Credence Chapter 19

Credence Chapter 19

Oz didn't come back that day.† Xander fell asleep, exhausted, around eleven a.m., and Spike soon followed, curling up behind him in the bed, burying his nose in leather and sweet-smell; tasting it on his tongue.† Tod calling around five woke them both and Spike talked to Viv - found out they were both off work until Oz came back and they were sure he was all right.† An indulgence Spike viewed mistrustfully, but he knew Xander wouldn't go to the club unless he knew Oz was safe, and Spike didn't want to leave him waiting alone.

*Might do something foolish, our rabbit.† Might think he has to go out and find the wolf...† Might get himself into a lot of trouble.*†† So Spike sulkily agreed not to come in, and rang off with Viv's too-complacent chuckle in his head.††† *Old bitch's got something up her sleeve.† Have to watch her.*†† Xander showered and dressed and moped around - finally dug out some of the food one of Tod's boys had got and started cooking.† Spike sat on the kitchen counter and smoked and watched, bemused, while Xander assembled something like a real dinner and drank orange juice.

"Where'd you learn to do that, rabbit?† Don't most your age just - microwave something?"† Spike tapped ash into the sink and grinned as Xander rescued the mushrooms he'd been draining.

"That's my fuckin' dinner, not your ashtray, you jerk."† He rinsed the mushrooms off and put them in the other side of the sink.† "My dad was a drunk.† Spent most of his time mooching around different bars and doing half-assed carpentry for booze money.† My mom had to work and she got home late a lot so I started doing the cooking.† It was that or live on Ramen noodles."† Xander raggedly chopped the mushrooms into smaller pieces and added them to the bowl that already held hamburger and diced peppers and onion and bread crumbs and an egg.†† He stuck both hands in and started mixing.† It looked - weird - and a bit like innards and Spike couldn't imagine what it was.

"So - what...is it?" Spike asked finally as Xander washed his hands.† The boy rolled his eyes, pushing his creation into the oven.†

"It's meatloaf.† Perfect food.†† Have it hot for dinner and then you've got leftovers for days for sandwiches."† He washed and cubed up some potatoes and put them to boil, then wiped his hands and came to lean by Spike.†† "Now - one hour, and dinner!"

"Seems like a lot of work to me," Spike mumbled, tugging at the boy until he was between Spike's thighs.† Xander leaned back against him and Spike tossed his cigarette butt into the sink and wound his arms around Xander's ribs, tucking his hands into the heat under his arms and his face into the warm and slightly sweaty crook of Xander's neck.† "But it makes you smell good...taste good..."† He spent some time slowly kissing his way around Xander's neck, tracing the edge of the choker and slowly, slowly stroking ribs and chest, belly and shoulders.† Xander just closed his eyes, hands on Spike's thighs, fingers kneading into the muscles there.

"Do you think...Oz is okay?" Xander asked softly, and Spike gently turned him around - scooted forward and tugged Xander closer so they were pressed tight together.

"Wolf's fine, rabbit.† He just needs to - be the wolf, you know?† Run off some hate.† Maybe take down a soldier or two, who knows?"† Spike went back to his slow exploration of Xander's neck and Xander slid his hands up under the too-large Oxford shirt Spike had donned for warmth.

"He doesn't want to kill anybody.† He won't - do that," Xander murmured, and Spike made a noncommittal noise, too busy tracking the elevated heartbeat and rising scents of musk and arousal from Xander.†† He slid his hands up, to frame Xander's face and tangle in his hair.† "He won't," Xander insisted, pushing Spike back a little.† Spike growled and yanked the boy close again.

