Chapter 20: Key

Chapter 20: Key

Xander parked his truck outside the Magic Box and sat for a moment, thinking. The mid-September sun beat down strongly on the roof, and he stretched in his seat, muscles tired from work. There was sawdust on his jeans that he brushed at half-heartedly, and the radio was playing, some new song he didn't recognize - a woman's voice, rapping about a 'One minute man'. Xander listened for a moment, but couldn't concentrate on it. A week since Dawn had been kidnapped. A week since he'd...seen. He'd waited - through the various events of the week - to bring this to Giles. But he couldn't wait anymore. Spike was on his way - he could feel him - and he could just faintly hear the DeSoto, roaring through Sunnydale like one of the resident monsters. It made him smile, and he turned off the truck and got out and went up to the door - pushed inside. The Grand Opening was happening tomorrow - Giles had delayed it for various reasons - and the shop was still a bit of a mess. Some boxes were, in fact, scattered across the larger area right below the landing, and a couple looked as if they had been crushed.

"Hey, Giles? You here?" Xander called, looking around. He heard a noise, and Giles stepped out of the back room. He held a towel to his head, and he looked - woozy. Xander stepped quickly over to him, catching his elbow and guiding him to a chair.

"Giles, you ok? What happened?" Giles pulled the towel away from his head, revealing a large, swollen bruise. There was a smear of blood on the towel.

"Jesus!"

*All right?*

*Fine... Giles...*

"I assure you, I'm perfectly - perfectly fine, Xander. Just a small bruise, a slight...concussion." Giles put the towel back onto his forehead with a wince of pain, and Xander heard the ice wrapped inside crunching together.

"Are you sure? Do you want me to take you to the hospital?" He crouched down, looking up at the older man, and Giles smiled faintly at him.

"No, no, I really am fine. I've been hit in the head enough times that I know when I need immediate medical attention, more's the pity."

"If you're sure." Xander looked at Giles for a moment - held up three fingers. "How many fingers, Giles?" he said.

"One too many, pet, you do it like this -" Spike's voice, from the back door, and the vampire strode over, cigarette pluming smoke and smirk firmly in place, blanket tucked under his arm.

*Mmmm, pet, smell good*

Giles rolled his eyes and started to stand up. "Spike, what are you doing - oh, yes, that's right." Giles subsided back onto the chair and looked at Xander, frowning.

"Yes, we're still shaggin' like rabbits, Watcher, did you forget? Must've gotten hit a little harder then you thought."

*Stop that* Xander patted Giles' knee and stood up. "So, what happened, Giles? Who - or what - hit you?"

"Ah - well. That is the mystery of the moment, although I dare say an hour's worth of book-work will answer the question. The - demon - was rather distinctive." Spike hopped up onto the display counter, ignoring Giles' automatic wince and glare. He looked around for someplace to put out his cigarette and dropped it into a half-empty cup of tea.

"So - what made it so distinctive, Watcher? I'm guessin' somethin' other than that stench?"

"Yes, the smell. Well, apart from that, it wanted the Slayer and only the Slayer. Most demons will happily take out anything in their path, but this one was extraordinarily focused and please do not touch that, it may very well transport us all to a dimension that is overrun with creatures that rival Tyrannosaurus Rex for bloodlust and size." Xander hastily put the little velvet box with the oddly-shaped crystal in it back and looked guiltily at Giles, who took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You know, I really could use some aspirin or, perhaps, a drink of something...Irish," Giles said.

"That's what Darla thought, and look what it got her," Spike muttered. He lifted his legs and spun around on the counter, dropping down behind it and rummaging for a moment.

*Spike, be nice* Xander thought, and Spike snorted in amusement. A moment later he popped back up, grinning, a rather dusty bottle in his hand.

"Let's all have a sip, shall we?" He unscrewed the cap and raised the bottle to his lips.

"Don't you dare!" Giles growled, and Spike glanced over at him, eyebrow raised. "There are cups in the office," Giles sighed, and Spike laughed.

"I'll get them. So, you're ok, and you think you can find out what this demon is. That's - that's good." Xander went back into the cramped office, looking around, and found a stack of paper cups.

