Ulterior Motives


Part Seven

Xander sat in his truck for a moment, reveling in the knowledge that he was in better shape than he'd been in when he got hurt. And he had a shiny new-to-him truck to show off.

A thump on the door made him jump.

"Hey, Harris. New truck? Neat. Great looking. How's it run?"

Xander got out, shutting the door behind him. "Not bad. Friend of mine said he'd give it a tune up this weekend. Look at the tool boxes. Aren't they great? Got a bunch of little cubbies, instead of one big trunk. The wires don't get tangled that way."

The man, Xander thought his name was Doug, grinned. "That is nice. But if you get a generator or a compressor there's no way to lock it up."

Xander smirked and pointed out the large doors closest to the cab. You could fit a good sized unit in either side.

Doug held up his hands in a surrender gesture. "Ok, wise guy. . . ." he grinned to take the sting out. "Got me. Hope you got a good deal. I know you think you're making good money, and you are. But if you don't save now, when the job is over you'll be in trouble. Take my advice and save at least a third of your checks."

Xander ducked his head slightly. "I got a bonus, but I put all of that in good investments. A friend of mine cosigned for me to get a low interest loan. That'll give me a credit rating. I don't have one yet. "

"That's good. Save all you can, while you can. And don't miss a payment. You'll screw up your credit rating faster that way than any other." Doug looked at his watch. "We better clock in. . . But, hey, nice truck, really."

Xander followed him to the clock, clocked in and headed for the site office. Why they didn't keep the time clock in the site office he couldn't figure.

Mr. Burk greeted him at the door. "Hi, Xander, you look good. First, you need to read this and sign. If you don't understand anything, take it home and get someone you trust to go over it. Then, you're on restricted, so no lifting, no exertion of any kind. I have the perfect job for you though. We're getting in a lot of materials and no one is actually checking in anything. This has central offices in a flap. So, you get to check in everything. I'll show you how to do it. It's really easy. All Telzon."

At Xander's confused expression, he grinned. "Bar codes. Every pallet, every bundle, everything, has a bar code on it. You scan the bar code, it compares the code to the invoice. After you're all done all you have to do is finalize the transaction. If there's any discrepancies, the machine will let you know. Then you call an accountant to come out and figure out what's going on. But it's a waste of resources to have a clerk out here. Most of them wouldn't know dry wall from brick wall they don't know how to work in a construction site. The last one broke his leg falling off the unloading platform.

"Well, here's the machine. The directions are right there. But all you have to do is punch the green button, scan something, punch the white button and keep doing that until you're done. Then you push the red button and the white button. If it beeps like an alarm clock, don't do anything, just bring it back here. Ok?"

Xander nodded; it seemed easy enough. But he knew he had to be careful. He could mess up just about anything if he didn't pay attention.

"Yeah, I think I got it. I got a walkie, so if I get in a mess I'll call you right away. I'm not one to try to figure out something by the monkey method. It doesn't work that well."

Mr. Burk gave Xander a blank look. "Monkey method?"

Xander grinned, "Yeah, just punch buttons until something happens. Usually something bad, in my case. So not monkeying around with it. I better get there. I see a truck already. Bye."

Xander headed out for the unloading area and a day of checking in inventory. Actually, it wasn't that bad. The truck drivers were mostly pretty good guys, or gals, and were glad to see that someone was there to check stuff in. That took the onus off them if something went missing.


Spike checked for Xander's truck one more time. He was sorely tempted to tell Xander that he couldn't work. But he knew that would not only ruin the boy but any chance of achieving his ends. So Spike waited. Not very patiently but he waited.

When Xander's truck eased into his parking spot, he was greeted by Spike sniffing his neck.

"Hey! Off! Get off. Not getting sniffed sweaty. What's up with that, by the way?"

Spike snorted. "Can tell if you over-did. And I'll sniff you any time I want. So, how'd the day go."

Xander manhandled his tool belt into the bed of his truck and tossed his hard hat after.

"Not bad. I checked in materials all day. So all I really did was zap stuff with a Telzon machine and tell someone else where to put it. I'm tired but mostly from walking and standing all day . . . hey, remind me to tell Timmins the lunch was good but I didn't get any Twinkies or Ho-Ho's."

Spike glanced back at Xander from the door. "And you won't. They're not on your diet until further notice. The healer gave Timmins a diet for you and you'll stick to it until your immune system gets stronger."

Xander pouted. He'd deny it with his last breath, but that's what he did.

"Did I get any calls?"

"No, and don't expect any. That bunch won't call. They'll all expect you to come crawling back. And you usually do. This time, I hope your pride will stiffen that noodle you call a backbone. The only one of that bunch that's worth biting is Glinda. She stood up for you. Heard her myself and, while we're on the subject, why did you let Giles think Red was doin' translations you were doing?"

Xander opened the fridge and grabbed a soda. Spike took it back and handed Xander a pint of milk instead. Xander started to say something then gave up when Spike let his eyes go a little yellow.

"Well, she was so happy when Giles praised her for translating something that I just kinda let it slide. Then . . . well . . . I'm just the Zeppo so even if I did claim it no one would believe me. So . . . just, never mind. I suppose she'll have to ‘fess up now."

Spike just made a rude noise and started peeling an orange. Xander watched him as he drank his milk. He wondered if he could get Timmins to sneak him some chocolate.


"Excuse me, Master Alexander."

Xander turned to see a vampire standing hunched into a near bow. "I hate to bother you but I understand you do construction work?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah, what can I do for you? And call me . . ."

"A-HEM!" Xander jumped slightly at the sharp sound from Timmins. He glanced at the valet, who shook his head, lips pursed slightly. Xander shrugged.

"Anyway, what do you want?"

"Well. There are no walls in our . . . dormitories and it's causing some problems. We were wondering if you could help us build some. I know you're Master Spike's pet and shouldn't be messing with us but it really would be a help."

Xander considered for a moment, then glanced at Timmins. Timmins considered as well. He knew that the lack of privacy was causing trouble in the lower levels. Spike had said that Xander was to stay out of the lower areas, but added the caveat ‘without escort'. He nodded to Xander.

"I'll assign an escort so you can see what needs to be done. Give me a materials list so I can order what you need. I don't see any reason you shouldn't do something for them, as long as you don't over do. Stay here while I find someone suitable to escort you."

Xander started to deny the need for an escort but decided to prove that he wasn't completely stupid.

"Ok, but snap it up. I'm tired and want a shower. I had some milk but that wasn't enough. I'm a growing boy, I need my snacks."

Timmins gave Xander an exasperated look then hurried off to get him an escort.

He returned with a big demon, some sort of Fyarl or something close. He grunted, growled then snarled. Xander was sure one of the growls meant ‘gut.' He decided he really didn't want to know.

"He doesn't speak much English. Keep your commands limited to ‘kill', ‘crush', ‘destroy'; things of that sort. And hope that no one puts a hand on you. They won't survive it."

Xander just nodded, eyed the demon for a second then issued his first commands as Spike's ‘companion'.

"All right, then. Let's get going. You, lead." Xander pointed to the vampire. "You, follow." Xander pointed to the demon. "And no one start anything I have to run away from."


Xander examined the rooms with an eye to doing something down and dirty, construction wise. All that any of the vampires really needed was a place to sleep. Xander didn't believe the filth. The floors were covered with stuff and he was pretty sure he really didn't want to know what it was.

"Look. Housekeeping isn't doing their job. This place is a sewer."

His guide, whose name he didn't bother to remember, shrugged. "We're vampires; vampires don't clean."

"Yeah, they do . . ." Spike sauntered in, smoking one of his Turkish cigarettes. "Xanpet, what are you doing down here? You know . . . Oh, and who's this?"

Xander hurried into speech. "I know I'm not supposed to be down here without an escort. They're my escort. You need something done down here. If it stays this way much longer, we're going to have rats and roaches and who knows what else. And who decided that vampires don't clean? Nasty much?"

Spike noticed the return of the despised Scooby speak and smelled Xander's nervousness.

"Don't worry, pet. You got escort. So what's the what?"

Xander picked at his lip for a moment. "You need a complete clean up. Down to bare floor. Then I'll set studs and divide the room, huge thing by the way, into sides then into rooms. How big you want them? And you should make sure that people, um, vampires . . . What the hell, whoever they are, they need to clean up after themselves. No leaving junk, trash, so on all over the place. Ok?"

Spike nodded. Turning his head, he announced, "Timmins, see to it. No more leavin' messes about. I don't fancy rats. Got me?"

Timmins nodded, his respectful, "Yes, Master." making Spike nod sharply.

Spike reached over and touched Xander on the shoulder. Xander flinched away.

"Easy, pet. Not gonna hurt ya. Get used to me touchin' ya. Come on upstairs. Supper will be ready soon. Right, Timmins?"

Timmins made a squeaking noise. "Damn. Yes, Master Spike. But I have to run or it'll be overdone." Timmins hurried away.

Spike draped his arm over Xander's shoulders and pulled him along beside him. "Well, pet, seems you're going to be working more than I really like."

Xander shrugged Spike's arm off, grumbling. "Don't hang on me." Then he shrugged again. "I'm not going to do most of the work. I'll do the measuring up and set the base plates and start the studs, but you have minions for a good reason, don't you? I'll just see who did construction before they were turned and set them to the job . . . unless you have objections."

Spike put his arm back around Xander. "Bear with me, pet. And no objections at all. In fact, that's a good idea. I'm tired of livin' in a slum. Train me up some guys that can keep stuff fixed up. Good idea."