"Don't actually care, rabbit.† He can slaughter half Seattle if he likes - not my business.† Hush."† Spike's thumbs were on Xander's jaw and he pressed in, making Xander wince - making him open his mouth a little and Spike let his tongue lick slowly inside - taste of oranges and mint, taste of green pepper.† Xander resisted for a moment and then was leaning heavily against Spike, kissing back, his nails scraping slowly up and down Spike's spine.† Another few minutes and Xander slowly pulled away, his hand tracing a pattern over Spike's chest in the deep 'v' of the half-open shirt.†

"Why do you do that?† Why do you - assume he'll do something...bad?"† Spike looked at the boy, seeing the genuine puzzlement in his eyes, but more interested in the red mouth and fast-beating heart.†

"Nature of the beast, rabbit.† The wolf doesn't care about humans - you heard what he said.† Said he'd turn half the city - take over the north."† Xander looked puzzled for a moment and then his expression closed - his eyes shuttered and he stiffened away.

"You were listening to us."

"In my house, weren't you?"† Spike remembered what the wolf and Xander had said, and after a moment it was obvious that Xander did, too.† He started to pull away and Spike stopped him.† "I know what you want - what your beast wants.† Want's me.† And you do too."† Spike's finger traced the edge of the choker and Xander shivered.††

"I don't - "
"Yes you do, rabbit."† Spike slipped his hand behind Xander's head and tugged him in close again but Xander pushed away - wrenched himself out of Spike's hold and his reach and paced to the far side of the kitchen - stood there, hunched and shaking.†† *Scared of it, aren't you rabbit?† Scared of wanting to be mine.† Scared of losing something.† Just your soul, sweetheart.† But you don't need that, anyway.*

"You don't...† You want to own me," Xander said finally, his own fingers touching the leather strands and Spike slid down off the counter and walked to him - reached out to gently cup Xander's cheek, his fingertips rubbing behind the boy's ear.

"You want to be owned, love.† You want someone to choose you.† Keep you.† You want to belong so you can rest, love - so you can stop fighting."†† Xander looked up at him, and his eyes were so huge in his thin face - so lost.† "No fear, if you're mine, rabbit.† Never again.† I keep what's mine forever."

"But I don't -"†† Xander sighed and closed his eyes - pushed into Spikes hand for a moment and then walked away.† He linked his hands behind his head and paced over to the far corner where the second bed was, silent and hunched, and Spike let him go - let him think.† *Not getting away, rabbit.† But it's better if you come 'round on your own.*† ††

By two in the morning Xander hadn't said another word and Oz was still gone.† Spike locked the boy in for an hour and went hunting, and when he got back Xander was asleep again, curled into a corner of the couch, still dressed.† Spike let him be, and showered and went to his own bed.

 

The second day was tense.†† Xander was jumpy and snappish - didn't want to be touched and didn't want to talk and Spike rapidly lost patience with him.† Finally, when Xander had snarled an umpteenth sullen 'fuck off ' Spike snapped and backhanded him.

"Get your coat, rabbit, we're going out," he barked, going for his own coat.† Xander glared at him, eyes wild.

"I'm not.† Oz -"†† Spike turned and paced back to him, five long, rapid steps and grabbed the front of his sweatshirt, yanking him close and letting the demon snarl into his face.

"Don't fucking question me, boy.†† We're going out."†††† Xander growled and swung and Spike hit him again, knocking him back several stumbling steps - making his lip bleed.† "Want more, rabbit?† Donít fucking push me!"† Xander's eyes flashed green fire but he went, quivering with anger, and got on his coat and boots.† Spike called Tod - told him to have someone on the door and then strode out, not bothering to check that Xander was following.††† They rode the elevator in silence - strode through the blue-glass dusk to O'Shea's Gym.† Xander balked at the door, scowling.

"I don't want -"
"I don't give a fuck.† You'll get your arse in there or you'll regret it, rabbit, hear me?"† Spike was that close to knocking him unconscious - the fear-worry-anger that had been rolling off the boy all day was driving him slowly up a wall.† Xander glared and then stomped in, cursing under his breath.†† The O'Shea behind the counter - a taller, older version of the gypsy-looking boy from the first time - nodded in silence and took their coats - nodded again when Spike told him about the phone.††† Xander loitered near the door as if he'd bolt at a moment's notice and Spike grabbed his arm and hauled him into the changing room.