"Well, I'm not unconscious or dead, so I say, 'Bully for me'," came Giles' rather peeved voice.

*Laughter* from Spike and Xander grabbed two cups - hesitated - and grabbed one more.

*Might need it. Hate this.*

*Be all right love* Xander came back out and lined the cups up on the counter. Spike cheerfully filled them, and Giles hauled himself out of his chair and came over. He scowled at Spike and picked up his cup.

"Cheers," he muttered, and tossed the whiskey back. Spike did the same, and Xander took a mouthful and tried not to gag. Spike laughed again, earning an amazed look from Giles.

"Here, pet, I'll have yours too, then," Spike said, and tweaked the cup away from Xander. Xander let him have it, coughing.

"I'm just not manly enough for the hard stuff, I guess," he croaked. Giles dabbed at his head gently and then sighed, laying the now-dripping towel down on a crumpled nest of newspapers.

"Now that we've all had a drink, perhaps you'd like to tell me why you wanted to speak to me, Xander? Spike, put it back." Spike growled, but he pulled the bottle back out of his duster pocket and bent down, shoving it away in whatever cubby Giles had secreted it.

"It's about...about the other night, Giles. When Dawn was kidnapped? I - I saw-"

"Oh good lord," Giles whispered, and he went white. Xander made a grab for him and Giles waved him away, leaning on the counter and looking at Xander rather wildly.

"Giles, what -"

"Of course, of course, how stupid of me, it would only take one look and..."

"Giles," Xander said, loudly, and the Watcher stopped talking, frowning at him.

"I suppose that - whatever you saw - you shared it with Spike?" Xander glanced at Spike, who was pawing through a box full of copper figurines.

"'Course I did, Giles. And Oz." He shrugged at Giles' horrified look. "We don't keep secrets, Giles, we're pack. It just - doesn't work that way."

"Yes, Spike said something to that effect that night. What did he - what do you both - mean by it?"

*Tell?*

*No harm* from Spike, and his eyes flashed up to meet Xander's for a moment, bright with suppressed laughter. The amusement he was feeling bubbled in the link, and Xander tried to ignore it. Freaking out Giles wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind for this meeting. Although, the mood Spike was in, it was probably inevitable. He'd been in this mood pretty much the whole week. As he'd put it - "They know we're together now, love, so we can do what we like and not have to worry." Xander knew that meant, at least in part, that Spike felt free to touch - or kiss - him at any time. Which was nice. But which also meant that he'd pretty much abandoned all restraint when it came to the gang and what he would do or say. Which could have its drawbacks. Xander smiled at Spike and turned back to Giles.

"Well...it's to do with the wolf and the hyena. They both want a pack. And the - demon, it wants a nest, you know? We all just want...family. So we kind of...claimed Oz." Giles stared at him - at the both of them - and his mouth came open, but no sound came out. Spike rolled his eyes and ducked down - retrieved the bottle and poured another cup-full. Hesitated, then poured a second.

"You - you - you did what? You claimed -? Really Xander, I don't - I simply don't know what to say. What were you thinking - thank you." He took the cup Spike held out automatically and drained it - crumpled the wilting cup in his fist and tossed it over his shoulder.

"Cheers," Spike said, tossing back his own drink and the *surprise* in the link made Xander giggle. Giles glared at him and Xander choked it off.

"Sorry, you just - oh, never mind. Giles, it wasn't the same as what Spike and I did -"

"Although shaggin' was involved both -"

"Spike!'" from both of them, and Spike subsided, going back to the figures.

*Love you sorry STOP that* Xander took the elastic tie out of his hair and let it fall, long, down his neck and to the tops of his shoulders. He combed his fingers through it and smirked a little at Spike's instant, unwavering gaze. Giles began to edge around the end of the counter.

"Maybe 'claim' is the wrong word. We didnít do that spell or anything, it was just... Oz felt like he was being pushed out - like he wasn't a part of our...pack, anymore. It was hurting him, Giles." Xander watched the older man open one drawer and then another and finally come up with an industrial sized bottle of aspirin. He opened it and shook three out into his palm and put the bottle away.

