Ulterior Motives


Part Five

Xander woke up and wondered why he felt like he'd been run over. Then he remembered and groaned. His attempt to sit up was foiled by Spike, who simply put one hand on his chest and waited for him to calm down.

"Settle. You're still sick. You'll feel better, then you'll get worse again. I'm not playin' nursie to you forever. Timmins will be in in a few with some broth. Drink it. An' while I'm fratchin' at ya, how the hell did you manage to get so run down? I know you don't eat like ya should, what with not cookin' and all. But the Healer said you're worn out. What's up?"

Xander forced himself to keep his eyes open, even though he wanted to go back to sleep already.

"Don't know either. All I can tell you is that I'm really tired all the time. And walking from the bus stop to the site every day carrying all my tools isn't helping any. I wish I had a truck… " Xander bit at his lip for a moment then sacrificed a portion of his pride on the altar of work ethic. "Spike? I really need a truck. Will you lend me the money? I can't get a loan from a bank, I don't have a credit record yet. And I'm going to lose my job if I don't get a truck. I can't keep taking the bus. I'll pay you back, I swear."

Spike picked at his lower lip for a moment. "No. I'm not going to lend you the money." Spike aborted Xander's stricken look. "Don't look at me like that. I'll co-sign for you. That's better than lending you the money. You'll start a credit record that way. Just don't fuck it up."

Xander blinked at Spike for a moment. "You'll cosign for me? Why? I mean, thanks and all that, but I don't get it."

Spike just shrugged. "You're mine and I take care of what's mine. You need a truck, I'll see that you have one. But you need to do it for yourself. You'll need a good credit rating, no matter what. I want you to be able to take care of yourself if something happens to me. Not that I plan on anything happening, but it's Sunnyhell." Spike shrugged.

"Oh, I see, I think. But thanks again. I'll see what I can find when I feel better. I'm still really tired and sleepy. I think the medicine is messing with me. I'm starting to fall asleep again." Xander valiantly tried to keep his eyes open, but failed.

"That's ok, pet. We'll discuss it more when you're feeling better. Go back to sleep."

Xander mumbled something about ‘boss' and ‘me' that made Spike laugh and settled back into the bed.

While Xander was sleeping again, Spike went down to the barracks in the sub basement and had lunch. He sighed. The blood was good but he'd rather have it from the source. He took a moment to just lean against the wall and grumble. He'd heard about having a stable but he'd never considered it a good idea. Dru wouldn't let them live; she'd drain them to the dregs and then he'd have a newbie to deal with, again.

Timmins came to him and told him that Xander was awake again and asking for Willow. Spike pushed away from the wall and headed upstairs to deal with another round of ‘call Willow'. Spike wished he could bite the stupid bint, or the Watcher. He didn't expect anything from Buffy, she wasn't the nurturing type. And poor Glinda was sure to feel guilty when she found out that Xander was as sick as he was.


Spike entered the bedroom and sniffed quickly. He smelled sea and corruption. Xander was still very sick. He smelled of fever and sweat and tears. Spike wondered how much longer it would be before Xander began getting better.

He walked over to the bed and poked him gently.

"Oi! You awake? Come on now, open those baby blues."

Xander stuck his head out from under the covers and blinked away tears. "My eyes are brown. Where's Wills? You didn't even call her, did you? "

Spike contained his temper with some effort. "Harris, I may do a lot of things to you in the future that you may not like, but I won't lie to you. Not necessary, is it? I called Giles, Willow and Tara, and Buffy as well as Mrs. Rosenberg when you got sick. Giles went to Chicago, Red, Glinda, and the Slayer went to some Wicca retreat thing. And Joyce and Dawn are in soddin' France somewhere on a tour. Mrs. Rosenberg was the only one who offered any suggestions at all and she said it was flu. So I resent that."

Xander had to good grace to look ashamed. "Sorry…no, I'm not. I mean…that is…but Willow would come. She would. She's my best friend."

Spike set his hook. "Well, bloody great friend she is. You're dyin' on me and she's not answering messages. If you want, I'll call again and you can leave a message. Maybe that'll get some results."

Spike took out his cell and dialed the number for Willow's and Tara's dorm room.

"Here, it's ringin'."

Xander took the phone and listened to it ring until the answering machine kicked in.

"This is Tara and Willow. We're not here, obviously. Leave a message and we'll be back to you. Blessed be."

Xander left a short message telling them that he was really sick and wanted Willow to come to see him as soon as she could. He handed the phone to Spike and rooted under the covers again. Spike thought he looked very much like a hedgehog.

After dialing both Buffy and Giles for Xander, and listening as the boy left messages, Spike pocketed his phone. He called Timmins and told him to bring Xander some food.

"Spike, I'm still sick. I'm not hungry. Just leave me alone." Xander tried to pull the covers completely over his head but Spike wouldn't let him.

"No, pet. I know you're still sick, but ya gotta eat somethin' or you won't get better. Timmins is a prime cook. He'll fix something to tempt you, you'll see."

Xander gave Spike a doubtful look but emerged a bit.

Timmins came in at Spike's call, carrying a tray covered with a large napkin. When he removed it Spike was disgusted to see that the fool had fixed chicken noodle soup and tapioca pudding. Neither of which Xander would eat. ‘Not a picky eater, my arse.'

He started to say something nasty but Xander stopped him. "No, Spike, he means well." Xander turned to the vampiric valet and shook his head. "I can't eat either of those. They'll just make me puke. My Dad, he . . . um . . . threw chicken noodle soup up all over me once and . . ." Xander waved his hand suddenly. "Take it away, please. The smell is getting to me. And tapioca looks like frog eye balls. Yuck. Please?"

Timmins hurriedly removed the offending tray and started wracking his brain for something the boy would eat. The problem was that the healer had given him specific instructions on what the lad could have and what he couldn't. Most of the foods Xander seemed to exist on were on the forbidden list.

Spike followed the other vampire into the kitchen and watched as he shuffled through the papers in increasing dismay.

"What? Feed the boy."

"I'm sorry, Master. I'm not sure what to do. Here's the list of the foods the Young Master asks for. And here's a list of the foods he's not supposed to eat. Empty calories. Here's a list of the foods the healer says Xander is supposed to eat. And here's a list of the foods he doesn't like."

Spike took the lists from Timmins and read them quickly. He sighed and shook his head. "I see what you mean. Most of these lists are mutually exclusive . . . just figure out what on the good list is the least offensive for now. I'll see what I can do about convincing him to eat better. If nothing else works, I'll Compel him. Don't want to do that too much. Addle his brain, most like. Don't want a half wit on my hands, had enough of that with Dru."

Timmins gave a short nod. "Exactly so, Sire. Not that Miss Drusilla wasn't a perfectly good sire as such things go, but . . . er . . .

Spike shrugged. "Dru was mad as a hatter. Made me, but she wasn't a sire. Angelus was my Sire. Not that he was much of a sire, either. He didn't care about the Line or the Order, even when the old Master wound up stuck under Sunnyhell. Never mind, that's water under the bridge. Figure out what to feed my boy."

Timmins went back to flipping through the lists and Spike went into the lounge to have a smoke. He was worried about Xander and setting up court; he'd only been to other vampiric courts a few times. Darla had hated them with a passion and Angelus hadn't cared one way or the other. Also, he remembered Giles's remarks about a dimensional portal opening somewhere in the sewers. Where to, or from, depending on how you looked at it. He didn't know. He'd have to find out.

Spike smoked three cigarettes while he settled in his mind how he was going to run his court then he went to check on Xander and Timmins. What he found didn't make him happy at all.

Xander was huddled down in the covers and shaking his head. He was feverish again and feeling sweaty, cross and very uncooperative.

"Don't want it. Not gonna eat it. And I don't like tea. Go away. I want Willow, why hasn't Willow come? I called her myself." Catching sight of Spike, Xander appealed to him for . . . comfort? "Spike, where's Willow? She should have gotten my message by now. And make him take that away. I don't want it. I want chocolate. I want a milk shake. And . . . and . . . something yummy, like pizza. Not that stuff. It's . . . white . . . and lumpy. It looks like Snarfa demon snot. Not eatin' it."

As he had complained, Xander had withdrawn deeper into his covers, like a turtle into its shell.

Spike snarled, "Eat that. Snarfa demon snot has blue chunks in it." Then he took a good look at what was on the tray. It was cream of mushroom soup, perfectly innocuous in and of itself. But it wasn't that appetizing looking and Spike wasn't sure that Xander should have anything with milk in it if he had a fever. "Timmins, he's still got a hell of a fever. Should he have milk? I'd think it'd make him heave. And he can't have chocolate or a milk shake for the same reason. Bring him some beef broth. I'll see that he gets it down. Put it in a mug. Go."

Timmins escaped with a whole hide, for which his was grateful. He went back to the kitchen and made the broth.

Spike settled on the bed and hauled Xander out from under the covers enough that they were eye to eye. "Pet, I know you don't feel good so I'm takin' it easy on ya. But here's the ready. You watch your mouth. I'm settin' up a court and I can't afford the loss of status having a mouthy thrall will cause. The Order of Taraka doesn't take kindly to Masters of my stature messin' around. They've given me my marchin' papers and I'm not taking a chance of havin' them send someone here. Don't like the results of makin' the High Master pissed. Unpleasant at best, deadly at worst. And he doesn't just dust a bloke. Takes a while. And makes Angelus look like a choir boy. Enough of that. Pay attention."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Ok, ok. I'm listening. I feel like hell, but I'm listening."

"Ok. The Order wants the Hellmouth contained just as bad as the Watchers' Council does. Destroy the human race. That's rot. What'll we eat, if all the humans are gone? Plain stupid. But there you are; some people, demons included in that, don't have the brains god gave a goose. So I'm setting up a court to keep things under control. And you're my thrall, god help us both. So some things will be expected of you. I'll try to keep the demands to a minimum, but you'll cooperate when it's necessary, whether you like it or not. Hear me?"

Xander was eyeing Spike with dismay. "What demands? What have you gotten me into? And who? When? I'm not doing it." Xander got a stubborn look on his face, jaw set in mulish refusal.

"Don't have a choice. Remember what I said? I die, you die. I didn't want it this way, but we're stuck, so I intend to enjoy the fruits of Red's stupidity and the Watcher's laziness. You'll just have to suck it up and deal."

Xander looked like he was getting ready to argue, then he turned an amazing color, something near a Yarfa demon, only sweaty.

"I think I'm gonna hurl. Spike, get . . ." Spike scooped him up and demonstrated his demonic strength and speed. Xander had his head over the toilet before he could do more than heave once.