"Fuck off, Spike!† You don't own me and you can't fucking make me -"†† Spike's patience snapped and he lunged at Xander, the demon growling like a lion, Spike's hands flat on Xander's chest.† The back of Xander's head rang off a locker and a human changing half-way down the row shuffled hastily around the corner. †Spike held Xander against the metal doors, fists in Xander's shirt and knee in his balls, hurting him and not caring.

"You'll do what I tell you, little rabbit, or I'll whip you so hard you won't be able to wear clothes for a week.† Fucking understand?"†† For one long moment Xander stared at him, panting, a line of pain between his brows.†† And Spike thought - *Will you or won't you, rabbit?† Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, come and join the dance...*†† And then that suicide light sprang up in his eyes and it was the hyena - Spike could see it quite clearly.†† Xander spit at the same moment his hand - the push-knife sprouting from between his knuckles - came up, deadly fast.† Spike felt the acid-hot burn of the little blade at the same moment that the demon roared in fury.††† Spike's vision went black-edged and sharply delineated - almost colorless - and the only thing he could hear was Xander's heartbeat and his wordless, shrieking cries.† Spike came to himself with Xander pinned underneath him, the boy's eyes rolling back white, his shirt gone and blood on his chest.†† The push-knife had clattered to the concrete somewhere and Spike knelt astride Xander's belly, his hands sunk deep into biceps, blood on his nails.† Xander was gasping for air - clawing at Spike's arms and growling - kicking.† Spike let his arms go and grabbed two hands-ful of hair - rapped Xander's head sharply against the floor.

"Stop it, rabbit!†† Stop it."

"Get off, get off, get off!"

"When you behave!"† Xander arched under him, hard, fighting to unseat him and Spike bared his fangs, ready to sink them into Xander's throat.† *Don't, rabbit, don't, don't, DON'T!*††† Xander thrashed for another few moments and then suddenly was still, panting.† Spike looked down at him and the hyena stared up.

"Let me up," he rasped, and Spike uncoiled, on his feet and backing off in one smooth movement.† "Going to kill you," Xander breathed, gaze never leaving Spike's and Spike grinned - lifted a hand to his mouth and licked the blood off the tips of his fingers.

"You reckon so, rabbit?"

"Reckon, Spike.† Fuck yeah."† Xander stood also, a movement oiled and graceful and they both stalked out to the gym proper.† All the rings were empty - the gym itself seemed to have emptied except for the O'Shea at the door and Hedge, who'd come out of his little cage in the changing room.

"Better not kill him," the O'Shea called, and Spike swung his head, staring for a moment before focusing on Xander again.† Promise made in that momentary glance and the man settled back behind his counter.† Xander yanked off boots and socks and then - surprising Spike - jeans, and climbed naked into the ring.† There were two cuts on his chest, shallow and bleeding, and scrapes and bruises up his arms and across his shoulders.† The cut across Spike's ribs was deeper but knitting already, and his own bruises were minimal.† He stripped as well and then was in the ring and Xander stood there, arms loose at his sides and his hands flexing slowly.† Hyena in his eyes and in his scent; half-hard and grinning like a skull.† And then he launched himself, shrieking out a challenge, and Spike roared and met him head-on.

 

It took almost two hours for Spike to beat him down to stillness - to make the hyena go.† He collapsed next to Xander in a graceless heap, panting, his whole body singing with pain.† They were both covered in blood and bruises, and Spike was pretty sure a cracked rib or two for Xander.†† Left eye swollen shut, lips split and bleeding, Xander lay on his side and gagged for air, his hands moving spasmodically on the canvas.† Spike felt stiffness and swelling in his own face, and Xander had bit him - ripped flesh from his shoulder.† But he was back - back to himself, and Spike just sat there, exhausted.†

After several minutes Hedge shuffled up to them, looking in an enquiring way at them and Spike nodded warily - staggered to his feet and hauled Xander upright.† The boy gasped sharply, hunching over, and Spike belatedly noticed the clawed gashes on his own thighs and the gouges on Xander's back.

