Ulterior Motives


Part Three

Spike wandered into the living room wearing pajama bottoms and a scowl.

"Timmins! Hey! You seen my fags? I'm dyin' for a smoke."

Timmins stuck his head around the kitchen door and called, "You're out. I just sent a minion out to get you some. I'm sorry, sir. I didn't realize until it was too late."

Spike snarled softly but then accepted the proffered cup of tea with a grunt. "Nice to get a proper cuppa."

Timmins bowed "Master. If you could wait on punishing me until I'm done with the young sir's breakfast, I'd appreciate it."

Spike gave Timmins a sharp look over the rim of his cup. Settling deeper into the chair, he shook his head. "Not this time. If you let me run out again, I'll punish you. But I'm learnin' stuff from that Watcher. ‘E's not a complete git. Finish Xander's breakfast then go wake him."

Timmins shifted from foot to foot for a second, then took his courage in both hands. "Master . . . please."

Spike sighed. "Spit it out."

"If I might make so bold . . . you should wake him yourself. And see to it that he showers, has food, clothing, and anything else. He'll . . . bond . . . er . . . please, Master. I don't know exactly how to explain myself." Timmins stood and shook for a second until Spike hopped up with an odd expression on his face.

"Ya know, you're right. The boy won't bond with me if I dump him off on you. Thanks. You're gonna get a reward. . . later. . . whatever you want. Within reason."

Spike ambled down the hall toward Xander's room. It was still early for Xander and near Spike's bedtime, so he knew he had to wake the boy now or he'd be late for work. Why the silly wanker wanted to get to work so early escaped him.

"Xander. Wakey wakey. Come on."

Xander opened one eye and gave Spike a bleary look. Then he yelped, tried to get up, got tangled in the covers and fell off the bed. Spike sighed, reached over with one hand and picked Xander up. Using the other hand, he disentangled him and then set him on his feet. "Stupid git. What's wrong with you?"

Xander grumbled. "How'd you like it if you woke up with me that close to your face?"

"Got a point, pet. You best get a move on if you want a shower before breakfast is ready. Timmins won't appreciate it if it goes cold."

Xander didn't say anything to Spike, he just headed into the bathroom and shut the door with a snap.

Spike grumbled "Well, there's gratitude for ya." and went back to the kitchen to watch Timmins cook.

Xander shambled into the kitchen some ten minutes later with wet hair and a grumpy expression. He was dressed for work in a pair of ragged baggy jeans and a sloppy t-shirt. Spike shuddered at it--the colors would have made a hippy's eyes bleed.

"God, Xanpet, that shirt is horrible. Why can't you find something . . . a little more subdued?"

Xander snarled, "Don't call me that. And I'm not ruining my good stuff with paint. I'm painting all the dry wall I just hung."

Xander reached up to the cupboard and started opening doors. He shuffled things and poked around under the counter top.

"Sir, breakfast is served."

Xander grumped. "I'd like some cereal, please. Or at least a cup of coffee and a Twinkie."

Timmins grimaced at Spike. "Sir, this is for you. Bacon, eggs, toast, jelly and coffee. If you'd like a hot cereal, I'll have to shop. Would you prefer oatmeal, cream of wheat, or muesli?"

Xander looked at the vampire like he'd lost his mind. "Um. . .Cocoa Puffs, Pop-Tarts and coffee is my usual. Plenty of coffee. Okay?"

Spike shuddered. "No, it's not. That stuff'll kill you sooner or later. Eat that!"

Xander sat down and started eating. He stopped suddenly and gave Spike a sharp look then went back to his food. After wolfing down the entire plate and drinking three cups of scalding hot, over-sweet coffee, Xander turned to find Timmins holding his hard hat and tool belt with his tool box at his feet.

"Um . . . thanks. Um . . . Timmins?" Timmins nodded. "Good breakfast. You shouldn't be cooking for me, but thanks."

Xander headed out the door and Timmins noticed he was limping slightly but shrugged it off as the effects of falling out of the bed.


Xander arrived at the site ten minutes early, sweaty and already tired. He'd found out too late that the bus he was depending on didn't go all the way to the site. It went clear to the last stop, to be sure, but that was over a mile from the place he worked. He'd had to walk the rest of the way carrying his tool box.

He settled his box in the back of the hallway where he could keep an eye on it. He pulled out his wallet and counted its contents then sighed. He had enough money to eat lunch today and tomorrow, then it was back to water and crackers.

After getting the paint, Xander started at the far end of the hall and painted the rooms in reverse. It was hot and he sweated heavily, making several trips to the water cooler and taking water back in his bottle every time. Mr. Burk came around and checked on him, complimenting him on not dribbling expensive paint all over the floor.

Xander worked slowly and carefully until lunch then he put his equipment away in a zip lock bag and headed for the chuck wagon. Before he got out of the room he opened his tool box, deciding to check for a clean paint brush before he left. He was surprised and somewhat delighted to find a carefully packed lunch wedged between the tools in the top tray of the box.

"Cool. Hey, and still cold. How the hell did he do that?"

Mr. Burk stuck his head in the room to see who Xander was talking to.

"Talk to yourself? That's okay. But you're in real trouble when you start to argue with yourself."

Xander grinned around a bite of ham sandwich.

"Mmmm, I know. But I got plenty of people to argue with, so I'm good. See Xander bein' good." Xander grinned at Mr Burk, who grinned back. "I'll be done eating in a little."

Mr. Burk sighed. "You have to take the whole hour. Union rules. And don't use your own brushes, we have to provide all consumables."

Xander nodded, chewing vigorously. "Un-huh." He swallowed hard, forcing the mouthful of food down his throat so he could talk. "I forgot. I'll take a walk around, then I'm going to check on paint and brushes. I won't get done today. Probably be noon tomorrow."

Mr. Burk visited with Xander for a few more minutes then left. Xander finished his lunch and sighed happily. He'd have to remember to thank Timmins; the sandwich had been accompanied by fresh fruit salad, Twinkies, and some sort of fruit drink. Xander packed his containers away and closed his tool box, applying a small brass lock to discourage incidental pilferage.

Xander wandered around the site, casually inspecting the buildings and the bare beginnings of a small park. He wondered idly if he could save any of his grandmother's plants from the back yard of his parents' house. It had been hers before she died and left it to his father. Her garden had been her pride and joy, but was now almost nothing more than a memory. Maybe he could salvage some of the plants. He left that thought for the weekend and went to get some new brushes and more paint. He realized that he needed more ventilation; he was feeling a little sick, and hot. The paint fumes were getting to him.

He returned to the room he was painting and sighed. It stank now that he'd been out of it for a while. The fumes were worse than he'd thought they were. He set up the fan he'd gotten from supplies and pointed it out the glassless window, turning it on high. With the fan on, the fumes soon lessened

Xander painted for the next three hours and was more than grateful when the site boss came in and told him to knock off early. The site was shutting down at four instead of five so that an inspector could come in. They were still investigating the broken plate. He cleaned the brushes and closed the paint cans tightly. Then he picked up his tool box and headed for the bus stop.

He had hoped that someone would offer him a ride at least to the stop but he was the last man to be notified of the early shutdown so he missed his chance. Everyone else was already gone. So he slogged his way to the bus stop, feeling a little queasy and definitely sorry for himself. He settled on the bench and dozed off, the heat making him sweat. The bus driver woke him up by honking his horn. Xander thanked him as he gave him his pass. The driver remarked that he was sweating a lot for how cool it was, but Xander ignored him. It was cool in the air-conditioned bus.


Xander wearily pushed the apartment door open and dropped his tool box on the floor next to it. He dumped his tool belt on top of that and his hard hat topped the pile off, slipping into a rakish tilt.

Spike wandered into the living room from somewhere in the depths of the place. He glanced at Xander then hit him with the ‘good' news. "Scoobie meeting tonight, pet. Supper's almost ready; ya can sit at the table with me or eat in the kitchen. Whichever you prefer. I'd suggest a shower before you even try to decide. You smell rotten."

Xander sighed and headed for his suite and the enticing thought of a hot shower. He'd really wanted a long hot soak, but with a Scoobie meeting in the offing he wasn't going to have the time. He turned on the shower and dug out towels while it reached a decent temperature. He found the shampoo and body wash, frowning when he realized that they were unscented. He shrugged and got in the shower, leaning against the cool tiles and letting the hot water wash over him until the tension in his shoulders relaxed a little. Then he scrubbed, quickly washing himself and his hair then reaching for the conditioner. That was when he realized that Spike was in the shower with him. His startled yelp made Spike snicker.

"Heya, pet. Want me to wash your back? Or anything else?"

Xander grabbed for the towel, Spike got in between him and it. Xander tried to sidle out of the shower enclosure, Spike held the door shut.

"Runnin' off, pet? Not very companionable. Kinda gives me the idea you're not exactly . . ." Spike raised his scarred eyebrow, "…grateful. Ya know?"

Xander gulped and started babbling. "Not grateful? What for? Oh, for the loan? I told you I'd pay you back. See me, payin' back man. All I need is a little time. I'll get a check Friday... erm ... not tomorrow Friday...next Friday. Payday Friday. I'll give you...half? The check, I mean. I'm not sure how much it'll be, union dues and all. But I'll give you half, that'll leave me enough to get by on . . . I've got to have lunch money and bus fare, my pass is about to expire . . . and . . . what?! Stop laughing at me . . . what's so funny, anyway? I'm . . . Dammit, Spike. Not good for the manliness. Naked vampire laughin' at a guy." Xander backed up into the back of the shower as he realized that Spike was naked, and wet, and looking very – he put a stop to that thought before it got completely out of hand. "Um . . . naked . . . not good . . . naked vampire . . . with naked Xander . . . naked in a shower naked . . . did I say no . . . not . . . out . . . let me out now . . . Spike, it's not funny."

Spike stepped out of Xander's way and let him out of the shower enclosure, still laughing his head off. Xander glared at him, grabbed a towel and threw it into his face then took another and wrapped it around his waist. Taking the third towel, he draped it over his head to dry his hair. Spike watched this, still chuckling.