Xander let Spike's arm stay where it was. He knew from the grip on his shoulder that another attempt to rid himself of that arm wasn't going to go anywhere he wanted to.

Spike smirked to himself, another objective nearly accomplished.


Xander settled at the table and eyed the food on his plate with a small frown.

"What's this? It looks like a little bitty chicken. And . . . green stuff I don't recognize."

Timmins looked over his shoulder from where he was warming Spike some blood. "It's a Cornish game hen and spinach souffle. I'll have crepes for desert, with fresh peach pecan compote. You'll like that." Timmins turned to give Spike his blood.

Spike gave Xander a firm stare. "Eat it, pet. And don't make the mistake of thinkin' that lip will get you out of it. If you don't eat right, I'll make you. And no snackin' on Twinkies and stuff either. I'll know and I'll swat your ass for you. Clear?"

Xander glared at Spike then the hen. "Clear. And who died and made you the boss of me?"

Spike cleared his throat and gave Xander a significant look. "Who? Oh, yeah, that'd be your witchy best friend with the red hair and the bad mojo. You really need another demonstration? I'd think one humiliation would be enough. But so you don't forget, "eat that!" Spike enforced the command with a little ‘push' of Master's Voice.

Xander picked up his fork and started eating, giving Spike a dirty look.

"You didn't have to do that, you know. I'd have eaten it, really," Xander complained around a mouthful of spinach. "But this isn't so bad. I just . . . I'm eating, I'm eating already."

Spike smirked at Xander. "And don't talk with your mouth full. It's not polite."

Xander glared harder. But he continued to eat. He tried to stop, but he couldn't.

After he was finished eating, Xander stood up from the table and snarled. "So don't do that. I'll . . . you . . . just don't." He slammed out the kitchen door.

Timmins started to follow him but Spike stood too and sighed. "I'll go. He's going to have to do things more onerous than eat game hen. He'll just have to like it or lump it, as he'd say."

Spike followed Xander down to the gym where he found him changing into his gi. He gave Xander a practiced once over and frowned; he was still too thin.

Xander turned in the process of putting on his gi jacket and caught the frown. "What now? My gi doesn't suit you? Well, it's the uniform of a martial artist and even though Bruce says Tai Chi doesn't have belts, I like it. So . . ."

Spike shook his head. "You want to be gagged? I will if you don't watch it. If you were a minion, I'd cut your tongue out for talking to me like that. But since in your case it won't grow back, I'll refrain. You push me too far and you'll see how a thrall is really treated. Now, I was thinking that you're still way too thin. I think I'll see if the healer won't check you over again."

Xander's face darkened at Spike's threat, then turned puzzled. "What's the deal? You act like you really care. You don't, you can't. You're a vampire, evil, undead vampire. So what's up already?"

Spike decided it was time to let Xander in on part of what he wanted. He just hoped it didn't make Xander even more resistant to him.

"Ok, here's the deal. You're my thrall so we're stuck with each other for the rest of your life." Xander froze. "Yeah, forgot that, didn't ya? And I don't fancy livin' with someone who hates my guts. So, we get along. Or else."

Xander blinked, started to speak then shut up. "Yeah, I can make the ‘or else' very unpleasant for you. Me, I like a little torture now and then but it tends to break humans and I don't fancy dealin' with another nutter. Dru was enough for one unlife. An' don't forget: If you die, I . . . well, go crazy or sommat. No one seems to know for sure. And do you really want the world dealin' with an insane Master Vampire?"

Xander surged into babble. "The chip. It'll keep you from doing anything really bad. All you can do is kill demons and . . . not good? What? What am I missing?"

Spike gave Xander a sly sideways look. "Well, for one thing, I don't like that much pain. But some do. What if I learn to like it? And I'm a master with minions, lots of them if I want to just pick them off the streets. Where do you think I got the ones I have now? And if I order them to, they'll do anything. I think I could eat someone if they were almost dead. And if I drop the wrong word in the right ears I can start an inter tribal war that'll bleed over into the human world. So make me happy, pet, cooperate. Ok?"

Xander gulped. He hadn't really thought of all the things Spike could do to make life on the Hellmouth miserable without actually killing anything. He was startled to realize that he didn't want that and he didn't really want to spend years or whatever in constant strife with Spike.

"Ok, Ok. I get the picture. What say we start all over again?"

Spike nodded. "Ok, pet. Here . . . hey, Xander. I like the gi. Nice look on you. But you're too thin. What say I talk to the healer about your diet?"

Xander took a deep breath. "Hey, Spike. Thanks, I like it. Bruce says Tai Chi doesn't have belts like karate and stuff, so no pretty colors for me. Am I too thin? I don't ever remember being too thin. Pop's always telling me I'm a pig. So . . . but I'd like desserts, real desserts with chocolate and stuff. So . . . talk to the healer, ok?"

Spike smiled at Xander. It was a poor and somewhat jumbled beginning but it was a beginning and beggars couldn't be choosers.

Spike followed Xander into the gym and watched carefully as Bruce started Xander on his exercises. Then he motioned him over for a little talk.

"Ok, what's going on? And what's your name?"

"Bruce Chen, Master. I'm teaching the young master Tai Chi. He was trying to do it in his rooms and I happened to see him. He was missing some of the forms and I told him so. He asked me to teach him. I was a teacher before I was turned, so . . . well, I miss it. And he's such a willing pupil. Please, I really want to continue teaching him."

Spike eyed the vampire closely for a moment then nodded. "Good. See that you do the best job you can. And no snacking."

Bruce gave Spike a look of such disgust that he shrugged. "Had to be said. Don't think you would. And what arts do you know?"

Bruce eyed Spike right back for a second then bowed slightly. "I know tai kwon do, tai chi, aikido, Wushu and I'm also a master of katana, bo staff, chain whip and anything thrown. I'll teach Master Xander whatever he's capable of learning."

Spike didn't question the vampire about whether he was telling the truth or not. One, he could tell if he was lying or not and two, very few minions had the nerve to lie to him.

"Bring him along as fast as he'll come. I want him able to take care of himself as fast as possible. Just don't let him hurt himself. And . . . I understand that some arts masters use corporal punishments. Be very careful. You can swat him if he needs it but you mark him and I'll cut you. Understand?"

Bruce nodded. "You're trusting me with a very precious thing. I won't let you down. Thank you, Master."

Bruce turned to go back to Xander, Spike watched him walk away with a small frown. He still didn't understand how everyone else could see in Xander what he could, but people who were supposed to be his friends couldn't. He shook his head again, shaking off the growing feeling that he was somehow missing something.


Xander worked out with a single-minded intensity that astonished Spike. He did each form over and over until it was exactly right. When Bruce demonstrated a new form for him, he watched every motion with a fixated intensity that was almost vampiric.

Then he repeated the new form until sweat was running down his back, making a wide stain on the gi jacket. Spike looked at the clock on the wall. They'd been at it for almost two hours. He was just getting ready to call a halt to their workout when Bruce did it for him.

"Ok, that's enough. You're sweating too much. Get a drink. Gatorade or juice. No soda, and especially none of that carburetor cleaner you call coffee. Get. And take a bath, not a shower."

Xander took the towel he was given and wiped his face and neck. "Aawww. And I was really hoping for a nice hot cup of coffee before I went down into the lower levels to measure up for the walls . . . . Oh, do you know any of the other vamps down there? I need a crew. I was hoping you might know of any construction workers."

Bruce shook his head. "Not a clue, I stay away from the lower minions. I'm a fledge so I don't mix with them. I was hoping . . . never mind. See if you can't find a vamp named Viktor. He's in charge of the minions and newbies, and I don't envy him one bit. You might want to consider looking only for older minions and fledges. They'll have more sense, more . . . brain power, if you will. Sorry."

Xander smiled at Bruce. "Well, that was some help, at least. Thanks. I know who to ask and what to ask for. More than I knew a second ago."

Bruce watched Xander as he walked away, swabbing at his chest with the towel. When Xander shucked the gi jacket, Bruce turned to Spike.

"He's still using up more calories than he should. You need to have him checked for . . . something. I'm not sure what. And . . . I'm sorry . . . I shouldn't be minding your business."

Spike stared absently after Xander. "Don't worry. If it's to do with Xander, I want to hear it. I think you're right. Something is definitely not right there. Wonder . . ." Spike shook off the worry. "I'll have the healer to him again. You see to it that he keeps workin' out. He's good. I don't know why he's such a klutz."

"Because he's never established a dominant hand. Where were his parents?"


"Well, shit." Bruce turned to clean up the gym and Spike followed Xander.


He found him standing at the door to the lower levels, picking at his lip.

"Stop that. What's the problem?"

"You said not to go into the lower levels without escort. I don't have one and don't know how to get one."

Spike ran a hand over Xander's arm. "Don't worry about it, pet. I'll escort you this time. And I'll make sure someone's at the door for you when you come down. All you have to do is tell me, or Timmins, you need someone. Ok?"

Xander obviously didn't really like it, but he knew better than to argue. He did seem to be good at picking his fights. When he was allowed to. Spike added another thing to the list of things he'd thought he knew about Xander and didn't.

"Great. I need to get my tool belt, then we can go measure for stuff. And . . . book . . . and. . . mmmm . . . ." Spike couldn't help but grin as Xander mumbled off into silence. He did look so serious.

Xander fished around in his truck, finally pulling out a small tool belt and his hard hat. He checked the belt for the proper tools and then headed back down to the lower levels, Spike trailing behind with a rather bemused expression on his face. He'd never seen this Xander before.