"C'mon, rabbit.† Let's go get clean - see Robbie.† He'll fix us right up."† Xander made a low, tearing sort of moaning noise as Spike eased him out of the ring and into Hedge's arms.† Spike climbed slowly out and took Xander back, half carrying him, both of them unsteady on their feet.†† Hedge got a shower going, turning it up hot.† Xander whined in pain as the water beat down and tried to pull away but Spike pushed him into the wall and held him - sluiced the majority of the blood off of them both, gritting his teeth at the ferocious sting of the hot water on his own hurts.

Xander was shaking now, his teeth chattering as shock set in and Spike hauled him up and got Xander's arm over his shoulder and walked him to the small room by the sauna.†† It was warm in there - residual heat from the steam next door - and paneled in thick, honey-colored wood.† The floor was layered with rugs and a thick, soft futon was on the floor.††† Spike eased Xander down onto his back and then settled above him.† Xander was trying to curl up - trying to hold himself and Spike caught his hands.

"Ssss - ike...huurtssss."

"Shhh, love, I know.† Robbie's here, he'll fix it.† Almost there, love, shhhh...."† Spike looked up as Robbie came in.† Gaunt, palely greenish and possessed of a shock of wheat-gold hair that puffed out like a dandelion.†† Robbie was nearly seven feet tall, with unnaturally long fingers, toes, and nose.† His teeth, when he smiled at Spike, were small and very sharp, like a fox's.††† Sin-eaters, demons called Robbie's kind, because they ate pain.† Luckily, they gave healing when they feasted.††† Robbie looked at Spike with something like glee and then crouched down, all angles and bone.† His began a slow, delicate stroking over Xander's body, his fingertips just touching and depressing the flesh.† Xander gasped, going rigid, his fingers curling into Spike's so hard his nails cut Spike's palms.†† After a moment, though, he slowly relaxed and Spike watched as his breathing eased - as the ribs knit and the torn flesh sealed over.† When nothing but fading bruises were left Robbie sat back - looked inquiringly up at Spike.

"Yesno, vampire?" he husked, and Spike nodded, letting go of Xander's hands.† Robbie spent less time on Spike - he healed so much faster - and five minutes later he was settling himself into a corner, a contented little smile on his face.† Xander pushed himself upright and staggered slowly out of the room, heading for the changing room.† Spike snagged his arm and redirected him in to the sauna, spreading towels and making him lay down.† Spike took Xander's head into his lap, slowly stroking his fingers through the still-bloody hair.

"Feel better, rabbit?" he asked, and Xander looked up at him, dazed-looking.

"I didn't want to hurt you, Spike."
"Yes you did, rabbit," Spike sighed, and Xander shook his head - clumsily sat up and scooted closer, one foot up on the bench, hugging his leg to his chest.

"No I didn't.† But...it did.† It wanted you dead.† It wanted...† I don't - understand.† I don't want..."

"Love..."† Spike sighed again, leaning back against the bench behind him, thinking.†† "You're fighting me, pet.† Not sure what you want, just yet, are you?† So it has to fight, too.† Protect you.† If you stop fighting, it will too."† Xander stared at him - ducked his head down to rest his cheek on his knee, staring into nothing.

"Spike?" he whispered, and his voice was tiny - was cracked and thick with some emotion and Spike reached out and petted him, smoothing and smoothing the tangled hair.

"What is it, rabbit?"

"I'm scared.† I'm scared...† I can't - probably can't really kill you but...† I could kill a person - I could kill - anybody...† I killed that soldier -"

"Oh no, no, love, no," Spike said and he pulled the boy close - pulled him into a tight embrace, tucking the dark head under his chin and wrapping himself around the shivering body.† "That soldier doesn't count for anything but getting back your own, pet.† They're hardly innocent, are they?"††† *Can't do this for you, love.† Can't make you be good.† But I can keep you from doing what you don't want to do.† The rest is for you to decide...† Pretty boy...MY boy...*†† Spike kissed Xander's temple and the crown of his skull - ran gentle fingers up and down his back.††† "I could stop you, rabbit, from anything the beast wanted to do that you didn't.† But I can't make it go away.†† You invited it in, pet, now you have to learn to make it heel."† Xander's arms around him were squeezing almost painfully tight and he was breathing in sharp little gasps.