After vomiting once, Xander dry heaved for several seconds then settled back on his heels. "Sorry. Really. I don't understand this. My stomach is empty, so why am I sick? There's nothing there."

Spike examined the vomitus and snarled. "You're supposed to take those pills with some food. A slice of bread, at least. You know the healer said not on an empty stomach. You need the medicine . . . Xander, stop being stubborn. Eat what Timmins gives you. And you're not to stuff yourself with Twinkies, an' Ding Dongs, an' crap like that. You need veggies and greens. You're run down from too many years of bad diet."

Spike scooped Xander up in his arms and carried him back to bed.


Tara giggled as Willow poked her in the ribs with one finger.

"Here, sweetie, I'll start sorting out the dirty stuff from the filthy stuff. You see if we have any messages.

Tara obediently went to the answering machine and poked tentatively at the play message button. The machine beeped and stated the date and time to be ‘Sunday, January first, nineteen hundred.'

"Willow, the power went off. All our messages are gone."

Willow, involved in the laundry sorting, made light of it.

"Well, if it's really important, they'll call back. Don't worry about it."

Tara bit at her lip and wondered what important message they'd missed. She had a nasty feeling that something life changing was happening while they were playing.


Xander settled back in the bed and sighed. "I'm sorry. I forgot."

Spike waved a note pad under Xander's nose. "I wrote ya a bloody note, ya git. Read it."

"Can't. Your writing is awful. It's all spindly and crooked and stuff."

Spike snarled at Xander, slapped the note pad on the night stand and barked. "My writing is one of my better points. I was always told that it was exceptionally nice. Copperplate. I was a solicitor. Took the bar and everything. You're just too lazy to try. Get over it. Now, stop messing about. I've got to go to that bloody court and try to get a bunch of wild-eyed individualists to cooperate with me. I'm getting tired of guttin' stupid wankers."

Xander's eyes were drooping shut; he was exhausted from the whole throwing up thing and he wasn't hungry but he knew that Timmins was going to bring him something else to eat and he'd eat it. He didn't want Spike ordering him to eat. "Well, think up something else. Go away, I'm tired. Gonna sleep now."

Spike shook his head. Xander had worn himself out in less that twenty minutes. He still smelled of infection and he wasn't keeping the antibiotics down because he wouldn't eat. Spike snarled in exasperation and went to reign over his minions.


Giles dropped his suitcase by the door. He'd come in on the red eye from Chicago and he felt every bone in his body was dislocated.

He stabbed irritably at the answering machine as he poured himself a shot of scotch and dropped in an ice cube. Spike's voice nattered at him from the machine and then Xander came on. Something about being sick, but he knew the flu was going around and that Spike hadn't a clue about how to take care of a sick human. He vowed to call Willow, as soon as he had a few hours sleep. He still hadn't found any clear references to the portal that was supposed to open here and he was exhausted from his trip.

Giles poked at the stop button, never realizing that the machine was erasing the messages as they played.


Spike snarled his way through court. The demands of keeping his courtiers from rampaging all over Sunnydale frayed his nerves to rags. They wanted to take over the town and he had a hard time convincing them that wasn't such a good idea. He finally just snapped, "Fine. We'll take over the town, rage around tearing up everything. All the humans will run like rabbits, the army will come in and wipe us all out, and there you'll be. As well as finally rubbing the general populace's noses in the fact that we really do exist. What'll that do? When humans realize that we're real they'll panic and start a purge, a genocide that will wipe us all out. Nice.

"The persecution of innocent humans suspected of being demons would be interesting, but the rest of it?" Spike waggled his hand in front of his chest. "Not so much. Just obey me or I'll do you in. Idiots."

There was some grumbling from younger members of the court but older ones realized the truth of what he said and helped him convince the younger ones. It didn't hurt that he had four of the loudest gripers whipped to within an inch of their lives. His threats settled things down considerably.

After that he spent an hour settling arguments between minions, most of which were so petty he was ready to bite himself just to stay awake. He knew he needed lieutenants, but he hadn't found anyone he felt could be trusted yet.

After settling the last argument, which was over a radio, of all things, Spike headed back to check on Xander again. As he walked Spike fished in his pockets for a pack of cigarettes. He found the soppy watercolor he'd done of the garden in the Harris back yard. He thought for a few moments then called a big vampire over. He handed him the painting and told him what to do.

"You know anything about gardens at all?"

The vamp looked a little ashamed then nodded. "I actually worked at Kew before I was turned. Miss it sometimes. I'll see what I can do. It might take a while, as I've been out of it for . . . near eighty years. Lighting . . . tubs. . . some kind of watering system . . ." The big vamp walked off mumbling to himself. Spike wondered how he'd gotten lucky twice in such a short length of time. Then he hoped he hadn't jinxed himself.


Xander settled himself in the middle of the bed and waited to see what Timmins would bring him next.

This time it was a bowl of beef broth thickened with barley, and a cup of funny smelling tea. Xander sniffed it suspiciously but it smelled of King's Foil and hops, so he drank it. Then he ate the broth. By the time Spike got back he was trying to keep his eyes open and failing.

Spike put one hand on Xander's forehead and grunted. His fever was still too high. He was going to have to take sterner measures. He called the healer, who reassured him that if the temp was less than 102 degrees Xander was still on the road to recovery. He recommended alcohol rubs and a cold compress. Spike snarled and hung up. Frankly, he'd been hoping for a ‘magic pill' to get Xander back to health quickly.

He grumbled and growled around for a little then went to get alcohol and a compress. Xander wondered muzzily what had gotten ‘up his duster' but couldn't bring himself to pay attention for more that a few seconds. He wondered vaguely when he was going to feel better. He was having more trouble than usual concentrating on things. The fever was making him drift in and out as it rose and fell. He knew that a high fever would leave him weak and confused. Xander snarled a little himself, he hated being sick and vulnerable.

"Spike, I feel a little better. Why don't you go torture a minion or something? Timmins will take care of me."

Spike snorted. "Your fever is still high, you didn't eat enough of that broth to keep a kitten alive, and if you think I'm lettin' Timmins touch what's mine, your fever is higher than I thought. Now roll over so I can start on your back. This alcohol rub will help bring down your fever."

Xander tried to resist but it felt so good to get out of the sweaty t-shirt that he let Spike do what he wanted. Besides, he really didn't want to be Compelled, it creeped him out. He wished Willow would call.

The alcohol rub felt good and Spike was surprisingly gentle.


Spike finished the rubdown when he realized that Xander was sound asleep again. He supposed that was good. Sleep was healing, after all. He capped the bottle of alcohol and gathered up the towel and compress. He turned to find Timmins standing right beside him. Spike started then snarled. He was not fond of being startled.

"What the hell do you want?"

Timmins bowed and kept his head down humbly. "I'm sorry, Master. But I think I've finally figured out what Young Master Xander will eat. All we have to do is avoid anything ‘squishy' or a certain shade of green. He'll eat almost anything that doesn't look moldy, or feel like it might be rotten. Don't worry. I'll make it work. If all else fails, you can just order him to eat."

Spike nodded, but then said, "I'd rather not. I don't want a submissive pet. One of the things I've always respected about the whelp is his heart. He's stubborn as a mule but, once earned, his loyalty is unswerving. Want that for myself, I do. An' I'm gonna have it."

Timmins shuddered slightly. When a Master Vampire used that tone of voice his wishes were engraved in stone. He couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Xander as he went back to the kitchen to try to fix something that Xander would eat that wouldn't over stress his stomach.

He decided on a thick soup, fresh baked bread and more herbal tea. The soup would keep until Xander woke again.

Spike eyed the soup for a few seconds then asked Timmins when he was going to try to feed Xander again.

"Not until he wakes. I woke him to eat. I think that made him even more uncooperative than just being sick did. I'll wait this time and see if you have better luck than I."

Spike remembered that Timmins said he should take care of Xander himself and rumbled his annoyance. Timmins stood up to him, remarking, "You want his loyalty, you have to earn it."

Spike nodded. "I know that, ya git. I just seem to be running short of me. I'm going to appoint a lieutenant to take care of the minor arguments. I'm not having a bunch of newbies and fledges killin' each other over radios and other such shite. I'm keeping an old-fashioned court. No one does anything without my permission. Whippin's and what all should convince all but the diehards that I mean business. Them? I'll stake. What do you think?" Spike's tone of voice led Timmins to believe that the question was more rhetorical than anything else, but he answered anyway.

"I think that you'll keep them on the straight and narrow. If they get too far out of hand, a good flogging will convince them to fall back in line. I also think that you are right. There's too much going on in the Hellmouth for people not to notice, sooner or later. And it's much later than I like. We're heading for a fall rather quickly. The Order of Taraka has been trying to get this town under control for quite a while. Now that the Mayor is out of the picture things are descending into chaos and the Initiative isn't helping any. They've run a lot of the more responsible demon tribes right out of town. Their controlling influence is fading rapidly."

Spike made a face. He was expected to keep the Hellmouth from enticing demons into committing truly attention-gathering atrocities. Things he would have enjoyed doing just a few months ago, now he was supposed to keep demons from being demons? He sighed.

"I know and I don't have the status I need yet. I'm havin' trouble getting some of the younger vamps to listen to me. I'm Master here and I'm going to prove it. But it's a pain. Tell me when Xander wakes. I'm goin' into my office and get some work done."

Spike stalked off, grumbling about paperwork and pens. It seemed he hated ball point pens.


Xander woke for the third time that day and realized that he didn't feel quite so bad. He still had a fever, but it had broken again and now was mild enough to be annoying, instead of life threatening. His clothing was sweat soaked and sticking to him. The bed clothing was clammy as well.

He crawled out of bed and started to pull the damp, clinging t-shirt off, but nearly strangled himself when Spike barked at him. The sharp voice right behind him made him jump that hard.

"What the hell do ya think you're doing?"

Xander yelped then whirled half way around. He didn't make it quite all the way, as he got his feet tangled in the sheets, falling off the edge of the bed.

"Dammit, Spike. Scare the life out of me, why don't you? Make a damn noise, ok?"

Spike caught Xander by the arm before he could crack his head on the night stand and steadied him until he got his feet under himself.

"Better, pet?" Spike smirked at Xander. "Get back in that bed before you have a relapse."

Xander enumerated his grievances while he pulled his shirt off instead. "I'm sweaty. The sheets are wet. I stink. I'm hungry, but nothing tastes good. And I feel like I got run over by a cement truck. All weak and trembly. It's your fault."

"An' how do you figure that?" Spike snarled indignantly.

"Dunno. But it's got to be your fault."

Spike just disentangled the sheets, pulled the sticking shirt off Xander's shoulders and called Timmins.

