Stray Puppies

by Adalisa
Part Two: Xander & Puppy

Xander was sitting alone in a table at the Bronze. Usually, he would be with Buffy or the other Slayerettes, but of late they had grown apart. Ever since Oz and Cordelia had find him and Willow kissing, their friendship had become very unstable. It wasn't as if they noted him much before, but in the last months, they had started to alienate him. At first, he had tried to amend what had gone wrong, staying in the Library and helping as much as he could. But since Puppy, the weird alternate version of Angel, had suddenly appeared, Xander felt incredibly uncomfortable there. Every time Puppy was there, he kept staring at him, as if waiting for something to happen.

Xander couldn't take it. The words that Puppy had said when describing him and Willow were engraved forever in his mind... 'Even before I was cursed, I wasn't as vicious or sadistic as Willow and her consort, Xander.'. After saying that, Puppy had glanced at him, so quickly that probably no one else had noticed... Because then Puppy had winced when Xander said he didn't liked the sound of that.

So after a week or so of trying to stay in the library, with Puppy looking at him every time they were left alone, Xander gave up. He couldn't stay in the same room with that bad excuse of a vampire. And now he was drinking coffee, alone in the Bronze. Pathetic way of ending his life.

"Xander?" A voice called behind him, and Angel came up to sit with him. Xander barely acknowledged the vampire's presence. Their rivalry had ended, but their relationship couldn't be called friendship. "We need to talk."

"What do you want, Dead-boy?" When Xander spoke, Angel looked at him with curiosity.

"How do you know it's me and not Puppy?" The vampire asked, truthfully confused. Given the fact that Puppy wore his clothes, and that the face wounds had healed, the rest of the group constantly confused them.

"You're talking to me." Xander answered, not hiding the hurt from his voice. Even when he had not tell anyone, the way in which they had kept him away the last time the Hellmouth opened still hurt him. "In case you haven't noticed, Puppy is not much of a conversation partner for me." That was very true. Once the excitement of the first day had faded, Puppy had begun to retreat to a shivering curled ball every time that the group was all together. In those moments, it only took a look from Xander and Puppy would shake with fear, trying to get as far from the mortal boy as he could without leaving the room. Which is why Giles and the others had dismissed Xander's claims of Puppy looking at him as if waiting for something. And Puppy never talked unless someone say something to him first, and never to Xander.

"I think I know why Puppy attacked Cordelia that night." Angel said, ignoring Xander's hurt voice. Or maybe just faking to ignore it. Either way, Xander didn't care. The point was that no one listened to him anyway.

"He was hungry. You told us before."

"No. That was what he told me. But he was being evasive... I... I don't think Puppy has been truthful regarding his life in the other timeline."

"Why? I mean... the wounds in his body are hard to fake..." Xander was suddenly interested. The others always told him not to be harsh to judge Puppy, because he had suffered too much. But if Angel too believed that something didn't add up..

"I'm not sure." Angel paused, as if he was wondering how to say what he had to say next. "I think he attacked Cordelia because he was going to give her to you."

"WHAT?!" Xander's eyes opened wide with shock, whatever he expected to hear, it wasn't that. "Why would he? I mean..."

"Xander... did you ever had a pet?" Angel suddenly asked, as if changing the subject completely.

"Yeah. A dog... but what does this has to do with..."

"I once had a cat..." Angel interrupted, looking at him intently. "It was after I was cursed... I feed him when I could, and... whenever I was really depressed, or angry with myself, he would bring me a live rat so I could feed."

Xander swallowed the last remain of his coffee, digesting what Angel had just said. "I think you should have this talk with Willow. Puppy said it was her the one who had control."

"And you said you didn't liked that." Angel insisted. "Then, Cordelia came in, you two argued again, and Puppy attacked her. I've been replaying those moments in my mind and I'm pretty sure of it. Willow was concerned all the time, but still one could see that nothing that Puppy said made her especially angry. A well trained pet doesn't bring gifts to a happy master."

Xander looked at Angel, shock painted in his features. What Angel was implying couldn't be. Puppy couldn't consider Xander his master... especially not because that would imply that...

Before the thought could form completely in his mind, Xander pushed it away. He was not even going to think about it.

* * *

Willow, Buffy and Puppy were going to the Bronze. He wasn't especially in the mood to socialize, but it was hard to say so to the girls. Buffy was too strong willed to let him stay in the mansion, wondering what was he doing wrong and Willow...

