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Getting Bent 3: Taking The Initiative

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Prologue: The familiar GB (Getting Bent) Network studio set.

AH, looking especially sweet and demure, reads from the teleprompter.

AH: Welcome to the GB's New Tuesday. Tonight on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow and Oz make out off-camera, but you can hear it, and Buffy wears this really cute outfit to a party, where she gets to dance with Riley, and...

SMG storms in from camera left, holding script in hand.

AH: Oh, hi! I was just doing the promo.

SMG: I so don't want to know what's in that this week. Have you looked at the script yet? Have you seen what those sickos slipped in there this time?

AH: [looks concerned] Um, only the Willow and Oz parts. Why, did they cut your scenes down again?

SMG: Well, yeah, but it's not that, so much as this .

She points to a passage, which AH reads silently, her lips moving as she does so, until she starts to speak aloud.

AH: Then Xander puts his hand... and he takes the...um... the thing, and... oh. Um. And he breathes hard and... Wow. That's...

SMG: Sick! Disgusting! Likely to make Cover Girl pull their commercial spots!

AH: [a bit defensive] It's perfectly natural, you know. It doesn't make hair grow on your palms or anything.

SMG: [ blinks at her, then shakes her head] Yeah, maybe, but not in primetime. Plus...he's thinking about Spike! Ewww! I just know those guys are responsible for this. When I get my hands on them...

She stalks offset, and AH looks around.

AH: Okay guys, she's gone. You can come out now.

NB and JM walk on from the opposite direction, looking around nervously.

JM: Man, I don't know what her problem is! We have nothing to do with those script changes.

NB: Well, I don't, anyway. I'm a good little boy; I just do what The Man tells me to do.

AH: [Giggles] Well...um... But you don't actually mind doing it. Do you?

The actors look at each other, cough, and look away.

JM: We're professionals. It's all about the art.

AH: [Nods knowingly. They start to walk offset, studying a script. She calls after them.] Don't rehearse too hard!

 


Xander stood in the middle of the dry-cleaning shop, black duster neatly folded in his arms. This time. Maybe. Possibly. Hand it over and tell them to treat it as carefully as if the owner were somebody who might look them up and rip their intestines out if they damaged a single square inch of leather-- then turn around and walk out. He'd come back on Monday and it would all be gone. No more four weeks old and fading evidence of his body's opinion on the best sex he'd ever had. No more smell of adrenaline and fear and werewolf blood. They could even fix the places where Veruca's teeth had gouged deep holes in the leather.

But...yeah, same old song. The good smell, the thing that smelled more right than anything Xander had ever inhaled, that would be gone too. The smell that he smelled when he bunched up the duster and put it on his pillow next to his head, closed his eyes and remembered. No more traces of bleach and tobacco and that indefinable man scent that was more than just man, it was Spike. Vampire. Last seen ambling away in his tight jeans and red silk shirtsleeves, with what Xander had thought was an unspoken promise to come back, at least for his drycleaned coat.

But that was four weeks ago, and there'd been no sign of him, and Xander knew he should get the smells, all of them, out of his system-- or he'd go crazy, if he wasn't already. It wouldn't be all that hard. All he had to do was set it down on the counter, open his mouth, and say--

"You gonna leave it this time, Xander?" The sardonic voice came from the short, plump Asian woman who stood behind the counter on a tall step-stool, a broad, knowing smile on her face.

"Nah, not today, Susie," he said, as they'd both known he would. He grinned back at her, and reached over the counter to grab the sports bag he'd stashed there when he came in that morning. He almost fumbled and let it drop on the floor when he remembered what was in it, but he managed a save that would have made the Sunnydale football team proud. Until they opened it and looked inside, then they would have beaten the crap out of him. "Maybe on Monday," he added out of habit, unfolding the duster.

"Yeah, sure, and maybe monkeys'll fly out my ass," Susie replied, straightfaced. Her Chinese accent was still thick even after thirty years in the States, but her delivery was pure California. Xander had to bite his tongue to keep from choking at her response, even though he'd had three weeks to get used to the permanently stunted sense of humor in her eighty-five year old body.

"Grandmother!" came the expected complaint from the man at the cash register. If Susie Ling was eighty-five going on twenty, her grandson Ying Hao was thirty-three going on older-than-Angel. His instructions on how to operate the clothes-press and fold things just so and which liquids not to mix with which others were pronounced with such deeply reverent mysticism that Xander always expected him to add, "And remember, never get Mogwai wet, and never ever feed them after midnight."

The man cast a disapproving look in his grandmother's direction, but it was replaced with a fond, faintly amused smile after she stuck her tongue out at him and went to get Xander's paycheck from the back office. He wasn't a bad guy, for a tightass traditionalist, as Susie called him to his face. Even if he did want Xander to call him 'Mr. Ying' when he was only fourteen years older than his newest employee.

It had been Ying Hao who had offered Xander the job, in fact. He'd seen Xander standing on the sidewalk staring at the cleaning prices for the god-knew-which day in a row, and assumed Xander was looking for work but didn't quite have the balls to ask. Faced with the stern-looking guy in the impeccably-starched manager's uniform, Xander hadn't quite had the balls to tell him otherwise. Anyway, it wasn't that far from the truth. Xander had a couple of part-time jobs, and a construction gig at the University coming up courtesy of one of his uncles, but nothing like the hours Mr. Ying was offering, and he needed every penny. Took him a week of getting used to the boss' mannerisms, before he'd confessed that he'd only been trying to figure out whether he could afford to get the duster cleaned, and by that time he was firmly entrenched as part of the crew.

It turned out to be the best job he'd ever accepted. 24-hour cleaners, and they didn't mind what time he came in, since there was always work to do. They could care less about his other jobs and any late-night extracurricular Buffy-helping missions that he wasn't about to go into detail over, as long as he showed up sometime during the week. He'd learned how to get three different kinds of demon blood out of his clothes, too-- which fact, when he'd shared it with Buffy, had made her so blissfully happy that she hadn't even argued when he'd started accompanying her on those missions more and more often . Helping out, but also casually not-looking for signs of Spike.

And YingLing's was a fun place to spend his non-patrolling hours. Susie was a blast to hang with, and even Mr. Ying had his moments, though it usually took you about three days to figure out that the guy had made a joke.

"Whatever medical problems you might have are a private matter, not to be shared outside the family," Ying Hao said smoothly to his grandmother when she returned with Xander's check. She blinked, then grinned. Mr. Ying's face showed no sign that he'd intended anything funny by it, which made Xander bite his tongue even harder.

"Here you go, kid. Don't spend it all in one place-- buy yourself a gumball and a pack of Trojans," Susie told Xander. He'd just about figured out how not to blush when she said stuff like that. It involved watching Mr. Ying's reaction, and convincing his body that his boss was doing the blushing for both of them. Xander took the check and glanced down at the figure. Nothing he could retire on, but not bad, either. Better than minimum wage, unlike most of the jobs in this town. At least enough to buy the economy-sized-glow-in-the-dark-grape-flavored pack of Trojans, if I had any use for them these days.

He'd turned down three more dates and one blatant proposition for hot, sweaty sex with Anya, since he'd gotten this job. Trying to be as gentle as possible without coming right out and saying "Sorry, you're a nice girl, but even though our parts fit together and we both make squeaky noises, there's nothing really there, and I think that may be because I want to make squeaky noises exclusively with somebody whose parts weren't biologically designed to interlock with mine." You wouldn't think it would be so hard, since he'd already confessed the gist of that to Oz in fewer syllables, but the whole ex-vengeance demon thing made him a little nervous, no matter how human she seemed.

Xander started to head out the door, and Mr. Ying called after him, "Are you sure you don't want to leave the coat, Xander? It really is a shame not to repair those rips." If he knew they were bite marks, Xander's boss wasn't letting on. Xander wasn't sure if it was stereotypical Chinese inscrutability or stereotypical Sunnydale blindness, and didn't particularly care, as long as it kept them from asking awkward questions about the duster or any of the other Hellmouth-inspired laundry tragedies he brought in.

"Nah, wouldn't want to have to evict Susie's butt-monkeys on a Friday afternoon," he responded. "At least give 'em the weekend to find a new place to stay." Susie laughed loudly as Xander waved and walked out the door, and Mr. Ying gave him a pained look that made Xander wonder if Giles didn't do his drycleaning here. It would explain so much.