Timmins showed up with the tray he'd been standing in the hall with. Spike nodded to the bed. "Change that while I get this down him. And find him some dry jammies." Xander couldn't help snickering at hearing Spike refer to ‘jammies.' Spike glanced at him in irritation. "What?"


"Well, what the hell else would you call them?"

Xander frowned for a second then, deciding that Spike was serious, shrugged the best he could with Spike pulling his bottoms down.

"Um. . . PJ's? Pajamas. Or . . . hey! No . . . no stripping of the Xanman. No . . . Spike. Stop."

Spike ripped the old boxers off Xander without a qualm. "Don't tell me no."

Xander's face flamed bright red. Spike gave him a quick once over. "You're too bloody thin, Xander. Eat." Xander started to say something but Spike cut him off. "I'll make you if you don't do it on your own. If you don't take proper care of yourself, I'm gonna smack your ass red. Put these on." Spike tossed the pyjama bottoms Timmins handed him against Xander's chest.

Xander got the bottoms on and started to say something, but Spike forestalled him by handing him the cup of tea with the command, "Drink." But Spike was careful not to use his master's voice; he wasn't going to compel Xander unless it was truly necessary.

Xander took the cup and sniffed. It was a rather innocuous blend of herbs so Xander drank some then snooped the tray to see what there was to eat. Timmins finished with the bed just as Spike was reaching for an already staggering Xander.

"What's the matter with me? I feel like shit still. And I'm weak. Really weak. . . ." Xander let Timmins take the mug from his hand then groped behind him for something to sit on. Spike scooped him up and deposited him back in the bed with a muttered, ‘stupid git'.

Timmins helped Xander get settled again then put the tray on his lap. Xander started to refuse the food but a snarl from Spike reminded him that he was supposed to eat and get better.

Why Spike was so worried about his health escaped Xander completely, but Spike seemed determined and Xander felt ill enough that it wasn't worth the battle. He ate what was on the tray then started to nod off again. He wondered if he was ever going to wake up and get back to living.

Spike, meanwhile, had called the healer again and found out that even though the IV had been removed Xander was still very sick. He had listened while Spike described his condition and then told Spike that Xander probably still had a fairly bad systemic infection. He told Spike that he wanted to see Xander again, so he would be there late that evening. Spike closed his phone and told Xander what the healer had said.

"Systemic infection? What's that? Is that why I feel so crappy? I want . . ."

Spike held up his hand and snarled, "Willow, I know. I know. I've called her and left a message. I called the Watcher and left several messages there. I even called Joyce's v-mail. No go. She and Dawn are going to be in Europe for the next month. Her service isn't even recording. Let it go. I'm gonna take good care of you. You're mine and I take care of what's mine. And so will you. I won't have you abusing yourself. Eat good foods. Take your medicine. And there won't be any trouble. But if I catch you sneaking food that isn't on your diet or spitting out your medicine. . . you won't like what happens. Understand?"

Spike gave Xander a fierce look to which Xander responded with a wide eyed hesitant nod. He wasn't sure what to think, or feel, or do. So he did what was best, he settled down to sleep some more. But his heart was breaking in pieces. He'd called and called, as had Spike. His friends didn't seem to care one bit what had happened to him.

He understood that they were on a different track from his now. They were all in college or, in the case of Giles, had different objectives, but he couldn't help but think that at least they could check up on him. Especially since he'd left messages for them that he was sick.


Spike couldn't believe his good luck and Xander's ill luck. He'd thought that he was going to have more of a battle to separate Xander from the Scoobies, but they were doing a fine job on their own. He was also furious. Xander was fiercely loyal, loving and so needy. That loyalty and need were being abused to their ultimate limit. Spike couldn't help but feel bad for Xander even while he reveled in their stupidity.

He waited while Timmins came into the kitchen with the tray. Timmins seemed pleased with what Xander had eaten so Spike let it go. He privately thought that Xander should have eaten at least twice what he had. He remembered Xander's appetite for pizza clearly. For pizza and hamburgers and fries and donuts and . . . Spike's stomach turned. The boy wouldn't know a balanced meal if it bit him. Spike realized that Xander had probably been feeding himself since he was eight or thereabouts. No wonder he had no idea of proper nutrition.

When the healer arrived he was carrying his divining tools in a small duffel. He'd brought several things he'd never brought before. Spike woke Xander and got him sitting up in the bed so the healer could examine him. This was the first time Xander was really aware of what was going on and he wasn't best pleased.

"Why don't you call a real doctor? I don't like magic. I don't want him poking at me. And I'm hungry again. I want . . ."

Spike snarled, "Shut up. You're going to let the healer go over you. If you want a ‘real' doctor you can just forget it. And don't speak to me like that. You'll show respect if I have to beat it into you." Spike blinked, startled, as Xander seemed to shrink into himself, then he remembered. "Dammit. Just let the damn healer look at you."

The healer wisely kept his mouth shut and just took something out of his bag and looked at Xander through it. He examined Xander from head to toe then grumbled. He stuffed his magical ‘whatcha-ma-call-it' back into his bag and drew out a wand. He made a few magical passes and mumbled something. The wand glowed a rather nasty shade of yellow for a moment.

"Well, his whole system is messed up. His diet hasn't done his immune system any good at all. He'll heal but it's going to be slower than I like. At least a week. I'd like to speak to you outside, if possible."

Spike pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it as they left the room. Xander started to protest but decided against it.


Josiah shrugged. "He's just run down. I've already said that. Keep him on the antibiotics. Make him rest, but he also needs some activity every day. Light exercise. And good food. No Twinkies, Ding Dongs, that sort of thing. Empty calories aren't going to do him any good. Plenty of veggies, fruit. I gave Timmins the lists. And if you want to keep your pet, remember that humans can't take the kind of abuse a vampire or demon can."

Spike snorted. "You'll never believe the kind of abuse he's already survived." Spike's eyes sparkled golden. "I got it under control. I hope. You never know with the whelp." Spike ushered the healer to the door, shook hands and thanked him for coming.

Spike returned to Xander's room to be met with a pair of worried brown eyes.

"Would you really?"

"Really what, pet?

"Beat me."

Spike settled on the foot of Xander's bed and shuffled through his options. Honesty seemed best. He knew Xander would know if he was lying or even leaving something out.

"Yeah. I will, if you force it." Spike rubbed his chin wearily. "I'm tryin' to set up a court. It's a mess around here and we're real close to breaking into the public eye. That's not good for anyone. Part of my mission . . . sound like a regular James Bond, I do . . . is to keep that from happening by keeping Sunnydale under control. But between being chipped, which every single idiot out there seems to know, and having a reputation for being as mad as Dru in my own way, I'm havin' problems. And you acting the fool won't help. Don't push things and we'll get along. But . . ." Spike eyed Xander in a speculative manner. "Look. I'll lay it all on the line. Havin' a human pet will add to my status quite a bit. I really need the boost an' I'm gonna take it. We talked about this a little before, but I'm not sure how much you remember."

Xander sighed. "I remember most of it. But I don't understand."

Spike shook his head. "Don't worry about it now. I'll tell you what you need to know when you need to know it. Until then, just relax. When you're well enough, you can go back to work. And, yeah, I don't intend to make you quit. I'll help you get a truck and stuff. Just enjoy life for a while."

Xander grumbled a little but gave up. No sense worrying until he had to. He just wished he could understand what Spike was up to. Something bad, he was sure, but he couldn't work up the energy to do anything about it. That was Buffy's job, as she was always telling him.


When Xander woke again Timmins presented him with his pills and a glass of water. Xander took them without protest. He had a lot to think about and found that he didn't want to go back to sleep just yet. He lay in the bed and thought instead.

All he could think was, he didn't understand why his friends didn't come to help him and Spike did, with every evidence that he intended to be here for the long haul. He wished for some of his things but figured most of his stuff was gone for good, between leaving it at home and in storage.

He worried at things until it was all he could do not to scream. He wished for something to do to take his mind off everything. He didn't feel like sleeping, finally.

Timmins came in with some more soup and a piece of bread. Xander eyed the tray with a jaundiced eye.

"Kinda thin pickings. I'm starting to get really hungry finally. I want something a little more substantial."

Timmins nodded, almost a bow. "Yes, Young Master. The next time I bring you something, I'll try to make it a little more filling. Why don't you just eat this for now? See how it sets in your stomach. It wouldn't do to have you getting sick again." Timmins put the tray on Xander's lap and noticed the sheets were rumpled. "Are you restless?" Xander nodded, his mouth full of bread. "I'll see if I can't get Master Spike to allow you to have a telly."

Xander swallowed quickly and Timmins realized his mistake one sentence too late. "Spike's not the boss of me. I don't care about some stupid spell. Willow will nullify it once she realizes what she's done. I want a tv. I'm bored. And more soup. This is good. But it could use some potatoes and some carrots. I like carrots. If they're fresh."

Timmins just sighed; he was going to have to watch himself carefully. Any hint that Xander had to get Master Spike's permission seemed to set the young master off.

Spike told Timmins when he asked that Xander could have anything he wanted in the way of entertainment as long as he stayed in the bed. Except for a walk up and down the hall twice a day, which he would see to himself.

For the rest of that day Spike switched between getting Xander to eat what he should and working on business in his office. He'd always known that a proper minion was humble, obedient and willing. He was now finding out that they had to be smart as well or he was doomed. He'd had to go back to the stables several times to find a proper secretary and some other office help. Timmins had been of great assistance in finding him proper staff. He still couldn't reconcile being ‘the Big Bad' with having office staff. But he needed them and as a master vampire he got what he wanted.


"Spike, I don't want to walk. I want to watch tv. And I want . . ."

Spike snarled. "Don't care what you want, do I? Get walking and you can go back to bed and watch telly to your heart's content. Argue with me one more time and you'll do without. Now walk."

Xander snarled. "You're not the boss of me. I'll do what I want." Xander got a good look at Spike's face and wisely decided he wanted to walk. "I'll make one more round then I'm going back to bed."

Spike decided to settle for what he could get. He wasn't going to wear Xander down by fighting with him at every turn. So they made one more trip to the end of the hall and back. Xander seemed to be getting stronger by the hour, which pleased Spike a great deal more than he thought it would.

Spike tucked Xander back in his bed and started to leave the room. Xander called him back then nestled in his pillows, picking at the cover.

"Well, what is it? Come on. If it's not unreasonable, I'll see you have it. Now spit it out. Got things to kill an' whatnot."

Xander mumbled "My stuff. In storage. I . . . never mind. I . . ."

Spike just pulled a piece of paper and a pen out of a pocket in the ever present duster and demanded the address of the storage facility. Xander told him and explained that the owner hated his dad and was storing it for spite. "But if you could offer him something, I'll pay you back. I don't take charity."