"Pet? You better get used to it. I'll be around you . . . a lot. You get dry and dressed and I'll see if Timmins has something nice for your supper. Kitchen or dining room?"

Xander glared. "Kitchen. Definitely kitchen. I'm not watchin' you feed. It's . . . "

"Disgustin'? At least I'm a neat eater. You should have seen Dru sometimes. She'd . . . " Spike snickered. "Never mind, you're gettin green." Spike sauntered out the door, leaving Xander to dry off and try to get a look at his leg.

It was aching and felt hot. Xander couldn't see the cut, all he could do was poke at it with his fingers. This didn't do much good. He couldn't tell anything by feel. So he rubbed some Polysporin on it and did his best to forget about it.

He found jeans and a t-shirt laid out on the bed and blinked, realizing that Spike had put them out. Timmins was cooking, he hoped. He pulled the dark green shirt on and had to laugh softly; the jeans were black. They were also just tight enough that they made his leg hurt. He pulled them off again and found a pair that were looser fitting. When he walked into the kitchen Spike gave him a rather frosty look but refrained from comment, for which Xander was grateful. He did feel a little bit bad about picking different jeans, but not bad enough to make an excuse.

Timmins sighed softly, realizing that the exchange had put his Master in a bad mood. His mood had been uncertain since he'd gotten the call from the man he referred to as ‘that Watcher git' and Xander's rejection of his choice of garments had pushed it over into bad.

Xander took pity on the small vampire. And he was small, even smaller than Spike by about two inches and so slender he looked childish, until you got a good look at his face.

"I'm tired. I didn't feel like putting up with tight jeans. They bind me in all the wrong places. Sorry."

Timmins set a plate in front of Xander, who eyed the contents with some disfavor.

"Um, hate to tell you, but that isn't much in the way of dinner."

Timmins just went back to the stove to putter.

Xander ate the shrimp (there was just one) and the tortilla chips (two of those) and wondered if Timmins would laugh at him if he asked for a piece of bread. Spike just looked disgusted.

"That's appetizers, git."

Xander gave Spike a dirty look. Timmins put another plate in front of Xander.

Xander eyed the contents for a second until Timmins rushed into speech.

"Cornish game hen with orange pecan stuffing. Parsley new potatoes and asparagus hollandaise. I hope you approve. If you'd make a list of your favorite foods, I'd be glad to cook them for you."

Xander started to say something but Spike interrupted. "All he eats is salt, fat and sugar. You cook, he eats. End of story. Okay?" Timmins nodded and went back to his cooking, wisely keeping his mouth shut.

Spike shot Xander a challenging look but Xander was too busy wrestling with the hen to notice.

Xander finished up the asparagus hollandaise and sighed. It still wasn't enough food. He was working construction and burning up loads of calories, calories he couldn't really afford not to replace.

Timmins put another plate in front of Xander. This one had a piece of cake, or rather a fragment of cake, on it. And he offered Xander coffee or espresso.

Xander accepted the offer of espresso with a sigh. "I'd like to have one of those big Italian espresso machines like they have at the Espresso Pump. All brass and knobs and stuff . . . maybe, in my dreams."

Spike made a note to look for one.

Xander finished his coffee and stood up too quickly. He had to hold onto the edge of the table for a moment until his head stopped spinning. Spike reached out to him then lowered his hand.

"You okay? You're not drunk, are you?"

Xander gave him a disgusted look. "No, I'm not drunk. Never will be, if I have anything to say about it. I drink a beer now and then and wine with Italian food. But other than that, no way, Jose . So, we got a meeting to go to or what?"

Spike headed out the door with Xander close behind. Xander's request to drive was scornfully rejected, so the drive to Giles's place was short. Xander was proud of the fact that he only screamed, in a manly way, once.


Spike sat in his usual place on the stairs and watched carefully. Xander sat at the big round table and squirmed. The boy sat like the chair had tacks in it.

Giles told Xander to sit still and look in the book he handed him for references to this demon and passed him a piece of paper. Xander squinted at the paper and stuck his nose in the book.

An hour later he gave a growl and thumped the book onto the table. "Latin, why Latin? Why can't I have the Babylonia, or the hieratic?"

Giles gave Xander a sharp look. "You can't read either one. So . . . or ergo, Latin. And don't bash that book about like that. It's very old. Rather valuable and that's not the way you treat a book. Just look for these words." Giles wrote on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to Xander.

Xander grumbled, pulled a notebook out of one baggy pocket and settled down to read again.

Another twenty minutes and Giles came over to check on Xander's progress.

"What's that? Xander, enough doodling. I need you on task, not woolgathering."

Giles reached out to the notebook, starting to crumple the page. Xander reacted in a most unexpected way. He grabbed Giles by the wrist and stopped him cold.

"My notebook. Not your notebook. Let go . . . now."

Giles let go at once, turning pink in the face. "Of course, I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. It's just that this incursion is going to be very big and so far none of us has come up with anything. The prophecies all say very big, but not much else. Please pay closer attention to your task and less doodling. All right?"

Xander just sighed, smoothed the page down and returned to his note taking. Spike resolved to get a look at the notebook as soon as he could.

Spike didn't need to look at a clock to know that it was time for them to go; he could feel the moon rising. That meant it was near midnight, so Xander was going to get about six hours' sleep if they left right now.

"Xander, time to go. Now."

Xander just stood up, closed his notebook and followed Spike to the door. Giles looked startled and started to object. Spike shut him up.

"Watcher, he's got to go to work tomorrow, unlike some of you slackers. Power tools? Sleep deprivation? Do the logic yourself." Spike gave the open-mouthed group an encompassing sour look. "I take better care of him than you do and I don't give a damn."

Buffy looked ashamed, mumbled something about ‘Riley' and ‘leaving' then started to cry. Xander went to her at once and put his arms around her.

"He left? Just like that? You didn't take my advice, did you?"

Buffy sniffled. "I did. I did. But I was too late. He was on the chopper and gone before I could catch him and I can't get hold of him or anything. I'm not even sure who he's with or where they went and Giles can't get any information and I feel so bad. Why me? Why us? I . . . "

Xander made cooing sounds, rubbing Buffy's back in soothing circles and letting her cry on his shoulder. Giles looked uncomfortable and Willow and Tara sniffled in each other's arms. Spike rolled his eyes. That wanker Riley was trouble, no matter where he was. Now Buffy was distracted and a distracted slayer was a dead slayer.

"Xander. Six thirty comes early. Come on. Now!" Spike put a little Master Voice into it and got Xander out the door and headed in the general direction of the car. Giles nodded goodbye in a distracted manner and turned to comforting Buffy. Tara and Willow fluttered around like – Spike could only think ‘twittering hens'.


Xander sat looking out the window and worrying on the way back. He grumbled once about turning up the air, which Spike did. He watched Xander out of the corner of his eye and planned. He wasn't going to use the thrall very much, only enough to get the results he wanted while making Xander think it was his own idea. Spike grinned into the darkness.

Spike did wonder about one thing. Why did Xander want to mess about with ancient Babylonian and what the hell was hieratic?

Xander didn't even make a remark about the snack Timmins handed him the second he was in the door. He just drank the hot chocolate, thanked the vampire, and went to bed. Spike realized that he didn't really look well, but he passed it off as new job muscle pains. Timmins wondered what the boy had sat down in.

Timmins slipped into the bedroom and turned on a very small flashlight. It barely glowed but it provided enough light for the vampire valet to see by. He picked up the shirt Xander had dropped and folded it over his arm. He found the jeans on the foot of the bed and picked them up as well. He sniffed, wrinkled his sensitive nose and decided that Xander had probably sat in something at The Magic Box, something that smelled of rotten meat.

He gave the room a quick tidy while he was at it and found the notebook. Xander had dropped it next to the bed when he'd undressed. Timmins started to put the book on the bedside table, but Spike materialized at his side with one hand outstretched.

"I'll make sure it's back where it should be. Give."

Timmins handed the book to Spike and finished his chores.

Spike took the book into the library and settled at his desk to see what Xander guarded so jealously.

He couldn't make head nor tail of it. It was full of doodles, only he kept seeing repeated identical ones, which made him think it was some sort of language. But it wasn't like any language he'd ever seen except some demon dialects which were phonetically based. He closed the notebook and set it on his desk. Xander was very smart, he would be the first to admit it. But he acted stupid and he seemed to have trouble reading. Except, how could he have trouble reading if he could read cuneiform and write his own code? Spike gave up for the night and went out to hunt up his supper.


Xander woke the next morning feeling grumpy and hot. He wondered if Spike felt the cold rather than feeling cold to touch. Then he wondered why he cared.

Breakfast was more or less the same. Spike came in and sat at the table with him. Timmins set out bacon, eggs, fresh melon and coffee. He set a cup of tea in front of Spike and went away.

Spike watched Xander eat; he wasn't stuffing it down like he was afraid someone would take it.

"You okay, pet? Ya look a little flushed."

Xander wiped the last of the egg yolk off the plate with a piece of toast and stuffed it into his mouth.

"I'll live. I just wish you would turn up the air a little. It's stuffy in here . . . tell Timmins thanks, will you? I've got to go or I'll be late."

Spike lit a cigarette and followed Xander to the front door. "Don't know why you insist on leavin' so damn early. Sun's just coming up."

Xander eyed Spike wearily. "I don't have a car. How do you think I get to work? Fly?"

Spike grunted. "Catch a ride, I guess."

"No. I don't know anyone at the site yet. I'm takin' the bus. And walking from the stop to the site. So excuse me if I interrupt your beauty sleep . . . look, I'd love to stay and argue with you all day but I gotta go."

Spike leaned in the door and smoked his cigarette, watching as Xander trudged to the bus stop. He was limping more heavily. Spike decided he'd better ask Xander about it that evening.


Xander made it to the site a little early. Two of the men he worked with saw him walking and picked him up just a few yards from the stop. They told him they lived close enough that they could pick him up no more than a block from Spike's apartment

"Thanks, guys. I'll meet you here at five. Figure out what I'm gonna owe you." Xander slapped the side of the truck to signal he was out of the way and headed into the building. He picked up his tools and the paint from the staging area and headed into the wing he was working on. He sighed and wiped sweat off his forehead. If he was this hot already, he was going to be miserable by noon. He idly wondered what Timmins had packed him for lunch today. He hoped it was something light; his stomach was a little upset and he knew the paint fumes were going to make it worse.