He put the duster on, then slung the sports bag over his shoulder as he walked down the sidewalk, wincing at how heavy it was. Not that it hurt or anything-- he'd carried heavier stuff on patrol, and his soldier memory could even conjure up the comforting weight of a rocket-launcher on his shoulder. It was simply that he knew what was in this bag.

Couple of stakes and some holy water, of course, and a spare pair of boxers, because...well, you never knew. And It. The large, discreetly-wrapped package that he'd picked up from his Post Office Box at lunch, whose arrival Xander had been awaiting since he'd ordered it two weeks ago, by express shipping. Some people's idea of express was faster than others, obviously. But now it was here-- already opened briefly and privately on the way back from the Post Office just to check that the contents were all there-- and it was in his bag. Weighing on his shoulder and burning a hole in the back of his imagination, as Xander walked through the afternoon sunlight, down the quiet sidewalks of Sunnydale-- towards home.

*****

Spike blinked, and blinked again, before he realized what he was doing. Hot damn-- I can blink! I can move! He was still shaking off the remnants of a foggy dream, muttering something about the Slayer, and puppies. Puppies?

His head ached, and he twitched his arm. Managed to lift it and somehow locate his skull to rub it --not that it did any good-- so he thought he might just try the much more complex project of opening his eyes and keeping them that way.

Ack. Bright whiteness, strong lights that sent a bolt of pain through his protesting head. Spike sat up slowly, grimacing at the aches all over his body, and looked around. White wall, white wall, white wall... somebody needs a brief introduction to Martha Stewart, or at least a good Pier One outlet he thought dopily. Then he froze, as he saw the fourth wall. Glass. Clear, shiny glass, and on the other side, people were moving. People in white coats.

Flashes, falling backwards through his memory. White coats. Silver knives in his head. Hands holding him down. Red and black and dreams of belonging and loss. Lightning hitting him, only it wasn't lightning or he'd be undead toast-- it had come from guns, wielded by faceless humans in camouflage uniforms. Before that-- standing under a tree, watching the Slayer fight. The Slayer-- she was behind this-- kill her, crunch her bones, drink her blood, that's what he was supposed to have been doing anyway, but he hadn't. Been watching, thinking... of someone else. Someone who shouldn't have been on his mind.

Brown eyes, serious and playful at the same time. Broad hands touching him firmly, but not like these bastards had touched him. Not like a thing. Like a man. Not to hurt him. Wanting him. Asking him. Taking him, knowing him, filling him completely, then turning around and asking to be taken. Screaming into the night, "Mine!" and hearing it screamed in return-- or maybe at the same time. A touch, a scent... something that was Spike's . He blinked, and saw the face floating in front of him, though he knew the kid couldn't be here, knew he was projecting it onto the surface of the glass before him.

Spike still launched himself at that glass. Because somewhere out there, something he needed was waiting for him. Freedom and blood and a leather coat that made him feel naked and small right now 'cos he didn't have it, and something else, and he wanted OUT.

When he hit the glass, it was like that tasergun lightning all over again on a smaller scale, zapping through his body. It bounced him back to the floor, spitting and growling. Momentarily scared shitless. Mine mine mine let me out! Fuck, bastards, shit. I'm a Master vamp. More in control than this. Gotta think.

He rose to his feet and began to pace. He hurt, he was hungry, there were strangers out there who had done this to him and were keeping him trapped like a rat in a cage. Back and forth. Thing. Animal. Shit, what kind of trouble was he in? How long since he'd fed? Felt like days. Not starvation-level, yet, but on the edge. Could do with a nice juicy co-ed, fresh from Lover's Lane, full of hormones and hemoglobin. Spike's stomach growled, and he cursed at himself. Don't get distracted. Think. Where are you? How did they get you here, and how d'you get out? But his body said hungryhungrywanthungry.

As if that lot out there heard the demon growling inside him, a hole opened in the ceiling, and a packet of rich, red blood fell splat on the floor. Food! Spike reached for it and began to tear the plastic open.

"Don't drink it-- it's drugged," came a voice from the other side of one of the white walls. Spike jerked his head up, then sniffed the packet. Dark and thick and... heavy and wrong. He could smell the tranquilizers floating in the mix, and he threw it to the floor in disgust.

"And who might you be, mate?" he asked the wall. Surprisingly, it answered him back, which made him wonder how many tranqs had already been pumped into him. Steady on, Spike. Focus. That was a real voice you heard.

"I'm a rat," came the nervous reply. Spike doubted it somehow, even though talking rats wouldn't be too much to expect at the moment -- this place had 'NIMH' written all over it. "I'm a lab rat, just like the others. " Spike walked over and sniffed at the cracks in the wall. No rodents here -- another vamp, from the smell of him, and young. "They're gonna kill us, you know. " Didn't sound completely sane, even for a fledge, and Spike wondered just how long this one had been here.

"And how do they do that, then?" he asked. Could flood the place with holy water, he supposed, or open some ceiling panel and let the sunshine in, but they wouldn't get near him with a stake -- or one of those taserguns, not again. He'd rip their heads off their necks, drink 'em down, and spit in the empty shells, first.

"They starve you. When you're ready to bite your own arm, they shoot out one of those packets. You drink, and the next thing, you're gone. And that's when they do the experiments."

Spike put a hand to the back of his skull again, and swore. Sharp things in his head. Strapped to a table. Fucking hell, what had they done to him? He stared out at the men outside the glass, who passed back and forth pushing demons of various sizes and shapes on gurneys, taking no notice of the human-shaped one in here watching them. No one had even looked up when he'd thrown himself at the barrier. "Who are they?"

"Don't know. Nobody. Anybody. All I know is, one minute the Slayer's chasing me, takes down my whole gang, then zap! Next time I look around, I'm here."

"The Slayer..." Spike let the name roll around on his tongue. Remembered his waking thoughts -- her fault, all her fault. But really, could Buffy Summers be responsible for this operation? She was a fairly bright girl, aside from her bad taste in having fallen for his Sire, but the biggest thing he'd ever heard of her running was her own little Slayerette Gang -- no, don't think of the boy, focus, Spike -- and from what he'd observed, she wasn't all that great at organizing them. This could be a Council of Watchers project, maybe -- God knew they were darker than they let on to their sweet innocent Slayers, but...

Fuck, did it matter? What mattered was getting out. The fledge next door was still babbling about Buffy, how she'd kicked his Sire's arse, some wannabe-bad chit named Sunday, who'd been around for all of ten years or so. Nobody Spike had ever heard of, and he was getting tired of hearing about her now. He slammed his hand against the glass. "Shut your gob! I've gotta think." Say, if he didn't hit the glass full force, it didn't set off the bug-zapper effect. Maybe if... Nah-- 'Spect they'd notice me standin' about thumping on the wall 'til it finally cracked.

Maybe he'd finally cracked, or maybe he was just too hungry to think straight, because when the other vamp started babbling again, the terror bubbled up in him again. Spike hit the wall so hard it made his knuckles bleed. He wiped it off absently, sucking at his own skin, then growled loudly. "Shut UP!" Spike sat down, resting his head on his knees. He had to think. Had to think. Had to... God, he just wanted some blood and somebody to rub his head for him and make the pain go away. Somebody with strong hands who smelled good, with warm arms he could lean back in and-- shit. No.

Gotta think. Gotta... want what's mine. Want him, wanthimwanthimwanthim.... "Shut UP!" he shouted again, though the other vampire had stopped making any noise the first time Spike had growled. Spike wasn't shouting at anyone but his own head. His own body, that was shivering from the lack of blood, and just wanted to crawl into someone else's arms, right now.

He had to get out of here. He had places to go.

*****

Home. Xander stared at the door in front of him, and... smiled. He reached out to trace the number on it, a worn-out seven. Lucky seven. This was home. He reached in Spike's duster pocket for the key, and opened the door. Walked inside and breathed, and smiled again. Home...

His own apartment. Oh, it was on the bad side of town, which was, as everyone in Sunnydale knew, indistinguishable from the good side of town. But it was his. It was one bedroom and a middle-sized living room and a little kitchenette that was maybe a square foot smaller than Giles' -- a.k.a. dinky as all hell. But it was his. His posters on the walls. No macrame hangings, no toolboxes, no shelves-o-broken-appliances. No old red chair, no fold-out couch... Well, actually, there was a fold-out couch, but it was a twenty-four ninety-nine couch from Goodwill, not the one that had been in his parents' basement since the dawn of time. It was probably just as crappy, but it was his.

