else assumed it.

“Glinda?” he asked with amused contempt.  “I know something about evil and she’s not evil.”  

Suppressing a grin, Xander thought the Maclays had gotten the message, loud and clear, that Spike knew a lot more than just ‘something’ about evil.  Tara’s head had snapped up and she was staring at Spike in surprise, apparently not having realized before now that Spike liked her.  Spike nodded to her, without taking his eyes off her father.    

“Problem, luv?” he purred, like he was just itching to solve the problem, violently.  Probably permanently.

“No problem,” Xander told him cheerfully.  “The Maclay’s were just leaving.  Tara’s decided to stay in town.”

Mr. Maclay gave him a frustrated glare but didn’t push it when Spike started growling, a barely audible sound whose menace was unmistakable.  Tara’s brother took one step in Tara’s direction before coming to his senses and snapping his mouth shut without saying anything.

“Well,” the blonde woman said.  Xander assumed she was a relative of some kind, she had the same pinched, disapproving features as Mr. Maclay.  “I hope you’ll all be happy, living with her.”

“Plan to be ecstatic,” Spike told her, giving her a feral grin.  “You’re welcome to stay,” he told her.  “Orgy’s open to all.”

Her jaw dropped and she sputtered, seeming incapable of responding coherently to the invitation.  Xander hid a grin as she edged warily away from Spike, keeping Tara’s brother between her and Spike as she hurriedly left the shop.

There was a moment’s silence after the door closed behind them.  Tara was the first to speak.

“O-orgy?” she asked.

“Just a thought,” Spike said airily.

To Xander’s surprise, Tara giggled, causing Spike to lift an eyebrow at her in surprise and Xander to grin at her proudly - Spike respected people who laughed at him.  Well, some of them.  Anyone else tended to not survive the experience, but it looked like Tara was going to be one of the few who could get away with it.

Before Spike could say anything to prove how serious he was - Tara was pretty new at this - Xander crossed the room and threw an arm around his waist.  “Perfect timing, luv,” he said, borrowing Spike’s usual endearment.  “Thanks.”

“You and Glinda looked like you had things well in hand.”

“Tara did,” he told Spike, smiling at Tara warmly.  “But you kept things from escalating, which is a good thing.”

“Pity,” Spike said with genuine regret.

Xander just grinned.  Trust Spike to regret having prevented a tense situation from escalating into a fight.


TBC

 
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