He was right, by noon he'd finished painting one side of the hall and all the rooms that led off it. He'd used up gallons of paint and several brushes and rollers. He was sweaty, hotter than he'd ever been and sick to his stomach. His leg ached like an abscessed tooth. He sat down on the floor, forgetting his brushes and rollers, and fished in his tool box for his lunch.

This time it was egg salad, with lettuce and tomatoes, some sort of orange flavored pudding stuff, and a thermos of ice tea. He managed all the sandwich and the pudding, but the tea was unsweetened and tasted like grass. He went out to the lunch wagon and got a soda, rolling the cool can over his forehead before opening it and chugging it in one go.

Xander returned to his painting before the lunch hour was over, but he could clock out early and make it up that way. "Unions are good. Unions are necessary. Damn unions. I wish I was a journeyman. Fuck." This last was caused by finding out that the roller had dried out and was now useless. Xander squinted at the wrapper, trying to read the instructions for cleaning it. The letters crawled around and fuzzed, the words squiggled. Xander swore and tossed the whole thing, putting a new roller on the handle and going back to his painting.


Spike called Mr Harris and was told that they'd sold the car the minute Xander moved out. He snarled, "Stupid little fuck, wouldn't let go of that piece of crap. Liked the trunk, for some reason. You tell him that he's still got stuff here and if he don't get it I'm puttin' it out in the trash. Two days. And he owes me for storage."

Spike wanted to swear at the man, but he contained his notorious temper and said meekly, "I'm so very sorry, sir. If you put it out on the front porch, I'll see that it is picked up this evening, shortly after dark. I'd come earlier, but I have other obligations. Thank you."

"Well, see that you do. And don't put up with any shit out of Alex. You're gonna find out that he's as dumb as a box a' rocks. Can't hardly read even. Someone with your accent, you from England, right? You'll see. Tell him he owes for storage. Fifty dollars."

Tony thunked the phone down, but Spike heard ‘screaming queen, queer accent' and something that started ‘limp' and was cut off by the disconnect.

Spike grumbled to himself. He really wanted to give the man a piece of his mind but that wouldn't get him what he wanted. Xander should like it that Spike got all his things for him. Spike smirked to himself. Seduction was one of his specialities, after all. Angel and Darla had been all about torture and he wasn't averse to a bit of the action. But he really only did it to please Dru. She had loved it. Frankly, he got bored after a while. After all, how many ways were there to scream and beg? One ‘please don't hurt me' was fairly like another.

He'd send a minion to get Xander's things, without fifty dollars worth of bribe. That was ridiculous. The old fart was an idiot if he thought he'd get away with that one. Spike wondered how Xander had turned out as well as he had.

Spike decided that he was too tired to figure anything else out today. That Fomorian demon had fought back hard. And the wanker had been tough. "Fucker got stuck in my teeth."

Muttering about tough, stringy, and nasty demons, Spike went to bed.


Xander sat down for a moment. He felt worse than ever; hot, sweating, nauseated and dizzy. He still had one whole side of the hall to finish. He knew that he couldn't finish it in one day, but he'd been hoping to get more done than he had.

Still, it was a good start. He decided to take a break, get a drink of water and estimate how much more paint he was going to need. He never saw the floor come up to smack him in the face.

Mr. Burk found him only ten minutes later.

Xander woke to a cold compress on his forehead and fiery embarrassment in his gut. He sat up, holding his head in case it decided to drift away, and tried to get up.

Mr. Burk pushed him back down.

"Oh no, you don't. Heatstroke is nothing to mess around with. Lay back down."

Xander groaned but stayed upright. "I'm fine. I'll get fired. I can't afford to lose this job. I need to pay my friend back. Well, he's not a friend. Like . . . I mean . . . oh, hell. I got to go back to work. I can't lose this job, I just can't."

Mr. Burk sighed. Technically, Xander didn't have any time to take off. But after saving the company several hundred thousand dollars, he figured they could carry him for a while, quite a while.

"Look, you're not going to lose your job. After that save? You bet your life we're going to cut you some major slack."

Xander blinked. "Oh. But that was nothing. I . . well, it was something. Mouth runs away with man. I'm shutting up now."

"I'm calling in a favor and getting you a ride. Why the hell didn't you tell me you didn't have wheels? I'd have gotten you a car home. So, now I owe you. Come on. Can you stand up?"

Xander got to his feet and allowed that he wasn't that shaky. He followed Mr. Burk outside and stood while he got one of the guys to pack up his tools and bring them around. Xander grunted and started to go back inside.

"Oh, no, you don't. Stay right there. You're shaking and sweating. Not a step."

"I locked my box. Hal . . . Al . . . whatever . . . He can't . . . I don't. . . feel so good. Um . . . did I say I can't afford to lose this job?"

Mr. Burk shook his head. The boy was a mess. He was really sick.

"Yes, you did. I promise you won't lose your job. How the hell did you get a stroke so fast? And don't worry about the box. All the stuff I saw laying around belongs to the company. Sit back down."

Xander sat and considered for a moment. "I think it's the fumes. I had a fan, but when I came in this morning it was gone and I didn't want to take the time to get another. And I did . . . I am . . . really hot. And sweating. And . . . I didn't . . . I had a soda. . . . Can I just sit here?"

Mr. Burk nodded. "Yeah, you do that. I'll have Al take you straight home. If you stop sweating, or sweat too much, feel cold or start shivering, see a doc. Got me?"

Xander, being a So-Cal boy, knew all the symptoms of heatstroke. "I know what to look for. I'll call in the morning. Okay?"

Mr. Burk allowed that it was a pretty sure thing that Xander wouldn't be in for at least a few days. He reassured Xander again that he wasn't going to lose his job over this. In fact, he probably was going to collect some money for it. Then he stuffed him into Al's truck and directed Al to take Xander home. Al gave Xander a concerned look and headed in the general direction of Spike's apartment.


Al let Xander out right at the apartment, even going so far as to take Xander's tools to the door for him.

"Thanks, Al, I really appreciate this. You don't even know me. And . . . well, just thanks."

Al patted Xander on the shoulder. "You're a good kid. A little shy but you'll get over that. We all kinda appreciate what you did, fixing that plate. If you hadn't figured out how to hold it together, we'd all be out of work for at least a week. So . . . a ride is a small part of what I owe you. Take it easy. You won't lose your job over this."

Xander leaned against the door for a moment then opened it and literally fell in. Timmins rushed to him, yelling for Spike at the same time.

Spike woke up and was halfway out the door before he even registered it. Timmins was too perfectly trained to yell like that for no reason. And the name Xander was still ringing in his ears.

The sight that met his eyes brought a snarl to his lips and Timmins to his belly on the floor.

"Sir, I found him like this. I swear. I have more self-control than to eat . . . er . . . sir?"

Spike had gotten control of himself at once. Timmins was old, at least two centuries old, and had more than enough self-control to avoid eating Xander.

"What the hell is going on?"

"I heard the door open and came to see who it was. It's too early for Master . . . er . . . Xander . . .to be home. When I came in, he was lying on the floor. His tools are just outside, in the sun. I'll collect them as soon as I can. But what can be wrong with him? He was fine this morning."

Spike started to pick Xander up, but Timmins grabbed his feet.

"I've got him."

"Yes, sir, I'm sure you have. But we should both carry him. It'll be much more comfortable for him and there's less chance of bumping his head on the door frame."

Spike snarled slightly at the intimation that he would be so careless, but took Xander under the arms. With Timmins at Xander's feet they carried him into the bedroom and put him on the bed.

Timmins fussed around, pulling down the covers and settling Xander in. Xander snorted and mumbled but didn't wake up.

"He's very hot, Master. Feel him."

Spike put his hand on Xander's neck. He was burning up.

"Flu, you think? There's a nasty strain going around just now."

Timmins looked at Xander; somehow, it didn't look like flu. "I'm not sure. I . . . don't think so. But I'm old, so I don't have any experience with human illnesses."

Spike considered. "We'll just strip him down and tuck him in for now. He'll wake up in a while, then we'll ask him what happened."

So Timmins and Spike stripped Xander down to his shorts and tucked him into the bed. He didn't resist but he did grumble a little. And say something about a stroke.

Spike grimaced. "Didn't touch him. So what's he whingeing about?"

Timmins shrugged. "I'm sure I couldn't say, sir. I'll go prepare him some soup, shall I?"

"Yeah, you do that. I'll watch him. Maybe I can figure out what he wants stroked."

Spike sat in the chair Timmins brought him and watched Xander. Xander tossed and turned, sweating and flushed. Spike didn't like the way he looked at all. After a little while he decided to call Giles. Maybe he could give him some idea.

He fished in his pants pocket and pulled out his phone. Flipping it open, he dialed the Watcher's number and waited while it rang, and rang. Finally Giles picked up.

"Giles, here."

Spike noticed that he seemed in a hurry. "I'll make it short. I need some help . . . "

Giles interrupted him. "I have a flight to catch. I have to go to Chicago, make it quick."

"All right, you berk. The boy's sick. . . ."

"Give him some aspirin." Giles hung up.

Spike eyed the phone and swore, refraining from throwing it by main force of will.

He settled in his chair again and thought. Then he dialed again.

"Hello? Tara? . . . Spike. Boy's sick. I need to know what to do."

"S-s-s-sspike! I-i-I'll call W-w-w-willow."

Spike sighed. "Tara, all I need to know is what to do for a human with the flu. Glinda? Glinda? . . . damn!"

Spike waited for Willow to come to the phone, but when she did it was nearly the same as Giles.

"Look, I don't have time for you right now. Tara and I are going to a Wiccan retreat and we have to pack. If you need something, call Buffy. Okay? I'd help you with your . . . whatever. But we really have to get moving or we'll be late and they lock the gate right on time. Call back on Monday and I'll be glad to help you then. Blessed be, bye."