And the couch was a couch. The couch was for sitting on and eating popcorn with the gang when he invited them all over for movie night, which he hadn't done yet since he'd moved in just because they couldn't all find a time when they didn't have classes or patrolling or a gig or a date. But they'd been here in little groups. Buffy and Giles helped him move furniture, and vegged out on the couch afterwards while Xander used his kitchen to make gourmet delights like fresh-from-the-box Twinkies and fresh-from-the-bottle Dr. Pepper. Willow and Oz came over to chill, and tell him all about the research they were doing on historical werewolves and things they'd found about controlling the wolf, instead of running from it. Willow grinning and letting her mouth run as fast as her brain, and Oz just kicking back and smiling at her and nodding every so often. Leaning back on the couch with his feet on the scratched-up coffee table that Xander didn't mind a bit about, because it was his home, and they were his family and it was all cool.

Xander shut the door behind him, still grinning. Then the bag on his shoulder smacked into his side, and he blushed, and locked the deadbolt. And put the chain-latch on. He tossed the bag quickly onto the couch before checking the answering machine for messages. His answering machine. Grin. One, from Buffy. Patrol at eight? That left him three or four hours to... Xander looked at the bag again, and blushed. Again. Dammit, I'm alone in my own home! I shouldn't be embarrassed about stuff that... Stuff that he'd had to order over the internet from the public library PC's, because there was no way he was using Willow's computer to do it, and no way he was walking into that store on Marquette Avenue, even though he knew where it was. Because everybody else knew where it was too, and new-improved-cool-with-himself Xander or not, there were limits.

Still, new toys were new toys, even toys that made him blush just thinking about their existence. Xander walked over and opened the sports bag, reaching in for his package. What his hand came out with was a paper sack that hadn't been there when he'd put the bag on the shelf at YingLing's this morning. He groaned. I suppose it's too much to hope that Susie planted this thing in my bag before I got back from the Post Office, and I just didn't notice it when I shoved the package in? He opened up the paper sack to find a stack of chocolate chip cookies, three foil-wrapped spring rolls, and a note: "Good books. Nice boxers. Use the strawberry lube-- the banana flavor smells weird when you put it on silicone. Relax. Have fun! --Susie-Q."

He groaned again. And he was supposed to walk in on Monday and look at her? 'Cause... she'd grin at him, and... Xander sighed. Yeah, Susie knows. Big deal. It's not like she's gonna say anything to anybody, any more than Oz will. Hey, what a great plan for coming out to your friends-n-family and the woman who wants to be your girlfriend. Start with the most closed-mouthed friend you have, move on to an unconnected co-worker... Pretty soon you might work your way up to telling a priest!

It wasn't like Susie hadn't already known. He was fairly sure. There'd been one too many winks when he'd glanced across the counter at some good-looking man, testing his 'is it all guys or just Spike' theories. Which had proved inconclusive -- he did find them attractive, and wasn't too nervous about looking. But hell, he still found Anya attractive. There just wasn't any spark. So... So there was this bag-o-goodies. Not Susie's bag, but the one he was pulling out of the duffel now. For further experimentation. Utterly safe experimentation that wouldn't be hurt if he didn't call it in the morning.

Xander carried the reinforced shipping envelope into his bedroom, and shut the door behind him-- then laughed, wondering who he was shutting out. He dropped it onto the bed -- his bed, a double bed, because he might get some use out of it someday , after all. He flopped down beside his package after shucking the duster off, and went through the contents again. A couple of books, one of which he could have checked out of the library if he'd actually wanted to look at the librarian's face when she scanned the barcode, the other of which he'd never seen until he started websearching. They both had pictures. And instructions. And wording that made him flush, then made him re-read just to make sure he'd read what he thought he'd read.

There was the strawberry lube, of course. Which was undoubtedly much better than what he'd used the last --only-- time he'd needed any. And the banana, which did smell weird when he twisted the cap off and sniffed. A couple of other little things, not very expensive. Some of which looked like fun, and at least one of which made Xander acutely aware of the fact that he was a sick, sick puppy. And that at least one other person in the world knew he was a sick puppy.

And then there were the two... things. The things that Susie had looked at and said he shouldn't put the banana lube on and he really shouldn't be thinking about that, because it wasn't going to make using one of them any easier. Xander leaned back against his pillows, breathed deeply, and thought of Mel Gibson. Who didn't do a hell of a lot for him, but at least wiped the image of an eighty-five year old Chinese woman out of his head.

Okay, not Mel. How about somebody else? Spike! his brain immediately supplied. Xander rolled his eyes. Hey brain, the point is to see if there's anybody else of the male persuasion in the mental rolodex who flicks Xander's Bic. Because his dreams thus far, and his fantasies, and his familiar jerking off, and his unfamiliar touching and feeling and whatever he could manage with his fingers, had all been populated for the last month with images of one ice-blond vampire who hadn't shown his face in all that time, and might never again.

Xander closed his eyes and lay back, and tried to think of someone else. Someone who would look good on this double bed with him, reaching out and gently stroking him through his jeans, as his own hand was doing now. Someone with blue eyes and-- no, come on, brain, you can do better than that. Images of various actors and singers flashed through his mind, none of them doing much more for Mr. Happy than his languidly stroking fingers were already accomplishing. Not bad, okay, but... eh. A high-cheekboned face kept stealing in there, pale skin hiding between the tanned Baywatch bodies. Blue eyes staring at him. Then there would be more than a twitch of interest from Xander's cock.

He shook his head. Thought, safe in his own room in his own apartment, double-locked and behind closed doors, of men he knew. Thought of Giles, wearing jeans and an old acid-rock t-shirt as he helped move the couch into the apartment. Flushed from the unexpected exertion and looking younger than a guy in his forties had the right to look, like the Ripper wasn't as far gone as everybody thought he was. A small stirring, but there was that Dad-feeling there, and it made Xander curl his lip and quickly replace that image with another. Oz, pale as a vamp-- naked in the book cage, post-wolf wood poking up from a patch of rust-colored curls and Xander carefully not looking so how did he remember what it didn't look like? He was ridiculously pleased that his memories of the Oz full-monty did nothing except make him not want to think about Willow and Oz doing things that girls like Willow didn't do.

There were the dancers, of course. The ones from the Fabulous Ladies Night club in Oxnard. Lean hard bodies. Hips that moved to the music like a man's hips should never be able to move. Jerry's hands on Xander's waist, just that once, just showing him how to shift on the beat, how to snap his walk, turn his head, shake his ass, and Xander turning red. Come on, kid, from the boss, and Jerry had backed away, let Xander try it himself, that night, and Xander had never quite been able to look him in the eye again. Nothing says I love you like dollars in the waistband... But it wasn't Jerry's hands on his waist now, and Xander knew it.

There was warmth, and he could feel himself hardening in his jeans, so Xander unzipped them. Couldn't quite put a face to any of those bodies, or he started seeing dark eyebrows, one with a scar carved into it, under a brilliant shock of blond... But if he just thought of bodies, maybe-- .Abdominal muscles, flexing. Hands. Strong, sure hands, unbuttoning his shirt. Pulling his t-shirt off. Feather-touching across his chest, feeling his nipples crinkle and harden. Another bare chest in front of him, that he could reach out and-- well, no. Not touch, but imagine. Though he kept seeing white skin, and dark, small nipples, which he'd never seen, he was only guessing, and he wasn't supposed to be guessing about Spike, dammit.

It was supposed to be anybody else pulling Xander's jeans down to his knees, to his ankles, tossing them on the floor. Lightly pattering fingers over the tent in his boxer shorts, teasing him even though he was hot and hard now and didn't need to be teased any longer. But that was what evil people did, and... Xander was breathing deeply, and insanely aware that his was the only breathing in the room-- and his would be the only breathing in the room, even if Don't say that name --- even if there were a vampire in here. Who wasn't slipping a finger in the waistband of Xander's boxers and pulling them over his erection with a bit of a rough English laugh at how it must have hurt, to have the material scrape across it.