"I'll...I'll reserve judgment on that, Xander, until I've spoken to Oz. Why didn't he come with you today?" Giles looked around, and Spike held out the bottle, not looking at him. Giles sighed and took it - poured a small measure into Spike's cup.

"He's working down at the Bronze a couple nights a week - helping the bands set up and stuff, doing the sound for them. He wanted to get back into music somehow now that the Dingoes have kind of...moved on." Giles tossed the aspirin into his mouth - swallowed them with the whiskey and then eyed the cup with distaste.

"Don't fret, Watcher - I imagine the alcohol killed any vampire cooties," Spike smirked, and Giles scowled at him.

"Come into the back. We need to talk about this. Buffy should be arriving in about ten minutes."

"Buffy?"

"This concerns her sister, Xander - it's only fair she be here." Xander had a sinking feeling in his gut - he didn't want any confrontations. They'd told the gang what was going on, sure. And they'd even kind of worked some stuff out. But the past week had been - crazy - and Xander really didn't want some sort of tension-breaking fight happening. Joyce had had her surgery - and it had gone surprisingly well - but she was still in the hospital, and the gang was on eggshells about it, hoping to hear back about the test results of the tumor that had been removed.

Riley had had his surgery, too - after being chased down by six other Initiative members and Buffy. Spike had heard about that, and Riley had found out a day later that the six soldiers and one doctor hadn't made it out of Sunnydale. The bodies hadn't turned up yet, alive or dead, but there had been one night of total silence from Spike - the link shut down so hard that Xander had felt as if Spike were dead. He knew he wasn't - there was always this pulse of Spike, just below conscious thought that kept him aware of the vampire no matter what - but the total, deliberate, silence had been... It had been horrible. Xander had felt adrift - lost. He'd lain in bed shivering, until Oz had come home, and the rush of concern from the werewolf had been like water in the desert. Oz had come straight to him - slid into the bed beside him. They'd both talked until dawn, hands laced together under the sheet, the slow whir of the box-fan in the window competing with the crickets and the distant surf. Spike had come in with the sun just behind him, through the back door and straight into the shower. Then he'd crawled in between Xander and Oz and finally opened the link, and they'd both just hugged him close, Spike's chaotic and bloody thoughts gradually dimming down to nothing and all three of them finally sleeping. Xander's lack of guilty feelings for knowing what had happened to the missing men had, perversely, made him feel guilty, and it had taken a long talk with Spike and Oz the next afternoon to dispel any notions he might have had of feeling sorry for them. Spike had gotten some information out of the soldiers - what the Initiative was doing at it's installation in Brazil - and it hadn't been pretty. Spike had, Xander suspected, 'lost it' again with those soldiers, and he hoped that this was the last of them to come to town. Spike's duster was lighter for having been emptied of its cache of spiral nails. Riley's buddy Graham had been at the hospital with Riley, who wouldn't leave Buffy, and so had lucked out of any retribution. But Xander suspected Spike had plans for him.

And now - who knew what would happen when he told Giles what he had seen? The three of them walked into the back of the shop, and Xander stopped in the doorway in surprise. The room - once an area for storage - had been cleared and fitted up as a training room, complete with equipment and a place for Buffy to change and clean up.

"Wow - Giles! This is great!" Giles had settled onto an old couch that was against one wall, and he smiled rather tiredly at Xander.

"Thank you. I did it as a surprise for Buffy - she saw it just last night."

"She must have loved it." Xander walked over to a rack of weights, running his finger over them, and grinned over at Spike who had leaped past him and landed a ferocious punch on the heavy bag. It swung alarmingly, creaking, and Spike attacked it again, punches and kicks that were blindingly fast.

*Like a cat with a new toy* Xander thought, and Spike growled and landed a last punch - turned and pounced, one fluid movement, pushing Xander back against the weights and pinning him there with his body.

"Wanna see what else I can do with toys?" he murmured in Xander's ear, and the accompanying mental image made a flush of desire surge through Xander's body.