Spike nodded and left the room, headed for a good fight and a trip to the storage.


Spikes looked at the dinky sign and snorted. Sammy's Storage didn't look like much, but it was housed in an old warehouse. It was a lot larger than it looked as the building was sideways to the street.

The owner was seated behind the counter and when Spike asked for Xander's stuff, he gave him a look that made Spike stiffen. "Not stealin' it. Boy's sick. Needs his things around him. I'm takin' care of him til he's better. Now cough up. Ok?"

Sammy eyed him for a moment more, then surprised Spike. "Ok, Master Spike. But if this comes back to bite me in the ass I'm sending him to you. Come this way."

Spike tapped a cigarette out of the package and stuck it between his lips. He didn't light it, just let it dangle.

When he saw Xander's few belongings, he ground his teeth. Between what he already had and this little bit of stuff, Xander didn't own enough property to fill a quarter ton truck. Spike had more stuff when he lived in his crypt.

Sammy helped Spike take the few possessions out to his car so he'd only have to make one trip. Spike handed Sammy two hundred dollars which he tried to refuse.

"Take it. When Tony asks, tell him that Xander's mate paid the storage and gave you a tip. Don't tell Xander about it, though. You're a good friend to my boy. Thanks."

Sammy took the money with a mumbled ‘thanks' and wondered how the hell Xander Harris had managed to fall into a honey pot like having a Master Vampire take an interest in him.


Xander was walking carefully up the hall when Spike came back with his things. He followed Spike into his rooms and settled into a chair. Spike dumped his stuff on the floor, being careful not to break anything.

Xander just eyed the things for a second, then realized what the small pile of boxes was. "Hey. That's my stuff. The stuff that I had at Sammy's. He gave it to you? I didn't think he would."

Spike swaggered a little. "Master Vampire here. He gimme it. All I had to do was ask. Gave him a little dosh for courtesy's sake. I'll send Timmins in to help you put it all away. Ok? I got stuff to do."

Spike made his escape before either one of them could embarrass the other.

As Spike left, Timmins came in, so Xander contained himself and let Timmins do all the work. He knew that he didn't feel like doing it himself and he knew that if he tried, Timmins would tell Spike. He wasn't sure what Spike would do, but he was sure he didn't want to find out.

As Timmins picked up the box containing Xander's coin collection the box burst, scattering coins over the floor.

When Timmins saw the coins, he blinked. Some of them were gold or silver and all of them were either very collectable or extremely old. He decided that he needed to explain to Xander what he had.

"Excuse me, Young Master. I hope you won't take this amiss but . . . some of those coins are very old, gold and very collectable. Some of the others are also very valuable for one reason or another. You should have Master Spike lock them away until you can decide what you want done with them."

Xander looked up from where he was kneeling, gathering up the coins. "Well, they're mine. He can't have them. Help me pick them up and find me a different box to put them in. Ok?"

Timmins nodded and left the room. He found a box for Xander but he told Spike about the coins.

"Well, let him keep them for now. They're safe here. As safe as if they were in a bank. When he's better, I'll see about selling them and investing the money for him. He needs the investment worse than he needs a collection of anything. I just hope he isn't attached to them . . . dammit. He probably is. Oh, shite. I'll just have to feel him out."

Timmins bowed and headed back to Xander's quarters to give him the box.

Xander accepted the box and piled the coins in it then he simply shoved it under the bed. Timmins sighed. Such trust couldn't be abused.

Xander watched as Timmins unpacked all the boxes and found the trunk. He unpacked that too, inside the closet. He took every thing out of it and put the things on shelves, or hung them up. He admired the linen sheets and vowed to put them on Xander's bed as soon as he was well enough that he wouldn't have to take them right off again.

He also pulled the guitar case from the depths of the closet and started to put it where Xander could get to it more easily. Xander held out his hands and demanded the case, so Timmins handed it to him instead.

Xander took the case and put it on the floor. He started to bend down and open the case but Timmins beat him to it. Timmins opened the case and took the guitar out. He wiped it with the polishing cloth then handed it to Xander.

Xander took it and settled it on his lap. He strummed it carefully and found that Benjy had kept it in tune. He grumbled a little at the thought of Benjy handling Jesse's guitar. He picked out a cord then strummed a bit.

"Oi, whelp. I didn't know you played guitar. Probably some of that whining, dyin', drunk an' deevorced blues crap you like. So . . . play me something."

Xander made a face, then allowed, "No. Jesse was teaching me. He played classical guitar. He gave me this in his will. But the good classical one went to his uncle. I think I can remember some of Malaguania."

Xander played the first passage part way through, with some skill but a bunch of mistakes. Spike made a face, but Xander stood up for himself, telling Spike that he hadn't touched the guitar since his dad had hocked it almost eighteen months ago. After hearing that, Spike allowed that Xander wasn't bad.

"I wish I had the money to take lessons. I . . . Jesse said I was really good." Xander put the guitar back into its case and closed it. "After I get on my feet maybe I can get lessons." He stroked the case gently. "I'd really like that."

Spike shrugged. Xander noticed absently that he'd left off his duster and was dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt; his feet were bare. It looked odd.

"If you're really good, I might see what I can do about lessons. A reward for not being a pain in my arse."

Xander started to snark at Spike, then realized that it was a genuine offer. He accepted the olive branch with some skepticism.

"What do I have to be good at? Or . . . whatever. I'd like lessons. If you give them to me, I promise to practice like I'm supposed to. Unless I have to work overtime. I'm going back to work as soon as I can. I have to pay you back the loan for my tools and if you cosign for a loan for a truck I have to make payments for that and there's insurance." Xander sighed. "I think I have a headache now."

Spike smirked at Xander's bent head.

"Don't let it worry you yet, pet. I'm willin' to wait on the tool loan until you get a couple of checks under your belt. And I'll take you shopping for a truck as soon as you feel up to it. I'm going to call your boss in a while an' give him an update on you. Next time I call, you should speak to him too."

Xander nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I'll do that. . . " Xander crawled back into his bed and sighed. "I wish I could get better quicker. I feel rotten still. I don't feel like sleeping anymore, but I get tired so fast. And I'm restless. There's nothing on tv that I want to watch during the day. And after dark I fall asleep. And I can't pay attention to video games either, for the same reasons. Fuck."

Spike bit at his lip for a second, then made a decision.

"I know a way that you can get better in a third the time."

Xander's head popped up and he gave Spike a fierce glare. "What? Trust you to keep secrets like that. What is it?"

Spike glared right back. "My blood. Vampire blood, especially the blood of a master, is healing."

Xander blinked then shuddered. "Well, that answers the other question. I don't see Giles letting Buffy snack around on you. No matter what."

Spike snorted. "No, he'd let her die before he'd let her take a chance like that. Only there's no risk of any sort."

Xander eyed Spike carefully for a moment. "What do I do? It's gross to the max, but I want to be well. I need to get back to work . . . um . . . and does this count towards being ‘good'?"

Spike snickered. "Yeah, pet, it does. Here." Spike bit into the vein in the joint of his thumb just under the ball. "Just a few drops is all it'll take. If the infection is deep seated, it might take more than one dose." Spike thrust his thumb at Xander as he spoke and nearly moaned as Xander took the wounded digit in his mouth and sucked. Spike mumbled, "Crikey!" and waited until Xander let go. "You should feel better soon."

Spike didn't look at Xander when he left the room. He leaned against the nearest wall and groaned. It had been incredibly erotic to feel Xander's warm mouth sucking on his cool flesh.


Xander watched Spike leave the room then stopped biting the inside of his cheek. It had been weird and really hot. The taste of Spike's blood on his tongue should have revolted him, instead he was hard. He addressed ‘Little Xander' "You stupid head. You'll get into trouble and drag me in with you. That's Spike you're all hard for."

Xander settled deeper into his chair and reached for the other item he prized--Willow's old Apple laptop.

When Willow had gotten a new laptop, she'd given the old one to Xander, telling him that it would help him with his homework. It hadn't, but he'd kept it by hiding it from his father. He'd almost forgotten that it was over one of the floor joists. Now he opened the thing and tried the power button.

It actually worked. It booted and the screen lit up. The first thing he saw was a warning that the battery was at 14%, so he rummaged around to see if he still had the cord. When he found it, he plugged it into the nearby outlet and settled to enjoy some fun. There were several games on the computer, mostly solitary, but there were also chess and checkers. He'd rather have video games but he wasn't up to keeping up with one just yet.

After playing cards for a while Xander got tired, but before he shut down he decided to just explore. If there were a lot of files he wouldn't use he could have Willow delete them to give him some more disk space. He wasn't too sure why but he knew that that was a good thing.

He poked around, figuratively speaking, for a little while. Then he stumbled across something he knew was good. It was a tutorial on how to use the computer. He decided to do the first lesson and keep at the rest until he knew what he was doing. Computer skills were a good thing, even in construction.

The lesson was easier than he thought it would be as the computer actually spoke to him and told him exactly what to do. Matching shapes and colors was one of his better skills and the letters didn't crawl around like they did on paper.

Before he finished the lesson, he noticed a file below the file he was using as a working file.

"Computer chips: Military issue. #MI3378561"

Part Six

Xander sighed, Spike hadn't been joking when he'd said his blood would help him feel better. He did feel much better. He still felt crappy, but he didn't feel like he was going to fall apart any moment. And he could stay awake for more than fifteen minutes at a time now.

He was settled into the bed, though he wasn't sleepy right now. Timmins had brought him his tv and he was watching old movies. Old sci-fi movies. Spike checked on him once then went to work in his office. Xander wondered what the hell a vampire did in an office.

Xander spent time working on his computer. He worked his way through all the lessons that evening and the next day. It wasn't that hard as the computer talked him through all the procedures and he could even get it to read back what he had written. Proofing was a bitch, though.

He spent some of his time exploring the computer files. He nearly fell off the bed when he realized that all the books they'd scanned into the ‘net were also in this computer. He realized that some of them had to be stored as images instead of documents. This was going to be nice. He liked to read cuneiform and kanji and Hiragana really made sense. And Katakana. Hieroglyphics were also easy.

Spike dropped in on Xander and waited impatiently while Xander shut down his computer.

"That's an old piece of crap. Why don't you get a new one?"

Xander shrugged. "Because Willow gave it to me and I like it. It reads to me. I've finally figured out how to use it and I don't want to push my luck. Besides, what do you care?"

Spike shrugged back and yawned. "Don't really, just wondered. How you feelin'?"