But it was-- it was that face and that voice in Xander's head, no matter how hard he tried to think strange hands and arms and cock and famous faces. He even thought what the hell, and tried an old standby, even if she was female and therefore not supposed to be part of the experiment. But blonde hair and blue eyes and superhuman strength didn't help distract him, and Xander soon found that the small hands had cracked black nailpolish on them, and the arms were bigger and muscular and the voice was telling him everything would be all right, because Spike wouldn't leave him hanging.

So he gave in, as he reached for the bottle of strawberry scented stuff and coated his fingers with it. Let them be Spike's fingers even as Xander wondered whether Spike would ever use fruit-scented anything, though it smelled pretty good to Xander's newly sensitive nose. He let it be Spike's hand on his cock, stroking the underside with the expertise of a century of practice at torture. Spike's other hand wandering back, fingers playing in those places between Xander's swelling balls and the real goal, but never quite getting there. Making Xander squirm under his touch.

Would he be gentle, in a room like this? In a bed? Could Spike do gentle? There hadn't been much chance to find out in the moonlight a month ago, Xander still just coming out of his beer-spell-induced cave-brain. There had been wild howls, and words said that might get said by anybody during sex, even though they were about belonging, about owning, about yours and mine-- but there hadn't been time or control enough for gentle. He could imagine slow and easy, though, from Spike. It was crazy, this wild creature of death and blood and darkness being slow with him, but Xander could see it. Could feel it in his own fingers, pushing himself open in Spike's stead, slipping inside and feeling carefully for the place that had made Xander scream when Spike had found it on the grass, with the smell of leather in Xander's lungs.

Leather like the coat on the pillow next to him. His face turned to take in a deep sense-rush of it, his own hands doing maddening things to himself as his mind filled with the memory of firm, lean muscle against him, arms around his shoulders. Then he pulled his fingers out, finally, and reached-- for the smaller of the two not-really-Spike's-cock things. Because he hadn't known, had to guess at sizes when he'd ordered them, and the smaller one looked right, now, when he opened his eyes to peek at it. The bigger one just looked scary, but the other one fit nicely in his hand, and Xander could imagine pale thighs trembling slightly as he reached forward and did this for Spike, coated the cool shaft with slickness. Touched the sac that was as full as his own, and heard the imaginary hiss as Spike pushed his hand away. Were the eyes blue, still, or gold?

Would there be Spike's face coming towards him, lips pressing to his, cool red mouth claiming Xander's as the hardness below touched him? Tongue entering his mouth as Spike entered him? As the thing in Xander's hand pushed, and nudged, and finally slipped slowly inside, and he saw little sparks, he felt lips brush his own. He could have sworn, for just a second, that they were real. Mine, he heard in his head, and couldn't tell whose memory-voice it was. Mine, as he slipped the dildo in and out of himself, as the hand on his cock tightened and slid, as Xander floated between knowing he was alone, and knowing he wasn't.

Mine, he hissed as his prostate shouted its selfish little song of happiness out into his body, and his cock jerked in his hand. Shh, and easy and mine, he heard as he writhed on the bed, as he finally came on himself, shouting out Spike's name. Or possibly some other name that had nothing to do with evil vampires and you weren't supposed to take it in vain, but it seemed to be synonymous with 'Spike' right about then.

He breathed, and Xander wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd done that, but it sure as hell felt good. Just breathed and relaxed, and let both hands slip away from what they'd been doing. Wiped himself off a bit with his t-shirt, then wrapped his new toy up in it and set it aside for later cleaning. Later, because he was suddenly as tired as if he'd been running all day, or building things, or drinking cursed beer and making out with vampires for hours. Xander reached out and set the alarm by his bed, pretty much by braille and sheer dumb luck, then sank back into the pillows, cradling his head against Spike's duster.

So what did we learn from today's experiment, class? he asked himself sleepily. Not to use the banana-flavored stuff, his brain answered. Oh yeah, and we're pretty sure it's about Spike, not just any guy off the street.

Xander was still trying to think of a retort that was more intelligent that 'Really? Ya think?' when he fell asleep.

*****

Even a smart vamp, an old vamp, by today's short-lived standards, can give in. Get caught, get hurt, get starved, and get stupid. Tear open a bag of blood he knows is drugged and suck it down. Then lie there on the floor and think about what the term ' bloody moron' really means, until they come in to pick him up and put him on the gurney.

Of course, a smart vamp can pour that blood into one of the cracks in the floor, too, and play opossum until the white-coats are sure he's down for the count, then rise up and surprise them all.

Spike put both hands on the man who was trying to strap him down, and shoved. Straight into another, and down they went like dominoes. His head screamed at him from the sudden effort, but Spike was grinning inanely just the same as he vamped-out on the one next to him. "Sorry, can't stay. Gotta go see a boy."

He rolled off the gurney and kicked out at the second guy, tripping him, then flipped the gurney over on top of him. Spike was just looking left and right for an exit when the reinforcements arrived-- a big bruiser who'd been strapping down an even bigger Jauntok demon came running over and slammed Spike up against the glass wall of the room that had been his cage. The back of his head shrieked at him again as it hit, as he tried to fight back, and Spike spared a split-second to thank whoever, that the wall wasn't electrified from the outside as well, or he'd be down for the count.

"Get me outta here," Spike heard, and wondered if it was himself babbling, before he realized it was the flaky Fledge-Next-Door, whining at him through the glass.

"Bit busy, mate," he grunted as the orderly-type slammed him against the wall again.

"I know the way out of here," the male vamp was saying. Spike glanced over for his first look at his neighbor, and wasn't impressed. Strung-out and jumpy and desperate, and he'd probably say anything to get free. Still... "You get me out, I get you out. You spend your time running around this place trying to find the exit, you're as good as dead."

Which was true enough, that last bit, and Spike was willing to bet that Flowers-For-Algernon here would run straight for the door if he got free. Not smart enough to be in league with their captors, so even if he was trying to play Spike, all the older vamp had to do was follow him when he bolted. Spike gave a mighty shove, and finally pushed the big orderly off him-- directly into the path of another, who was holding a syringe no doubt meant to send Spike off into dreamland for real this time. That brought a toothy grin to Spike's lips, as the big guy went down.

"Thanks, much obliged," he said to the syringe wielder, who turned as if he was about to flee. Spike pressed him back against the gurney he'd pushed over, and did a creditable impression of feeling him up-- except what he was feeling for was.... aha! There. Little white card-key. Another flip to the floor, not even trying to damage the bloke, just get him out of the way, and Spike was swiping the key across the reader.

The young vamp burst out of his room-cage and pointed to a corridor at the far end of the open area. "This way!" They ran, dodging clumsy scientist sorts and bigger peacekeeping types, until they had to duck under a rapidly-closing security door.

The other vamp pointed down the hall to the right, and Spike was about to follow him when he heard a 'bing' and saw a lift opening to the left. Large men in combat uniform poured out.

"New plan," he told the freaked-out youngster. "We split up." He shoved the fledgling in their direction, and ran full-tilt for the door at the end of the hall, never looking back.

*****

"Somebody's late, and he has bed-head, too." Buffy teased. "Heavy date with Anya?"

Xander blinked at her, then shook his head, trying to fight back a blush. He had slept through his alarm, and only woken to the sound of the phone ringing as Buffy called to find out why he hadn't met her in the park for patrol. He was still waking up slowly, though the cool night air was helping out with that.

"Anya...pretty much not happening," he said shortly, tempering his lack of explanation with a last-second smile.

"Oh. Sorry-- bad Buffy. Nosy Buffy." She looked away, scanning for vamps and tigers and bears, oh my, then glanced back at him. "So is that why the sudden interest in being Slayer-the-Second? You've been out on patrol with me almost every night-- and kicking some major undead butt, too. That would be the amazing powers of sexual frustration?"

Xander frowned, then without warning, whirled around and staked the vamp that came hurtling out of the bushes at them, Buffy only missing it because it had come from his side, and not hers. Without missing a beat, he responded, "Buff, if sexual frustration turned normal guys into Slayers, Sunnydale High would've been vamp-free years ago. And I would've cleared most of 'em out personally during sophomore year."

"Good point." Buffy seemed a bit distracted herself, glancing left and right not in her usual Slayer-mode, but as if she were waiting for somebody to pop up and say hi.