Xander turned on all the lights on the level and just snarled back at the vamp who snarled at him. He shook his head as the true extent of the mess was revealed.

"You better get them on the stick quick. This is worse than I thought. I'm going to measure for two main halls crossing each other. With as many secondaries as it takes to divide the area into twice the width of the size of the rooms. How big do you want them? I need to know before I start measuring more than the main halls."

Spike gave it only a second's thought. "You're the construction man. I haven't got a clue. Why don't you measure the room first, then we'll take a gander. Yeah?"

Xander eyed the room. "Ok, that's a good idea. Each room should be at least 12x12. That gives room for a bed, chest of drawers and a chair of some sort. So . . . oh, and a dropped ceiling. That'll help keep the noise from coming up to the upper levels. You want carpet, or just the concrete floor? You could paint it."

Spike shook with silent laughter. "Carpet? Pet, they're newbies and minions. Carpet the fledges' rooms, maybe. But some of these guys are so low on the food chain they'll try to eat it. Do your measuring up and let's go. You're lookin' knackered."

Xander gave one end of the tape to Spike and told him to just put his foot on it. Then he started for the opposite wall. After writing down the numbers, he measured the other way and told Spike he'd have some figures for him in a couple of minutes.

Spike watched as Xander sketched in his book then wrote a string of figures down the side of the page. He ripped it off and handed it to Spike who handed it off to Timmins. Xander went back to his notebook and made another sketch.

After writing for a moment more, Xander stretched. "Man, I'm tired. I think I'll turn in early, if you don't mind. I'm about beat."

Spike stifled his disappointment. He'd been looking forward to a little time to get Xander used to him touching him. But if he was tired it'd wait. Then he had an idea, and why he hadn't thought of it before was beyond him.

"Ok, pet, come on. I'll put you in a bath and then I'll give you another nice massage."

Xander started to protest, but then sighed. "I'd like that. I hurt all over. Two weeks being sick then going back to work sucks big time."

Spike smirked at Xander's back. "Score one."


Spike set to the first step of seducing Xander. He drew a bath.

"Come on, pet. Let's get you all clean and comfy. Into the tub with you."

Xander started to protest then went silent as Spike just turned, dumped his duster on the floor and started stripping. He sauntered into the bathroom, unashamedly naked. Xander started stripping to the sound of running water.

Spike put soothing salts in the water and swished his hand in the water to mix them and test the temperature. Xander was surprised when Spike helped him into the tub.

"Ok, pet. I'm gonna get in behind you and wash your hair."

"So not! This tub isn't big enough and it's too full. We'll slop water all over. I'm not leaving that kind of mess for Timmins."

"Then lean back so I can get to you."

Xander sighed and obeyed. He wasn't too sure about this but he didn't want to live the rest of his live in constant conflict with Spike. He had decided to do his best to get along, as long as Spike did the same. So far Spike had been nicer to him than anyone he'd ever met. So he admitted to having ulterior motives. At least he was honest.

Spike reached over and picked up Xander's shampoo. One sniff told him that one of the irritating smells Xander oozed came from the cheap shampoo. Spike dumped it into the trash and yelled for Timmins.

Xander soaked while Spike smelled things, muttering direly about stinky cheap toiletries. Timmins finally entered, excusing himself by saying he'd been on the next floor down. Spike just snarled, "Get the boy some decent stuff. This all stinks. And get him some conditioner."

Timmins leaned over and sniffed Xander. "Vanilla, I think."

Spike just nodded and turned to Xander.

"You need to slide down, get your hair wet."

Xander slid down in the tub and dunked under, but when he started to come back up, his feet slipped on the sloping foot of the tub and he couldn't.

He flailed for a second then felt Spike's hands grappling with him. He was having difficulty getting a grip on his slippery human. Xander didn't struggle against him. Instead, realizing the problem, he tucked his arms against his torso.

Spike grabbed Xander under the arms and hauled him up out of the water. "Here, pet. You ok? Didn't suck in any water, did you?"

Xander panted for a moment. It had been frightening, knowing that he had no purchase and couldn't get up by himself. He also hadn't had a decent breath.

"No, I'm ok. It was just really unnerving. I didn't have a breath. Thanks."

Spike fussed for a bit, wiping the soapy water out of Xander's face and checking that he hadn't bruised him. Xander was touched against his will, no one else would have done more than tell him not to be such a klutz.

"What do you mean you didn't have a breath?"

"I was on the swim team, and I didn't get there by my wit. I can hold my breath forever."

Spike snorted. "Sure, pet."

"Can so. I'll prove it. You just help me up when I squeeze your hand."

Spike couldn't believe this. Xander was offering to hold his hand. Even if it was going to be for two seconds, it was an accomplishment.

Xander hyper ventilated for six or seven breaths then slid back under the water.

Spike sat patiently for what seemed like forever, just like Xander had said. When he was beginning to wonder if he should pull Xander from the tub, Xander squeezed his hand. Spike pulled him up and grumbled. "Didn't tell me you're a bloody dolphin, pet. I was beginning to wonder."

Xander just grinned at him. "Told you. I really made it onto the swim team all by myself."

Spike just motioned for Xander to get out of the tub. He wondered for a moment why the boy didn't try to cover himself so he asked.

Xander shrugged. "We all got the same equipment. I've been in gym classes since junior high. The more you act body shy, the more they tease you. So, I got over it. Jesse . . . well, we did the usual experimenting." Xander looked sad for a moment then visibly pulled himself together. "Never mind. How's about that massage?"

Spike gathered up the things he'd need. A few towels, some oil, and a small candle-powered heater.

He smirked to himself. This was going to be interesting. Xander wasn't as repulsed by his touch as he let on. The boy was as tactile as Spike was himself. Now to take advantage of that.

Spike had to smile when he entered the bedroom. Xander was sprawled across the bed, waiting for him. He tossed a towel across Xander's butt and set up his warmer. He remembered doing this for Dru after some of her visions. He hoped that Xander was a little more grateful.

He started at the shoulders and worked for several minutes, rubbing out the kinks. Xander moaned softly in reaction. As Spike worked his way down Xander's back, he found things he hadn't noticed the first time he'd worked on Xander. There were suspicious dents in the muscles. Spike knew where they'd come from and gritted his teeth in fury.

"Hey, take it easy there. Human guy, not vamp."

Spike gentled his touch immediately. "Sorry. Need more oil."

Spike continued his massage, working his way from back to buttocks to thighs and calves. He had to resist the urge to touch Xander in a most intimate place. That would go over like a ton of bricks, as he well knew. And listen to me, with the construction references.

"Roll over, pet. It's easier to do feet when you're on your back."

Xander grumbled softly but rolled over, then he realized what Spike had said. "Oh, you don't have to do that. I mean, feet. Yuck! And . . . so not wanting you to stop that."

Spike smirked. He knew reflexology and his hands were strong enough to work through the heavy calluses on Xander's feet. Xander moaned softly in pleasure.

"God, that feels so good. Oh, yeah."

Spike continued his massage for several minutes, alternating feet, until Xander was a puddle of, as he put it, ‘Xander shaped goo' then he covered Xander and told him to go to sleep. Xander mumbled something and snuggled into his bed. Spike turned out the light and closed the door. Turning to go to his own quarters, Spike allowed himself a genuine smile.


Xander was a moving violation the next morning. He'd forgotten to turn on his alarm clock and Spike hadn't known to do it so Timmins had awakened Xander twenty minutes late. Xander was stuffing breakfast into his mouth so fast that Timmins, unaware of Xander's ability to swallow huge hunks of barely chewed food without choking, was alarmed.

"Young Master, careful, you'll choke."

"Wo' either. Gimmie biscuit."

Timmins translated this into, ‘I won't either, give me a biscuit' and handed Xander the requested food. He watched in amazement as Xander stuffed scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese into the hot bread and started gobbling it down, chased with gulps of scalding hot coffee. He winced.

"Don't sweat it. He eats like that all the time. Xander, slow down. You have plenty of time to get to work. Remember, you have a truck now."
Xander paused for a second then smiled. "Yeah, I do, don't I? But . . . never mind, I'm done now. I'll go ahead and leave. It'll give me time to find some of the guys and show off my truck. Not truck proud, or anything. Nope, not me." Xander grinned at Timmins, took his lunch box and headed out the door.

Spike called after him. "And no snacking. You stuff yourself with Twinkies and Ho Ho's or anything else not on your diet and I'll smack your ass red."

Xander made a rude noise and hurried out the door. Spike gazed after him for a moment then shrugged. He just knew they were going to have a confrontation about Xander's snacking habits.


Xander arrived at work almost an hour early. He parked in a good shady spot and settled in for a wait. While he waited, he rummaged in his lunch box to find out what he had for lunch. He wasn't very pleased to see that it was chocolate free. There was a Spam sandwich, dry. Some carrot and celery sticks, and a granola bar, and an apple. He started planning who to trade what with. The Spam was ok, he thought, until he noticed that it wasn't really Spam, but some soy substitute. He sighed. This diet was killing him. Nothing in his lunch tasted good.

Xander grinned. Mr. Burk had pulled up beside him and was walking over. Xander couldn't understand why he was frowning slightly.

"Excuse me. Only . . . oh, Xander! Hi. New truck. Real nice. Thought you were some doofus from across the road. They're always trying to park here. Takes up all the places."

Xander opened the door and stepped out, moving out of the way so Mr. Burk could see inside his truck. "I just got it. My room mate cosigned for me. I don't have any credit rating yet."

They spent a few minutes discussing the merits of the truck, then Mr. Burk excused himself, saying he had to get to the trailer and set up the Telzon. Xander grimaced.