"Good, actually. Not great, but lots better. Timmins keeps shoving those pills down me, and food. Good food. He made me my very own apple pie. With lots of cinnamon. I still get tired real quick, but I'm restless. Got up twice and Timmins practically carried me back to bed." Spike snorted at the mental image of Timmins carrying the much larger Xander. "Well, not funny, so not funny. How am I supposed to get my strength back if I don't get any exercise? I need to walk around a little and...stuff."

Spike pinned Xander with a stern glower and said flatly, "You stay in that bed for the next two days. Then, if you're good, I'll let you go to the Scooby meeting. After we go truck shopping, that is."

Xander stared at Spike for a moment then blurted. "You mean it? I mean, really? You're not just leading me on?"

Spike shook his head. "I really mean it. If you'll trouble to remember, I don't give my word easily or freely and I always keep it. PTB allowing."

Xander thought for a moment then allowed that he couldn't remember a time that Spike had given his word then broken it.

"Ok, point taken. I always wondered. You've said ‘I will' and then not, but I don't remember a time when you said ‘I swear' or ‘I give my word' and then not."

Spike gave Xander an exasperated look, muttered ‘dozy git' and got up. He turned to go but looked back and ordered, "Stay in that bed, or at least down. I don't want you doing much of anything until after the healer takes one last look at you. I won't have you overtaxing your system. Hear?"

Xander gave Spike his look back and nodded. "Think I like being sick? I'll do what I have to do."

Spike nodded curtly and left again. He'd heard some gossip about the incursion Giles was worried about. He was going to ask around about that and see if he couldn't pick up a few more minions. Some of the available fledges needed a good staking; others were really worth the trouble of finding and recruiting them. Spike was up for the play, either way.


Xander was good all that night, even when Spike came in still stinking of demon ooze to give him another dose of Master's Blood. Xander couldn't help capitalizing it in his mind.

He watched as Spike bit into the vein in his thumb again and obediently opened his mouth when Spike presented him with the dripping digit. He sucked the blood off quickly, not wanting to have the same reaction as the last time. He didn't notice that Spike had to adjust something surreptitiously before he could stand.

Spike closed the door and leaned against the wall for a moment, fighting to quell the idiot in his pants. ‘Don't go all gooey on me now, you git. If I jump the boy, I'll lose what I want the most. Be patient.' The hole he punched in the wall gave the lie to his patience.

He didn't notice Xander adjusting himself.


Xander knew he was supposed to stay in bed, but his restlessness got the better of him. He remembered part of the Tai Chi that Jessie had been teaching him. And he'd watched Giles in his aborted efforts to teach Tai Chi to Buffy so he knew most of the form and, between that and what Jessie had taught him, he thought it would do him good. So he got up and started going through as much of the Short form as he could remember.

"Excuse me, sir. You've skipped part."

Xander nearly jumped out of his skin. "Wha'? Who? How?" Xander forced himself to calm down. The vampire wasn't going to do anything to him. Spike had been rather clear on what he would do to anyone who bothered him. Timmins had made sure that Xander knew about Spike's commands in his respect, but Xander still couldn't help jumping.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you. Mister Timmins sent me to see if you wanted anything. He's busy in the lower levels. I was a martial arts instructor before I was turned." The vampire shuffled his feet for a moment, then looked at Xander assessingly. "I could teach you, if you like. I sort of miss it... Oh, and I don't kill. Just so you know."

Xander thought about it for a second. "Sure. I'd like that. I've been sick and I still feel like hell. I'm going to have to go back to work and I don't want to be weak when I do. I thought Tai Chi would be a good way to get back my strength without over taxing myself. Spike'll have fits if I have a relapse. Why he cares I don't know, but...so, teaching me Tai Chi? All good, so what do I do?"

The oriental vampire looked around. "First, we need a little more room. I'll move the furniture to the walls, that'll give us enough room. There's a nice gym on the next level down. After you feel better, I could begin instruction in other disciplines, if you'd like."

Xander jumped at the offer. "I like. I'm liking it a lot. Thanks." Xander didn't bother wondering why the vampire would offer to teach him. He figured he'd find out whose ass he was kissing sooner or later. For now, he'd just enjoy the opportunity to learn Tai Chi and anything else the guy was willing to teach him.

When the vampire told Xander his name was Bruce, Xander made a rude noise. "Oh. Please. I suppose your last name is Li."

"No, actually it's Chen. One of my masters had a thing for Bruce Lee. Hence, Bruce. When I started training his people, I got no end of teasing. Until I proved I was good enough to make the teasing stop."

Xander sighed. "Ok. Sorry. Open mouth insert foot. My motto. Just forget I said anything."

Bruce just smiled. "I got over it. Now. First form. Ward off left."

Xander and Bruce spent the next hour working on Xander's forms. Xander proved to be a good student. He remembered what he was told quickly, only having to have a stance demonstrated once or twice. But when told to go left he'd stumble around the first time.

"Are you left handed?"

Xander shook his head. "No, I'm ambidextrous. Sort of. I...get confused... Dad says I'm too stupid to know left from right."

"That's not true. If you're ambidextrous, you've never settled on a dominant side. So you're always trying to decide which hand to use. Just decide on one, then we'll train for it. I'd suggest right as most people are right-handed, but if you decide on left that gives you an advantage as no one will expect it."

Xander gave his instructor a deer in the headlights sort of look then sighed. "It's that simple? So easy. Just make up my mind and that's it?"

"Yes. That's it. Right or left?"

Xander decided on right and Bruce tied a cord around his wrist. "There. Now all you have to remember is to lead with the hand with the cord. It'll take about two weeks to get used to it but I think you'll find that you're a lot less awkward once you get trained to lead with one hand consistently."

Xander nodded. "I see. Well, can we work on that last form some more?"

Bruce studied Xander then started putting the furniture back. "No, you're starting to sweat too much. Better stop now even though you don't want to. Go take a bath and make sure to eat... Never mind. I'll get you a tray. Eat and drink everything on it. You'll feel better if you make sure you're hydrated. Go...bath...now."

Xander grumbled but went; he had to admit that once he stopped thinking about what he was doing he felt tired, and sweaty. As he lounged in the tub he realized that, now that he was out from under his Father's abusive influence, he was much more relaxed. It felt good. He still wondered exactly what Spike was up to, but he wasn't going to worry until there was reason.

Bruce tapped on the door and came in with a tray of food. Xander started to get out of the tub but Bruce just sat the tray on the wide side of the tub and told Xander to eat it all. Xander settled back with a plate of cob salad and started inhaling it.

"Hey, slow down. Taste it. No one is going to take it away from you."

Xander slowed down and, after chewing and swallowing his last bite carefully, he remarked. "It's nice to know that I can eat in peace. This is really good. And what is that stuff?"

Xander pointed to a dish with his chin.

"Flan. Kind of custard with caramelized sugar sauce. You'll like it. I better get going. If Master Spike thinks I'm shirking my duties, he'll have me flayed."

Xander mumbled around a mouthful of salad, "Just send him to me. I'll tell him you were working for me." At Bruce's skeptical look, Xander swallowed and shrugged, "What? You are."

Bruce just shrugged and left. Xander went back to eating his salad. He also ate the flan, and drank the juice and tea. After putting the tray on the floor, he heaved himself out of the tub and wrapped a towel around his hips. He took the tray and set it in the hall for someone, or thing, to take away.

After toweling off and donning a set of sweats, he stood in front of the mirror and examined his hair. It was even shaggier than usual so he decided he was going to have to cut it. Willow usually did the ‘chop job', as he referred to it, but he was going to have to do it or it would be in his eyes.

He nearly cut his thumb when a voice behind him barked. "And just exactly what the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"

"Christ, Spike, make a noise, will ya? Nearly gave me a heart attack. And since you ask so nicely, I'm cutting my hair. It's in my eyes."

Spike took the scissors from Xander's hand and prodded him onto the toilet. He ran his fingers through Xander's hair, surprised to find that it was silky and slightly curly. He'd expected it to be wiry, or coarse.

"Gettin' kinda long there, innit? I'll cut the bangs but the back is messed up. I'd like it to be longer before I hack around on it." Spike put one hand on Xander's shoulder before he could jump up. "I'm not gonna give ya a hack job. I'm fair with clippers. Did Dru's hair for near a century, didn't I? Sit."

Xander sat back down and let Spike snip at his hair for several minutes. When he got up to look at the job, he was pleased to see that not only hadn't Spike hacked him up, he looked good.

"Good job. Thanks. Um...we going to the Scoobie meeting?"

Spike had to smile at Xander's hopeful look. He knew Xander was hurting from his friends' indifference. He was, he realized with a start, sorry that those hopes were soon to be crushed. With a little help.

"No, pet. We're going truck shopping. I called the healer and he said that you could go back to work...on Monday. So, you need a truck. If we find one in time, we'll drive it ‘round for them to see. How's that sound?"

Xander looked so gobsmacked that Spike had to laugh. "Looks like you're speechless. Looks good on you. Come on, pet, change your clothes and wear those new boots."

"The one's with the engraved toe caps and heels? I like those. But you shouldn't have spent so much money on them. What if I ruin them?"

Spike snorted in derision. "Got dosh runnin' out my ears. Buy stuff if I wanna. If you ruin them, I'll buy you new ones. Get movin'."

Xander hurried to change his clothing, turning around to find Timmins standing right behind him with clothing already picked out. He forced himself not to jump.

Timmins presented the clothing to Spike for approval. He'd selected a pair of dark green jeans, a Black Watch plaid flannel shirt and the boots. The boots were something special: western style with a high flame stitched shaft, western heel, stirrup toe and fern engraved steel toe and heel caps. They were very nice, very expensive and Xander loved them. He allowed Timmins to help him with his cuffs because the valet seemed to need to.

"Well?" Xander held his arms away from his body and turned around for Spike to see.

"Bloody hell! Whelp, you clean up good. Come on. We need to get going if you want to make that blasted meeting."

Xander followed Spike out the door and into the underground garage attached to the residence. He eyed the Mercedes with delight, but before he could even ask Spike snarled, "Forget it, whelp. Not a chance in hell."

Xander snickered "How did you know what I was going to ask?"

"Look on your face. Drive your own wheels. Get in."

Xander settled into the passenger seat and leaned back to enjoy the ride. He really wanted to drive, but he could understand Spike's possessiveness; this car was more than just four wheels that go around. Some day he wanted a car like this.


Xander eyed the trucks on the used lot and shook his head. "Not a chance, no way. None of those are worth kicking the tires. Come on."

Spike silently agreed with Xander, so far all they'd seen was junk. Whoopties, not worth much and probably money pits. This was the second lot they'd stopped at and Spike was beginning to get impatient.

"Spike, we may not find anything tonight. I know exactly what I need and what I can afford in payments. It might take a while to find something."