"Hey... you got someplace to be?" Xander asked. Buffy jumped, which meant she was seriously distracted. She looked guilty.

"Oh... no. Not really."

"So where's this not really, and who's not gonna be there?" Xander grinned at her.

Buffy looked guiltier. "Well.... there's not really a party at Lowell House. And Riley, my psych TA, who's not really very large and cute and kinda sweet and possibly interested in me though I'm not sure, isn't gonna be there. Because he doesn't live there."

"I think non-college-guy lost track of the quadruple negatives in there, but I'm getting the 'Slayer would like to not-be at this not-party' vibe."

"No."

"Was that a yes?"

"Maybe. But lo, Buffy must patrol, and partying is not patrolling. All good children are either out looking for vampires, or safe at home researching boring werewolf stuff -- quote unquote. Which I think is Willow and Oz' polite way of saying they'd like a room to themselves and Devon has groupies over again. Which is fine as long as I don't let myself think too hard about it like I did just now." Buffy made a face.

"C'mon, be a bad child. You know you wanna."

"Can't. Those commando guys I ran into while I was looking for Veruca may still be out here, and god knows what they want -- they were carrying what looked like some pretty heavy artillery. Plus there's your basic Wal-Mart variety vamps." One of which she staked backhanded while still looking off into the distance, already dancing with her not-cute TA. Which hopefully didn't stand for what Xander had always thought of T-and-A standing for. Unless there was something Buffy wasn't telling him , as well as the other way around.

"So let Xander patrol, tonight, and Buffy can go not... do whatever it was you weren't going to do, with this Riley person." Xander struck a pose with his stake. "I am Slayer Junior-- hear me roar." She looked dubiously at him, and he dropped the stake to his side. "Okay, so maybe not Slayer Junior. But I can handle the rest of the patrol. I'll do the usual vamp sweep and keep an eye out for weird military guys."

She gave him a hard stare. "And if you find any?"

She knew as well as he did that he'd become a better fighter since the whole cave-beer incident, though nobody was quite sure why-- but she still didn't quite realize how much better he'd gotten, since he started listening. Smelling. Kind of tasting the air, which is how he'd known the vamp he'd staked was hiding in the bushes. She was still trying to protect him like he was Xander-the-doofus-boy, and he wasn't. But there were some arguments not worth the time spent on them-- he'd convince her by his actions, sooner or later. So now he played along.

"I am Xander. Hear me squeak like a mouse and run away. Promise. I have done this before, you know."

Buffy frowned for a second, then her face lit up with one of those really bright smiles that had knocked him into lockers face-first in high school, and forced him to repeat the phrase 'hummeda hummeda' until it became a mantra. She gave him a quick hug, and said, "Thank you, Xan. I promise I won't do anything you wouldn't do."

Oh, that's comforting... Xander thought as she bounced off in the opposite direction, back towards campus. So she won't do anything more dangerous than have unprotected sex with a vampire in that little stand of trees out past the upperclass dorms. Unless she was saying she would -- he'd really lost track of the double-negatives. "Don't have a good time!" he called after her. "And drink lots of beer!"

Xander grinned, as he headed down the path towards the wooded section of the park. He'd been waiting for a chance to patrol alone-- which he could do any time, but now there was no chance of running into Buffy and having to explain himself. He'd do the routine patrol, all right. And keep an eye out for military guys with big guns. Brain, don't try to make a double-entendre out of that. Military guys do not turn me on. What turned him on was... yeah. Why bother trying to deny it. Thin, muscular vampires in red silk shirts. And if he happened to come across one while he was sweeping for the Wal-Mart variety vamps, all the better.

He was tired of waiting for Spike to come to him.

*****

Hungry. He was hungry, and cold. Not really cold, of course, but the lack of blood and the lack of his coat were making Spike feel cold. It didn't matter, though-- he was free. Running faster than those slowpoke jarheads could ever hope to catch up to, with the lead he had on them, and heading for... anywhere with food. And then... and then he'd be able to think straight, once he'd had a decent meal. Think about what had just happened.

He found himself rushing past several opportunities for a quick nosh, on the grounds that he was still too close to wherever they'd been keeping him-- he'd emerged through a trapdoor into an open field and just started running. But eventually Spike came upon a woman stranded alone, changing a tire, with two little kids in the back seat-- which was the vampire equivalent of a Good Humour truck. He grinned, and let his face re-morph, now that he was out of the well-lit public areas he'd been running though.

"Need some help?" Spike asked politely from behind the crouching woman, and smiled into her scream, when she looked up into his glowing eyes. He wasted no more time on playing with her, just dove for her throat, the hunger surging in him.

"FUCK!" He couldn't tell which scream was louder, hers or his, as the lightning flashed across his mind. Blinding, worse than the taser bursts had been, because this was all concentrated in his head. As if his brain were being fried. He backed off, staring at the woman. Wondering if she were some kind of witch, with vamp-protection spells set on her throat. But her wide eyes showed only terror, not even any real understanding of what he was. She screamed again, and Spike ran from the sound, suddenly spooked beyond belief by something he usually loved to hear.

It was the same two blocks later, when he grabbed the homeless guy from the park and was pulling him close by his lapels, trying not to smell the days without a bath, and concentrate only on the blood roaring in the man's veins, and the extra kick of the adrenaline-and-whiskey cocktail. The moment he got his fangs near the man's throat, the pain struck. Knocking him back. And he was running again. More frightened now than he'd been in that white room, because then he was just a temporary prisoner-- and now he could sense something forever changed.

He wanted to be someplace safe. Curl up and howl. He might be free, but he still felt naked and helpless and ... fuck it. Victimized. Vampires weren't victims, they were monsters. Animals. Untamed creatures of evil. They didn't get hurt, and if they did, they got even. And there was something wrong with him. Wrongwrongwrong.

Something in him was gibbering that he wanted to go home, but Spike didn't know what it was talking about. Home? He didn't have one. The crypt he'd been kipping in was hardly home. Neither was the old lair he'd set up with Harmony, before he'd got fed up and shoved a stake in her chest, which was a much better way of breaking up than telling somebody you could still be friends, in Spike's opinion. The DeSoto was the closest thing he really had to a home, and he wasn't even sure that would be where he'd last parked it, not after... how long had he been trapped, in and out of consciousness?

He knew this feeling, Spike realized as he stopped to lean against a tree and rest, still looking both ways as if there were something after him. It was that same old feeling he used to get when he was separated from Dru for too long, back when, and the Sire before that. That feeling he'd had aching at him quietly for a year now, when he'd realized she really did mean what she said, and he'd been cast from the last place where he could ever believe he belonged. The kind of 'home' that didn't have anything to do with a place.

The face flashed in front of his mind. He growled.

It was crazy. Xander Harris wasn't 'home.' He was a dozy kid with a nice body, who'd given Spike one of the better fucks of his life, and had probably long ago come to his senses and returned to being one of the Slayer's groupies. Yes, Buffy. No, Buffy. Three bags full, and no, that skirt doesn't make your arse look big, Buffy. He'd cut Spike a truce, that one night, or Spike had cut him one, but there was no reason to think he wouldn't stake on sight, if Spike showed up on his doorstep. So why did Spike suddenly know beyond a doubt that he wanted to do just that?

The duster, he decided firmly. That was it. He needed his duster, and then everything would be-- well, if not all right, at least he wouldn't feel so naked. He'd feel like Spike again, instead of something that the labcoats had been messing about with. And Xander Harris had his duster, so he needed to find Xander Harris. It was as simple as that. He wasn't terrified and running for a comfort that couldn't possibly be there waiting for him.

He stopped at a phone booth-- remembering his vow to use his brain and let his fingers do the walking, the next time he was trying to find somebody, instead of just lurking in the shadows hoping they might amble by. After a minute, though, he growled in frustration, ripping the phone book in half, and the phone off the cord. There were a hundred or so Harrises in Sunnydale, and none of them were named Alexander. The kid still lived with his parents, and god knew what their names were. Fred and Wilma, undoubtedly.

So who did he know who knew Xander Harris, and could tell Spike where he lived? The Slayer... his subconscious said helpfully, and Spike snorted as he walked --forced himself to walk -- along. Yeah, that would be the brightest idea he'd had since the one about taking her on just to prove that he could, and losing his Gem of Amara after five minutes of tussling. No, Slayer. Really. I'm not here to kill you-- I'm having a nervous breakdown, and I need my coat, and your friend has it. Could you tell me where he lives?