"When you get a release from your doctor, you can go back to your crew. Hang around here for a while. Most of the guys have been asking about you almost every day."

Xander did as suggested and hung around, leaning on his truck. It didn't take more than five minutes for one of his crew mates to show up. He sauntered over, eyeing Xander.
"Well, you don't look that bad. What the hell happened?"

Xander shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I cut my butt. Try to take care of a cut there. It got infected, my roomie kind of panicked when I passed out. The doctor gave me some medicine and it cleared up, but he won't give me a release until next week so I'm on limited until then. I'm checking in materials on the other side of the site."

"Shit. Tough luck. You ok now? I don't care about doctors. How you really feel?"

Xander frowned. "Stupid, Frank, really stupid. I'm really ok. But the doc says limited duties so that's what it is. I'm not arguing with them. I like my job."

While Frank and Xander were talking, several more men drove in and they all gathered around Xander and Frank. Frank handed on Xander's explanation of what had happened. After some groaning and grumbling by several of the men, they went on to admire and genially envy Xander his new truck. The only thing that distracted their attention from the comparison of Xander's truck to other desirable equipment was a supervisor calling them all to clock in ‘before we fall a century behind deadline.'

The men all dutifully trooped to the time clock, several stopping to tell Xander not to be a stranger. Xander was touched. Nearly all the crew seemed to be interested in him, their questions about his health sincere and kindly. He smiled happily, clocked in and headed for his work station.


Xander checked materials in for half the morning. He worked out a way to do it more efficiently than before and was moving right along. Keeping up with the incoming trucks was easier if he checked stuff in as it was unloaded instead of waiting until it was piled haphazardly. Xander scanned the label, checked the Telzon then the materials, then scanned it again. "This isn't right. That's not grade A. What the heck?" Xander checked several more pallets of lumber. All the core stacks were grade B. Or worse.

Xander told the loader operator to stop unloading and make sure that all the lumber he'd taken off this truck stayed right where it was. He just shrugged and nodded. He didn't care what he did as long as they didn't take him off the clock.

Xander called Mr. Burk on his walkie and asked him to come see the lumber. When Mr. Burk saw what Xander was talking about, he swore. This lumber couldn't be used in their buildings; it wasn't up to code, among other reasons.

"How much of that is low grade?"

Xander rubbed the back of his neck, pushing his hard hat over his eyes. "About half of it. I . . . look, far be it from me to throw stones but . . . there's a bunch of the same stuff stacked over there." Xander waved a hand in the general direction of the back of the site. "And . . . I think I should go over and scan it. I think it mostly still has tags. I wonder who . . . bet . . . yeah . . . um . . see you."

Xander walked over to the area and started scanning the rejected materials. They all scanned to the same vendor. Xander sighed, pulled his walkie out of its holster and paged Mr. Burk. Mr. Burk told him that Mr. Lonergan would come to check things out.

Jake Lonergan swore softly as he examined Xander's evidence. There were at least a hundred and fifty pallets of lumber, grade B or lower, stacked around the area. They all came from Chambers Lumber and Hardware.

"Mr. Lonergan, I don't know exactly what you're going to do about this but . . . well, can I help somehow?"

Mr. Lonergan shook his head. "No. You've done plenty. This is very bad. Very bad. I'll take that Telzon back to bookkeeping. And you've got the rest of the day off. I don't want you talking about this to anyone. You understand?"

Xander nodded, he did understand. Chambers had been charging his company for Grade A and delivering Grade B. He wondered what other corners they'd been cutting. He started to mention this to Mr Lonergan but heard him mumble the same question into his walkie just as he started to speak.

"I want you off the site as soon as you can go. I'll call you tonight or early tomorrow. You'll have to speak to our legal representative and probably a higher up. Go home, drink a beer, take it easy." Xander sighed. He couldn't afford too many days off if he was to make his truck payment and give Spike some money for rent. "And don't look like that. You've got another bonus coming and you'll be paid for a full workday every day. You're on paid leave."

Xander grumbled, "Yeah, but . . . I like working. I . . . it's . . . ok, ok. I'm going." Xander grinned at Mr Lonergan's shooing motions.

He headed for his truck, waving at some of the guys as he went. One of the men, Gary something, came over to check up on him.

"Hey, Xander. What's up? You're leaving early, it's not even lunch time. Just now noon."

Xander looked sheepish, "Yeah, but I got overheated and Mr. Lonergan told me to leave. I'm really ok but he didn't like the way I look. Guess my ugly mug scared him."

Gary eyed Xander and allowed that he did look a little pale. "You take care of yourself and tell that roomie of yours the same. There's a bunch of guys that'll take it bad if he doesn't. Go home. I'll fill the guys in."

So Xander left as Gary went to tell his crew that he was still not quite up to a full day of work in the sun.


Spike glared around at his court. Every last one of the ‘people' in it had done nothing but argue with him for the last four hours. He was getting ready to go round the bend. All he wanted was for the beings to cooperate with him. It wasn't much to ask, especially as he was going to gut someone soon if they didn't quit saying, ‘But, Master.'
"Next git says ‘But, Master,' I'm guttin' ‘em. I'm startin' to lose my temper."

A Tarkla demon stepped forward. "We heard about that. You got a chip in your head, says you can't do nothin' to anyone."

Spikes closed his eyes for a second, then opened them, reached out and shoved his hand into the demon's chest. He twisted it around for a moment, searching for something. The demon just stood there, a look of total disbelief on his face. Spike ripped out his heart and threw it in his face.

"Anyone else got somethin' stupid to say?" Spike glared around, eyes yellow and forehead starting to go bumpy. "Thought not." He gestured to two vampires standing to the side. "Clean up that mess." One started to drag the body away and the other brought a bowl of water for Spike to wash his hand. When he knelt at Spike's feet, he flicked several glances at Spike, who raised a eyebrow at him.

"Master? I don't wish to have my heart torn out, but . . . you don't have control of your human so how do you hope to control a court?"

Spike snarled. "I got control of him. He does what I tell him to."

The demon gave him a skeptical look. "Yes, of course, Master. He works because you let him?"

Spike nodded. "Like him muscular and tan. And he's happy. Want him happy. Don't want a sulky thrall. And he's a thrall, not a pet. Don't need a damn pet. Useless, clinging, mewling prats. Xander is a man. A loving, warm hearted human. Want that for myself. So don't go gettin' any ideas. Got me?"

Spike's glare quashed any protests, but he knew he was going to have to demonstrate his mastery of Xander soon or there'd be all hell to pay, with Xander caught right in the middle. Spike didn't want to contemplate what might happen to Xander if he lost control of his court.


Xander drove around for a little while, thinking about what he'd found. He just knew it was the tip of a really big iceberg, not a good thing at all.

He spotted a quick stop and drove in to get a soda and some chips. He also got several packages of Ho-Ho's and Ding Dongs, a chocolate bar and a bag of Jelly Babies.

He stuffed his purchases into his lunch box and tossed it onto the seat beside him. When he got home, he was going to enjoy his snacks in peace. Or so he thought.

Instead of snacking, Xander wound up working. Timmins was as efficient as they come. He'd managed to get first quality materials delivered in twelve hours so Xander went down to the lower levels and started setting the base studs, the two-by-fours that were the bottom of the walls.

To set the studs onto the concrete he had to use a nail shooter powered by .22 blanks. He put on his head set and started to work. He was glad to see that someone really had measured out and chalk lined all the cubicles.

He couldn't believe the men that Spike had around. Some of the fledges were construction workers, as well as computer techs, all sorts of office personnel; all kinds of ex-people. He supposed that vampires didn't ask your profession before they bit. So he'd drawn a crude blueprint on a piece of notebook paper and discussed the design with Spike. He assumed that Timmins told someone to measure the whole room and draw out the reference marks. The halls were a little wider than he'd expected but it didn't make that much difference.

He worked for quite sometime setting the base plates, then he wondered why he was doing this instead of someone who'd slept all day. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand fell on his shoulder.

Xander turned, holding the stud setter with the nails pointed at whoever it was.

"Easy there, pet. Won't do you much good."

Xander snarled. "Oh, yeah? Slow you down enough that I can yell. Timmins is just over there."

And indeed Timmins was close. He was standing in the shadows on the other side of the huge room, fussing with some furniture.

"Oh, that's good. I catch you down here without an escort and you won't like what happens. I mean it." Spike gave Xander a yellow-eyed glare. "Now that the requisite threatenin' is done, what the hell are you doin'?"

Xander stuck his tongue out at Spike then replied. "I'm setting the base plates for the walls."

Spike just raised an eyebrow. "The who for the . . . excuse me?"

Xander pointed. "There. I have to nail those down to the floor, then I'll build the walls up. I'd really rather float the walls up after I put them together, but I can't lift them myself and nail them. I need about ten hands and arms fifteen feet long. So I'm going to have to do it the other way around. Big pain, but what can I do?"

Spike smirked at Xander then threw his head back and yelled. "Oi, any of you wankers want first pick, get over here now."

Several vampires and demons hurried over to Spike, fawning on him in a manner that Xander found revolting. Spike just pointed to him and ordered. "He's boss. You do what he says. And don't mess up. I'm not in a particularly good mood tonight."

Spike touched Xander on the arm and led him a little aside. "Ok, pet. I'm sure you know what you're doin' an' all but I'd like a clue or two here. That explanation yesterday was kinda sketchy."

Xander rubbed his cheek in embarrassment. "Sorry. I just got all excited. I . . . ok, come over here and I'll try to explain what I'm doing."