He was not as afraid of Willow as he had been before, but that was just because he knew that Xander wouldn't let her hurt him without a good reason. The trouble was that he didn't understood why suddenly Xander ignored him, kept him away. At first he thought it had been because he said that Xander was Willow's underling, and not the other way around... but he had said so to protect his master from Buffy. If she knew that Xander was the true leader, she would stake him.

Even if Xander was now human.

That confused Puppy even more. He understood the situation of the two time-lines, that in this reality the Master hadn't rose, and thus, many things where different. But still, his need to be in Xander's company hadn't dimmed. He didn't want to go back to his own time because... even if he didn't die, the other Buffy was going to kill Xander... even if he didn't die, even if Xander didn't die... the Master would probably kill him for helping the slayer. Even if that didn't happen, Xander himself would stop coming to see him for being a traitor.

And maybe that was what was wrong. That was why Xander didn't talk to him, didn't brought food... Puppy was being punished.

>From the darkness, without warning, a vampire jumped over Willow, knocking her down. Buffy reacted fast, grabbed it from the neck and back and threw him towards the alley. Willow gave her a stake, which the Slayer promptly used to stake it.

"Yikes. I hate them!" Willow said, as she kicked the ashes in the floor. "Why can't we have a quiet Bronze night without vampires?"

Puppy had been watching all this with horror. He had never seen Buffy stake a vampire. Not this Buffy, that is. And he hadn't expected her to do so with such... violence. Glee. Happiness.

They turned to see him, stake still in the Slayer's hand. For a crazed moment, Angel thought that they were going to use it on him... That it was is punishment for breaking the rules, whatever the rules where now. And even when part of his mind screamed at him that they weren't going to harm him, that they were his friends, Puppy didn't listen to them. As the girls got near him, he pushed Buffy away and ran into the darkness, now more lost than before.

Only one thing was clear in his mind. He had to find his true master. He had to find Xander.

Only then everything would be right.

* * *

"Puppy's gone."

Buffy placed her bag in the table where Xander and Angel had been talking before, not even pausing to wonder why her boyfriend and her friend were together. Both turned to see her, surprised.

"What do you mean?" Angel asked, immediately. He was a little overprotective of Puppy, possibly because he knew that it could have been him. "He was with you... "

"He saw Buffy stake a vampire, and freaked." Willow completed, her cheerful tone now hidden by concern. "We tried to talk to him, but he only ran away from us."

Xander bite his tongue, trying to silence the words in it. Buffy should have know better and not stake any vampires near Puppy... Given his past, that was surely a shocking experience... Wasn't his friend thinking? Still, he risked a glance at Angel, wondering if he would tell the others about their little chat.

But the vampire only left his seat, looking at Buffy. "We have to find him before dawn."

"True." Buffy was in her complete Slayer mode, commanding everyone without thinking if someone else could have a good idea. "We go and cover the mansion, and the factory. Willow, you call Oz and check dark alleys and if there has been any attack that left the victim alive... Xander... Call Giles. He'll probably have a better idea."

Xander nodded, wondering what the librarian would tell him to do. Probably to stay away. Still, he paid his bill and went looking for the phone.

* * *

As predicted, Giles' first suggestion was for Xander to go home. Only that Xander hadn't agree with it, and drove the ex Watcher around the 18 graveyards in the city. It was easier to make Giles understand that he wanted to be useful when the others weren't near, unfortunately, Giles had too many worries in his mind to keep Xander's problems in it, so Xander never gave him details. Only insisted to help until Giles gave up and accepted.

But it was fruitless. Angel and Buffy didn't had better luck, Oz and Willow ended with empty hands.

Somehow, Xander was not surprised. If Puppy was anything like Angel, that meant that he knew how to hide himself. So he went home, after assuring Giles that Puppy would be all right, that Wesley won't find about that night's expedition and that if he found Puppy he would be nice to him. His parents were out, as his father had a night work at the next town, only coming home in the weekends and his mother was in Philadelphia, in some sort of conference... So, as most of the time, Xander was to be with himself.

Silently, not to awake the neighbors, he pulled the car in, and walked to the back door, still thinking on what Angel had told him. And it was then when he saw him.

Puppy was cuddled near the front door, silently crying. Why he was there, how he had got there, where the first questions in Xander's mind. The next one, most urgent was what he was going to do with him. It was almost dawn, so there was not enough time to get Puppy to the Mansion.