But he did know somebody, Spike realized. Somebody who'd graduated with Xander Harris, or would have, if she'd survived the ceremony. She might even have some blood on hand, and be willing to do the actual killing herself. Maybe he could still drink from the recently dead -- assuming he wanted to trust her with the knowledge of his condition, whatever his condition was. Okay, so they hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms, but what was one little stake to the chest? She got better, after all.

Decision made, Spike looked around, trying to remember how to get to the lair from...wherever he was-- only to find he'd been walking in that direction all along.

*****

Xander snorted in disgust. Three hours out here in the 'woods' and all he'd found were a bunch of couples in various stages of undress, two vamps so new or stupid that they hadn't even bothered to respond to his witty comments about not talking to strangers on the road to Grandma's house, and a possible case of poison ivy on his ankles. Which he was hoping desperately was actually an allergic reaction to his new black tennis shoes, which he was wearing for the first time tonight. Along with his new black jeans. And his new black t-shirt. And tonight, Xander is topping off his ensemble with a black leather duster, for the ultimate in suburban stalker chic...

No Spike, and no clue to where he might be, and Xander was starting to feel a little bit like geek-boy again, despite the pantherwear. What good did his new sniff-o-riffic sense of smell, and all the other little bodily things he'd come to be aware of since his bad beer experience, do him when he was wandering around blindly in the middle of a forest preserve? He still wasn't a werewolf or a vamp -- he was just a human with a good handle on the built-in functions that came with the Harris body, version 2.0. What had made him think he could just follow his nose, like Toucan Sam? He'd have as much luck standing in the middle of the town square and yelling "Here Spikey..." Except that might get me a few more disgusting propositions than I've gotten out here.

So grumbling, he stepped forward, still scratching at one ankle with the other shoe-- and added insult to injury by tripping and falling flat on his face into a clearing. Some kind of campfire flickered in the middle of it, the light dancing around the open space and into Xander's eyes. At least I didn't fall directly into the fire, Xander thought, as he raised his head. He looked up into a familiar, golden-eyed face. Or maybe I spoke too soon.

"You!"

He scrambled backwards, away from the fire and the vampire crouching next to it -- whose face was only familiar in the parts that weren't gold-eyed and bumpy. He'd known it smooth and vacantly pretty, since kindergarten. "Harmony?" he squeaked. He'd been lucky enough not to have crossed paths with her since graduation, though Willow had given him all the details of *her* two meetings with the vamped-up former Cordette. She'd been just a little too pleased at getting to witness the second most popular girl in their class whining having been staked and dumped and...

And Harmony was suddenly crouching over him , grinning. "Well, this wasn't supposed to be a cookout, but what the heck."

He rolled quickly away, and jumped to his feet. "You spend the last month and a half coming up with that line, or did you buy a book on witty vampire patter somewhere?"

"Huh?" Which answered that question. She was stalking towards him now, or trying to stalk -- it was more like 'Miss Kathy's Dancing Sunflowers present Dracula, the Ballet.'

"I'll explain someday when you're old enough to understand. If you live that long." He blinked at her, and backed further away.

"Don't you mean, if you live that long?" she responded, ignoring the insult, or more likely not getting it. Then she pounced. Or..um...kind of flopped, really.

They rolled around in the leaves for a minute, Harmony scratching at his face and trying -- thankfully unsuccessfully -- to knee him in the family jewels. Xander let his body take over, feeling his muscles react to the adrenaline, to the surge of animal instinct that said "Bad thing, don't let it bite!" -- which she wasn't trying to do, he realized. Twit. The part of his brain that wasn't concentrating on saving his ass thought it was interesting. She had superhuman strength but didn't know Jack about how to use it, and he was Joe Average, but had met Jack up close and personal, and lived to tell about it. Finally Xander was on top, pinning one of her hands to the ground with a stake pressed to her chest. He felt it was quite mature of him to ignore the fact that she was pulling his hair with her free hand.

"Get off me, you big dork!"

"Somehow not the most persuasive argument I've ever heard for letting a vampire go. 'You're a boogerhead, now please let me return to my killing and maiming!' "

Nonetheless, Xander rolled off and backed away-- because somewhere in the middle of the fight, her face had changed and she'd turned into somebody he'd known since kindergarten. It wasn't that he couldn't kill her, but... Maybe if she'd seemed remotely threatening. Instead, she looked like an emotionally distraught cheerleader, and sounded like...well, Harmony, whining because she couldn't get her way.

She got to her feet clumsily, and huffed over to the fire. "Do I look like I'm killing and maiming? I'm...performing an act of empowerment, by letting go of useless physical objects in order to provide emotional closure." She looked at him proudly, like she'd managed to correctly remember what she'd read off the back of the self-help book. Which meant she could read, something Xander had always wondered about.

Still, it was his turn to say, "Huh?"

"I'm burning all of Spike's shit." She pointed to the small pile next to the fire, then began tossing things in. "Goodbye stinky socks. Goodbye wooden beads on a string that he'd never tell me what they were for." Xander raised an eyebrow. He knew what they were for. They were for taking out of the package and hiding in a drawer in order to forget what a sick puppy Xander is. And apparently Spike as well, which was nice to know. "Goodbye rope that he used to tie me up on our first date. Goodbye, Tickle Me Elmo..."

"Okay, that's enough. Wait, Spike has a Tickle Me Elmo?" Xander giggled helplessly as she threw the fuzzy red thing on the fire.

"No, he bought it for me, 'cause I thought it was sooooo cute. Spike said it was possessed when he heard it laugh, and made me keep it under the bed and only play with it when he was gone. Goodbye, complete works of Shakespeare..." She tossed the book, and the flames consumed it greedily.

Xander blinked, and blinked again. "Okay, today's moment of surreality has been brought to you by the letter S and the number 69. And I did not just say that. I'm leaving now, okay? You just get back to your...closure."

He spotted a stack of shiny things next to the other pile, though, and walked closer. If she started trying to burn CDs, she could inhale some seriously bad fumes-- He shook himself. She's a vampire, dork! She won't inhale anything, and you don't care anyway. But now he was close to her again, and she was frowning. Sniffing at him. If she even says 'Boy smell nice' I'm outta here.

"You smell..."

"Again with the highly-polished insults -- I'm impressed." Was this a good idea? Let the vampire sniff you and crack jokes at her expense? Even if she didn't have enough brain cells to process that fact that you'd made one.

"You smell like Spike." Harmony stared at him. "This is his jacket! No wonder he kept asking me where you lived. Give me that! I wanna burn it." She started tugging on his sleeve, and Xander pushed her way.

"Hell no. Um, and again, wait-- Spike was asking where I lived? When?"

"A couple of hours ago. He crawls into the lair after a month , like I'm just gonna take him back after he dumped me and staked me and yelled at me. And I was , because I was being all weak and codependant, but not anymore. Spike kept going on and on about how his head hurt and he just wanted his coat, and we could do anything I wanted, if I'd just tell him where the Harris kid lived. And when I said no, why the heck would I know where a freak like you lived, he punched me! And I thought it was foreplay, but no-- he started ranting about the Slayer, like he always does, and took off out the door. I figured he thought you knew where he could find her -- not that you stole his big manly jacket and he couldn't go kill her without it. Except I guess he can, since he was all growly and 'Fine, I'll just go see the fucking Slayer, then.' "

Xander stared at her. Did she ever stop talking? Then his brain caught up with her mouth, and started to translate what she'd said into English. Spike was back? Or rather, Spike had been gone, and now he was back? And he wanted to know where Xander lived? Wait, there was something important and non-stalkery in there. "He... he went off to kill Buffy?"

"Well, duh! It's all he ever talks about, when he's not moaning about his ex. Kill the Slayer. Eat the Slayer. Bathe in the Slayer's blood, which is just too gross for words. Blah blah. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. I don't get it." Harmony looked up at him, confusion making her seem, if possible, dimmer than usual. "Is she really that much prettier than me?"

Xander was already sprinting out of the clearing. Shouting back over his shoulder, "I never answer that question. It's a personal rule of survival. That, and 'Does my ass look big in this.' "

She called out after him, "What? Are you saying my ass looks big? Dammit! Xander!" He didn't stop running to tell her that as a matter of fact, yes, it did.