"I want Oz.† I want...family.† But he won't..."

"No, he won't.† But I will, rabbit."† Xander laughed, a broken sound, and pulled himself upright and away.†† His eyes were huge and wet - his hands trembling as they swept his clotted hair back from his face.

"You don't love me, Spike.† You...don't love me and...and this is just...a f-fucking brand -"†† Xander's fingers plucked at the choker and Spike reached up and caught them - folded the callused hands in his.

"No.† I told you - that's to remind you, is all -"

"Remind me that you - you want to - own me, that I'm just -"

"Rabbit -" Spike said, making Xander stop, squeezing his fingers just a little.† "Nothing wrong with owned.† Owned means wanted.† Wanted more than anybody else.† Wanted for always."† Xander just stared at him - stared until his lip was trembling, just a little, and then he leaned slowly forward until he was resting against Spike, forehead to shoulder.

"Really?"

"Really, love," Spike said.† *Mean what I say.† Want you, love.*†† "Pretty rabbit...pretty, pretty little rabbit," he crooned softly, holding Xander tight.† "Won't let you go, love.† Won't."

 

Xander was quiet as they made their way home.† It had rained during the day and almost all the snow was gone, but it was still breath-catching cold.†† The steady drip drip from eaves and tree-limbs seemed to echo, and the streets were quiet.† Spike was hungry and kept an eye out for something easy and filling - in no mood to hunt tonight.

As they headed west, the jingle of bells made Spike look around and he saw a men's clothiers up ahead.† He reached out and took Xander's hand, pulling him through the door and ignoring his startled 'What?'

"Good evening, can I help you?"†† The sales clerk was young and diffident, his eyes glued on their linked hands and Spike wanted to snarl.

"My boy needs gloves and scarf and hat.† Something nice.† Cashmere, or mohair."†

"Oh, of course -"†† The boy ushered them to a shelving unit and a selection of gear and Spike looked over and discarded several things, frowning.

"Ah - this is nice.† What about this then, rabbit?"† Spike yanked price tags off of a black knit cap and blood-red scarf, both cashmere and silky soft.† He tugged the cap down over Xander's head and then looped the scarf around his neck, tucking it into his coat.†† "Now - that looks nice.† Looks good with your hair."† Xander's fingers smoothed the scarf, rough skin catching on the fine weave.

"It's nice," he murmured, but he was smiling.

"Right.† Gloves, now.† He needs leather - something lined."

"Right - right here -"†† The sales-clerk had hastily picked up the discarded tags and bustled over to another display.† Five minutes of trying things on and Xander had nicely fitted leather gloves, lined in black and silver rabbit fur.†

*And that's appropriate, isn't it,* Spike thought, grinning.†† He was about to yank the little clerk over the counter and drain him - why pay for things when you didn't have to? - when he noticed the camera over the register, that was pointing pretty much at Xander.† *Don't want the filth thinkin' my boy did something...† Don't want them NOTICING him...† Fuck.*† Spike sighed and pulled a roll of money out of his pocket - peeled off a few bills and tossed them down.† "Let's go, love, I'm a bit hungry," he said, and Xander's eyes went wide.† He nodded and they strode out, ignoring the clerks frantic calls of 'your change!'

Xander was watching him now, as they walked along and Spike finally reached out and grabbed his gloved hand.† "Make you feel better, pet, if you picked out my dinner?"† Xander stopped walking.

"What?† Are you - crazy?† I don't want to - to -†† Fuck no!"

"All right, then," Spike grumbled, and got Xander walking again with a jerk.

"Do you - why do you have to kill them?† Can't you just take a little bit?† I mean - isn't there -"

"Not a sodding mosquito, rabbit.† S'what I eat.† Eat or die.†† Know how long it'd take if I just took a bit here and a bit there?† I'd be doing it all night!"† Xander looked miserable - turned his head away and watched the traffic with concentration, ignoring him, and Spike growled.† There was a voice up ahead - getting louder - and Spike narrowed his eyes.† Young man on a pay-phone, shouting at someone - girlfriend, sounded like.† As they got closer Xander looked around, frowning at the man.