"Hey, Angel..." He began. He still didn't feel comfortable enough to call him any pet name... In fact, he doubted he would ever feel that way. Puppy turned to see him immediately, his wide eyes full of fear and... hope?

Xander bit his own lip, looking at the wrenched vampire. He had to get him to a dark, safe place. And the only one around was his house. "What are you doing here? You should be at the mansion..."

His only answer where Puppy's longing eyes, as fear took the place of the few hope that was still there. Trying to keep his voice even, he opened the door, and held his hand open in invitation, but Puppy just kept looking at him, probably waiting for a hit. "C'mon... we can't stay out here... the sun will be out in minutes..."

As Puppy kept looking at him, now confusion playing the main role in his face, Xander sighed. It still seemed impossible to him that Angel were right, but the proof kept coming to his face. Puppy reminded him of his own dog, Blue, who died under his father's pick-up when Xander was only 10. But Blue had been taught by Xander how to behave, out of fear for what his parents could do if Blue was bad... Keep the rules simple, the veterinary had told him then, and now the words seemed to weight on Xander's hearth.

"Get inside." He finally said, his voice stern and cold, even as he felt like crying. "I'm not going to say it again. If you don't come in now, I'm going to close the door."

This got Puppy's reaction, as he was on his feet and inside the house faster than what Xander could think it was possible. But Puppy didn't got far. He just kept waiting for Xander, as the mortal teenager closed the door. It wasn't until Xander began climbing up the stairs when Puppy followed... and never moved if Xander didn't told him to.

The only good place to keep Puppy for the day was the attic. The basement was darker, but it was the day when the cleaning lady came in, so he couldn't risk her finding him... Not in his state. Unfortunately, the attic had windows, so Xander had to hurry and cover them with old curtains and boxes that were near. It wasn't as good as the mansion, where Angel could take care of his doppelganger, but it was the only thing at hand.

He felt pretty satisfied with his work, and turned around to see Puppy, try and see why he had run away from Buffy. Why Angel had the weird idea that Puppy had lied. Try and sort the conflicting thoughts that ran in his mind. But all those ideas flew from his mind as he saw the burning sores in Puppy's arms. He had not been quick enough to pull the curtains, and Puppy hadn't screamed as the sun burnt him... Just stayed there until Xander finished.

This made Xander want to cry, but he pulled back the tears, as he had done many times before. He couldn't cry in front of Puppy. Not now. "Angel... why did you ran away?" He began, wondering if Puppy would answer.

"Idntbrkthrls..." Puppy muttered, as he fell down to the floor, trying to get away from Xander. Seeing this, the teenager stopped, wondering what could he do next.

"What? I... I didn't understand..."

"I didn't broke the rules!" Puppy yelled, closing his eyes and shying away. "I know I'm being punished, but I didn't broke the rules!" Xander paused, too confused to think what to say. He was in a dark attic, with a crazed vampire, and no one knew he was there... The thought alone made him sweat. "Angel... listen... you're..."

Xander tried to get closer, ignoring his pounding heart, when Puppy looked at him, now his tears turned to anger. "You are changing the rules!" Puppy yelled, and threw himself against Xander, furious. Xander didn't had much time to react, so he did the first thing his panicked mind told him to. He tried to get Puppy off him, not to hurt him but just get him away, when Puppy changed to game face. Then Xander knew that if he didn't do something, he would die there...

And if he died, what would happen to Puppy? The poor guy hadn't even been able to look for cover until Xander told him to...

Collecting what was left of his strength, he managed to hit Puppy once, as hard as he could, right in the chin. "GET OFF!" He yelled, in the same commanding voice that he had used to get Puppy in the house. Puppy's face changed again, looking as if Xander had just staked him. Immediately, he whimpered and got away, crawling to the darkest corner of the attic.

Xander felt a knot in his stomach as he understood what he had to do. It was just as the veterinary had told him... Simple rules. Punish when they break them, Reward them if they keep it.

And although he didn't know the rules, he was pretty sure that attacking him was not part of it. That had come from Puppy's confusion, when Xander did not act like he was supposed to.

Like he had acted in Puppy's world, as a vampire.

"This was my fault. I forgot the rules." Xander said, getting closer to Puppy, almost sure that he wouldn't attack again.