Spike snarled again. "Dammit. I hope it's really flu. And I'm not callin' Buffy, she's worse than useless." Spike remembered the time Giles had flu. Buffy had stood around looking baffled; that wasn't going to be any help. But hope springs eternal.

"Buffy? Spike. Boy's sick. I need to know what to do. . . . No, I don't. Dru's a vampire. Completely different."

Buffy snorted. "Well, do whatever you did for her anyway. And don't bother me with your boy. I've got an incursion to try to stop. If Giles ever figures out what's coming. Tell Xander we need him for coffee and stuff. Tuesday night. Don't forget. Bye."

Buffy slapped the phone back into its cradle and headed for the retreat. She wasn't too sure exactly what she'd gotten herself into but it was better than sitting around worrying.

Spike gritted his teeth so hard they squeaked. Stupid bint. He bit at his lip and decided he had one last chance on the human front.

"Hello? Mrs. Rosenberg? . . . . I'm a friend of Willow's. I can't get ahold of her and I need some advice."

Mrs. Rosenberg settled in her chair, always willing to help young people with their problems. "How may I help you?"

"A friend of mine is sick. I never had to deal with something like this. I don't know what to do. I think he's got the flu, but he mumbled something about a stroke so I'm all at sea."

Mrs. Rosenberg smiled. This man was obviously well bred, his accent definitely British, old school, and very cultured.

"I'm so sorry to hear that. First, take his temperature. You have a thermometer?"

Spike fished in the bedside table and found pen and paper. "No, but I'll get one. Talk slowly, I'm takin' notes." Spike curled his lip. He hated ballpoint pens.

After a few minutes Mrs. Rosenberg wound down. "Now, if you need any more information there are several very good web sites. I'll give you the URLs. . . . "

Spike interrupted her politely. "I'm sorry, Missus, but I'm not connected. Not very computer savvy. But this should help a lot. I'll get the stuff and get started. Thank you. Good-bye."

Spike couldn't decide how he felt. They were falling into his plan like sheep, but he still felt angry. At least they could help him when the whelp was sick. Spike called in Timmins, gave him the shopping list and a credit card then settled to watch Xander until Timmins came back with everything.


Timmins worried all the way through the drug store. There was something more wrong with the Young Master than flu; he didn't like the way the boy smelled. Something was very wrong. He just wasn't sure how to tell Master William. He knew exactly who Spike was. He was William the Bloody, Bloody Bill. Second Master of the Scourge of Europe. A High Master of the Line of Aurelius, of which there were now only two since the true deaths of The Master and Darla. Drucilla was too crazy to be a Master, she couldn't control herself much less a Childe. So he worried, because he really didn't want to be disemboweled. It hurt. And waiting for it to heal and still doing his duties would be ‘inconvenient'.

When he returned to the residence Spike greeted him with a grunt and a demand for the stuff.

Spike took the cold medicine and read the directions. It was purple and smelled like grape.

Xander refused it blearily. "Not what I need. Spike . . ." Xander blinked his eyes, trying to bring Spike into focus. "Call Giles. Please. I . . . " Xander's eyes fluttered shut. "I feel really bad. I want Giles. Please? Spike . . . "

Spike couldn't help but snarl. "Not gonna happen. I called him, but he's on his way to Chicago and he didn't really give me a chance to explain what I needed." Xander forced himself to try to listen to Spike. "Then I called Red, got Glinda. When Red came on, she babbled something about a Wicca retreat and being late, then hung up. Buffy wasn't any help, either. Did the same thing. Only one who tried to help was Mrs. Rosenberg." Spike watched as Xander's head drooped, then snapped back up.

"Look, I really feel terrible. Just listen to me. I think I got heatstroke. Or it's paint fumes. Call a doctor. I'll pay." Xander lay back down, scrabbling at the covers and shivering slightly. "I really . . . " Xander fell back into a daze in the middle of the sentence.

Spike glared at Xander. Trust the whelp to come up with a new one on him. Heatstroke? What the hell was that?

Spike went into the library to see if there was any help there. He hadn't had time to examine the books closely yet. After some searching he found a first aid manual and settled down to read. Timmins brought him some tea and told him that Xander had accepted juice with every evidence of eagerness. Spike stuck his nose back into the book.

After a half hour of reading Spike wasn't much better off than he had been. All the information was detailed but several different problems had the same symptoms. Calling in a doctor was looking more and more necessary. But explaining some things was problematic, at best.

Spike took Xander's temperature and eyed the thermometer with a jaundiced eye. "Bloody hell. He's got a hell of a temp, or at least that's what the book says. Depends on his basal temperature. Which I don't know and I bet no one else does either, not even his parents." Spike glanced at Timmins. "Speaking of which, go get Xander's stuff off his daddy's porch. And . . . Timmins. You're invited in."

Timmins blinked. "Sir? Are you sure?"

"Got invited, didn't I? You're my servant. Invite extends to you. If it doesn't, I'll come and invite you in. So, go get his stuff. And . . . Timmins? Bring back every drop of booze in the place, down to the last drop of schnapps. Got me?"

Timmins smiled in a rather feral manner. "Yes, Master, I have it. Every drop." Timmins headed for the door. Turning back, he remarked, "You're evil. You do know that, sir." Spike smirked.

Unfortunately, sending Timmins on that errand left Spike alone with Xander. The high temperature was making him miserable and he was obviously in pain. Spike touched his forehead and flinched. He was burning up.

"Dammit, whelp. Why'd ya have to go and get sick on me?" Spike smoothed Xander's ragged bangs away from his forehead and wondered what he should do.

After thinking things through he went and got a bottle of rubbing alcohol and prepared to give Xander an alcohol rub, hoping to bring down his temperature that way.

"Xander, I need for you to roll over. I'm gonna rub you down, see if I can't get that fever down. Come on." Spike pulled the covers off Xander, who moaned and clutched at them

"Noooo. Don' wanna. Go ‘way."

"Well, petulant little git, aintcha." Spike got Xander on his stomach and poured some alcohol into his hand. When he started to rub it into Xander's back, the smell hit him in the face. His sensitive vampire nose revolted at the stench of infection.

"Xander. Wake. Up. Now." Spike put everything he had into the command.

At the order, Xander rallied enough to peer at Spike through fever blurred eyes.

"Yeah, yeah. What?"

Spike grabbed his limited patience with both hands and held on. "Did you hurt yourself at the site?"

"Yeah. I took care of it, though. It's just a scratch."

Spike grimaced. Most people in this day and age didn't realize how dangerous even a scratch could be. He could remember a time when a simple splinter could lead to amputation, so he demanded to see the scratch.

Xander rolled over, grumbling but cooperative. He felt too bad to argue; it was simpler and easier to just go along. He fumbled with the leg of his shorts and whimpered when Spike impatiently pushed it up, poking the wound in the process.

Spike took one look at the infected ‘scratch' and snarled. "Bloody jumpin' hell, pet. That's not a scratch. It's a bleedin' . . . Shit. Is there something in there? How did you do this?"

Xander cooperated as Spike shoved a pillow under his hips so he could get a better look.

"I had to do some climbing and I dragged my butt over something sharp. I picked up a splinter, but I pulled it out. I put stuff on it. Spike, let me alone, I don't feel like arguing with you."

"Not arguing, am I, pet? You'll do what I say. Lay there and let me look."

Xander closed his eyes and shivered. "I'm cold."

Spike threw a nearby towel over Xander's shoulders and pulled his shorts down to his knees. The wound site was red, swollen and hot. Spike barely noticed Xander's exposed pucker or his ‘dangly bits'; he was too focused on the wound.

"Dammit, you stupid git. In my time you'd be dead in a week. That's a nasty infection. I'll clean it out and see what's what. Hold still."

Xander wriggled around, trying to see what Spike was doing, annoying the vampire into snarling at him. Xander stopped wriggling.

"Well, Xanpet. That's as nasty as it gets. I'll just open it and see what's in there. There's got to be something."

Xander tried to roll over but Spike pinned him with one hand between his shoulder blades.

"You're no doctor, I don't want you messing around with it. And don't call me that. I'm not a pet."

Spike held Xander until he stopped struggling, which didn't take long. He was way too sick to struggle much and the argument took every last bit of his energy. He gave up and lay still.

Spike vamped and used one of his sharp talons to open the wound. He turned his head when his efforts resulted in a gush of pus. He used a square of cloth he tore from a pillow case to wipe out the wound, much to Xander's displeasure.

"Be still. There's still something in there." Spike decided that his rough and ready skills weren't going to do Xander much good so he covered him with the sheet and asked him if he wanted the blanket too.

Xander eyed him suspiciously. "Yeah, I would. Why are you being so nice to me? What do you want?"

Spike lit a cigarette to hide his expression. "Don't want anything. Got ulterior motives, I do. I'm callin' in a healer. Don't want you to lose that leg. Get some sleep if you can."

Xander gave up. The last of his energy had deserted him and he felt worse than ever. He just rolled over, pulling the covers up to his chin and closing his eyes.

Spike left to make a few calls and pull in some favors.

Part Four

Xander slept for a while then woke, feeling worse than ever. He wondered what the hell Spike was up to but felt too bad to follow the thought for more than a second or two. He fell back into a sleep that rapidly worsened into unconsciousness.

Spike was on the phone for several minutes then he went to his office to send information to the Head of the Order of Taraka. Then he went to check on Xander again. Xander was asleep, but he wasn't resting. He kept flinching and twitching. Spike could tell that he was getting worse.

Timmins came into the room with a thermometer. "Master, the other things you asked for are here. The healer called, as well. He says that he'll be here at six pm. He can't get here any sooner."

Spike snarled. Xander was sick and getting worse by the second. He'd hoped that draining the wound on his leg would fix this but it hadn't. There was still something in the wound but Spike was wise enough to realize that he wasn't up to doctoring a sick human, no matter what anyone said. He would have to wait for the healer.

While he waited, Spike took Xander's temperature and was dismayed to find that it was 103 degrees. This was not good. Spike tried another alcohol rub and it helped for a little while but Xander's temp was up again in no time. He was getting delirious.