"I don't care what you think I said, you were drunk!† Now you wanna blame me and that's bullshit! ... It's not even my kid! ... Fuck that! ...† I am not the dad, and you can just fuck off if you think I'm gonna pay for you to kill it or to keep it!"† The man slammed the phone down, jerking around and pulling up short when he saw them.† "Fuckin' women," he snarled.

"Jerk," Xander snapped, and the guy glared at him.

"Fuck you, too!" he snapped back, and Spike let go of Xander's hand and grabbed the man by the throat - slammed him up against the phone.††† He struggled wildly and Spike squeezed a little, making his eyes bulge.†

"What's your name, asshole?" he grated.

"W-w-wade!" the man gasped out.†

"Well, Wade - apologize to him before I crush your fuckin' trachea."† Wade's eyes rolled wildly and finally found Xander.

"S-sssorry!† Ssorry!"

"Yeah, okay," Xander muttered, and Spike changed to the demon.† Wade shrieked, a rasping, tea-kettle sort of noise.††† The fear-scent was thick and heady and Spike didn't hesitate - he yanked the man's head over by a handful of hair and struck, drinking deep.† After a few minutes he pulled away and held the limp body in his arms.† Xander was looking sick, standing off to one side, huddled down into his coat.

"C'mere, rabbit," Spike sighed, and Xander approached hesitantly.† "Here now - take off your glove -" Spike tugged the glove off gently and guided Xander's hand to the man's throat - held it there.† After a moment Xander looked at him, puzzled.

"Is that...† He's not dead?"

"Not dead, rabbit.† Happy?"† Xander just stared at him for a moment longer and then the sweetest, widest smile spread over his face, making his eyes sparkle.† He leaned in close and kissed Spike and Spike let the body drop - gathered Xander close and kissed back.

"Happy," Xander murmured, and they went slowly up the sidewalk, arms around each other's waists.† After a minute or so, behind them, Spike heard tires squealing as the body was spotted.† *Need to be sure and hunt by myself, in the future,* Spike thought, and hugged Xander close.

 

Oz wasn't home again - wasn't home when they woke up the next evening and Spike felt a twinge of concern.† Three days, two nights...he hoped the wolf hadn't gotten into any trouble - or run off.† Spike watched Xander fidgeting on the couch.† The wolf leaving without saying anything would...

*It'd gut him.† Better not, wolf.† Don't do that to him...please don't do that to him.*†† Xander sighed and shifted - pushed his hand back through his hair and shifted again.† He was holding a book - Spike's battered copy of Watership Down.†††† Trying for a little fodder for headspace - getting some words, he said.† But he didn't seem to be making much headway.† Spike watched him twitch, and pull at his shirt - watch him stand up and pace to the kitchen island and back, glaring down at the book, his hand crushing it in a death-grip.† He was muttering under his breath.† After five minutes of that Spike wanted to slap him.† He got up from his sprawl on the bed and ambled over, flopping onto the couch.

"Christ, rabbit!† How far are you?"† Xander jerked, looking sideways at him from behind strands of hair.

"Ummm...page...t-twelve."

"Twelve?† It's been an hour, pet."† Xander just stared at him - hunched his shoulders and turned back to the book, looking unhappy.†

"M'just...worried about Oz," he muttered, turning to pace away.

"Xander!" Spike snapped, and Xander froze - turned and glared at Spike.

"What!"†

"C'mere, pet," Spike sighed, holding out his hand, and Xander reluctantly came to him - sat rigidly on the couch, kneading the book back and forth in his hands.† "Stop that, now, you're ruining the binding.† Here - turn to the first page," Spike said, and Xander did, slowly.† "Now read it, pet.† Start at the beginning.† It's a good story - I don't mind hearing it again."

"You read it, then!" Xander said, thrusting the book out at Spike, and Spike raised an eyebrow.