"You changed them..." Puppy cried, not looking to Xander's eyes. "I was good, and you said I was bad... I was bad... and you didn't look at me... I... I don't know what to do now...!" The vampire was merely whispering, so Xander had to be very quiet to hear him.

"I will not change them." Xander said, this time kneeling near Puppy. He couldn't show fear now, as Puppy had seemingly accepted that he was a good replacement for the vampire Xander. "I want you to tell me the rules again."

Puppy looked at him, confusion leaving the place to recognition. Probably the vampire Xander had done similar tests to him, just to be sure that he remembered.

But when Puppy spoke, Xander's heart broke.

"Never... eat... unless you tell me to. Never ask for your help..." Xander rose to his feet, so quickly that Puppy couldn't make his expression in the shadows. Not wanting to stay there more time, he began to walk towards the stairs. "That's right. Simple rules." Just like Blue's, his mind reminded him, and Xander felt the knot tighten. "Stay here. I'll return later."

Once that he was outside the attic, in the light of day, Xander ran to the bathroom. He wanted to throw up, he felt sick with himself. Those were the same rules he taught Blue, the same ones that the veterinary had explained him.

Play by the rules, and they will love you. That's the way to train a puppy.

Angel was right, it hadn't been the vampire Willow the one who broke Puppy's mind, even if she tortured him... It had been the Xander doppelganger.

It had been him.

* * *

When he had collected his thoughts again, Xander called Buffy. He was pretty sure that Puppy wouldn't want to leave his house, and that if Xander insisted it would confuse the poor vampire further, so he couldn't tell her where Puppy was and in which state he had found him, but he had to reassure her that Puppy was all right.

"Can you take him to the mansion?" Buffy asked, and Xander sighed mentally. She obviously hadn't think of asking if Xander was all right. "I mean... he must be terrified that you were the one who found him..."

"A little... but I don't think I can get him to move now, Buff." The lie came so easily, that Xander almost felt guilty. But they had done that before, she had lied to him many times, so it wasn't really important. "I'll get him something to eat, and I'll see you at night." Then he hung up. The one he needed to see was Angel, and that meant not going to school.

But first, he had to make sure that Puppy ate something. Putting his jacket on, he went to his car, going to the nearest butcher shop.

* * *
Puppy heard the sound of the car as it faded away, and he knew he was alone. He hadn't been able to sleep for long, still confused and scared. When he had appeared in this new world, he had been dazzled by Buffy's presence... the girl he had waited for so long, the girl who never came to Hellmouth. But as the illusion began to fade, as he began to see the girl the way she was and not the way he imagined her to be, he had been terrified to see that his master was not paying any attention to him.

Perhaps Puppy hadn't noted before because he still was not used to see him alive, breathing.

He had done something to upset him the first day when, as instructed, said that Willow was more evil than Xander. That had been something different, because his master loved to take his enemies by surprise, feigning weakness. But as the punishment didn't come, he had tried to amend his mistake by bringing Xander a good gift, the girl named Cordelia.

That had gone wrong. Xander had been angrier, and didn't even looked at him.

Finding Xander's house hadn't been that hard, once he managed to remember the things that his master used to tell him while he feed him, the little details and memories. It wasn't that Xander liked to remember his human life, Puppy was sure of it, but more like he wanted Puppy to know that in many ways they had been very alike, and because of that, Xander would never hurt him psychically without a reason. But once there, he hadn't been able to get in. He wasn't invited, and Xander was human in this time...

Defeated, Puppy stayed there, waiting either for his master to arrive or the sun to come out. If Xander wouldn't take him back, Puppy wanted to die.

But when Xander got home, he still was not really paying attention to Puppy, making him feel more and more alone. He had tried everything... being good, being bad. And his master still didn't pay attention to him. His master was ignoring him.

Puppy hadn't attacked Xander out of fear. He had attacked him because he couldn't think of other way to get Xander's attention... If everything else failed... he could make Xander be a vampire again. He would have his master back.

Because he couldn't live without Xander. Not anymore. Even if Xander only thought of him as one of his pets, even if this Xander was not the one who had feed him with his own blood, Puppy couldn't bear the physical pain that involved not been near of Xander...

He almost had bitten him, tasting the sweet, glorious copper taste that was Xander's life essence, before giving him some of his own. Puppy couldn't appreciate the irony that would imply him becoming his master's sire, but in the end it didn't matter. Xander had defended himself, hit Puppy with his bare hands.