Spike followed Xander to the half landing between this level and the next one up. He pointed out the barely visible chalk marks on the floor.

"I measured out and divided the room up into squares. Or someone did it. Anyway . . . each section is twenty-five feet square. Each square is divided into four rooms. Twelve feet square. If you think they need to be bigger tell me now or we'll have a hell of a mess. I didn't allow for bathrooms and such. There's showers and toilets at the end, like this was planned for a gym or something. So, what do you think?"

Spike was impressed and said so. He smiled at Xander and said, "You're smart. I keep tellin' ya so. See, I know more about you than you do. I like it. All the rooms are the same so there's no in-fighting about larger and smaller. And takin' advantage of facilities already provided is good. No sense wastin' dosh on minions if we don't have to."

Xander grinned at Spike. "There won't be any differences in the rooms to fight over. But you know people, they'll always find something. Probably be something stupid."

Spike shook his head and decided not to bother correcting Xander; most of his minions weren't people.

"You're right, pet. Give your orders to the crew then come up to eat your dinner. I'm sure you're tired and want a shower and some food."

Xander settled his shoulders and followed Spike, mumbling, "Yeah, and some chocolate. Or . . ."

Spike turned and reminded Xander of his diet, finishing, "No chocolate. The healer hasn't seen you yet. I catch you stuffin' yourself with junk and I'll smack you good. Remember."

Xander rolled his eyes and grumbled, "So have to catch me first."

"Oi! I heard that."

And so did everyone on the demonic construction crew.

Part Eight

Xander ate his dinner without tasting a thing. He was thinking furiously. He was off site till further notice. He wasn't worried about that as Mr. Lonergan had assured him he was being paid. But he was worried about the consequences of what he'd found. The construction in the lower levels didn't worry him. It was all straightforward and simple. He could do it all with two or three others, mostly to help with the heavy lifting.

He sighed softly. He was in deep shit and he knew it. Not thinking about the fraud at the site wasn't going to make it go away. He knew that some of the company's had knee breakers on the payroll, and he wasn't looking forward to what might happen when everyone found out he'd busted Chambers. Someone would tell someone else and they would tell someone. It would get back to Chambers. He wasn't looking forward to the results. Man, I am soooo dead

That was why they didn't want him at the site. Someone would find out that he'd peached on the company and then the company would send someone to ‘talk' to him. Someone with big muscles and not much between the ears. He never thought of telling Spike about it. He never thought Spike would care.

Xander gathered up his dishes and started for the dishwasher. Timmins intercepted him with practiced ease. "Would you like something else?"

Xander absently shook his head. "No, thanks. I'm going to do some work on the dorms. I'll have another list of materials I need. Don't strain yourself, I won't need them for at least a week. And don't buy anything from Chambers. They're crooked as a dog's hind leg."

Timmins filed this away in his memory. "Anything else?"

"Not really. After I'm done with the materials, I'm going to work on a scroll translation for a while. Tell Spike, will you?"

"Yes, Young Master. I'll bring you some coffee in about an hour, shall I?"

Xander nodded absently and left the kitchen for his office. Spike had given him his own when he found out that Xander tended to talk to himself when he was working.


Spike worked on paperwork of his own for most of the afternoon. He was tired and cranky when he finished. Most of the demons he dealt with were nocturnal but some were diurnal so he was working what was essentially a split shift. He woke in time to see Xander off to work then went back to bed to sleep until late afternoon. He didn't need much sleep, thankfully, but the strain of keeping everything together was starting to show. He needed to cement his power base soon.

He pulled out his cigarettes and realized that he only had a few left. "Timmins, I'm out of smokes and I'm out of patience. I'm goin' out to get smokes and clear my head."

Timmins stuck his head in the door of Spike's office. Bloody hell! I have a bleedin' office.

"I have some cigarettes for you, if you want."

"Don't want ‘em. Need out of here for a while. I'm goin' round the bend. Some of this stuff is . . . never mind. I just hate tryin' to translate legal terms from a demon language to English. Gives me a flamin' headache, it does." Spike picked up his duster, patted the pockets and headed for the door. "I'm off. Watch over Xander."

Timmins closed the door behind Spike and smiled. When Spike started speaking mockney he was really tired or pissed. Timmins wondered when he would give up and have Xander translate the offending document.

Spike wandered the streets for a while then dropped into a quick stop for some cigarettes. He bought a 40 ouncer as well. He knew very well that no cop was really fooled by the brown paper bag trick but it kept the commoners from staring.

He ambled down the street, smoking and window shopping, occasionally drinking from the bottle. He felt much better just getting out of the mansion. The pressure was getting to him. He hadn't had a court since Prague. Even then it had been different, in deference to Drusilla's madness. He sighed softly then squared his shoulders. All he had to do was show his mastery. If it meant killing a few demons, all the better. He did like a bit of violence.

Spike stopped at the Espresso Pump to get coffee. When he looked at the coffee makers, he realized that the beautiful brass machines were gone. In their place were modern heavy duty chrome and steel makers. Just as good, but nowhere near as nice. He remembered that Xander had coveted one of the old ones, so he decided to ask what had happened to them.

The shop was really busy so he decided to go around to the back and see if he couldn't find out what had happened to them.

When he got to the back, he found a man sitting on the dumpster, dejectedly crumpling an empty cigarette pack.

"Smoke?" Spike offered his pack and lighter.

"Thanks." The man, who wore an Espresso Pump apron with a name tag that said, ‘Frankie', along with a typical SoCal saying, took the pack and lighter with a smile.

"Bad night?" Spike hopped up to sit next to Frankie.

Frankie took a deep drag off the cigarette and grunted. "Might say that." Spike made an enquiring noise. "Boss got new makers. They're faster and more modern, but no one likes them. They been bitchin' all night. ‘Ruined the atmosphere', ‘coffee doesn't taste the same', bitch bitch bitch. Like it's my fault."

Spike shook his head. "Makes a bloke pissed off, don't it? All that bitchin' over a coffee pot. Don't make sense."

Frankie shook his head. "I liked the old ones better but the seals were worn out. So, instead of spending $75 dollars on new seals, the old fart spends a couple of thousand dollars on new, high capacity makers. They're not pots, by the way. Old guy's gettin' crazy in his old age."

Spike shrugged. "It's his shop, so what can you do? What'd he do with the old ones?"

"Just tossed ‘em. If I could figure out how, I'd take one home with me. But the old geezer has his eye on me."

Spike gave the man a considering look. He wanted one of those makers.

Frankie spoke again. "Look, pal, if you want one, I'll tell you what I'll do. They're both right here in this dumpster. I'll distract shit for brains and you snitch both of them. I get off in half an hour. And I'm just getting my break, I might add. I'll meet you at the other end of the alley. You get one, I get the other. How's that sound?"

Spike thought for a minute. In the old days he'd just have bitten the bloke and taken what he wanted. Then he'd have had to leave town in a few days, leaving the maker behind. Now . . .

"Sure thing, mate. You do the bait and I'll nick the goods. See you in an hour or so." Frankie opened his mouth but Spike forestalled him. "You know damn good an' well the old goat will find some reason to squeeze a quarter hour free out of you." He hopped off the dumpster. "Well, get on with it."

Frankie went inside and shut the door. Spike waited for a few seconds. When he heard Frankie start complaining about getting his break so late, Spike opened the dumpster and pulled out the coffee makers. There were three of them and he dragged them all out. They were awkward to carry, not because they were heavy but because they were fairly large. Spike grinned, popped them into a nearby, brand new wheeled trash can, and slipped away.

He settled in an alcove at the end of the alley to examine his booty. He was impressed to see that they were Victoria Arduino Venus Bar III commercial machines. One of the best Italian espresso machines around, and fairly expensive. These were capable of making over 400 cups of coffee an hour. He smirked to himself. Even the smallest of the machines was worth the effort of getting new seals.

Xander was going to love this. Spike couldn't wait to see the expression on his face.

Spike sat and smoked while he waited for Frankie to show up. He wasn't smoking as much as he used to. He didn't smoke around Xander at all. He wasn't about to expose him to all the carcinogens.


Frankie showed up exactly an hour later, panting slightly.

"Sorry. Man, that old bastard is gonna be the death of me yet. He made me do all the floors, stack the chairs and stock. Shithead . . . so, you get the machines?"

Spike nodded. "Yeah, all three of them. Put them in that trash can. Handy, that."

Frankie opened the can and examined the machines.

"They're in great shape. I stuck them in the dumpster carefully. I figured I'd work out some way to get them. Thanks . . . um . . . . You want first pick?"

Spike shrugged. "Na, take your pick. I'm happy with any of them. You want one. I'll find a use for the other two."

Frankie took the smallest machine. "I've wanted this since I saw it. It's just right for me. You can make twenty cups an hour with it. The other two are from the shop and too big for me. This one was the old man's. Look, I gotta get goin' or my girl is gonna have a fit."

Spike watched as Frankie grabbed his machine and hurried out of the alley. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and called for a limo to come get him. He was going to enjoy the look on Xander's face when he saw the coffee maker.

When he got back home Spike carried the coffee makers in and turned them over to Timmins.

Timmins sat both machines on the kitchen table and started disassembling them. Spike watched with interest.

"Guy I got them from said the seals were bad. Don't seem like they could be. The handles don't catch or anything."

Timmins laid the parts out and examined the seals. "Seals are bad. Not really bad, but they do need replacing. I'll order two sets tomorrow. If I'm careful, I can get a good set out of these and have one working in . . . half an hour."