*****

"Are you sure she said Spike was back?" Buffy was still whining, even as they walked up the steps to Giles' place. Xander didn't especially blame her, since he'd dragged her away from a slow-dance with tall, blonde, and corn-fed, but it really was about time she gave it a rest.

He wasn't letting himself think about it. About the fact that the guy he'd been wondering and fantasizing about for the last month was suddenly looking for his best friend, instead of him. Well, no, had been looking for him, but only to get his damned coat back. Which was all he'd ever implied anyway, so why was Xander torn between worry for Buffy, and worry for Spike, and the feeling that he should be feeling as dumped and pathetic as Harmony? Yup. He was doing a great job of not thinking about it, wasn't he.

Buffy repeated her question, and he glanced at her. "Well, she didn't say Pike was back, Buff."

"She could have. I had a boyfriend named Pike, once."

"Yeah, I know-- but I doubt Harmony did too. Anyway, why would Pike be gunning for you?"

"I never returned his motorcycle jacket." She got serious as Giles opened the door and let them in. Or semi-serious. "Why does that wannabe-albino moron have to continually mess with my love life? Or lack thereof. I was just getting to like Riley, and he seemed totally not-Parker, too."

"And not cute. You were right." Xander shut his mouth as she turned to stare at him. "I mean... you did mean he wasn't cute, right?"

"Children?" Giles was raising an eyebrow. Xander filled him in on the situation, trying not to think about what the situation was. Or might be. Buffy gathered weapons. And bitched. About Spike and his continual lack of consideration for her social schedule.

Then she stopped, a look of real worry crossing her face. "He's looking for me. You think he's stupid enough to go around town yelling 'here, Slayer, Slayer, Slayer?' "

Xander chose not to dignify that with an answer. Until the obvious one popped into his head. "Your place."

"And we never uninvited him. I'll call my mom."

Five minutes later, she was standing in the living room, shaking her head. "No sign of him there. Um... not today, but... Did you know he got back into town a month ago? He stopped by to see my mom. She offered him tea . I think I should be worried."

Possibly Xander should too, but he had too many other things on his mind. "I don't think they're dating." He pulled her out the door. "Come on."

"And you're going where, exactly? If Spike's looking for me, he's gonna find me. Alone."

"And you're gonna do what? Go around town yelling 'here, Spikey, Spikey?' He's gotta be heading for the dorm rooms. And Slayer Junior's not sitting around here on his ass while Willow and Oz are in danger."

They looked at each other-- then ran.

*****

Spike looked up at the number on the dorm room door. 216. Back at the number he'd scribbled on his hand. 216. Yup, this was it. Thank you campus directory, which was so much more helpful than the Sunnydale white pages. He moved up to the door and raised his hand to knock. Er... He looked at his other hand again. Maybe it didn't say 216? He'd been in a fair bit of pain when he'd carved it there with a rock, since he didn't have a pen handy. It could say 219...

*****

Buffy and Xander ran across the open quad, breathing hard. Sure, anyplace in Sunnydale was only ten minutes from anyplace else in Sunnydale, but Xander had always thought that was by car, not new itchy black tennis shoes.

Buffy swore when they neared Stevenson Hall, and Xander finally looked up from his shoes, to find out why. "It's Riley. What's he doing here?"

"Probably looking for you, given the way he's kind of sliding in our direction, like a glacier. Or something else big that moves a little faster."

Buffy glared at him. "I can't let him see me with twenty pounds of vamp-killing materials."

Xander said nothing, just reached out and grabbed the bag from her shoulder. "Go. Get rid of him, scout around for Spike, I'll take the dorm."

"You sure?"

But he was already running.

*****

Spike's hand didn't say 219. Because 219 held a large girl who looked like she could play varsity fullback for Arsenal Tech. Who told him in a deceptively quiet voice that Buffy Summers lived just down the hall. In 216.

He raised his fist to knock, again, and wondered just what the hell he was supposed to say. I really don't want to kill you? Really really? Well, I do, but not right now... Maybe she wasn't home. Maybe she was at her mum's. Blink. Blink. Maybe he should go ask her mum, instead? Dolt. Of course he should go ask her mum. He might even get a free cuppa out of it. But then Joyce would start asking him about his love life... and he might actually start talking about it... Shudder. He shook his head, then listened at the door.

"Mmm... the... uh... the astral plane where the werewolf spirit resides is... Oz! Are you listening?" Silence. "Okay. The plane is... called the Umbra-- and if you can get in touch with the wolf spirit-- I know a spell for that... stop it! That tickles."

"Sorry. Go on. Please."

"Um, that's actually what I was gonna say. No! We're supposed to be studying. This isn't studying."

"Learning experience?"

"Well...was there something new you wanted to try?"

Spike blinked again. Unless there were some things about Angel's little vanilla-girl that he didn't know, there was no way the Slayer was in there. But the witch and her pet wolf would do just as well -- even better, since he wouldn't have to humble himself nearly as much to ask them for help. He knocked loudly on the door, trying to sound as much like a stern hall monitor as he could manage. Just for the fun of scaring the shit out of them.

He heard the girl squeak, and a muttered, "Oh, damn..." Then there was rustling of clothing and crackling of paper, and the scent of teenage lust-turned-terror slowly died down. Finally he heard Willow say, ultra casually, "Come in..."

Twit -- what if I'd actually wanted to eat her? You don't just go about inviting any old body into your... Spike smacked himself on the back of the head, which hurt like hell, and opened the door. Stepped inside. Shut it, while the two kids were still staring open-mouthed at him.

"Spike..." the girl stuttered, while her boytoy was diving for something, presumably a stake. "Um... hi! Something we can do for you? Spell? Ah... Impromptu musical performance? Oz does a really good Stairway to Heaven..."

Spike grabbed the fuzzy-headed boy's arm before he got anywhere near the stake that was lying on the floor next to the bed. "I'm sure he does." Damn. Hungry. That close, and the werewolf's blood smelled wrong, but the little girl... It made his head spin. Maybe... maybe it was just a fluke, the first two times? He shoved the boy towards the other bed, kicked the stake away, and advanced on the girl.

"I'll scream!"

"And this is bad because?" He lunged for her throat. She screamed.

*****

Xander heard it. And he suddenly found out that nowhere in Sunnydale is more than one minute away, if you're motivated enough. And he started to hope it was poison ivy making his ankles itch, because these were damn good shoes.

*****

Spike sat at the foot of Willow's bed, his head in his hands. It hurt . It fucking hurt. He appraised Willow and Oz of this fact. Loudly.

They were both looking at him as if he'd flipped his wig, of course. Especially when he started whining. Because it wasn't a 'Spike's uncomfortable, he's going to make everyone else uncomfortable too, now get me some blood' whine. It was an old, deep sound that came from somewhere in his chest that he'd forgotten existed. A sound that used to mean "I want my Sire. I want my Sire NOW." To crawl into his arms, no matter what the punishment might be later for acting like a mindless fledge, and be comforted until he stopped whimpering. Except now the arms he was seeing in his head weren't his Sire's at all, and they were wearing Spike's own familiar leather coat.

His coat. That was it. "I want my bloody coat. This would all make sense if I just had my bloody coat," he told Willow. Who blinked rapidly at him, and offered him a bright orange duffel jacket. He growled. " My coat, witch. Your little friend's got it."

There was an intake of breath from the other side of the room, and Spike looked across to meet the werewolf's eyes. Something sparked there, like recognition. Then Willow was babbling again, and Spike's attention was distracted.

"Which little friend? We've got a lot of little friends. Many of whom are probably on their way here, right now." Then her eyes got wide. "Oh. Oh my god. Xander! Xander's got your coat!" She grinned widely. "That's what he was doing when he got all likkered-up!"

Spike stared at her. They had a stake. He had a headache. Yes, I molested your friend while he was under the influence. And then again, when he wasn't. Just for comparison's sake... This was not good. "Er... Look, nothing happened. Well, not much. That is..."

"Xander beat you up and took your coat! That's great!" At his disbelieving stare, she added, "Well, not for you, obviously. But go, Cave-Xander!"

"Yeah, well, if you could just tell me where he lives, I'll reclaim my property and be on my way..."