Spike nodded. "Yeah, pet, I know. But...I know a guy. He's legit, nothing fishy or hot. But he's a demon."

"Don't care if he's Santa Claus. Does he have anything better than the junk we've been looking at?"

Spike fished a smoke out of his duster and lit up. "Yeah, he does. Good stuff, mostly repos, but they're in good shape so we'll probably have better luck. He'll give you a break on the interest, too."

Xander started to refuse the favor, then decided he wouldn't. His pride had gotten him into enough messes that he decided he was going to be a little more careful, not be quite so prickly.

"Ok, thanks. Let's go. That salesman is eyeing me just a little too closely. Kinda like a starving dog eyes a pork chop."

Spike snickered at that image and led the way to the car.


The demon was a small gray human looking person with a bulbous nose and no chin to speak of. He cringed when he saw Spike and started wringing his hands.

Spike demanded to see the ‘good' trucks and swaggered after the cringing being, dragging Xander by the wrist. Xander started to object then he saw the other inhabitants of the lot. He decided to keep his mouth shut; none of them looked particularly friendly.

Xander saw the truck of his dreams. It was clean, good finish; a half ton Chevy with nearly new tool chests on each side. Long bed, extended cab and totally out of his budget. He turned his attention to something nearer what he could afford. Spike didn't miss his longing look.

"Here, pet. This is nice. Clean, good condition. "Spike peered in the window. "Real low mileage. Take a look."

Xander resolutely headed for a serviceable quarter ton Toyota. It didn't have tool chests but he could get a drop in fairly cheap at Auto Zone. The paint was good and it didn't have any rust. He got a look at the odometer and sighed, high mileage. It would do. But he would have to put some of his bigger tools in the bed out in the open.

"Pet, you didn't even look."

Xander looked once. "I can't afford payments on that. I know I have a bonus coming but I want to put that in a 401. I could get hurt and not be able to work for quite a while. I'd rather have some back money. This one will do fine."

Spike blinked at Xander and spent a second readjusting his image of him, again. The boy was going to pass up a truck he really wanted and needed in order to put his bonus in a 401? The kid had more brains than guys twice his age.

"Well, let me see what I can do. If you take the loan for 24 months, might be I can manage for you. You keep looking at that other truck."

Xander nodded, keeping a bleak look on his face. "Ok. I can afford about three hundred, but I don't want to pay over too long. The interest will eat me up."

Spike didn't bother to reply, he just turned to the being waiting in the background. "If you let on for a second that anything is going on, I'll make your grandchildren regret it. You understand me?"

"Yes, Master Spike, I understand. How may I please you?"

"By dropping dead. But for now? That truck." Spike indicated the truck Xander wanted. "Twenty-four months. Three hundred a month. Doable or not?"

The being thought for a moment. "Yes, I can do that. I'm not making much profit. But for you, I'll do it. Bring the pet around and we'll sign papers."

Spike hissed softly. "If you so much as look like you're going to call him my pet, I'll tear your tongue out and feed it to you. He's my thrall and don't you forget it."

"Yes, Master. Certainly, Master. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please, Master." The being stammered to silence as Spike glowered at him so fiercely he feared for his sanity.

"I'll cosign for him, but the truck is in his name and he's making the payments. Understand?"

"Yes, Master. If Master will come this way...and bring the...er..."

"Young Master. You git."

They ended up in the office with a human man who offered Spike and Xander his hand, telling them they could call him Jake.

Spike didn't mess around. He questioned the man closely about interest rates and payment schedules. Xander interjected a few questions of his own: he needed to know if he could suspend payment if he was out of work and how to pay for insurance. He found out that payments had to be made whether he was working or not and that he had to get his own insurance. He settled into his chair, pulling at his lower lip.

Papers were drawn up and signed, cosigned, stamped and notarized. Xander accepted his copies and the keys. Spike was slightly disappointed in Xander's lack of reaction.

Xander opened the door of his new, to him, truck and settled in the driver's seat. Then he started to grin, a big goofy Xander grin.

"It's really mine. All mine. No one can take it away. Wow." Xander ran his hands over the dash board reverently. "Mine, mine, all mine. It's great. Thanks. Spike? I really mean that. No one has ever done anything like this for me before. My own real truck. With tool boxes and everything."

Xander just sat back and reveled in the wonder of his very own truck. "God, Spike, this is so cool I can't begin to explain. Just, wow."

Spike let Xander enjoy his truck for a few moments, then told him he'd meet him at ‘the Bloody Watcher's' shop. Xander grimaced at that but agreed. He drove off the lot without wondering how Spike had managed to get all the paper work done in one place.


Spike met Xander just outside the door of the Magic Box. Xander stopped him with a quick touch on the arm.

"Thanks. I really appreciate you cosigning for me. And I don't want to know how you got the deal you did."

Spike smirked at Xander. "Master Vampire. The owner wanted to kiss ass. I didn't cheat him that much. He still made some profit."

Xander grinned. "All used car dealers are crooked as a dog's hind leg. And I'll be willing to bet more are demons than we realize."

Spike grunted, the glint in his eye more amused that anything else. "See, knew you're smarter than you let on. Come on, we better get in there."

Xander ran his hand through the hair on the back of his neck. "Yeah, but... I don't understand. I really need to...why?"

Spike waited for Xander to get a grip on his thoughts and when he realized that it wasn't going to happen he answered the questions he thought Xander should ask.

"Angel gave you to me. Sire's gift. And then Red thralled you to me. I take care of what's mine. And you're mine, whether you like it or not. So I'll take care of you. I may hurt you from time to time. Hey, vampire here. I'll punish you if I have to. And you'll submit when I order you to. But I won't do you any harm. I'll protect you from yourself and anyone else who would do you harm. I'll make sure you can take care of yourself if something happens to me. Not that I'm plannin' on gettin' dusted anytime soon but you never know. You understand me?"

Xander gave Spike a skeptical look. "And you're doing all this because...?" Xander waved a hand in bafflement

"Ulterior motives. I keep tellin' ya, pet, I have ulterior motives." Spike pinned Xander with a stern, fierce look. "You're mine and don't you forget it. I take care of what's mine, even when they don't want it."

Xander shuddered. Spike could be very scary, even chipped. "Yeah, but you just remember I'm not Drusilla. I don't need a baby sitter."

Spike eyed Xander for a moment then nodded. "Remember you said that, pet... We better get in there before they come looking for us. Move it."

Xander opened the door and unconsciously stepped back to let Spike enter first. Spike strutted into the Magic Box and headed straight for his usual place on the stairs. He didn't do research; he just sat around and offered snark and answered direct questions.

Xander accepted the book that Giles handed him and sighed. "What are we looking for?"

Giles took off his glasses and polished them absently. "Any reference to this month and an incursion. There's one coming. All my research says so, but I can't find any clear reference to what or where exactly. So you check that book and I'll have Willow try Bartholomie's Cronikels as soon as she gets here."

Xander tried to read the book and finally drew out a line minder he'd made out of a three by five index card. It helped a little, at least he wasn't skipping parts of lines. He struggled with the recalcitrant print for an hour.

Giles checked on each researcher in turn and when he saw Xander using his card he gently pulled it out of his hand and told him to put it away. Xander gave him a dirty look.

"Why? It helps me keep my line. It's not like it's a dirty picture or something."

Giles shook his head. "You're much too old to need such a thing anymore. You just need to keep your mind on what you're reading. Please continue."

Xander stuck his nose back in his book with some grumbling. Spike didn't notice, he was too busy being casual.

Buffy finally tossed her hair out of her face and sighed. "I'm not finding anything. Xander, get us some donuts, will you?"

Xander looked at her for a second. "I don't think I can make it to the shop and back. I'm not feeling that much better."

Buffy blinked at him for a second then snipped, "Well, gee, get over yourself. You can't still have the flu. That only lasts about four days. It's been more than...what...a week?"

Xander turned slightly pink at the cheekbones and the tips of his ears. "It's been eight days. I was really sick. I got an infection in my leg and it turned septic. I nearly died. Spike called a healer to see to me when you all wouldn't answer him. Thanks, by the way."

Xander twitched away from Giles's reaching hand. "Sorry. What?"

Giles examined Xander for a moment then turned back to his book. "You don't look sick anymore. If you don't want to get donuts, just say so." Giles gave Xander a kindly look, hoping to take the sting out of his next words. "You shouldn't dramatize yourself so much. It isn't attractive."

By now Spike was well aware of what was going on and he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it did, with a decisive thump.

"Well, dramatic much. We got research to do and you're so selfish you won't even go for donuts. It's not like Spike will and, if you were so sick, who took care of you? Really." Buffy expressed her displeasure further by scooting down in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.

Xander opened his mouth to say something, closed it, then snarled through clenched teeth. "Spike took care of me. He called a healer, spent hours trying to break my fever and in general taking better care of me than anyone ever has before. And I'm not reading this book any more. If you don't want me to use a line minder, forget it."

Xander started to say something else but sat down in his chair instead. Spike snorted softly and left his perch to go to Xander. He looked feverish again.

Giles made tutting sounds and announced. "That is quite enough. Xander, if you're through with your tantrum, please see if you can get hold of Willow. I want her to translate this cuneiform. And, Buffy, please don't slouch like that."

Tara, who'd sat silently through all this, finally spoke up. "She's in a Wicca meeting and won't be here. I told you that when I got here. Remember? And, I'm sorry, but she doesn't do cuneiform."

Giles rubbed his forehead in exasperation; the incursion was imminent and he couldn't find out anything useful. His temper was frayed to the limit and now this. "Well, if she hasn't been doing the translations, who has?"

Tara looked at Xander and then Spike. She just knew this was going to cause all kinds of trouble. "Xander."

Giles gave Tara a look of utter disbelief and Buffy started laughing. Xander waited for a moment then stood up, knocking over his chair.

"What? What's so funny? You think I'm...I'm like a third wheel? A Zeppo? The donut boy? I can't be smart, or do things? I'll...I'm...I saved my company several hundred thousand dollars. I can dry wall. I can do stuff. Oh, not great, save the world stuff. But I'm capable. I'm good for something."

At that Spike reached into his coat and produced a digital thermometer. He waited until Xander stopped ranting then touched it to his ear.

"Get off. What are you doing?"

"Takin' your temp. You're hot. In more ways than one."

Buffy went ‘eeeeuuuww' rather too loudly.

"Excuse me. I'm hot. I'm extra hot. Girls look at me. I see them. It's not like..." Xander looked from Giles to Buffy to Tara. The only one of the three who didn't look amused was Tara, who looked worried.

Spike spoke sharply. "Xander, calm down. They're just gettin' you all upset. You've got a slight fever, I'm takin' you home. Gather up your stuff."