Spike smiled happily. "Great. I can't wait to see Xander's face when he sees them. He said he wanted one a while ago . . . Where is the boy?"

Timmins looked up from the part he was examining. "He's still in his office, I think. I promised him coffee a while ago. He's translating some scroll or other and seemed very interested in it."

Spike gave Timmins a disbelieving look. "Xander Harris, the researchophobe is translating a scroll? Don't believe it. He's readin' a comic or sommat. I'm goin' to find him. Bring . . . no, let me know when the machine is ready and I'll bring him in to see it."

Timmins nodded absently. "Of course, Master."

Spike wandered down the hall, wondering if Xander was even awake. Sometimes he would fall asleep on the couch watching tv. Xander wasn't asleep, though, he was hunched over his desk writing something in a notebook. Spike tapped at the door.

Xander looked up, squinting slightly. "Spike, hey, come in. I'll ring for Timmins to get you some tea."

Spike sauntered in and plopped into a chair. "Don't bother. He's busy fixin' up your surprise. And no, I'm not tellin', you'll have to wait and see it . . . what ya doin'?"

Xander gave Spike a wary look. "I'm translating a Talpapda tribal scroll. I haven't gotten much past the title but it's a dilly." Xander consulted his notes. "The Proper Behavior Expected of something . . . it's been handled so much some of the text is really blurry . . . in the Court of Thanatos. It's in fair shape . . . um . . . you won't tell?" Spike shook his head. "I snitched it from Giles."

Spike couldn't help but snicker. "You what? Nicked it from the Watcher? That's rich. I won't tell, pet. But why?"

Xander smirked at Spike in a very unfamiliar way. "Because he told me I couldn't. Couldn't have it, couldn't translate it, couldn't understand it. But I can. I know I'm stupid. I know I don't know things. But I can learn if someone is patient enough to teach me. Really teach me, not just throw me a bone or rattle it off so fast I don't get it. So . . . I wanted it, I took it. I'll give it back after I'm done with it, no worse for wear."

Spike felt his jaw drop; this was a side of Xander he hadn't known was there.

"Well, pet, I'm fair gob smacked, I am. Can . . . never mind. When you're done with it, I'd like to read it. Can I see?" Spike gestured to the notebook Xander was writing in.

Xander shrugged. "Sure, but you won't be able to read it."

Spike eyed the scrawl in the note book. He'd never seen anything like it.

"What's this, then? Don't recognize it."

"Gregg Shorthand. Makes it easier to take notes and I can read it later. My handwriting is worse than a doctor's. So my English teacher says . . . said."

Spike considered eating the teacher, but decided that she or he would be too dry. No one should make Xander feel bad.

"So . . . how's the translation goin' then? Looks like you've made a little headway."

Xander took back his notes. "In the court it is imperative that the . . . not sure about that, but I think it's master . . . not show . . . this bit is weird . . . his pet off by allowing anyone to touch. It . . . or maybe he . . . is inviolate. Instant insult must be taken if liberties are . . . something . . . it's really hard to translate. I need several books that I don't have access to. Wish I had a copy of Wright's demon language catalogue. It'd be just what I need. And a copy of N'tk'la'd."

Spike was impressed; Xander actually got the glottal stops right.

"This language is full of words that only mean one thing and I don't have a good enough grasp of the vocabulary. And they only use honorifics, no names. Magic in a name, you know." Xander mumbled off as he started working on the translation.

Spike slipped out and checked on Timmins, who told him the machine wasn't quite ready yet. He then went into his office and retrieved the two books Xander had mentioned. He returned to Xander and placed the books by his elbow. Xander glanced at the offering, then yelped.

"Hey! The books. The very books I wanted. Thanks. Where'd you get them?"

Spike shrugged. "I got books. Lots of them. I'm not ignorant. Just don't care that much. Angelus was all about the violence. Beat the need to read out a' me ages ago. But . . . well, I like to still, so now that wanker isn't around, I do what I please. Got a bunch of books from the Order. Not that I'm interested in half of them. They sent all the books that they thought a Master like me ought to have."

Xander gave Spike a look he couldn't interpret and opened the N'tk'la'd. He spent twenty minutes comparing something in the book to something in the scroll. Spike watched as Xander scrunched his nose up and tugged at his hair, mumbling to himself.

Timmins tapped at the door and whispered just loudly enough for Spike to hear, "It's fixed."

Spike gently placed his hand on Xander's notebook. "Give it a rest, yeah? Timmins made coffee."

Xander grinned at Spike. "Oh, god, coffee. Great. Tell him to bring it in."

Spike shook his head. "Got a surprise for you, I do. Come to the kitchen so you can see."

Xander stood up and stretched. "Ok . . . . um . . . Spike?"

Spike jerked his eyes from Xander's exposed, flat, taut abs and pinned them on his face. "Yeah?"

"Kitchen? Surprise? Coffee?"

Spike turned reluctantly and led Xander to the kitchen.

Timmins smiled when he saw the delight on Xander's face. Sometimes he seemed so young. Spike had to grin; that look was priceless.

"Spike, you remembered. You . . . oh, man. This is so great. I heard the Espresso Pump replaced theirs. It won't be the same now. How'd you do this?"

Spike put on his most arrogant Spike-face and tipped his head to the side. "Got connections, don't I? Master Vampire, Master of Sunnydale, right?" Spike grinned at Xander. "Nicked ‘em."

Xander started laughing. "Oh, hell, Spike. You met Frankie, didn't you? He hates his job, and the owner of the place. He's always said if he could get one of the coffee makers, he'd quit the next day. Super." Xander turned to Timmins. "Well, fire it up. I want my coffee."

Timmins obediently did as he was told and offered Xander his choice of embellishments. Xander refused anything except a half spoon of sugar.

"This late at night, all I want is the espresso. But I do like a Snicker." Timmins raised his eyebrow and Xander gave him the recipe, much to Spike's amusement.

Xander sipped his coffee with obvious enjoyment and, when he was finished, asked for another. Timmins blinked. Spike was off on another round of snickering.

"And what is it you might be a sniggering at, may I make so bold as to ask?" Xander stuck his nose in the air.

Spikes opened his mouth, closed it then roared. Xander laughed along with him while Timmins muttered, "Butchering Pygmalion. What next?" but he was smiling too.

Xander was finishing his second double when his cell phone rang. He picked it up and punched the connect then wished he hadn't.

"Alexander, take some advice from a friend. Forget whatever it is you think you know. It won't be pretty if you don't. Bad things might happen. Remember, you're only human, people make mistakes. Make the right one."

Xander took the phone away from his ear, looked at it for a second then just disconnected.

Spike and Timmins were both looking at him like he'd grown another appendage.

Timmins snarled so nastily that Xander gave him a puzzled look, but was distracted by Spike. Spike reached out, took the phone from Xander and fiddled with it for a moment. Then he glared at Xander.

"No callback number. It's blocked. What the bleedin' hell was that about? An' don't give me that innocent look. You're not stupid, no matter what the bloody Scooby gang think. ‘Fess! Now!"

Xander sighed. He hadn't though they'd find him quite this soon. Or that Spike would be this upset.

"Ok. Damn it! I wish . . . no, I don't. Ok. First, do you know what coring is?" Spike started to make some smart remark, saw the look on Xander's face and shut his mouth, shaking his head instead. "Coring is a way of stacking bundles that leaves the A on the outside and low grade in the middle. And . . . you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Spike shook his head. So Xander launched into an explanation of coring and various versions of the same fraudulent trick. As well as several other tricks lumber yards and hardware providers used. He talked for ten minutes while Spike listened seriously, Timmins kept coffee and snacks flowing.

"So I caught them out. The amount of stuff set aside amounts to several thousand dollars, just eyeballing it. And that's got to be the tip of the iceberg. Not good. That's why I got sent home early. And I'm on leave until further notice. Paid, but I'd rather work." Xander ruffled his hair with one hand and grumbled under his breath.

"So this idiot calls you and threatens you for a few thousand dollars worth of wood? Is he suicidal or crazy or both?"

Xander shrugged. "Who knows? Most of the people I work with don't even know vampires and whatnot exist. Much less Masters and all that. So a knee breaker calls the little guy to shut me up. Won't work. I'm not sure what happens next. I think I have to see lawyers and stuff."

Spike nodded thoughtfully and picked at his lower lip. "I'll see what I can come up with. If the threat is real . . . not that I don't believe you. Heard the threats myself, didn't I? But is it an empty threat? Or will they really do something? Hmm. Timmins, tell Bruce to start training Xander in self defense. And get hold of my Solicitor and have him find out what's going on, what Xander has gotten himself mixed up in." Spike turned to Xander. "You do what Bruce tells you to. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can . . . damn that bloody Watcher. If he didn't have Buffy on the brain, he'd have trained you himself. Fuck."

Spike stormed out, leaving Xander blinking in his wake.

"Well, that was . . . different."

Timmins silently snarled and made the preparations Spike had ordered.


The next morning was interesting for Xander. First, he got espresso from his new machine, which was a treat. Second, he got a bodyguard. Third, Bruce came to get him for his morning workout. Since he'd been working out in the evening after going back to work, this confused him.

"But . . . I . . . you . . . Spike!" Xander's voice rose to a near whine.

Bruce just chivied him to the gym.

The first thing Bruce did was have Xander fight him, which turned out to be a disaster. Xander flailed, stumbled, and generally demonstrated his usual fighting style. Bruce eyed him, then snarled, "What is wrong with you? You've got excellent instincts but you . . . you act like you're afraid to fight, afraid not to and know you're going to get hurt no matter what."