That brought Puppy to reality. He had done something very, very wrong. Xander never used his hands in the punishment for Puppy. That was for Willow, who was always pushing the rules to their limit. Xander had always used his hands to feed him, to take care of him... And so, the hit had felt even more powerful, more hurtful than it had actually been. Puppy felt heartbroken, and the tears flew freely from his eyes.

He had tried to hurt his beloved master.

* * *

Xander was carrying two blood bags when he returned to his house. His talk with Angel had been postponed because he had ran into Cordelia and Willow, so he had not been able to skip the last classes of the day. The group still didn't know that Puppy was in his attic, but he knew it would only be a matter of time before they found out. The only reason they didn't press to learn the truth had been because he was Xander, and they didn't pay much attention to him lately.

He went straight to the attic, worried about what Puppy might or might not have done. During all morning, his thoughts had been with Puppy, what had happened between the two of them, Puppy's anger face, Puppy's sadness when he had hit him. He felt dirty every time that scene played in his mind. He might not have been the one who did that to Puppy, turn him from the self-confident vampire that Angel was to the shivering form that was sleeping in his attic, but it had been a version of him. What Xander could become.

It was that thought the one that scared him the most.

Puppy was asleep, cuddled in the same corner where Xander had left him. Very careful and silently, Xander entered the room, kneeling in front of Puppy. He was sure that Puppy wouldn't attack him again, since Xander had proved his strength earlier, by reaffirming the rules that he loathed. He could see Puppy's face, still marked by tear lines, Puppy's chest covered by old bruises and cuts that still had not healed... Puppy's left arm, where he could see an old scar, that looked like two cuts shaped into an X... and he felt his chest tighten again. How could anyone... he... be so cruel with somebody like Angel?

The worst part of it was that he had no idea of how to undo the damage his other self had done. Or how deep that damage was.

Very carefully, still unsure if what he was doing, he touched Puppy's shoulder to wake him up, praying that the vampire would be a little better after sleeping all morning.

"I brought you food, Angel" he whispered, smiling, as Puppy opened his eyes too look at him.

* * *

"Angel told you that?" Willow asked, as she and Buffy walked to the Harris' house door way. "No way. He must be mistaken."

"That's what I told him." The blonde slayer answered, peeking through the living room window. "I mean, there's absolutely no way that Puppy fears Xander more than he fears you... O.K., so in his timeline things are a little screwy, but... it's Xander we're talking about here."

Willow smiled, as she pulled out her key chain. "Xander's mom gave it to me last year... in St. Valentine..." She explaining, blushing. "You really think Puppy is here?"

"Well, he ain't at the mansion and Xander said he had found him..." Buffy shrugged as she followed Willow inside. She had only been there a couple of times, and waited until her friend came back from the basement.

"They aren't down there... But we can go and check the attic." Willow smiled, walking towards the stairs.

* * *

Puppy was looking at the blood bags very confused, not daring to open them, just shooting questioning looks to Xander every now and then. Finally, the teenager patience gave up, as he began opening one of the bags for the vampire to eat.

"You know? This would be a lot easier if you talked more." He joked, as he handed the open bag to the vampire again. As he still made no move to drink, Xander touched the liquid with his finger and offered it to the vampire. "Come on... You have to eat something..."

Seeing this, Puppy's eyes lit immediately with something made half happiness half admiration... and something that Xander didn't want to identify. He just stood there, waiting for the vampire to do something.

And then, Puppy licked the blood from his hand.

"Wait... no... " Xander began, and Puppy stopped. He still looked hungry, but he made no movement to feed. "Do... Did... did you only eat from my hand, before?" The mortal boy asked, very afraid of the answer.

"No..." Puppy lowered his gaze, his voice still just a whisper. Obviously he still had not accepted completely the fact that Xander wanted him to talk. "Only when... when I have been good... When you didn't brought the doves... or..."

Xander couldn't quite make the last word, but he was pretty sure it had been 'bodies'. So making him kill was the punishment, and feeding him live animals was the normal thing to do... Although how had he done that without killing the animals was a good question. And the prize... The prize was attention.

Trying not to think in what he was doing, Xander submerged his hand in the blood bath, keeping it inside so the liquid flow was still inside the plastic container. Puppy had stayed there, obeying. And he had answered his question. So Xander had to give him a prize. "Go ahead." He offered, lifting his hand a little, so a few scarlet drops fell from it. "You have been good."