*Oh fuck yeah*

"Can you please not do that where I have to see?" Giles said, and Spike snarled over his shoulder at the older man, flashing fangs.

*Be nice or-*

*Or? Punish me?* Another flurry of images, and Xander groaned, pushing weakly at Spike's shoulders.

"Cut it out, Spike. I could really live forever without a hard-on in front of Giles!" Xander hissed.

"Might make him shut up for once," Spike muttered, and let his teeth just graze the claim scar. One hand was on Xander's hip, holding him close, and the other was tangled in his hair, rubbing his scalp, tugging gently. The sensation sent little sparks rippling over his scalp and down to the claim scar - all over his body.

*Fuck...love...* Xander closed his eyes - took a deep breath of the smoke and leather smell that surrounded him. Spike was doing a full-body, slow-motion grind against him and he shuddered as their groins pressed together. Spike was already hard, and Xander was rapidly getting there.

*Watcher would leave if we let him do it* the soldier whispered, and Xander groaned again.

*No, no, NO! NO sex in front of...anybody! Damnit* Spike was kissing him now, whiskey and cloves, the demon there and the fangs just prickling Xander's tongue - and Spike's - as the taste suddenly intensified to *copper magic mine mine* and the vampire's blood sparked in Xander's mouth.

Spike pulled away abruptly, grinning, human again. He did a final grind of his body into Xander's and then turned around, getting a cigarette out and lighting it.

*Slayer*

"Oh fuck," Xander said, and straightened up from where he'd half-collapsed against the weights. He could feel the insistent tickle that was Slayer, as well, although he wasn't sure if he was feeling it himself or through Spike. *Thank god it was cold this morning* he thought, and adjusted the sleeves of the flannel shirt he had tied around his waist. Giles had laid his head back on the couch and shut his eyes, and for a moment he looked so very *Old, he looks old, and so tired. This must be hard on him, doing his job without any support...any friends his age.* Xander went over to the pommel horse and jumped up on it, letting his feet dangle. Spike came and leaned next to him, and a moment later they heard the door bell jangle, and footsteps.

"Giles?"

"Back here, Buffy!" Xander called. Giles hadn't moved. More footsteps, and then Buffy was in the doorway, the automatic smile for Xander crumpling a bit when she saw Spike - going to open-mouthed shock when she saw Giles.

"Giles! What happened?" The Watcher stirred - lifted his head with a grimace.

"The usual, Slayer - demon came to kill you, found him instead. Now you got somethin' new to hunt down." Buffy shot an irritated glance at Spike and strode over to Giles, sitting gingerly on the edge of the couch and looking at Giles with an air of worry that was just slightly tinged with exasperation.

"I'm all right, Buffy. But what Spike said is, essentially, what happened. However -" Giles pushed himself fully upright and looked over at Xander and Spike. "However, that is not our main concern at the moment. Xander and - and Spike know...something...about Dawn." Buffy stared at Giles for a moment, a look that was part horror and part guilt flashing across her face. Then she turned to stare at Xander.

"How do you know?"

"You - know too? What's going on with her, Buffy? What - is she?" Buffy drew in a sharp breath, looking at Giles again.

"It's a long story, Xander. I want to know how you know." Spike glanced at Xander,*afraid* in the link, and Xander nodded. Buffy was afraid. But of what? He cleared his throat nervously.

"Well - the night she got kidnapped, when we went to get her? I was still - seeing - and...when we got to the crypt I saw...Dawn. And she..." Xander stopped, biting his lip.

*Be all right*

*Yeah* "She looked...different."

"How did she look different, Xander?" Giles asked. Buffy was tense, her hands digging fiercely into her knees.

