Xander couldn't help the pleasure he felt at Nathaniel choosing him again. He might have thought the man would run off scared after the experience they'd already shared, but he'd gone with it all jelly cool.
He couldn't help wondering how hard it would be to break Nathaniel down to nothing. He wasn't going to do it, but having the option available gave him happy feelings.
Xander grinned. He could see Nathaniel becoming his favorite toy. Because no matter what he did, Nathaniel would always come begging for more.
"What are you thinking?"
He felt a jolt of surprise and looked at Jean-Claude. He'd been deep into picturing all the things he wanted to do to Nathaniel, all the limits he wanted to push.
"I was imagining the games we could play," he said.
Jean-Claude still wore a curious look, but he'd learned that there were some questions it was better not to ask Xander. The answers were hardly ever to his civilized monster tastes.
"Come, let's make ourselves more comfortable before you indulge yourself," Jean-Claude said. He stroked Xander's arm and it was only a little possessive. His eyes were locked to Xander's face and he spared their human juice boxes no attention.
Xander preened. He liked being in the spotlight. Liked being the center of someone's world.
He let Jean-Claude lead him to a squishy couch, all overstuffed dark brown leather that felt like human skin. He curled into Jean-Claude's side when the older vampire sat beside him.
"Along came a spider that sat down beside her," Xander whispered.
"What was that?" Jean-Claude asked.
"Nothing," Xander said. He held out a hand to the first of his pretties. "Come away, oh human child, to the waters and the wild." He laughed, a wild sound.
* * *
Edward and Peter were back in her living room again, though most of the arrogance was gone. Peter looked younger than ever curled up on her couch hugging his knees tight to his chest. Edward was pacing back and forth, well away from the windows with their curtains drawn tight.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Peter here got his first taste of Alexander." Edward said it like it was no big deal, but it was obvious to her that he was a bit shook up. He had that look on his face like he was mentally recapping the night and figuring out contingency plans for the next face off. He'd never been the kind of man to back down from a fight.
"Maybe you should back off of him," she suggested. It was like biting into pennies, but she'd learned some restraint in the last few years. Diving headfirst into a problem had never gotten her very much, and that was with the backing of a supernatural constitution. She didn't want to see Peter dead because of Edward's pride.
He gave her a flat-eyed look, as though he had heard what she was thinking. "You might be right, but I still want to give it one more look around."
Anita shook her head. "The more I see of him, the less comfortable I feel around him. He scares the shit out of me."
"Whoa, blunt." His lips curved up, but his eyes stayed cold and hard. "I promise that I'm not about to whip out a flamethrower against your boyfriend, Anita. My only concern is with Alexander."
"He's not my boyfriend, not anymore," Anita said. "It hurts to admit it, but I'm sure I've been replaced by Xander. So our friendship won't buy you a lot of leeway if you go head to head with Xander and Jean-Claude gets pissed off about it."
"I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. Don't worry about me," Edward said.
"I'm not. I'm worried about Peter. He's just a kid. He doesn't deserve to be drawn into the kind of trouble you're bringing down on your head by messing around with Xander."
"He wasn't like anything I've ever heard of before. It wasn't his eyes that caught me, but his voice. He spoke, and there was no way I couldn't listen." Peter didn't lift his cheek from where it rested on his knees. His eyes were focused somewhere on the floor. "I felt like he could crush me at any moment and there was nothing I could do about it."
Edward slanted him a worried glance, but didn't offer any real comfort. "When the time comes, he'll go down like any other monster. We just might have to rethink our methods of taking him out, that's all."
A shiver went through Peter, but he just pressed his chin against his knees. "It felt like he could crush me and there was nothing I could do to stop him. He spoke, and there was no way I couldn't listen."
Anita bit her lip. Xander was frightening not just because he was a vampire, but because he was different from every other vampire she'd come across. There was something hungry in his eyes, but he was the kind of monster that liked to play with his food.
"You need to get Peter out of here. If Xander decides that he wants him ... I don't know if we could stop him," she said.
"We're not going to make a move against him," Edward said. "We're just gathering intelligence right now."
"So you can make a move against him later. Edward, he's not the kind of guy you mess around with. He won't just kill you if he catches you."
"Then we won't get caught," he said firmly.
Anita closed her eyes with a weary sigh. He refused to listen. Refused to learn the lesson that she'd had pounded into her so painfully.
She didn't think he was going to survive if he went up against Xander. Not just because Xander was a bad ass, but because Jean-Claude was so wrapped up in him that Xander only had to ask and Jean-Claude would do whatever he wanted. Including gifting Edward and Peter to him if he wanted them.
She'd let herself start to believe that Jean-Claude wasn't like the other monsters. Xander had taught her different.
And Peter was going to be the one to pay the price if Edward wasn't willing to back down when he had the chance.
When did it get like this? she wondered. When did I stop fearing the monsters? And when did all the fear come back?
There were no answers. Just silence.