Puppy looked at him, a smile beaming on his face, and Xander felt the weight on his heart lessen a little. At least he had made Puppy feel a little better. He had managed to do something right. He didn't like to have his hand dipped in blood, he felt repulsed by the fact that someone licked his skin to feed, but he couldn't bring himself to tell Puppy that he had to eat on his own. Xander knew very well the terrible feeling of being ignored and left alone to subject Puppy to it again.

* * *

Willow opened the door to the attic very silently, thinking that if Puppy was there, she had to be careful not to startle him. Buffy followed her close, both of them expecting to see Puppy cuddled in a ball, completely alone or maybe Xander pacing around wondering what to do next. Buffy was also sure that her friend would be enjoying the fact that the Angel double feared him, since she knew very well Xander's petty jealousy towards her vampire boyfriend.

Nothing prepared them for the scene in the attic, where Xander and Puppy were sitting side to side, Xander's hand in a blood bag, Puppy leaning a little to eat from that hand. Both looking incredibly peaceful. But Buffy didn't saw that. She didn't saw Xander sad expression, or the tear glimmering in his eye. She didn't saw that Puppy was truly relaxed for the first time he had been in their timeline. She only saw her boyfriend's double licking the hand of her friend.

"XANDER!!!" She yelled, stepping in front of Willow with decision. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"Buffy!!" Xander stood up, startled and blushing. They were already in the second bag, and he had lost all sense of time. "What... when... where..."

He was still trying to finish a phrase, when she came up to him, pushing him back, hard, making him almost lost his equilibrium. "What kind of sick game where you playing?! I knew we couldn't trust him to you! Puppy is coming with us right now!!"

Puppy stared at the angry slayer, first very scared, fearing what she could do to him and Xander. But soon, his fear began to give way to anger. She had said Xander was her friend, Why was she hitting him? She had said she was Puppy's friend, then why she wanted to take him away from Xander?

"Buffy... Wait... It's not..." Xander was not going to defend himself, that was very obvious. He did considered Buffy his friend, and, for what Puppy had seen, this Xander wasn't as violent as he had been in his own time line. He didn't hit women. And he didn't attack unless it was totally necessary. His old Xander would have never let Buffy do that to him, would never accept Puppy coming to his defense... But this Xander... this Xander would not ask for it, but Puppy was not going to let anyone hurt his master.

He threw himself at Buffy, tackling her to the floor, game face-on. She kicked him in the face, making him stammer back. Obviously, he needed to get some practice in fights, as she had more technique. Still, he didn't back up. He placed himself between her and Xander, waiting for her to do the next move.

"GO AWAY, OR I'll KILL YOU!!" He roared, a little surprised to find that he still had some fire inside. At least when it came to defend Xander. Buffy looked at him, this time allowing the whole scene to get into her mind instead of just what she had wanted to see and figure out what was going on in the attic. "Ang... Puppy? Why are you doing this? You don't need to grovel to him for food!"

"Go away!!" Puppy answered, his eyes dimmed with rage. "Leave us alone!!"

"Stop, Angel..." Xander placed his hand on Puppy's shoulder, and the vampire turned to see him, a little surprised. "Buffy, Willow... I'll walk you to the door."

He walked to the stairs, followed by Willow, who was still reeling over the events. Buffy stayed behind a little, looking at Puppy. Now that Xander was no longer in the room, Puppy didn't look as menacing as he had been second ago.

"If you need help..." She began, still not sure about what she was going to say.

"Go away. I don't need your help." Puppy answered, coldly. Buffy thought of answering, of saying something more. But instead, she just turn around and left the room.

* * *

Xander returned alone, after a few moments. Puppy looked at him, expecting to hear that he should go as soon as it got dark.

"I convinced them that you could stay..." The words surprised Puppy, that meant that Xander did want him around. "... at least for a while. So why don't you finish your meal?"

Xander finished his phrase with a weak smile, and Puppy answered in kind. Then, not really sure if his actions would be welcomed, but unable to stop himself, he hugged Xander.

The teenager stood there, confused for a moment for Puppy's sudden need of affection. And, because he had needed a hug more than once, and no one had been there for him, he understood. He placed his own arms around Puppy, and held him, as the vampire cried, both from happiness and relief.

The end.