Giles took exception to Spike ordering Xander around and told him he didn't own him.

"Oh, but Watcher, I do. Red worked her mojo, you faffed around too long and now...he does belong to me. I gave you that spell she worked and asked you to look it over. Do you even remember? Probably, but never mind Spike, he's just a snarky mixer. So, Xanpet is my thrall, isn't that nice?" Spike gave them a syrupy smile and waited for the explosion. It didn't come.

Giles gave Spike a look of utter contempt. And Buffy just started filing her nails.

Xander waited too. Finally realizing that no one was going to say anything, Xander bit at his lip for a moment then just turned around and left. He slammed the door hard enough to make the little bell flip over its hook. Giles ‘titched' and went to fix it.

"Don't have anything to say? Not like you, Watcher. You always have something to say. What's up with you?"

Giles shook his head. "I've got so much on my mind just now that I don't have time for your imaginary thrall spells, or Xander's histrionics. There's a new Master in town and I can't for the life of me find out who it is. This incursion is prophesied to be massive and I can't find out anything about it. I don't have the time or energy for this. Now... if you really want to be helpful...take Xander home and see what you can find out about the new Master of Sunnydale."

Spike threw up his hands in disgust and then pointed at Giles. "You'll live to regret this. Check out that spell I gave you. Don't just glance over it and tell me it's a spell from Mim's. I already gave the whole thing to the Grand Master of the Order of Taraka and he's pissed. You need to get a handle on Red before she does anything really nasty. And...if you happen to think of it..." Spike shook his head and growled. "Bloody hell, forget it."

He heard Xander's new truck start then pull away from the curb. He hoped Xander didn't drive like an idiot. Shaking his head, he turned for the door then turned back to Giles. "As to the new Master of Sunnyhell? Why, that'd be me." He ignored Giles's startled look and followed Xander.


Xander pulled his truck into the underground garage and parked in an empty space. Spike pulled in right behind him.

The attendant came up to the door before Xander could get out of the truck. He recognized Xander immediately and opened the door for him. Then he went to open the door of Spike's Mercedes for him.

Spike gathered Xander up with a look, Xander wearily followed him to the desk by the entrance to the residence.

"Gimme your keys, pet." Xander gasped softly and clenched the keys in his fist. "Easy, there. Not gonna take it from ya. Swear." Xander reluctantly handed over the keys and waited to see what would happen next.

Spike turned to the attendant and handed him the keys along with his own keys. "That truck belongs to Xander. No one else is to drive it. It's to be ready for him any time, day or night. Keep it up; gas, oil, whatever." The attendant gave him a skeptical look and started to say something. Spike cut him off. "You can start it and move it. No one drives it so much as around the block. Move it as necessary. That's all. Got me?"

The attendant nodded "Yes, Master Spike. I understand. I'd like to go over it...make sure it's in good condition, oil changed and all that."

Xander suddenly remembered the boy. "Hey! You're Arnold...something...you took auto shop with Oz last year. Damn."

Arnold nodded. "Yeah, that's me. And you're still a loser. How'd you get ..." The boy cut himself off at Spike's furious look.

"Shut it. You say another word and I'll cut out your tongue, see how you do without it. Take care of that truck. Anything happens to it while it's in your hands and I'll take it out of your hide."

Arnold gulped and nodded, realizing that he'd overstepped his bounds quite a bit.

Xander just sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm really feeling bad. I think I've got a fever again. Can we just...go inside?"

Spike glanced at Xander. He really did look bad, pale and tired, with dark rings under his eyes. "Sure, pet. Let's go."

"Yeah, and stop callin' me pet. I'm not a pet."

Spike agreed with a slight smirk. "No, that's true. You're not a pet, you're a thrall. And don't you forget it."

Xander gave Spike a tired look. "Like you'll ever let me. I don't understand how Willow could do that to me. She promised me no more mojo and then... I turn around and let her, but she shouldn't have used the lip on me." Xander followed Spike into their quarters mumbling ‘it's just not fair.'

Spike called Timmins, who came from the kitchen with tea and cookies. Xander started stripping off his clothing. He was tired, the jeans were tight and his boots were pinching his toes. Timmins took his things and tossed them into a hamper in the closet.

"You gave him the wrong socks, you stupid fuck. Those were too thick."

Spike was actually kneeling at Xander's feet, holding one of them in his hands. Xander looked like he was about to combust. "Spike! Stop that. They're dirty and stinky."

Spike snorted. "Not really. Just smell like you and new leather. You'll have a blister there, if we don't cool it off. Get that salve, Timmins, and fetch me a belt."

Timmins just nodded and hurried off. Xander gave Spike a blank look. Salve and a belt? "What's the belt for? I don't need a belt, I already have one."

Spike just shrugged. "I want it. Never you mind, just put that foot on this stool."

Spike shoved a stool under Xander's foot and crouched down again.

Timmins came back in the room and gave Spike the jar of salve then stood back to wait. Spike took the jar and spread the salve on Xander's toes. Xander watched in fascination as Spike stroked the salve on his foot with long, slender, elegant fingers. Xander realized that he was staring at Spike's hand like an idiot.

Spike couldn't believe his luck; Xander was staring at his hand like he'd never seen fingers before. Now was the time to start working some magic of his own.

"You strip and get on the bed. Cover up to your waist. I'll be back in a mo'... Timmins." Spike motioned to Timmins to follow him.

Spike rounded on the valet the moment he was sure Xander wouldn't hear. "What the hell were you thinking? Those socks were too thick. He's got a blister."

Timmins bowed his head in shame. "I'm so sorry, Master. I wouldn't have harmed him for the world. Please forgive me."

Spike eyed Timmins for several long seconds, then took the belt. "Bend over."

Timmins bent, shaking slightly. Spike gave him ten lashes over his bowed back.

"I know you didn't do it on purpose so your punishment is light. But you take care with him. He's human and we have to be careful with him. He's brave and tough. He's no complainer, so he won't tell us when he hurts. He's never to be left in pain by accident. Do you understand me?"

Timmins straightened up, grateful that Spike hadn't drawn blood. "Yes, Master. I understand completely. I'm really sorry...Master?"

Spike looked at Timmins and wondered what had him that worried. "You're forgiven. Get Xander some tea to help him sleep. He just dumped all his friends. I'm waitin' for the reaction so I want to get back to him."

Timmins caught his nerve with both hands and insisted. "Please, Master. What are you going to do when you have to take him to court?"

Spike made a face. "Compel him. Get that tea."


Xander realized that he felt numb. He wasn't sure why. Then he had a revelation. His so-called friends had actually snubbed him. He'd been sick and they'd thought he was slacking or something. And that remark from Giles had really hurt: dramatize himself? All he wanted to do was slug him.

He wiped at his cheek and found that tears were running down his face. He continued to wipe at them and wiped at them again and wondered if he would ever feel happy again.

Spike slipped back in the door and saw Xander wiping at his face. He pulled Xander to his feet and steered him to the big bed. After getting Xander onto his stomach, Spike settled across his thighs. Xander mumbled something about boots, and Spike snickered. "Took them off. Not a complete savage, ya know."

Spike drizzled warm oil onto Xander's back and started to massage. He rubbed Xander's shoulders, thumbing the knotted muscles until they relaxed. He worked his way down to Xander's waist slowly, taking care to find every knot and sore spot. When he reached the sheet low on Xander's hips, he pushed it out of his way and started on Xander's ass. He had to stop to adjust himself.

Xander was still, silent and sad. He couldn't quite stop crying,his tears just wouldn't dry. The massage felt good and he tried to calm down. He finally succeeded when Spike started massaging his foot.

"God, how can that feel so damn good?"

"All kinds of nerves in your feet. Acupressure really works. Relax."

"I'm trying. Really. But...damn...Spike."

Spike quickly scooted to the head of the bed and gathered Xander into his arms. "There, there, pet. They don't know what they've lost. You just let it all out. I'm not gonna make fun of you." Spike rubbed gentle circles on Xander's back and shoulders until he finally cried himself out and sagged against him

"Crap. I'm such a girl. Sorry about that. I just...they...shutting up now."

"Sit up. Get comfy." Xander settled against the head board beside Spike. "Good. Now, I want to know why you do that. Make fun, talk funny. Just doesn't make sense. You're smart, you should act it."

Xander sighed and rubbed the last of the tears off his face. "I guess, because it doesn't hurt quite as much if I really act the fool. I'm so stupid I'm always half a second away from falling on my face. So ..." Xander stopped talking as Spike put a finger on his mouth.

"I want you to stop it. I'm not going to have you clownin' around like a Pearly. At least they play good music. Oh, and as to music. You play that git box yet?"

Xander sighed and struggled to change mental directions. "No, I haven't really had time. I got sick so quick that I haven't had a chance. I'm going to get lessons as soon as I can afford them. Speaking of that, I need to sit down and make a budget. And I'm so not good at that."

Spike refrained from remarking on the Scoobie talk. "I'll help you with that. It's not that hard, you just need a good example."

A knock on the door notified Spike that Timmins had brought the tea he'd requested. He called ‘come in' and Timmins entered with the tea tray.

"I brought that herbal blend for Young Master Xander and some Darjeeling for you, Sire. I hope that is acceptable. And some biscuits."

Spike nodded at Timmins. "That's good. Set it there and go to bed."

Xander eyed the tray and grumbled. "That's just so...English."

"What is, pet?" Spike poured tea and handed Xander a cup.

"Well, that's a cookie. Not a biscuit. A biscuit is bread, sort of. And you don't have cookies at all."

Spike smiled at Xander. "See, that just proves that you Yanks are just plain odd. What you all call a biscuit is really a savory scone. Here, have a sweet." Spike smirked at Xander. "And finish that tea."

Xander rolled his eyes and accepted the offered item. "I feel sick, I'm bone tired and...well...damn. I never showed them my truck."

Spike felt bad for Xander. He'd been so happy with his truck and that bunch had spoiled it. "I bet the guys at work will be jealous as hell. You wait and see." Spike took the cup from Xander, who was rapidly drooping. "Scoot down and let me tuck you in. Sleep. You need to sleep. You'll be going back to work on Monday. Show your buddies at work that truck." Xander scooted and allowed himself to be tucked in. "There, as good as Mum used to do."

Xander mumbled, "She never tucked me in, Grammy did."

Spike refrained from comment and slipped out the door, switching off the light and telling Xander to get his rest.


Xander woke the next morning to Timmins with a cup of coffee in his hand.

"Bruce and I had a little talk. You shouldn't have too much for breakfast before you work out. He wants to see you in the gym as soon as you've had your coffee."

Xander took the cup and sipped appreciatively. "Thanks, Timmins. This is really good. I'll drink it on the way down. Wouldn't do to keep my Sensei waiting. Could you...um ..."