"She - most people, you look at them, you see their physical body and their soul is like a ghost, kind of. Sometimes the soul is really distinct - almost separate - but most of the time it's like a copy of the person laid over them, just...glowing and kinda transparent, you know?" The other two nodded, and Spike shifted a little until his shoulder was touching Xander's knee. Xander pressed against him, letting his hand slip down and rest on the back of Spike's neck. "But when I looked at Dawn, her - soul, her - ghost... It was just - it wasn't right. It flickered, like it was having trouble staying in place. It kind of shifted, from looking like her to you, Buffy, to Joyce and to - to all of us - then back to herself, but there wasn't any... I'm not saying this right. There wasn't any life to it - it was like still images instead of something that lived in her. And - there was this green glow, this green - energy - all around her. Kind of like a - fountain of light that just kept flowing out and going back in. It was - beautiful, it was really amazing, but... it wasn't right. What is she, Giles?" Giles had been staring at him with wide eyes, and now he blinked - took off his glasses and started to rub his forehead, but winced and stopped when his fingers touched the bruise. Buffy glanced over at him, biting her lip.

"That night that you guys told us - you know -" Buffy made a gesture with her hands and Spike smirked. *Don't don't don't* Xander thought, and Spike sighed.

"Well, I went back to that warehouse that night. And there was this - monk - there. He was tied to a chair, and there was a - woman. Well, a demon of some kind. He called her the Beast. We fought -"

"Kicked her ass?"

"Not so much kicked her ass as...she kicked mine." Buffy glanced at Giles and Xander twitched a little from the burst of *laughter* that came through the link from Spike. He pushed his knee harder into Spike's shoulder and rubbed his fingers up Spike's neck, squeezing just a little. Spike shot an amused glance up at him but didn't say a word and Xander focused on Buffy again.

"Wow - ok, so it was some kinda freaky demon mojo or something? I mean - what happened?"

"She's really strong, Xander - I don't know what she is. But - anyway - I grabbed the monk and got out of there and the building kind of collapsed on her, so maybe she's dead, I dunno." Buffy shot to her feet and went to stand by the heavy bag, pushing her fists against it, swinging it just a little. "The monk - he was really hurt - he told me that he and his fellow monks had been guarding a - key. For, like, forever. And the Beast wanted it. And it was really dangerous and they had to keep her away from it. So they -" Buffy drew her fist back and punched, setting the bag swinging. "They did some kind of spell and they turned the key into a person. Into a girl." Buffy punched the bag again, then again, hard as she could, and the eye-bolt holding it in the ceiling creaked. A creeping sort of inevitability was coming over Xander, and Spike was very still beside him, cigarette forgotten in his hand and burning down almost to the filter.

*Does she mean...*

*Dunno, pet - seems...*

"No way, Buffy, no way-"

"They said, in order to protect the key, they sent it - her - to the Slayer. To me. They sent me a little sister." Buffy landed a final, crushing blow to the heavy-bag and stepped away, her arms folded tightly around her ribs.

"Jesus, that's..."

"But we remember her." Spike lifted his cigarette - snarled silently at it and pinched it out, stuffing the butt in his duster pocket. "She was in your living room that night, when we made pax... Xander went to the dance with her!"

"I know, Spike! I know! I remember. I remember the day they brought her home from the hospital! I was so upset, but then - mom let me hold her, and she told me I was her big sister and I'd have to help her, and keep her safe -" Buffy stopped and wiped angrily at her eyes, looked over at Giles. "The monks made up her whole life, and they changed - everything. Everybody. They changed us so it would be like she was always here."

"How is that possible?" Xander wondered, and Giles shook his head.

"We don't know. A spell of that reach - of that magnitude - it's almost unthinkable. I've tried to find out about this - Beast - about the Key, but...I'm not having much success."

"So, is this Beast really gone? When the building collapsed, did she die?" Xander slid down off the horse, bumping into Spike who snaked his arm around Xander's waist and pulled him close.

"I don't know. It was pretty destroyed. I guess we'll just have to - wait and see. Find out everything we can and - hope she's gone. The monk - he died." Buffy sat back down on the couch next to Giles. "Xander, do you think - does she have a soul?" Buffy's voice was so small and quiet, and Xander felt a surge of protectiveness sweep over him.

"Course she does, Buffy. It felt like - like she was trying to...make one - grow one. I think - whatever the monks did - it's not finished yet. There wasn't anything bad, in Dawn. Just - love, just...needing her family, being afraid of Harmony. She has a...a baby-soul, I think." Buffy smiled at that, and seemed to relax.