Xander shrugged. "Got it in one."

"Excuse me?"

"My dad. Well, let's just say he'll never win father of the year. He'd smack me around and if I fought him, he'd smack me more. If I didn't fight him, I'm a sissy. And that ambidextrous thing messes me up, too. So yeah, no matter what I do, I know I'm gonna be hurting."

Bruce ground his teeth. Xander was the kindest, most loyal, biggest hearted person he'd met in a long time. The way his parents treated him made Bruce want to bite them.

"I know what you're thinking. Don't bother. You'll only get indigestion. Or alcohol poisoning. Now . . . I'm fucked up. How do we fix it? Oh, and I don't have to go in to work until further notice. So, I was thinking. I could work out an hour in the morning, have breakfast, do some translating I want to do. Then we could have another session in the afternoon. That leaves the evening for . . . um . . . things."

Bruce agreed with Xander and made mental notes to be sure that Xander had as many successes as possible early on. His self confidence was almost nonexistent.

"Good. I think an hour in the morning dedicated to learning forms, half an hour of Tai Chi, then shower, breakfast, and then on with the rest of your day is good. The afternoon sessions will be spent in combining forms and actual training in combat. Do you do any weapons?"

Xander shrugged. "Not too bad with an ax. But . . . I'd really like to learn to use a sword. Ok. Laugh now."

"Wouldn't dream of it. If you want to learn to use a sword, that's a good thing. I can teach you to use a katana. One somewhat like this one."

Xander gave him a blank look so Bruce went to a locker on the wall and took out a katana. Xander eeped. The thing was longer than he thought a sword ought to be.

"This is my personal sword. It is an odachi, longer than a katana by one shaku." At Xander's puzzled expression, he explained. "A foot. I'll go over the different swords and knives with you later. Right now I need to find you a sword. One that fits you. I never did understand this attitude you westerners have. You can't just grab a sword and use it. You need training, a great deal of it."

Xander started to object that he didn't have time for lengthy training but Bruce forestalled him.

"I know you need to learn something now. But I don't know anything about broadswords so I'll teach you what I know. There's a lot that is effective and easy to learn. I'll teach you the finer arts too, but later. So . . . sword."

Xander blinked for a second. "I don't know. Could we skip swords for right now? I think I need to learn more forms before anything else."

Bruce shrugged, tucked the sword back in the locker and returned to face Xander.

"Very well. I'm not going to insist. But we do need to work on your flinches. You've got an impressive set of them. How you . . . never mind. That you've survived this long, with that mess, fighting demons and vampires is astounding."

Xander gulped then forced the words through clenched teeth. "I can fight . . . just . . . my dad really . . . messed me up. You cure me and I'll . . . I don't know what. And I don't care how you do it. I'll do anything you say. You've helped me lots already. So, you say, I do. Let's get started."

Bruce took a stance and told Xander to take its mate. Xander stood in stance and Bruce started teaching him pushing. Each stance has an ‘answer', the object of pushing being to teach attacks and counters. Xander did very well and Bruce told him so. Xander flushed with pleasure.

Bruce demonstrated a form and led Xander through it several times until he had it right.

"Now do it one hundred times correctly. I'll keep count. And watch you for form. It's important to grind the feel of the movements into your muscles."

Xander thought for a second. "Like hammering in a nail. Do it enough and you can do it with one blow."

Bruce nodded. "Exactly. Can you do that?"

Xander shrugged. "Yeah, and I don't dimple the dry wall when I do it, either."

"Oh, well, that makes things a little easier. At least I know you're capable of doing this. It's just a matter of overcoming ingrained reactions."

Xander took up his beginning stance and started practicing. Bruce corrected him once or twice but was pleased to see that Xander had gotten the form down very well within the first ten repetitions.

Spike came in to see how Xander was doing. He stood and watched for several minutes then walked over to Bruce.

"How's he doing?"

Bruce didn't turn his head. "Well." He called to Xander. "That's fifty. Keep count yourself now. Master Spike wants me."

Xander grunted in acknowledgment and continued to work.

"Please forgive me, Master. I was counting his repetitions. It's very important to keep proper track. How may I help you?"

Spike rubbed his forehead. "First off, relax, I'm not gonna punish you for being insolent. Especially if you're working with Xander. Tell me how he's doing."

"Very well, in light of how he was trained. His father seems to be at the root of most of his problems. Or his friends. He could have been an excellent fighter, but no one trained him. And his father has destroyed his reflexes. His natural instincts are good, but every time he starts a good move, he flinches. He is going to have to do some real work to break himself of bad habits."

Spike muttered, "Soddin' fuck. I'm gonna kill him." Then he pinned Bruce with a stern glare. "Fix him."

Bruce bowed. "Yes, Master. My pleasure."

"How bad is it, really? And is there anything I can do?"

"Very bad. As to what you can do, you could work out with him a bit."

Spike considered this for a while then shrugged. He didn't mind working out with Xander; that gave him an excuse to touch him without getting him all fired up.

He watched Xander do his form for a moment. "Ok. That'll be good. Just . . . I don't want to make him look bad."

"You won't. I want him to practice throwing. He can't work out with most of the people . . . vampires that are available. They don't have the reflexes needed to be careful enough with him and I don't want them developing them. That would make them bad bodyguards. You won't hurt him by accident. Also, it'll help develop trust between you. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll need you. If that is acceptable."

"It is. Just don't wear him out too much."

Just then Xander exclaimed, "One hundred! Now what?" He turned to see Spike and grinned. "Hey. Workin' out here. See me, working out man. And what do I owe this pleasure to?"

Spike aimed an exasperated glare in Xander's general direction and snarled, "Shut it. Ya sound like an idiot. An' I'm here to check up on ya. You're doin' good so far but Bruce says you need a sparrin' partner. I'm it."

Xander gave Spike a deer in the headlights look and started stammering. "I . . . but . . . Spike . . . you . . . Buffy . . . you."

Spike blew up. "Damn it, whelp, shut it. Find a thread and follow it to some sort of sentence."

Xander took a deep breath, organized his thoughts and started again. "Spike, I don't know. I'm not even in your city, skill-wise. You nearly beat Buffy. I really think the only reason you lost is because you remembered you weren't supposed to fight her at all. I . . . I'd really rather you didn't break my bones. I'm tired of being laid up."

Spike reached out and gently caught Xander by the back of the neck. "I'm not gonna beat up on you. One of the reasons I'm a good choice is I'm a good fighter. I won't hurt you by accident. And if you mess up and hit me you won't hurt me. The other reason is . . . well, I wanna. ‘K?"

Xander shrugged. "Ok. What do we do first?"

Bruce took over and Spike and Xander spent the next hour working on pushing with each other. Spike was a bit bored but he was determined to keep his boy safe, and if that meant being bored, so be it.

So he pushed with Xander, taking it easy in order not to knock him over. Bruce watched, called instructions and corrections to Xander and marveled at Spike's expertise.

"Master, I didn't know you knew martial arts."

Spike shrugged. "Spent ten years in China. Killed me a Slayer there. Learned something about martial arts but a refresher wouldn't hurt. Work out with me."

Bruce bowed. "Of course. It would be an honor. At what time?"

"Right after Xander does his afternoon bit. That'll be convenient for both of us and maybe I can work off enough piss that I don't feel like killing every bugger that argues with me."

Bruce nodded and told Xander to go take a shower then get breakfast. He also reminded Xander that he needed to eat a good breakfast. Neither Bruce nor Spike noticed the sullen glower Xander gave them.


Breakfast for Xander was just not what he wanted. It was good. He had a very nice omelet with mushrooms, onions and ham, toast, juice and coffee. The only thing he really enjoyed was the coffee.

He wasn't ungrateful to Timmins for cooking for him, but he was feeling insecure with all the changes. He really wanted a breakfast of things he was used to. Like Cocoa Puffs with chocolate milk, Wonder Bread toast with grape jelly and coffee with sugar and cream. He was really tired of eating healthy, especially as most healthy food seemed to taste bland.

Xander decided to make a small road trip. He picked up his truck keys and headed for the door.

"Hey, Timmins, I'm going out for a little while. Be back in no more than two hours. ‘K?"

Timmins poked his head out of the laundry room. "Master Xander, you can't go out without a bodyguard. It'd be more than my skin is worth. Wait just a minute and I'll find someone to go with you."

Xander clenched his keys in his fist. He didn't need a guard.

Spike wandered by, smoking and grumbling. He looked up at Xander and remarked in a casual way that made Xander grind his teeth, "You waitin' for your bodyguard? Good on you, pet. See ya."

Xander gave Spike's retreating back a good glare and mumbled, "So not the boss of me. Don't care about that damn spell. I'll do what I want . . . just you try and stop me."

But he waited for the bodyguard anyway. He didn't want to get Timmins in trouble.

He was relieved to see that the demon sent to guard him looked amazingly human. The only thing that could give him away was his eyes, which were solid black, no whites. He hid them with sunglasses, which weren't that unusual in the sunny SoCal setting of Sunnydale.

Xander eyed him for a second. He eyed right back.

"Ok. I can tell you don't want me. But take it this way: If I don't go, Master Spike will do things to me that are really uncomfortable, to be polite about it. I'd rather put up with a sulky human than a pissed off High Master. So . . . you wanna go out? We go."

Xander rubbed his face. "Ok, point taken. I'm sorry. Come on. Oh, do you have a name that I can pronounce?"

"Sure. Just call me Bud. It's short for . . . well, it starts out Budaduhananuh. . . and goes downhill from there."