Spike snarled; he didn't know what to do. He called the healer again and got his answering service. He left a message that the ‘bloody git' had better get there pronto, if his ‘boy' died there'd be hell to pay. The lady on the other end of the line just said ‘Yes, Master Spike' in a rather bored tone of voice and promised to pass on the message verbatim.

The healer arrived less than an hour later, took one look at Xander and demanded to know when Spike had intended to tell him that the boy had an infection.

"Told you he got cut. Why would I want you for a simple cut?"

"Well, you have a point. Now show me the injury. Do you have any idea how long ago it happened? Or . . . ." At Spike's sharp and very annoyed look the healer snapped his mouth shut.

Spike wrestled Xander onto his belly and stripped him again. Getting the shorts on him had been difficult enough. Getting them off and back on again probably wasn't going to be any fun at all.

The healer took one look at the ragged cut on the back of Xander's thigh and sighed. "Well, it's badly infected. Why didn't you do something about it earlier?"

"Didn't know about it, now did I? I'd ‘a done something if I had. Boy's too used to hiding his pains. ‘Rents are bad people. He got hurt at work." Spike pinned the healer with a stony glare. "I take care of what's mine. So fix him."

Xander moaned softly. He was shivering. Spike snarled at the healer, "Will you get on with it?"

After examining the cut and grumbling about foreign matter in the wound, the healer declared himself ready to start.

"Master Spike, you need to hold him still while I clean out the wound. It has to be clean before I heal it or it'll just become re-infected.

Spike settled Xander across his lap, covering his back and shoulders with a fold of the comforter. He was so hot that, to Spike's vampiric coolness, he felt like he was on fire.

"Oi, and what the hell is your name? Come in here without an intro. Can't keep callin' you ‘healer', now can I?"

"My name is Josiah. I thought you knew it."

"No, just called the service and told them to send someone along. What now?"

Healer Josiah examined the gouge in Xander's thigh with disgust. "There's definitely something in here." He produced a magnifying glass and used it to find the foreign object. "Sliver of wood . . . and a piece of what looks like metal shaving. Not good. Plenty of infection in here."

He put down the magnifying glass and rummaged in his bag. He took out a thing, Spike didn't recognize it and didn't particularly want to, and poked at Xander. Xander tried to rear up but Spike pinned him down. Josiah continued to prod and poke Xander, then sighed.

"I'll do a spell to heal the wound, but I can't do anything about the systemic infection. That'll have to be treated with antibiotics. And he's going to be difficult to treat because he's really run down. I don't know why you vamps want human pets when you don't know how to take care of them."

Spike bristled. "He's a thrall. His condition is his own fault. He's only been mine about a week. You write up stuff on how to take care of him, I'll follow it. I want him healthy."

"I see. Um . . . not my business but how did you wind up with one of the Slayer's friends as a pet? She's liable to stake you, and whoever did the spell."

Spike smirked at Josiah. "Willow Rosenberg did the spell. She's a very powerful Wicca. Slayer's gonna have a fit when she finds out. But she can't do anything. Time limit on the cancel spell ran out last night. If she or anyone tries to break it, it'll kill him. And me, but they wouldn't care much about that. And if I die, he dies."

Josiah made a face. "I see. And what did he do to the witch to make her that mad at him? If it's any business of mine."

Spike stuck the first thorn in the Scoobies' collective sides. "Nothing. They don't value him like they should. Don't respect him. So they screwed up and I'm benefiting from it. Big time. Now, fix him."

After a long healing chant and a lecture on taking care of his pet, Healer Josiah handed several pages of instructions to Spike and told him to call if Xander's fever didn't break in the night. He also handed Spike three bottles of pills, telling him what each one was for and how often Xander was to have them.

Spike eyed the bottles with sour disfavor. "You know I'm not gonna be able to get that boy to take these, don't you? He's unconscious, you git."

"He's your pet. How you get them into him is up to you."

"Not my pet, I told you. He's a thrall. Big difference."

The healer shrugged, allowed that to a vampire maybe there was a difference but he didn't see it. Then he left, taking his stinky herbs and rattles with him.

Spike snarled and called Timmins. "How in hell are we going to get these pills down Xander's throat?"

Timmins regarded his feverish and restless young Master. "It should be interesting."

"Interesting, my arse. It's fucking impossible! Especially if I offer them." Spike sighed. "But it's gotta be done."

Timmins fetched a glass of water and tried to get Xander to swallow the capsules. They stuck to his tongue, then he spit them out. He didn't exactly fight, but he wasn't cooperative. Spike swore, tossed the first dose then put the pills in Xander's mouth by force. He ordered Xander to swallow, which he did. But he threw the medicine back up almost at once.


After the pills, things went from bad to worse. Xander thrashed and moaned. Spike was beside himself. Everything he knew about medicine he'd learned when his Mother was sick. That was more than a hundred years ago, and he didn't think leeching was going to do Xander much good. The rest of the healing arts he knew, he'd learned for or from Drusilla. Since Xander wasn't a vampire, that wasn't going to be any help either.

"Grammy? Grammy. I feel . . . so bad. Grammy? Can I help in the garden? Please."

Spike listened with some interest to Xander's feverish ramblings. He was learning something in the process of caring for Xander.

Spike smoothed Xander's hair off a sweaty forehead and whispered softly. "Sure, pet. You can help in the garden."

"Grammy. It's all ruined. Dad mowed over it. I tried . . . I did."

Spike got on the bed and gathered Xander into his arms. "Hush . . . it's okay. I know you did. Rest now."

Xander tossed restlessly, hot as a furnace. Spike called Timmins to bring cool water and a cloth. Timmins showed up at once.

"Sir. He's really bad. Should I call the healer again?"

Spike sighed. "If the fever hasn't broken by midnight, I think you'd better."


Xander tossed and moaned, Spike wrestled him under the covers. Xander wrestled himself back out. Spike pinned him down, Xander struggled like his life depended on it.

Xander babbled about his grandmother's garden and cried because it was ruined. Something about mowing over the roses. Spike sighed and called Timmins to fetch more cold water.

He arranged Xander on the bed and was a bit relieved when the boy just lay there. Spike dipped the washcloth in the bowl of cold water and squeezed it out. Folding the cloth, he ran it over Xander's chest, noticing as he did so that Xander wasn't a skinny kid anymore.

Spike continued running the cloth over Xander, down his chest, across his abdomen, then down each arm. He couldn't help noticing that Xander had a respectable six pack and biceps like rocks. He also couldn't help noticing that his temperature was going up instead of down.

In disgust he decided to call Joyce. He didn't want to bother her because she was still sick from the operation, but he was running out of ideas. He got the damn answering machine and that was when he found out how Buffy had managed to settle going to the Wicca group with her conscience. Joyce and Dawn were in France with a tour group from the gallery. He swore and hung up. No sense calling Giles, he was in Chicago. He tried Mrs. Rosenberg and was assured that his call was important and would be answered as soon as possible. Snarling, he refrained from throwing the cell at the wall. Instead he called Willow's cell.

He got some girl he didn't know. She answered with "Miss Rosenberg is in a Wicca group sensitivity training session. How may I help you?"

"My boy's sick. I need to talk to her as soon as possible. Where is she? Why are you answering her phone?"

The perky voice that answered back grated on his already frayed nerves like sandpaper. "She's incommunicado until further notice. I'll be glad to give her your message as soon as she's out of her meeting. Someone's sick?"

"Yeah." Spike shut his phone and literally growled at it.

At the retreat, the receptionist wrote a note for Willow and pinned it to the message board with a toothpick. (They were out of stick pins again.) She never noticed the breeze that playfully plucked the note off the board and wafted it under the nearby couch.


Spike spent the better part of the next three hours wiping Xander down with cold cloths. He put an ice pack on his forehead and alcohol in the water. Nothing worked, Xander just got worse. Every attempt to get pills down him resulted in projectile vomiting. Xander would swallow on command but it came back up again. Spike worried about that too; dehydration was becoming a real possibility.

Xander didn't respond to anything Spike said to him, only moaned once or twice. He was deteriorating rapidly. The systemic infection was running rampant through his body, his immune system finally taking revenge for his poor diet and over-work. Timmins just handed Spike his phone with the service already keyed in. Spike punched send and jittered in place as the phone rang.

"Healers Clinic. How may I . . ."

"Shut the fuck up and send that Josiah back. Boy's sicker than ever. Keeps throwin' up the pills. And his temp is up."

"Sir, who is this? What boy? Please calm down. If we're to help you, I need details."

Spike snarled. At one time, any service in the underworld would have recognized his voice. "Spike. Xander isn't any better." The female made an enquiring noise. "Human male. Infected cut, back of thigh. Systemic infection. Josiah healed the cut but said the systemic infection would have to be treated with antibiotics. But the boy keeps throwin' them back up. Send him."

"I see. Healer Josiah will be right there. He went off duty about an hour ago, so he's at home. It should only take him . . . fifteen minutes to get there from where he is." The female rang off and Spike pocketed his phone with a growl. Xander wasn't going to die. Spike refused to let him.

When the healer got to the apartment Timmins let him in with the caution that Master William was in a very bad mood. The healer gave him a blank look. "I thought his name was Spike."

"Oh, it is. Master William doesn't just call himself William the Bloody anymore. He also uses the name Spike. But I wouldn't recommend calling him that. It's reserved for friends. Now, to the bad part. Young Master Xander doesn't seem to be able to keep the antibiotics down."

Josiah entered the bedroom just in time to see Spike wiping Xander down again. Xander was limp and Spike had him braced against his chest, running the cool cloth over his back. Spike looked up from what he was doing and snarled, "Fix him. He's only getting worse."

So the healer went over the symptoms with Spike again. He asked every question again. Then he sighed. "I'm not sure what's wrong. Unless he's mildly allergic to penicillin? Could be."

Spike sighed. "Don't ask me. I have no idea what he's allergic to. Except . . . possibly me. So, what do we do now?"