"In the meantime," Giles said quietly, "it is imperative that you tell no-one what we've just said. So far we four -"

"Five," Spike said, and Buffy stared at him.

"What do you mean, five?"

"Wolfling knows, of course. Or, will know."

"Spike, you can't tell him! You can't tell anybody!" Buffy was on her feet and across the floor, glaring up at Spike. Spike gently pushed Xander to one side, glaring back.

*Calm love, DON'T*

*Not pack* the demon growled.

"The wolf is family, Slayer. He already knows Xander saw something. We'll tell him this too. Deal with it."

"Listen, Spike -"

"It's ok, Buffy." Xander tried to get between the two of them, and Spike pushed him aside again, that sub-sonic growl shivering in Xander's bones. "Oz is one of us - he wouldn't tell. Spike's right. Did you tell Joyce?" Buffy blinked, open mouthed, then pushed her hands back through her hair in frustration.

"We had to. When she was sick - right before the surgery - she could...she could see Dawn. She kinda figured it out. So we told her. But - damnit, Xander! Why did you tell him? How do you know Spike won't - won't sell this to the highest bidder! Or - sell Dawn out to the Beast! You can't trust him -" Spike growled, and Xander's hands slipped off his duster as he lunged forward, straight into Buffy. His hands were like claws on her shoulders as he propelled her backwards, five or six stumbling steps and straight into the wall with a crash. Buffy shoved him back, hard, and he reeled back a step and then crouched there, demon snarling into her face.

"Fuck you, Slayer! Xander is mine, and anybody he claims as family is family to me, too. Dawn is like his sister, and I wouldn't hurt a hair on her head!"

*Spike! Calm, back OFF* Xander got up behind Spike and put his arm around the vampire's shoulders - tugged him back.

"C'mon, Spike - it's ok. Relax, ok?" *Love you love you calm* Buffy was still standing against the wall, her eyes narrowed at Spike. She looked over at Giles - looked back at Spike.

"Why didn't the chip zap you, Spike? That hurt, you shoving me into the wall. What's the deal?" She took a step towards them and Spike snarled at her. *NO back OFF* Xander got between them - put his hands up.

"Buffy -"

*TELL* from Spike, and Xander turned around and looked at him - put his hands up to Spike's face, oblivious to the rage and the fangs - trying to block Buffy out, and Giles as well, who was on his feet by the couch.

"Spike - I don't think -"

"It's time, love. Tired of all of this nonsense. Just - tell 'em." *Please love tell safe* Xander sighed - bowed his head for a brief minute. "Ok, Spike - ok. Fuck." He turned around. Buffy was rigid, her hands clenched into fists, her breath coming in sharp pants.

"Tell me what, Xander."

"The chip - doesn't work any more." Xander said.

"What?'" from Giles and:

"How long, Xander," from Buffy, deadly calm.

"Since - March."

"How - how did this - Xander, what is -" Giles sputtered, advancing on them.

"I can't believe it, Xander - I just can't. Why would you - why would you keep something like that a secret from us?" Buffy's eyes were wide and wet, but she was trembling all over and Xander was pretty sure she was trying hard not to just launch herself straight at Spike.

*Calm* from Spike and *love you*

*Love you too*

*Protect pack* the hyena was tense - ready to fight.

"Why do you think, Buffy? What was I supposed to do, tell you and then let you kill him? Or try to? Six months, Buffy. Six months and he's still fought for us, and helped us, and hasn't tried even once to hurt you - or anybody. He let you hit him. Six months, Buffy."

"How did it happen?" Giles asked. He stood beside Buffy, his mouth pressed into thin, angry line.

"Jack. He owed me for what I did - said he'd pay the debt, any time, I just had to call him. And - I did. He - did something to it. It's not even what it was, anymore."

"Xander..." Giles was shaking his head, looking tired again.