"Nooo...† I told you to, rabbit.† Now read."†† Xander's mouth compressed to a thin line and he slapped the book shut - slapped it down on the coffee table and shot to his feet.†

"Fuck you. I've got a headache -"

"No you don't, rabbit," Spike snarled, and lunged for him - dragged him back down onto the couch. ††Fear was coming off the boy - fear and misery and anger and Spike wanted to know.† He slung a leg over Xander's legs and an arm around his ribs - snatched the book and thrust it into the boy's hands.† "Read it."† Xander surged up violently, the book dropping to the floor and Spike growled - yanked him back.† "Don't make me hurt you, rabbit.† Just do what you're told."

"Spike!† Just - let me up, okay?† Just - my head -"

"You're lying to me, pet, and I won't stand for that."† Spike groped for the book and found it - shoved it back at him.† Xander held it, hands shaking, panting a little.† He was stiff in Spike's arms and Spike let him sit up a little.† Watched as he slowly opened the book to the first chapter.††† "Go on then, pet.† You can skip the title, there, and the poetry - never liked Agamemnon, anyway.† Just start at the top of the paragraph, yeah?"†

Xander licked his lips - put a trembling finger to the first line of the book and started.† His voice was a dull monotone and he read slowly, glancing often at Spike.†† "The p-primrosses wu-where over tow - tow-ards the - the - ee-nd of the wood where the grrr...gr-ound slipped down to an o-old f-feh...fehn...see -"

"Stop," Spike said, and Xander did - sat there with the book being slowly mangled in his hands, shaking like a leaf and - crying now, silently.† Spike listened to the ragged breaths that Xander was trying to muffle - watched him hunch down further and further, muscles rigid as he tried to still his heaving shoulders.†† "Rabbit -"

"Fuckin' happy now?† Now you know I'm too ss-stupid to read?"† Xander started struggling to get away from him and Spike plucked the book out of his hands - tossed it on the coffee table and drew Xander in close, trapping his legs and arms, forcing him to turn and lean into Spike's chest.† Xander fought him for a moment and then went limp, sobbing harshly into Spike's sweater, his fists clutching the thin weave and his whole body shaking with misery.

"Shhhh, pet, hush now...shhh..."† Spike hugged him close, letting him cry.† Resting his chin on Xander's hair and kissing, from time to time.† Rubbing his back.† After awhile the storm eased off and Xander pushed away.

"Need to blow my nose," he husked, and Spike let him go - watched him go into the bathroom and listened while he cleaned up - ran some water and washed and got a drink.† He came out slowly, head down - face still flushed and his eyes red-rimmed.† He stood there for a moment and Spike sat up, propping pillows behind his back and snagging the soft chenille throw from the back of the couch.

"C'mon back here, rabbit.† Come on," he coaxed, and Xander finally shuffled over.† Spike tugged him down between his legs - got him settled and covered them cozily with the throw.† He put his arms around Xander's ribs and Xander leaned back against his shoulder.† Spike kissed the warm cheek - rested his own cheek there, rocking the boy just a bit.

"You graduate from school, then?" he asked, and Xander twitched a little.

"Yeah..."

"How'd you do that, then, if you're so stupid?"†

Xander sat for a moment and then settled a little closer, rubbing his cheek against Spike's.† "Willow used to read stuff to me so I could memorize it.† She said they could fix it but my - my dad wouldn't let me go to the special classes.† Said everybody'd know I was stupid for sure."

"Mmmm..."† Spike kissed him again - turned his head a little and kissed his mouth; salt and cold water and faint taste of chocolate from dessert after dinner.† "Willow was right, love," he murmured.† He stretched out for the book and settled comfortably - opened it to the first chapter.† "This is a story about rabbits, love.† And how they fought bravely against their enemies and won against terrible odds.† And there's poetry, although some of it's bad.† Now...chapter one.† The Notice Board."††

Xander looked up at him, and his eyes were dark and shining - full of something so very soft and happy, and Spike felt a shiver go all through him.† *Not stupid, my pretty rabbit, my beautiful boy.† Not stupid.*

"The primroses were over.† Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots.† On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes..."

 

 

 

___________________

Richard Adams - Watership Down