Josiah took an ankh out of his bag and looked through the hoop at Xander. "Yup. He's allergic to penicillin. Not badly, just enough to make it come right back up. I'll prescribe something else. Just give me a sec to check to see what I have with me. The painkillers are okay. Just the antibiotic . . . " he mumbled off as he rummaged around in his bag.

When he produced an IV setup, Spike refused to allow it.

"How do you expect to get antibiotics into him now? He can't swallow the capsules; they're too big and they only come in that size. He'll die on you, sure as check."

Spike raged around the room, snarling and kicking the furniture. Xander whimpered in fear, Spike's fury penetrating his fevered brain. Spike stopped cold.

"All right. Just . . . what do I do?"

Josiah taped Xander's arm to a brace, then he deftly inserted the needle and taped it in place.

"I'll inject the medicine in this bag. All you have to do is make sure he doesn't pull out the needle. The next bag is easy to hook up. I'll show you how in a moment. Put the medicine in the bag through this port. Switch it out and pray. I checked. His immune system is so weak he's just not fighting off the infection like he should."

Spike clenched his teeth. Xander's diet was a standing joke amongst the Scooby gang. He hadn't realized that it was actually bad for his health.

Spike stared at the healer with stony eyes. He wanted his boy well and he wanted it now. He knew the healer was doing all he could, but the combined frustration of his inability to contact any of the Scoobies and Xander's deteriorating condition was making him dangerous. He grabbed at the remaining rags of his patience and held on.

"I'm going to have to tape his arm to this splint. Otherwise, he's going to pull the needle out. I've left written instructions on the night stand. If you have any further trouble call me. I know how you vamps are about your ‘thralls'." The healer's quotes were evident in his voice.

"Fine. Just stay near your phone in case I need you again."

Spike picked up the cloth, dipped it in the basin, and started wiping Xander down again.

"That's good. That water has alcohol in it?" Spike just grunted. "Good. Keep that up and his fever should break in no time at all. He'll sweat like a pig. But it may take several sweats to break permanently. The antibiotics should take effect within three hours."

Josiah gathered up his trash and left to give Timmins instructions. Spike continued to wipe Xander with his cool cloth. If the temperature didn't break soon, Xander was in serious trouble. High fevers could lead to brain damage and heart and kidney problems. Xander had enough troubles without that.

Timmins entered and took the basin of warming water away. He returned with a new one, handed it to Spike and waited for further orders.

When none were forthcoming, he stationed himself by the door, quietly watching Spike handle Xander. For all his snarking, he was astonishingly gentle with the human.


Xander's fever broke for the first time at midnight. He was lucid enough to ask for Giles or Willow and when Spike explained that he couldn't get hold of anyone his disappointment was evident. Spike refrained from pointing out that he, Spike, was taking care of Xander. When a person was sick, they were bound to be unreasonable.

Xander's fever returned within the hour and he was just as sick as ever. And twice as combative. The IV needle had shifted somehow and was causing him pain. Spike suspected it was due to his inexpert mauling as he changed the IV bag.

It didn't make any difference to Xander. All he knew was it hurt and he wanted it out. After his fifth attempt to remove it made the insertion point bleed, Spike pinned him down and held him. That was when Spike realized that Xander was a lot stronger than anyone suspected. All that construction work had exercised his muscles. Spike had trouble holding him without bruising him. He finally stripped down and crawled in the bed behind Xander. He clasped each of Xander's wrists in a hand and pulled his arms crossed over his chest. He wrapped his legs around Xander's thighs and just held him.

Timmins hesitantly asked if he should continue to wipe Xander down. Spike thought for a moment then nodded grudgingly. He realized that the idea of Timmins touching Xander annoyed him. ‘Well, that's different, innit?'

Spike struggled with Xander for what seemed like days. His fever broke, he sweated through the sheets, Timmins changed them while Spike held Xander on his lap in the chair. Then it started all over again. Each time Xander woke to reality he asked for Willow, or Giles. Each time Spike told him they couldn't come to him Xander's disappointment gouged at Spike's unbeating heart.

The boy had such simple wants, it hurt not to be able to grant them. Spike called the retreat again. He got a different, equally perky voice. This time he demanded to talk directly to any of the three girls. He was told in no uncertain terms that it was three in the morning and that was impossible. He snarled and snapped the phone shut, never thinking to leave another message. His first one hadn't gotten any results. It never occurred to him it could have gone astray.

Spike struggled grimly with the thought that his boy might die. He didn't like it at all. He could Change him, but that was exactly what would happen. Xander would change. He wanted Xander, not some unruly fledge with Xander's face. A proper Change took time, a thing that the Old Master had never understood, Angelus had never had patience for and Drusilla had accomplished without a thought.

So Spike wrestled with Xander, keeping him in bed. Keeping him from pulling the IV out. Holding and comforting him as best he could when Xander called for Willow or Giles. Petting and soothing him when he dreamed of his parents.

This last was hard. Spike remembered his mother with a love that Watchers said was impossible for a soulless vampire. Spike wondered if the oriental people might be right. They said that love resided in the liver. All he knew was that he did love, with all of whatever a person loved with. So he couldn't understand not loving your own child.

When Xander's fever broke for the last time, Spike was relieved. Until the chills started. Spike let out a snarl of pure frustration. How the hell could he cure his boy if he kept changing the rules on him?

Xander was lucid enough by now to know that Spike was trying to help him. He started apologizing the minute Spike snarled.

"Sorry . . . sorry. I know I'm being a giant pain in the ass . . . just . . . call Wills. She'll come . . . or Giles. He'll fix me . . . sorry. I'm sorry."

Spike snarled again. "Shut the hell up. I called all of them. The girls are at some Wicca retreat and Giles is in Chicago. Giles can't get back and I can't get the bints to even come to the phone. Come here, you git. Cover up."

Xander subsided on the bed, whimpering as he shivered convulsively.

"I'm so cold. C-c-c-cold. S-s-s-ooo damn cold. Spike . . . c-c-c-can I h-h-h-have another blanket? P-p-p-p-please?"

Spike motioned to Timmins to put another blanket on the bed. He was staying put. He had Xander where he could get hold of him if he went delirious again and tried to pull out the IV. Timmins tossed another blanket on the bed and wished for an electric one.

Xander drifted in and out of something between sleep and unconsciousness for the greater part of the morning. He alternately chilled and sweated. A call to the healer relieved Spike's mind when Josiah told him that was a sign that Xander was getting better. Spike knew he should get out of the bed but holding Xander was astonishingly nice. He knew his ulterior motives would surprise everyone. Perhaps including himself. Xander shivered convulsively for such a long time that Spike began to worry again. He also apologized compulsively.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be a pain. I'll be better soon. I'd get better if Willow was here. I . . ."

"Shut up, you git." Spike pulled Xander to his chest. Xander struggled weakly for a second, then gave it up as a bad job and just settled down.

"I wish I could get warm. If I could get really warm, I'd be better. It's stupid, but just . . . cuddle me? Please? Don't laugh, okay?"

Spike cuddled Xander. "I won't laugh. What's a little cuddle between master and thrall, after all?" Spike knew Xander wouldn't understand just yet. But he was planting seeds for future sprouting.

"I wish you'd call Willow. Please? I don't mean to be a pest, but she'd come. I'm sure of it. Please?"

So Spike called, handed the phone to Xander and waited while he dealt with the receptionist. Xander didn't have any better luck than Spike had. He got the same runaround, left a message and dissolved into tears.

Spike wrapped his arms around Xander and held him while he sniffled. Then he handed Xander a tissue and waited while he got himself under control.

"Sorry . . . I . . . sorry . . . I shouldn't . . . I just can't stop shivering. I'm . . . sorry. I just want to be warm again."

Spike sighed, pulled Xander into his embrace again, and did some apologizing of his own. "I'm sorry too, pet. I have no warmth to give you. But, I take care of what's mine. Remember that. No matter what it takes. No matter if you hate me for it, I'll keep you safe in this world you've fallen into."

Xander muzzily wondered what the hell Spike was on about, then fell asleep again.


The next time Xander woke he panicked completely. He was going to be late for work. He lunged out of bed and wound up on the floor. He couldn't believe how weak he felt.

Spike charged into the room, gamefaced and ready to fight. When he saw Xander on the floor he pitched a fit. "You stupid wanker, what the hell do you think you're doing? Get back in that bed, now."

Xander struggled to obey, then wondered why he was. He decided that, weak as he was, it was a good idea. So he struggled onto the bed while Spike held the covers for him.

But he didn't stop complaining. "Spike, I got to get to work. I can't afford to lose this job. How'll I pay my part of the rent if I don't have a job?" Xander pouted. He wouldn't have called it pouting, of course. "I like my job. I'm good at it. It's the only thing I am good at. Please. Let me up. And why am I still in bed? I want up. Spike, what have you done to me?"

Xander was on the verge of a very real freak out. Spike decided that, even though Xander was still really sick and weak, he'd better explain some things now. Xander wouldn't calm down until he did.

"Xander, calm down. There's some things I have to explain to you. I was hoping not to have to do it just yet, but you asked and I'll answer.

"First, don't worry about your job. You're on sick leave until further notice. I didn't know about it, but Timmins called you in and faxed over a doctor's note. You're entitled to sick pay until you're well and we could sue. You got injured on the job saving the company a shit load of money. Don't worry about it."

Xander settled back in the bed with a sigh. Spike decided that Xander was going to keep his job no matter what. If it meant that much to the boy, it was a done deal.

"And, second . . . shit . . . I hate to tell you this. I wasn't for quite a while. I wanted to enjoy . . . well, never mind that." Spike realized that he wasn't looking forward to Xander's reaction to the next bit of news.

"You remember that ‘friendship' spell Red worked on us?" Xander got a scared look in his eyes and nodded, biting at his lip. "Wasn't a friendship spell. It was a Thralian thrall spell. I gave the Watcher all the notes and looked the spell over myself. It was from Mim's Spell book." Xander groaned softly. "Yeah . . . well . . . you're my thrall. You have to obey me when I give you a command in Master's Voice. You can't resist."

Xander pulled the covers up to his chin, shaking his head in denial. "No. Not possible. Willow wouldn't do that to me. She's my bestest bud. You're lying."