Xander led the way to his truck. "What's it mean, if it's not rude for me to ask?"

Bud climbed into the truck. "Not rude. In fact, it's considered rather arrogant not to ask. It means Youngest Warrior to Kill a . . . well, that's the part that you don't want to hear. It sounds sort of like a pig caught in a fence. Bad for human ears. It's a big bear like thing. I killed it when I was about your age."

Xander was concentrating on getting the truck out of the garage and into traffic so he asked before he thought. "How old are you?"

Bud made a face. "Now, that was rude."

Xander spared Bud a glance. "Sorry. What kind of demon are you? I might recognize the name. Might keep you from having to call a vendetta on me."

Bud snorted good naturedly. "I'm an Immah. But don't worry. I've been around humans long enough not to take offence unless it's intended. Pay attention!"

Xander did some fancy driving to avoid the SUV that cut him off. He also did some fancy swearing, in several demon languages, Spanish and English.

Bud grinned. "Well, a well-rounded man. What was that third language?"


Xander turned his attention to the traffic. Everybody on the road seemed to be demented. Xander realized what day it was.

"Well, shit. It's Saturday. I should have kept better track but I seem to be on overload right now. Everything is happening at once. Fuck. All I want is some snacks and . . . hey . . . there's a 7-11! I'll pull in there . . . um . . . you're not going to be all bodyguardy, are you? I don't want to attract a lot of attention. Just a quick in and out snack raid."

Bud eyed the store. "No, I'm not going to be all bodyguardy . . . is that a word?" Xander shrugged. "I'll just come in with you, like we're buddies. Just don't hand me anything. I can't get to a weapon if my hands are full of stuff."

Xander nodded. He could understand that.

They wandered into the store, looking like nothing more that a couple of friends picking up snacks and sodas. Xander took his time wandering up and down the isles.

Bud stopped to watch Xander from one corner of the store. It was easy to use the security mirrors to keep track of him without seeming to. Xander moved with unconscious grace and Bud wondered how he could be so clumsy when he was around Spike. He shrugged the thought off. He was just a bodyguard. It wasn't his business.

Xander gathered up his choices and went to the checkout. He was slightly amused and a little offended when the clerk carefully shut the bullet proof shield. He smiled and made a small ‘I'm harmless' gesture. The clerk efficiently scanned his purchases and took his money. She handed him his sack and watched as he left. She knew she'd offended him, but his broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms had made her nervous.


Xander parked his truck and thanked Bud for going with him. He watched a moment as Bud smiled at him, revealing teeth more pointed than a human's, then disappeared through the door to the mansion. Xander realized that it hadn't been that unpleasant to have him along.

He told Arnold he needed a small storage room. He used the excuse that he needed a place to put things that he didn't need every day at the site. He really did want to get some of the tools off his truck, but what he really wanted was a stash. A place he could hide things. It was ingrained in him to keep precious things out of sight.

Arnold showed him a small room off the garage proper and told him he could put his tools there. He also gave Xander a key which Xander assumed, for some reason, was the only one.

Xander moved some of his tools into the room, set up a work bench and spent a while just messing around. He also stashed his snacks, except for what he ate. He gobbled down several packages of Twinkies and Ho-Ho's, as well as some chips.

After stuffing himself with things that weren't good for him, Xander ambled into his office. I have an office? Fancy that. Xander settled at his desk, booted up his laptop, and started working on the scroll again. He also had an interesting book in cuneiform that he wanted to read.

He wondered idly what Spike was doing but decided that he kind of didn't want to know.


Spike followed Timmins to the level below the one Xander was working in. He wondered what the devil Timmins was up to now.

"Master. I hope I haven't displeased you. Your . . . our . . . supply of blood is so unreliable it's a disgrace. The last batch had to be destroyed. It was all contaminated with drugs and alcohol. If you like such a thing, that's different. But you said you didn't and neither do I. Since you . . . er . . . don't hunt, I thought this was a good compromise."

Timmins opened the door and showed Spike a small sitting room. Very well appointed with a fainting couch, coffee table, easy chair and desk. It looked very Victorian. Spike shuddered slightly.

"Well, who's this supposed to impress? It's awful. Reminds me of my granny's sitting room. And could you find any more chichi stuff?" Every flat surface was covered with bits and pieces, figurines, bowls, vases of silk flowers and brass doodads.

Timmins shrugged. "Sometimes you have to give the masses what they expect before you can guide them in the way you want them to go."

Spike sighed. "Could we get to the point? Please. I'm hungry an' I don't wanna wait too long. So get on with it, will ya?"

Timmins nodded, crossed the room and opened a door on the other side. "Come this way."

Spike followed Timmins into what appeared to be a long hallway. The workmanship was so poor as to be dangerous. Spike eyed the shaky walls with displeasure.

"What the hell?"

Timmins let Spike through another doorway without comment.

Spike's jaw dropped. There had to be at least a dozen boys and men here. All of them standing in a row, watching him with a combination of fear and anticipation.

"There are also some girls and women in the other dormitory but these are the healthiest right now."

Spike stared at the humans for a moment then realized what Timmins had done. "That's where the fresh blood is coming from, isn't it? You've set me up a stable. Hell, this is great . . . or damn bad. Not sure which yet. Timmins, how am I supposed to bite them? Tell me that."

Timmins raised his head and turned it to the side, a submissive gesture that Spike hadn't seen in way too long. Spike snorted and repeated his question. Timmins lowered his head and looked Spike in the eyes.

"If you don't want to hurt them, I don't think the chip will punish you. You said it only . . . I believe you used the term ‘fired', when you tried to bite someone and you've always bitten to kill. I think if you just feed nothing will happen."

Spike considered. He'd always thought of the ‘little drink' as a poofter's excuse for being too afraid to kill. But now . . . he had way too much to lose to leave a trail of corpses and newbies. He bit at his lip as he watched the men standing, waiting, watching.

"So, how do we do this? I just pick one?"

Timmins nodded. "I've explained what is going to happen to them . . . I fed off one in the presence of the others. They're not going to get upset. I believe ‘freak out' is the term."

"You use the little drink? How do you keep from taking too much?"

Timmins thought, this is going to get me punished; he was sure of it. "Self control. You just take a certain amount and stop. If you roll them, most humans don't even remember it. They feel a little tired the next day but that's all. It takes a little longer to get full. Three or four humans are needed."

Spike pointed to a man. "Him." His choice was a big man, hard faced and square in the shoulders. He didn't look like he'd freak easily.

The man followed Spike, who followed Timmins into a near by room. It was rather clinical, with a barber's chair in the middle of it and behind that a tall stool on castors. It was excruciatingly clean. One of the reasons Spike felt nothing but contempt for what he called ‘the nibblers' was that they lived in filth.

The big man settled comfortably in the chair and Timmins tipped it back, showing Spike how it worked. Spike sat on the stool and scooted closer. He eyed the man, who eyed him back.

"If the chip fires an' you peach, you're dead."

"You're giving me three hot's and a cot. A second chance and something worth doing. I'm silent joe. Ok?"

Spike decided to get on with things and ask questions later. He thought for a moment then decided to break with tradition completely and feed from the arm instead of the neck. The blood would flow slower, giving him more control over how much he took.

He licked the bend of the man's elbow and then bit into the vein there. Nothing happened; the chip didn't even give him a twinge. He drank until Timmins patted him on the shoulder. He opened his mouth slowly, then licked the two pin prick marks until they stopped bleeding. Timmins stepped up and covered the scabbed over marks with a large bandaid.

Spike just sat back and waited as the man bowed carefully then left, walking slowly. Timmins went to the door and turned him over to someone on the other side, to be taken some place to recover, Spike assumed.

"Master? Are you all right? You're trembling."

Spike realized that he was. A slow tremor ran down his body, then another. He put one hand to his face and felt the tears he hadn't known were flowing until he smelt them. Timmins retreated to the hall to give Spike some privacy. This wasn't something anyone should see.

Spike stifled his sobs by biting into his own arm. He could feed. Not like he was used to, but he could eat, he could take care of himself. He didn't have to rely on the Watcher, the Scoobies, or anyone else. He gulped back the last of his tears, washed his face at the small sink in the corner and called Timmins.


"With the exception of my honor, Xander or a few books, you ask for it and it's yours. I mean it."

Timmins smiled happily. "I'll think on it. But for now, I'm just happy that it worked. I'll bring you another, shall I?"

Spike fed off two more men, easily stopping before he took too much. It was different from the nibblers, who fed without killing. At least, not immediately. Spike resolved to run the last of them out of town soon.

As they returned to the upper levels, Spike asked a few questions. The answers amazed him.

Timmins had been prowling the neighborhood to find people who, through different bad circumstances, were in trouble. He'd offered them help in exchange for being under a contract for one year.

Spike settled to read the contract for himself. It was an interesting document, full of blanks to be filled in to fit the individual. Generally it promised education, job training, rehabilitation or some other desirable but unattainable thing in return for: not using drugs, drinking to excess or smoking and giving one unit of blood every three weeks. It also contained some riders about reasons for breaking the contract, including ill health.

"Timmins. I don't like this rider. Take it out. If they get sick, it's not their fault. In fact, it'll probably be mine. So . . . don't bite the hand that feeds." Spike snickered at the same time Timmins did. "Bad choice of phrase but you know what I mean."

Timmins allowed that he did. And said that he'd have the lawyers on the revisions tomorrow.

For more information about the espresso maker: http://www.espressoimports.com/nuovasimonelli_victoria-arduino.html
If you're really interested in swords go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katana#Classification_by_length

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