Timmins stood calmly by the side of the bed. "I'll do whatever I can."

"Some of my clothes seem to be missing. Could you look for them?"

Timmins nodded. "Certainly, sir. If you could tell me what is missing."

Xander scrambled out of bed and reached for the gi Timmins was holding. "Most of my work clothes are gone. They were in the laundry basket. I went to get them to wash and they aren't there."

Timmins looked slightly offended. "Of course not. I washed them while you were sick. I'm your valet. It's my job to do your laundry, keep your quarters clean and do whatever I can to see to your comfort." Timmins held up his hand at Xander's confused expression. "And don't tell me you don't need a man. I'm not about to go to High Master Spike and tell him you don't want my services."

Xander shuddered. "Yeah. Don't think that would go over well at all. Ok. But... I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

Timmins smiled at Xander and handed him a pair of flip-flops. "Not much. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't come in covered with Dora slime. It's very hard to get out of leather."

Xander laughed, waved and headed out the door, coffee in hand.


An hour later he was sweaty and frustrated. Bruce was nearly beside himself. Xander had done well learning the forms individually, but when they started to string them together he realized that Xander literally didn't seem to know left from right.

"Look, you're smart. I don't know what the problem is and I don't care. I'll teach you as I was taught. When I was in training, it was common for boys not to know. Wasn't something we learned on our own. So. Drill and drill and again. If you really want to learn."

Xander shrugged. "I want to learn. If it was good enough for you, I'm sure it's good enough for me...so, what do I do first?"

Bruce had Xander stand as close to one wall as he could comfortably get and started the drill.

"Stand in ward off right. Then turn your right foot to forty-five degrees out and ...step... ward off left... turn your foot...ward off right."

Bruce continued to direct Xander in his drill until he noticed that Xander was starting to zone. "No! Do not drift off. You need to pay attention to each motion. You need to grind into your brain which is right and which is left. You can't ‘go away'. Concentrate."

Xander nodded and waited until Bruce began the drill again. He worked on concentration and coordination. He wanted to get the form right and do well. Bruce wasn't laughing at his efforts, no matter now awkward they were. He praised even the slightest improvement.

"Very good. You're starting to sweat more than I like. Take a break, get a drink. Then I want you to work on following directions. You're fairly good at that, but you need to solidify some forms and doing them in random order will help. So, get your drink."

Xander got a drink and dumped half the bottle over his head. It made him feel a lot better. He thought about what Bruce had said to him about not knowing right from left. He'd always thought he didn't know because he was dumb. But Bruce said he had to be taught. It made him think.

"Sensei Bruce. I...I want you to train me like you were trained. It worked for you, it ought to work for me. Please."

Bruce looked at Xander for a moment then shook his head. "I was trained in the early 1700's when it wasn't that unusual for a master to beat his students for next to nothing. I'll train you the way I wish I had been trained. I may give you a smack or two with a cane from time to time. Mostly to gain your attention. But I have my own ideas of how to train a student. We'll have to see how good they are."

Xander shrugged; it was enough for him that Bruce was training him. He bowed and got a smack on the back of his head.

"Never take your eyes off your opponent or your teacher when you bow. Bowing that way makes it look like you don't respect me. Like you think I'm no threat to you. Understand?"

Xander rubbed the back of his head, grumbling. "You didn't have to smack me quite so hard. And yes, Sensei, I understand."

Bruce drilled Xander in various forms, each one aimed at teaching Xander only one thing. To react without thinking about it. He needed to recognize right from left instinctively, and Bruce was going to make sure he did.

Xander finally called a halt to the drill himself. "Sensei, I'm getting really tired. I think I better stop now."

"Fine. Good that you are willing to recognize your own limitations. I'm proud of you. You've done very well. We'll work again tomorrow. At that time I want to review everything you've learned up to this point. Then we'll drill some more." Bruce was surprised that Xander didn't groan or grumble. All he did was take another bottle of water and head for the door.

"Xander." Xander turned at Bruce's soft call. "Never leave the mat without saluting me."

Xander blinked then bowed, left fist in right palm at heart height, eyes on Bruce. The salute wasn't less dignified by the bottle clutched in Xander's left fist. Bruce bowed back and smiled.


Spike was on a rampage. He had a few precious moments when he wasn't expected to either referee stupid arguments or try to organize a bunch of idiots. It was like trying to herd cats. He wanted Xander but he couldn't find him.

He searched all over, finally finding him wandering in the bottom level.

"Xander! What the bloody hell are you doing down here? I've been looking for you."

Xander turned a tear streaked face to Spike.

"I did Tai Chi, Bruce says I'm improving so fast. But, I don't know right from left. I'm clumsy as hell and coordinated as a rooster in socks. I'm so stupid. I can't get anyone to respect me and...oh, hell...just go away, ok?"

Spike gathered Xander into his arms and held on, even though he resisted. "Calm down. I'm not lettin' go until you listen. Then you can go wherever you choose. Ok?" Spike nuzzled Xander's cheek and neck until he looked up at him.

"Ok. Just...shit!"

"You're not stupid. I think most of your problems are your Mum and Da never did things with you. Stuff normal parents do. So you didn't get essential early training. Sound like a regular toff, I do. But it's important. And you didn't get it. So...I'll help you make up for it. And who the hell is Bruce?"

Xander explained about Bruce and his Tai Chi training. "I really like it. Can I keep it up? I guess I should have asked you first. Please?"

Spike shrugged carelessly. "Maybe. Don't look like that. I want to interview this Bruce. If he's not good enough, I'll find someone who is. And a guitar teacher too, if you like."

Xander looked at Spike. "Why are you doing this? And don't say ulterior motives. It's just plain weird."

"Not really. See, this is the way it is. I'm the new Master of Sunnydale. I've got a reputation to create and uphold. If I don't, things are going to get really out of hand and you don't want to see that. Ever hear of Brovskya?"

Xander shook his head.

"In the late 1600's it was one of the largest cities in the area. Now it's nothing. The town got out of control, vampires and demons took it over. The Tzar had it razed to the ground, the Cossacks killed every living being in it and burned it. Sowed the soil with salt. The killing went on for nearly a week. If Sunnydale gets out of hand, things worse than that will happen."

Xander shuddered. If the Initiative convinced the President or whoever that vampires and demons really existed or the news media got hold of such a story, the panic would be – he didn't even want to think about it. The results would be disastrous for everyone. Thousands might die, and that was just the demons. Humanity would never recover.

"Ok, enough with the gloom and doom. Just tell the Xanman what you need."

"One, I need you to stop talking like an idiot. I notice that you really get silly sounding when you're scared. Two, I need you to take your proper place as my human thrall. Do you know how much having a Scooby as a thrall adds to my status? Probably not. I'll just tell you that you will do what I say in this. The difference in my status will save hundreds of lives. And don't make that face. It's good all ‘round. Good for me, good for Sunnydale. Even good for you. Not that you'll like everything I ask of you, but think about it for a mo'."

Xander was thinking, hard. "Ok, I'll bite. What's in it for me?"

"I'll pamper you. Teach you or have you taught anything you want. You want books? I'll get them for you. You want lessons? I'll get you lessons. You want to work? I'll make sure you get any job you want."

Xander shook his head. "No, you won't. Lessons, yes. Books, great. But don't mess around with my job. That's mine to keep or lose on my own. Understand?"

Spike nodded. "I respect that. Ok. No messing with the job. Fine. Now, what's with the tears and no ducking the question."

Xander blushed so hard his face turned crimson. "I...Buffy...and...and...I don't understand why they treat me like that. What did I ever do to...not ...damn...you don't understand."

Spike put his arms around Xander and hugged him. "Yeah, pet. I do...ungrateful bunch of...you give and give and give and not one of them ever says thanks. Or gives anything back. You were right to be angry with them. Take my advice. Don't do as I did. Find your pride and stand up for yourself. I followed Dru from one end of Europe to the other. I doted on her and cosseted her. I starved so she could eat, I ran and hid and scrapped and scrabbled because she's a damned messy eater. And she leaves me for a...never mind. See, you're doing the same thing with them. They shit on you and you crawl back for more. You got better friends at the site. They been callin' for days, wantin' to see how you're doin'. I been tellin' them you're resting, but tomorrow you're on your own. So, dry your face and come on. Timmins wants you."

Xander sniffled, wiped his face on his sleeve and followed Spike up the stairs to their quarters.


Timmins was waiting and when they came in, he sniffed once, gave Spike a sharp look then led Xander to his closet.

"Here are your work clothes. And your work boots. When you come in from work, just dump everything in the bathroom hamper. I'll take it to wash. I'll wash as I have a full load of something. If you need it sooner, I'd appreciate enough warning to get it washed and dried. I do the same for Master Spike. If you have any questions or need anything, tell me."

Xander blinked for a moment. "I...hold on a moment. I'm just a construction worker."

Timmins shrugged elegantly. "And a Master Vampire's human thrall. Something that hasn't happened in over fifteen hundred years. The increase in Master Spike's status and prestige is enormous. You don't quite understand how important you are just yet. Your obedience to him has to be unflinching."

Xander was looking a little panicky by now. "I'm not...thrall...dammit!"

Spike took Xander by the arm and pulled him down onto the fainting couch at the foot of his bed.

"Listen. I won't ask you to do some of the things that most thralls are asked to do. But you will be asked to do some unpleasant things. Unlike Giles and his crew, I have complete confidence in you to be able to do things that are repugnant to you because they will help me to save lives. Lots of them. Not that I'm all that concerned with it, but I really don't want to wind up in a coffin for the next decade or so. So we do what we have to, you and I, to keep the Grand Master of the Order of Taraka from gutting you and sticking me in a grave. Right?"

Xander nodded in a rather dazed way. What the hell was Spike getting him into now? He realized too late that he'd said that out loud.

"We'll cover that as we go along. Just remember, I don't think you're stupid. I expect you to be able to carry your weight in this. Unlike the Scoobies, who seem to think you're nothing but an idiot."

"But, you hate me. You're always telling me I'm..." Spike clamped a hand over Xander's mouth.

"Don't say it. The reason I'm always pickin' at you is, I know you're better than you let on. The waste makes me crazy. So I snark at you, you snark at me. I was always hopin' to see the better part of you. I'm startin' to. So... " Spike glanced at his watch. "Shit. I got a damn meetin' in ten minutes. It's with the head of one of the local demon clans. I'm trying to create a council of the heads of the local demon tribes to try to keep the violence from sloppin' over into the streets. Fuck." Spike left at a fast walk, duster tails flapping.

Xander stared after him, trying to absorb what he'd been told. He was important? Very weird.

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