Spike just sighed. "Sorry, pet. She means well. But her magic isn't . . . experienced. Whatever. And she doesn't translate things all that well. How the Watcher thinks she is such a great translator is beyond me." Spike dismissed Xander's guilty look. "So, I guess proof is in order."

Xander shuddered. Spike would lie at the drop of a hat. He caused trouble for the fun of it. But somehow Xander knew Spike was telling him the truth. He didn't want to believe it.

"I know you won't believe it without proof so . . . Uncover yourself. Now!"

Xander tried to resist the command but he found himself tossing the covers aside. He realized that he was naked under the covers and flushed heavily.

"Well, well, I got myself a real stud. Cover up. You'll be cold again."

Xander just lay staring at Spike with dilated eyes. He shook his head. "No. Willow wouldn't . . . she couldn't . . . I . . . you . . . oh, god."

Xander covered his face with shaking hands and started to cry weakly. He felt so bad still and this was just too much to handle.

"How could she? She knows that Mim's is a joke. Who ever said that Mim's was any good must have been dumber than me. All the spells in that book are fucked up. That guy Mim was an idiot."

Spike sat down on the edge of the bed. "No, Mim hated humans. He wrote that book as a . . . booby trap, if you will. He just mistranslated parts of the spells from the originals. If you check different references, you'll see that each spell is real. It just doesn't do what he says it will. And Red substituted like mad."

Xander groaned. "She's always doing that. I told her and told her. One substitution won't make that much difference, but when you make several there's no telling what might happen. What was the spell supposed to do?"

Spike sighed, this was the part he wasn't looking forward to.

"Well, it's a perverted love spell. Don't get your knickers in a twist. Not that kind of pervert." Xander relaxed again, sort of. "The spelled is supposed to adore the speller. But since it was cast by a third party, who the hell knows? Especially with some of the substitutions Red used. I have to study the thing. But I can tell you this: It can't be broken. If they try, both of us will die. If I die, you die. If you die . . . I'm not sure, but it won't be pretty."

Xander blinked a few times. "Well, shit . . . I didn't know there was a thrall spell without an escape clause of some sort."

Spike wished for a cigarette but wouldn't smoke around Xander while he was sick. This was the part that was going to hurt the boy the most. "There was one. But between the substitutions and Mim's perverted sense of humor, it only lasted about a week. If the Watcher had checked over the notes like I asked him or if Red hadn't been so hot at hand, we – and I do mean we – wouldn't be in this mess. So . . ."

Xander just lay back and covered his head with the sheet. "Go away, Spike. I know we're stuck with each other forever, but . . . just . . . go away. I feel like hell and this isn't . . . just go."

Spike decided to take the coward's way out and go.


He didn't go far or stay away very long. He left Xander to get himself back together then went back in to see if Xander thought he could eat some broth. Xander had quickly cried himself out and was blowing his nose on a handful of tissues.

"No, I don't want any. I hate broth. . . . oh. . . . but . .. pudding. I could go for some chocolate pudding. Creamy, rich, yummy chocolate."

Spike rolled his eyes. "It's a wonder you don't smell like chocolate, as much as you eat of it. I'll see what Timmins can come up with. But your diet is going to change. Big time. You got sick partly because you don't eat right."

Xander made a face. "I don't eat right because I can't cook. All I get is fast food or cereal. So don't go makin' with that face at me. You don't like the way I eat, change the way I cook."

Spike just shrugged. "Timmins will cook from now on. You've been eatin' his cooking for the last week. Like most of what he cooked, didn't ya?"

Xander settled wearily back in the bed. "Look. I feel like I've been run over by a Tralka demon. I don't like anything I've heard in the last four hours. Just hand me food, I'll eat it. I'm not that particular, no matter what anyone says. If it's not rotten, I'll eat it. Just make sure it's not moldy."

Xander was asleep before Spike could tell him that he'd never feed him moldy food. Then he realized what Xander was really saying and swore. In other words, he was picky about eating green things because green usually meant moldy. Spike wondered if he could get into the house and eat Xander parents. The chip shouldn't cause trouble, they obviously weren't human.

He told Timmins to see about Xander's diet. Timmins just handed him a mug of warm blood and nodded.


Spike took the opportunity to shower, change into comfortable sweats and get some sleep. Timmins knew to wake him if Xander so much as twitched.

Spike slept himself out and rose to greet the night with a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He'd been on a diet of pig blood so long that rich human stuff made him logy until he digested it. He didn't like the way the preservative in the bagged stuff tasted either and it made him queasy. Between the two sensations he usually woke in a bad mood. He really wished he could dine the way the Eldest did. But what with the chip and one thing and another, he didn't see how it was possible.

Timmins handed him a bicarbonate of soda and a cup of tea. Spike took the bicarb and gulped it down with a grimace. The tea failed to take all the taste out of his mouth. He sipped it and settled in his favorite chair.

"How's Xander?"

"Sleeping, still . . . Sir?" Spike raised and enquiring eyebrow. "Is something wrong with your blood? You make such a face."

Spike explained about the taste of the sodium heparin and how it upset his stomach. Timmins nodded his understanding.

"Just so, sir. I find the taste objectionable as well. Perhaps there is something to be done?"

Spike snarled. ‘The only thing to be done is get blood direct from the tap. And I can't. You know about that damn chip?" Timmins nodded. "Can't bite. Can't fight. Not humans, at any rate. Demons, yeah. And demon blood is good. But it's not human and there's something in human blood that I crave and can't get anywhere else."

Timmins thought for a moment. "Perhaps the micro nutrients. Those trace elements. The balance isn't right in anything but human blood. I'll see what I can do about procuring something better. Let me think about it."

Spike nodded his acceptance and thanked his unlucky stars that he'd found Timmins. He was well on the way to rebuilding his court. And without Drusilla to cause her usual problems, this time he was going to have peace and quiet when he wanted it. And his court wasn't going to produce the usual surfeit of useless, moronic newbies that mobbed the Hellmouth like cockroaches. One of the reasons he was here was the Order wanted to know how they were produced.

After snarling in disgust, he called his immediate superior in the Order. He was supposed to have called again last night. When he reached the High Master, he was told that his request was taken under advisement. They would check up on the substitutions and see what they could come up with. However, the demon didn't offer much hope. He ended the conversation by saying, "We'll have new orders for you next week at the latest, probably much sooner. This affair with the human is nothing. You are a Master of the Order and it's time you lived up to your responsibilities. You kept Drusilla out of trouble for most of a hundred years. That's all we can expect of you in that respect, but you still have obligations that you must fulfill. Especially as you are the Master of your line now."

Spike spluttered and swore but the demon had already hung up. Spike allowed temper to get the best of him and hurled his cell phone into the wall. It promptly shattered into bits, which Spike had to duck.

Timmins stuck his head in the door then withdrew it. He wasn't willing to brave William the Bloody in a temper. He knew way too much about Master Vampires and their tempers.

Spike snarled around for a few moments muttering about ‘obligations, my arse' and taking his ire out on the concrete walls. He calmed himself down and went to check on Xander.


Xander was suspended in the world between sleep and waking where he was happy again. Grammy was there, showing him how to grow her beloved flowers and herbs. The garden was its old riot of colors and scents. Xander knelt on the crushed gravel walk, clippers in hand, snipping off sprigs of thyme for the lamb roast she was going to fix for supper.

The roses were just beginning to bloom and honeysuckle was sending out tender new shoots. He was going to plant pansies next. He loved this garden; it was a refuge from the constant fighting.

The fighting was getting worse as his dad and mom got drunk more and more often. Grammy threatened to throw them out. They threatened to take Xander and go. Xander crouched behind the couch or in the closet. He couldn't stand the screaming.

Spike noticed that Xander's eyes were flicking back and forth behind his lids. He was making soft whimpering sounds. Only a few moments before he'd been smiling in his sleep. Spike slipped into the bed behind Xander and pulled his twitching body against his cool chest.

"Hey, sleepy head. Wake up. You're havin' a bad dream. Come on, boy, up and at ‘em."

Xander came awake with a start, which pulled at the IV in his arm. That made it bleed, and him grunt at the sharp pain of the needle twisting in his flesh. The tape didn't help any, either. It was bunched up in the bend of his elbow and it pinched. He tried to stifle the yelp but didn't quite succeed.

Spike petted him for a moment. "What? . . . What hurts? I'll fix it if I can."

"The needle . . . and the tape. And . . . all of me. What exactly happened? I remember . . . you washing me . . . only . . . and someone chanting? Spike . . ." Xander picked irritably at the tape and got his hand smacked.

"Leave it. I'll take the IV out when the healer tells me it's okay. Or rather he will. Starting at the beginning. You cut yourself somehow or other. It got infected, which got into your system. You got a fever . . . and let me tell you. The next time you don't take care of yourself, I'll whip you bloody. Get me?" Xander got a funny look on his face, nodded stiffly then hung his head. "Good. So, the infection from your leg got into your system so the healer couldn't do anything about it. He healed the cut." Xander groped himself, searching for the cut. "Stop that. It's healed, I said. But he couldn't do anything for the systemic infection. That's why you feel so bad. I read his notes. They say you could be laid up for as much as two weeks. Not my idea of fun, nursin' you. So you better stay in bed and get well real quick. Timmins will bring you some food. Eat it."

Spike got up and started to leave, but Xander's soft ‘Stay a while? Please?' made him sit back down, this time in the chair by the bed.

"Okay, I'll stay a while. What do you need?"

Xander picked at the coverlet for a moment. "Nothing, really. I just . . . Willow ever call? Or Giles?"

Spike watched as Xander's big heart broke. "No. The bints are in a Wicca retreat. I'm gonna go up there and eat someone. I left a message. No one answered. I'd think that Red would at least call to see what's what. And Giles is in Chicago. I really can't see that he could be of any help from there. Mrs. Rosenberg tried but she thought it was flu. So did I until I saw that cut. Stupid git. You could have died. Next time you get wounded, let me know. I'll either nurse it or call a healer."