"You've gotta be kidding-- I'm not telling you where Xander lives. I don't care if you are .... incapable. Or something. "

Spike was about ready to start growling again -- then his head started screaming at him. What? I didn't bloody do anything! Didn't make a move! It hurts! Shit, I want... As the weird fear-alarm feelings stopped cresting and just sort of stayed there at low-tide, he realized the sound was coming from outside his head. The fire alarm.

The kids were looking at each other as well, and Willow was running for the door. He didn't even have the presence of mind to grab for her, though god knew what he'd do if he'd caught her. Ask her really nicely to tell him where Harris lived? Or make the screaming in his skull stop?

Then the door opened, and he looked up. Into brown eyes that were staring at him so hard he thought his heart might start beating again.

*****

On the floor. Spike. Spike was sitting on the floor, in Willow and Buffy's room. And Oz was standing over him, with a stake in his hand, and Xander wasn't sure who he was yelling at when he shouted "Get away from him!" He dropped Buffy's bag-o-tricks, so much heavier than the bag he'd been carrying this afternoon, on the floor in the hallway. It just slid off his shoulder, the crashing unheard under the wailing of the fire alarm that he'd set off himself, to get any innocents out of the building. Xander couldn't really hear anything though, other than his own blood screaming in his ears.

Because Spike was in front of him. Undead and in the flesh, and all he could see were bright blue eyes that were looking at him with the same kind of hunger that he'd been imagining behind his own closed eyes, this afternoon. Flashes of his hands, touching himself, seeing that face in front of him... "Don't..." he breathed, not knowing what he was telling anyone.

Don't hurt Spike? Don't hurt Oz? Don't make me choose between my family and the guy on the floor who's making my blood freeze up in my veins? Who smells like this coat I'm wearing even though it's too hot, because it smells like him, only he's here and it's a thousand times stronger...

Things didn't get any less confusing when both Oz and Spike said, "I'm not--"

Then the lights went out. Somebody was shoving people in the hallway, and Xander could hear Buffy's voice. Willow's voice, as she yelled for Buffy. He felt something move toward him, and past, then a hand on his arm, and Spike's low voice in his ear. "Wasn't gonna hurt them." Then Spike was gone, out into the hall. There was chaos.

*****

He'll never take me now. Spike pushed his way through the dark hallway. Heard the witch and the Slayer shouting at each other. Saw the green fatigues and the guns and the panic was screaming in his head, louder than the fire alarm. They were here, and they had come for him, and they were going to take him back to the place with the white walls and the silver sharp things in his head. And would it matter? Because he'd seen the coat, and he'd seen the man wearing it, and he knew which one it really was that he wanted to run to.

Maybe it was the thing they'd done to him, making him want the man he'd run past. Making him want to run back. They'd turned Spike into something else, something that needed . Took an enemy that he'd had a one night stand with and couldn't get off his mind, and turned him into the only safe place Spike could think to run. Except now he was running away.

Because there was no way. He thought Spike was trying to hurt his friends. Which Spike would have, of course, if he could... Though he wouldn't have been looking for Xander if this thing weren't happening to him... He growled at his memory for pointing out that Xander had been taking over his brain before anyone had stuck something artificial in there. Spike pushed at a uniformed body that was reaching for him, and felt the pain that was becoming another familiar enemy blossom in his head again. Shit. Dru won't have me, and he won't have me, and I've nowhere to go. Maybe I should let them take me after all.

Then he was being pushed into the wall. Rough hands grabbing his arms, twisting them behind his back. And he let them. Didn't fight back, because the pain was still there. Didn't fight back, because he didn't know what he'd be fighting against.

Someone fired a shot of some sort, and there were screams. Things moved in flashes, to Spike's whirling mind. Shouting students. Masked and goggled commandos. The Slayer, crouched over Willow, and the werewolf boy pushing his way towards them. Coughing, as the hall filled with the smell of carbon dioxide gas from the fire extinguisher that the military bloke's wild shot had winged.

Then one of them tried to move on the witch, and the Slayer fired a shot as well. Only it wasn't a bullet, it was a flare. The humans were shouting about being blinded-- students and military alike -- but they had no idea. They didn't have a vampire's night-vision, to which the flare looked like a mushroom cloud. The sort that would burn up anything in its path and leave a black image against the wall, of whoever was standing in its way. Or a single strobe-effect picture burned into a vampire's sensitive retina, of a tall form moving towards him in black and white-- dark hair, black coat, black everything except for the pale face.

He could see nothing, was blinking, suddenly straining against the arms that held him back. Hissing and spitting, trying to reach what had been coming toward him. Then all at once the smell was in his nostrils, warm and spicy and good , and there was no one holding Spike down, as the hands on him were torn away. Then a hand on his arm, hauling him to his feet, and he blinked enough that that face, those eyes, came into focus. One stable thing, amid the shouting and the melee and the men who were already moving towards him with a net in their hands. Lips moving, as the black eyes stared at him, to form one word: "Go."

He stared back, unsure of how to move, and Xander was pushing him out the door. Someone tore Xander away from him, slammed the boy sideways into the wall, but Xander shouted it again as Spike turned to look back-- "GO!"

Finally, finally, Spike ran.

*****

Xander walked slowly into YingLing's, gym bag in hand. Coat slung over his shoulder. His aching shoulder, which had been shoved into a cinderblock wall by a big, hulking, anonymous commando guy. That was two days ago, and it still twinged. Not dislocated, not broken, but bruised as all hell. So says the emergency room doc, who now thinks I should have a little punch-card, so I can get discounts for frequent visits.

He tossed the bag on the counter, and gave a tired smile to Susie, who was sitting on a stool watching 'Passions' on the little TV that was bracketed to the wall above the big clothes-press.

"Hey kiddo. Have a good weekend?"

He blinked at her. Uh...well, I finally saw the guy I've been obsessing over for the last month -- for about two minutes. He may or may not want to kill my friends, and apparently somebody did something nasty to him, but I'm not sure what, because we didn't exactly get the chance to chat. Then I got my shoulder smooshed in, and spent the next two days pretty much lying on my stomach in bed and having my best friend the witch rub wintergreen ointment on me, while I yelped. And made some really embarrassing explanations to her boyfriend the werewolf while she was out of the room. Oh yeah, and I have a nasty case of poison ivy on my ankles. So, um...how was yours?

"Uh..."

"You enjoy your treats?" she asked, nodding at his gym bag. Which now contained a pair of socks and black running shoes that needed to have the poison ivy utterly obliterated from them before he ever put them on again. After a second, he realized that she'd meant the stuff that had been in his bag on Friday . Amazingly, he managed to fight down a blush -- after all, she might have meant the spring rolls.

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Which was noncommittal enough, right?

She grinned at him even wider, then asked, "So, you gonna let us clean the coat this time?"

Xander touched the soft leather that hung over his shoulder. Almost enjoying the ache now, for the way it reminded him. He breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of himself, and Spike, and fear and powder from the flare gun, and wintergreen, where he'd rubbed it off his shoulder as he'd slept next to the duster. He shook his head, and walked around behind the counter to grab his nametag, hanging the duster on his own personal coat-peg as he passed it.

"Belongs to somebody special, huh?"

Xander stared at her, his lips moving, though nothing came out of his mouth. Wondering what to answer. Hearing Oz' voice in his ears again, Willow off in the kitchen. A blunt hand warm on Xander's throbbing shoulder as he said, "You're out of your mind. But for what it's worth, he didn't ask for Buffy-- and he didn't really care about the coat. He was looking for you."

"Yeah. Um. Maybe," Xander answered. Then and now. That grin just got older and wiser and more inscrutable as he looked at Susie, until Xander wondered whether it was Mr. Ying who was really the old guy from 'Gremlins', after all. This despite the fact that she was wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon radio on it whose strategically placed dials bounced directly above the legend 'I'm coming in just fine, so don't mess with my knobs.' He finally made a face at her and asked, "Okay, lady, how do you know all this stuff about me?"

She just smiled. "Ancient Chinese secret?" At his answering snort, she shrugged. "Magic 8-Ball sees all, grasshopper?"

"I think I liked you better when monkeys were flying out your ass." Xander glanced back at the duster hanging on the peg, and smiled at her after a minute. "Yeah, I had a good weekend. I think. Answer uncertain -- ask again later."