"Get out. Because I'm going to -"

"Stop it. Just stop it, Buffy!" Xander felt - something. An unaccustomed rage. He got up close to Buffy, trying not to yell - knowing he might, anyway. "You threatened his life when he couldn't even defend himself - you've hit him and belittled him and then expected him to help you, and he's done it. Done everything you asked - helped Giles, helped get Oz out, helped get Adam - he's been keeping the Hellmouth safe while you've been having your - your new college life and your boyfriend stuff and - and helping your mom and you don't get to do this anymore, Buffy! You don't get to threaten him any more." Xander had never shouted like that - had never felt so angry, and Buffy blinked in shock and took a step back. Giles was staring at him, and he closed his eyes for a brief moment.

*Love you pet, beautiful MINE* from Spike, fierce and warm and comforting.

"Xander, he's -"

"What is he, Buffy? You can't say 'soulless' 'cause that's not true. And you seem to forget that I can see him - I can feel him - everything he's thinking or doing. I know he's not out there murdering people every night. He told me so and I know it's true. He's mine and you won't touch him and you won't treat him like shit anymore." Xander stopped, breathing hard - jumped when Spike's hand slid up his arm and took his shoulder. He turned gratefully under the slight pressure and was folded into Spike's arms, into *Leather, spice, smoke, mine my own love you* strong arms and solid body, comfort and *home*

*Lovely brave boy love you LOVE YOU*

"M'not a boy," Xander grumbled softly, his face tucked into Spike's neck, and Spike chuckled softly.

"Course you're not." Spike kissed Xander's temple, and Xander felt the demon - felt the alien-ness of that face and nuzzled in deeper, not caring for a blissful moment what Buffy or Giles were doing.

"Xander -"

"You said you'd try, Buffy." Xander turned in Spike's embrace, his own arms under the duster and tight around the slim waist. "He's been - one of us, Buffy. Fighting the fight."

"But how can you - Ahhh!" Buffy made that frustrated noise, and held up her hand. "I know, I know. You can feel him. But I can't, Xander - how am I supposed to trust him?"

"Because you trust me, maybe? Because you know me and know that I wouldn't put you or Willow, or Dawn, or any of you in danger? If you can't trust Spike, can you trust me?" Buffy looked down at the floor for a long moment, and then her fists slowly unclenched and she smiled a small, sad smile at Xander.

"Yeah. I guess - I can trust you, Xander. Trusted you with my life before - I guess I can now. How about it, Giles?" The Watcher still looked angry, and he slowly shook his head.

"I'm not - happy with this. But six months - and the claim... Actions speak louder than words, Spike. If you - if you continue to show that you are in earnest with this - with helping us, then -"

"Then you'll what, Watcher? Condescend to notice me? I'm here for Xander, and him alone. I don't drain the lot of you because it would tear him apart. I don't let every demon in the Hellmouth carry on with their bloody stupid scheming because if the Hellmouth opens, Xander gets hurt. You getting it? You live or die on his say so, and no one else's. And the day you hurt him, you're fair game. No threats from you, Slayer, will ever change that. And there's sod-all you can do about it, unless you plan on dusting me. And I think you know what happens then."

"That wasn't nice," Xander said, into the stunned silence that followed. He scratched his nails slowly up and down Spike's t-shirt clad back.

"M'not a nice man, pet. You know that."

"I know that. Nice to me."

"Well, yeah." Spike grinned at him, demon-eyed, ivory-fanged. *MY vampire love you always*

*Always*

"So - we've told our deep dark secrets. Are we gonna go get this demon what took out the Watcher or what?" Buffy was shaking her head, looking frustrated, and Giles sighed and wandered back to the couch, sitting down heavily.

"You don't make this very easy, Spike."

"I don't make it anything, Slayer - it is what it is. All you lot have to do is accept it." Xander pressed a kiss to Spike's lips and pulled slowly away, and the demon shivered and was gone.

*Love love you nice now* Spike grinned at him, eyebrow up, head to one side, and Xander had to laugh.

"Yeah, ok. Nice as the evil undead can be. Let's go demon-hunting, huh?"

"Don't mind if I do, pet,"

 

 

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The song on the radio is Missy Elliot - One Minute Man