Xander just nodded and scrooched down in the bed. He pulled the covers up to his chin and settled down to try to sleep again.

"Tell me about your granny's garden."

Xander gave Spike a surprised look, then shrugged and started talking. He told Spike about how the house belonged to his grandmother. When the Harrises had moved in his father had taken it into his head to buy a swimming pool but there was no place to put it because of the cottage garden. So he hated it. But Grammy hadn't budged, the garden stayed.

He told Spike about how much he'd loved that garden and all he could remember about it. What plants had been in it and how his father had sprayed the paths of mother of thyme and killed it all. How he'd managed to save most of the garden by sheer stubbornness. But he'd been off Scoobying and the old man had mown over it while he was gone.

"So, no more garden. The roses are all gone, nothing left but stubs. I . . . Spike . . . I know you think I'm a big baby, but just go, okay? . . . I want to . . . don't you dare laugh."

Spike nearly cried himself. It wasn't that much to want. Just a bit of earth to call his own with a flower or two. He got an idea that he knew would please Xander. All he had to do was figure out how to do it.


Spike left Xander sleeping and Timmins keeping an eye on him.

He climbed into his new car and headed for the Harris residence. He enjoyed the trip now that he had a decent car to drive. The car wasn't what anyone would have expected for him. He knew everyone would expect him to drive something hot, small and uncomfortable. Or a Hummer or something. But not him. He was driving a Mercedes-Benz Cl-65 AMG. It had a hand built V-12 engine that generated 604 hp. His taste had always been influenced by first Angelus, then Dru. Now that he was out from under both of them he realized that he liked his comforts.

And this car was comfortable: tinted windows, huge trunk, comfy interior. And it was a beast, 0-65 in 4.7 seconds. He smirked to himself. Cordelia would be livid. He wondered what kind of car Xander wanted.

He sighed as he pulled up in front of the house. It was nearly derelict, much worse than when he'd been a ‘guest' in the basement. He didn't ever remember paying much attention to the back yard. He surely didn't remember a garden. Especially a cottage garden.

After reconnoitering, he slipped into the basement, through the house, and up to the room Xander had told him his grandmother stayed in. Through the window he saw the garden, or what was left of it.

It had been mowed down, all right. Spike hoped that Tony had ruined his lawn mower. The roses had been large bushes. He eyed the resultant ruin with disgust. Dipping a hand in his duster, he pulled out a watercolor box and rummaged in a nearby desk for a decent piece of paper to paint on.

Resting the box on his knee, he outlined the garden by color, painting the urn in the middle as a large grey blob. Then he painted the paths and just colored in the sections with blobs of color. After he waved the painting to dry the colors, he used his fountain pen to write in the names of plants that he recognized. It didn't take him long and the snoring of Xander's mom sleeping in the nearby bed didn't bother him at all.

He took the time to explore the house a little. Xander's room still smelled like him. He rummaged in the closet and found an access hatch to the attic. Insatiably curious, he pushed it up and stuck his head in.

What he found didn't surprise him all that much. He lifted the box down and opened it. Inside was a collection of odds and ends, things a small boy might consider treasures. Spike tucked it under his arm and continued his explorations.

He gathered every bottle of liquor he could find and dumped it down the sink. He left the bottles on the kitchen table. He searched the house from top to bottom looking for anything that belonged to Xander. He'd know by the smell. And he did find some things.

He wasn't sure why some of the stuff smelled so strongly of Xander, but they did, so he took them. There was so much stuff that Spike pulled a humpbacked trunk from the old lady's closet and opened it. It was half full of things so Spike just dumped his finds in on top, then he saw the antique linens on the shelf in that closet and snitched them for himself. He shut the trunk, hoisted it onto one shoulder and left.


Buffy grumbled under her breath. She hadn't bargained for being cut off from the outside world for the whole of the weekend. But here she was in a Wicca sensitivity training session, which bored her silly. Excuse me . . . Slayer here?

Tara had her eyes locked on the speaker with an intensity that was absolute and Willow was no better. Neither of the witches seemed disturbed that they were cut off except for declared emergencies. Whatever that meant.


Spike stuffed the trunk into his closet and told Timmins to unpack it when Xander was better. Then promptly forgot all about it.

Xander demanded to know where he'd been, so Spike showed him the rather soppy water color he'd done of the garden. Xander eyed it for a second then took it. "Well, I didn't know you even knew what a water color was. This is . . ."

Spike snorted. "I had to use spit for water. My teacher would roll in his grave, if he had one, that is. But I was properly educated, no matter what Peaches thought of it. And had the Grand Tour as well, twice . . . um . . . once after I was turned. Not that that makes much difference." Spike rolled his eyes. "And you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Xander snorted. "Do too. Grand Tour of the Continent. Every young gentleman did it. If their family could afford it. You that well off?"

"Yeah, family had money. Minor nobility. We just didn't have a residence. Mother hated big houses, she grew up in one. Didn't like having to supervise a bunch of servants. I had just come back from my tour when Dru worked her magic. So. I'll do you a better one later."

Xander flopped back in the bed. "Thanks. But . . . I appreciate the offer, don't get me wrong. But, a picture doesn't smell." Xander pulled the covers up to his chin and settled back to try to sleep again.

"Don't fall asleep just yet." Xander opened one eye and waited. "If you remember what plants were in the places I didn't label, maybe I could do something about a . . . copy . . or sommat. Don't know just what yet . . . the Order wants me to do something, but they won't tell me just yet."

Xander decided that Spike was just being Spikely vague and forgot about the Order of whatever at once. "Well, how are we going to recreate a garden in this paved over industrial park? And how am I going to pay for it?"

Spike shrugged. "You're the construction worker. Figure it out. . . as to paying for it, I'll pay. I got the dosh."

Xander gave Spike a ‘look'. "What? I do."

"Then why have you been living in a crypt and depending on us for pig's blood?"

"Because I owed The Order of Taraka a big debt. Got three of their best done because the Hellmouth hates me. Keep an eye on the Slayer, make sure she keeps the Hellmouth under control. Dust the surplus newbies. Blah, blah, blah. Now that I've paid up, I got my accounts back. In very good shape, I might add."

Xander's skeptical look made Spike sigh. "Okay, what?"

"You're a Master Vampire. I thought you didn't answer to anyone."

"I don't answer to Angel. Not anymore. He gave me up, me and Dru, when he got that damn soul. But everyone answers to someone. Even me. I'm a High Master of the Order of Taraka. I answer to the Head of the Order. The consequences aren't . . . nice. I really don't want to spend a decade in a coffin starvin'. Seen it done. Nasty."

Xander blinked once. Spike was really a member of some Order and he was scared enough that he obeyed the Head of it. He'd have to think about that . . . later.

Spike noticed Xander's drooping eyelids so he tucked him in and told him to stay in the bed and sleep. Xander started to argue but a huge yawn interrupted him. He settled down and fell asleep almost immediately.


Giles checked his cell phone messages and sighed. Spike had called at least twice. He listened to the first message, which was about Xander's flu. There wasn't much he could do from Chicago, so he deleted it. He didn't bother with any of the rest of the messages from Spike. It would only be more of the same or some snarking. He wasn't in the mood.

Xander was a big boy and could take care of himself. It was only flu, after all.

When Giles got home, he realized that the power was off. He checked his answering machine but without power, or an emergency battery, all his messages were lost. He decided if anything was truly important, they would call back.


Spike called the Order and finally got information on what they wanted him to do. He nearly had a conniption.

"You want me to what?"

"Control the Hellmouth. You're there. You're a High Master. Start a proper court. Not one of those haphazard things you usually set up. A real court. And don't argue. You're still in our black books."

Spike snarled wordlessly then sighed. "All right, I'll do it. Now, about those notes I faxed you. What do you have for me?"

The voice on the other end sounded decidedly disgusted. "That's another thing. You need to see if you can't control that witch. She's made a regular cockup of that spell. She substituted things that made the experts here shudder. You're stuck with that human. And he's not a pet! Be sure you understand that. You will find out exactly what the repercussions of the spell are. We're not sure. Just remember, he dies, you die. I'd advise you to treat him right. A true Master will show his mastery. See that you don't embarrass us again. Good-bye."

Spike snarled at the phone and grumbled. "What the hell do you think I'm settin' up here, if not a proper court? Wanted one for years, didn't I? Drusilla made that impossible, what with her flamin' fish and singin' stars an' whatall. Real High Master, ain't I? Chip or no chip, I can control a court. An' I'll gut anyone who says different."

Spike checked on Xander, saw that he was still asleep and went into the second level of his apartment.

The residence he called an apartment wasn't really that at all. It was actually three levels of a warehouse complex turned into what amounted to a mansion. His level consisted of a kitchen, living room, library, office, game room and several bedrooms, beside his own suite. Xander had the only other suite in the place.

The second floor consisted of several dormitories for servants, fledges mostly, and whoever Spike decided deserved a bed. The third level was undeveloped. For now.

Spike called a full court, he wanted everybody assembled within the hour. He got what he wanted.

When he entered the large assembly hall, he noticed that his court had already divided into cliques. Well, shite.

"I called you all here for one reason – instructions.

"Number one. The boy. My boy, Xander. You. Will. Not. Touch. Him. He's mine. You do, you'll regret it for a long time. Mark my words. This is a proper court. The Order has commanded it. Anyone wants to question a High Master Vampire and a High Master in the Order of Taraka is welcome to do so. At their peril. I don't have patience with idiots. Obey orders. First order, no more killing. I don't fancy cleaning up someone else's messes. I did enough of that with Dru. I don't want to be run out of Sunnydale in the middle of the night. Had enough of that. You get hungry, either dispose of the body proper or don't kill them. Your choice.

"Second order. I'm the only one who turns anyone. I catch you turning someone, you're dust. Simple. Easy. Any questions?"

Spike swept the court with a glacial blue glare that said there'd better not be. He dismissed the thirty or so vampires with an arrogant gesture and pulled out his smokes.

"Well, that wasn't so bad. Was it?"

Timmins allowed that it had been ‘interesting', and wondered how long it would be before Spike started asking the right questions. He didn't think it would be long

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