Ulterior Motives


by
Yanagi_wa



Part Nine

Xander decided that he was going to work on the lower level in the morning. He wanted to get it done as soon as he could. He didn't want Spike's ‘people' living in squalor. He thought of them as people, even though they were vampires and demons. There were too many of them who were likeable, good people who did their best not to hurt anyone. He sighed. Things had been a lot easier before he became an ex-Scooby. He didn't need to know that some demons were good.

He shrugged and set to finishing the walls of the cubicle he was working on. If he got this one finished today, he could finish the last of this line tomorrow. That meant he only had one more hallway to finish. He also had a training session to get to. Then he could look for something else to do.


~*~*~*~*~


Giles shuffled the papers on his desk around, looking for a scroll he was sure he'd left there. The last person he'd seen with it was Xander. Xander. . . he hadn't thought of him for a week or more.

Giles stopped still for a moment. Then he snarled. Something was seriously wrong. He was supposed to have done something. He settled back in his chair and thought hard. Then he shuffled papers again with more serious intent.

He found the book and notes that Spike had given him. He remembered going over them once, to see what Willow had done. But he couldn't remember doing more than that. Something about a spell from Mim's and thralls. He found his mind wandering, but this time he firmly pulled it back to the business at hand.

Half an hour later he was wondering if he'd be censured by the Council of Watchers for strangling Willow. She'd not only cast a thrall spell, but a protected one at that. One that could, and had, distracted anyone from attempting to break it. Not that this one could be broken.

Giles rubbed his forehead and started gathering spell ingredients. He knew he couldn't break the spell, but he could break the protection. At least then they'd remember Xander.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander picked up his cell phone, put it down, picked it back up. He wanted to call Willow but the last three times he'd called her she hadn't called back. He was beginning to wonder if they'd ever really been friends. Had he just been convenient? He couldn't believe that. She'd spent way too much time trying to help him with homework and other things for him to believe that. So what was going on?

Buffy was next on the list; he hadn't called her yet. When the phone began to ring, he had hopes.

"Hello? Buffy here."

"Hey, Buffy. Xander. How's things?"

"Oh, hey, Xander. Everything's fine. I'm just about to go out. I've got a study group in . . . shit, five minutes. And if I'm late again I'm going to get kicked out. I've got to go. I'll give you a call later . . . this afternoon. No, sorry. Tomorrow? Or day after. Gottago,seeyou,bye."

The phone clicked and Xander took it away from his ear, stared at it for a second then threw it at the wall. It shattered into pieces. Just like his heart.

He stumbled to his rooms and leaned against the door. He couldn't believe that Buffy had blown him off like that. He hadn't seen any of his so-called friends in at least a month, except for that one night when he'd lost his temper with them. And that had been their fault.

All he wanted to do was curl up and cry. Or kick someone. Or thing. He compromised by kicking the door shut then curling up on his bed and trying not to cry.

Spike heard the door slam as he headed for Xander's office. He'd heard an odd sound, like something hitting the wall, and decided to investigate. Now all he could hear were suppressed gasping sounds.

He tapped at Xander's door and after hearing a muffled ‘go away' he opened it and entered. Seeing Xander curled in the middle of his bed gave Spike a funny feeling in his chest. Not a funny ha ha feeling, either.

"Hey, pet. What's all the fuss about, huh? Tell me. Come here." Spike settled against the headboard and pulled Xander against him. "Hush, now. I'll fix it if I can."

Xander sniffled softly and shook his head, grinding his cheek against Spike's ribs. "Can't. I c-called Buffy. She blew me off. I ca-a-a-lled Willow last week. At least th-th-three times. She never called. . . " Xander gave up trying to talk and sobbed; harsh sobs, dragged out of him by grief. Spike hated the sound.

"Shhh, pet. Don't fratch yourself. I don't know what to say. I'd like to say I'll fix it . . . but I can't fix this. It was broken long before I came along."

Spike shifted until his torso was wrapped around Xander's head and as much of his shoulders as possible. He sifted his fingers through Xander's flopping bangs and over his scalp. He petted and stroked, cooing softly, just like he'd done for Dru when she was upset but with much better results. Xander finally stopped crying. He sniffled for a few moments then accepted the tissues Spike offered.

After blowing his nose and wiping the last of his tears off his face, Xander sighed. "Am I that big a fuck up? That bad a friend? What the hell is going on? I don't deserve this. I . . . I think I hate them. Just a little. I shouldn't, should I? Or . . maybe I should. I don't want to. But. . . I feel like hell."

Spike gave the best advice he could. "Maybe you should just forget about them. If they want to be friends, let them make the first advances. They're the ones who are wrong. You don't need them, anyway. You've got better friends at the site and here. I'm not knockin' ‘em, but you've got to admit the Scooby gang don't treat you right. Here, blow your nose again." Spike looked at his watch. "Then you better head for the gym. Bruce will be expecting you."

Xander blew, wiped and left. Spike glared at the wall, thinking.

While Spike did some serious thinking, Xander did some serious working out. He and Bruce went over all the Tai Chi forms he knew and Bruce demonstrated their more violent applications. They worked on pushing and then Bruce taught Xander another form and set him to practicing.

Bruce wasn't sure what was wrong with Xander but he could smell the remains of tears. He wasn't about to ask questions but he was going to do his best to support Xander. He taught Xander another beginning form and made sure that he knew it properly before he set him to repeating it one hundred times.

Xander worked himself into an exhausted state, where he knew he wasn't going to do much thinking. It wasn't worth worrying about, so he wasn't going to. If Willow and his other friends didn't want to be friends anymore, he'd get over it.

Bruce reached out to correct Xander's stance and found himself on his back on the mats. He blinked once, very slowly. Xander was standing over him with a very unpleasant expression on his face.

"Easy, Master Xander. I just meant to correct your stance. I meant no offence. Please forgive me."

Xander gave Bruce a thousand-yard stare for two seconds then he snapped back to himself with an almost audible click. Bruce nearly cheered.

"What. . . who . . . how. . . I'm sorry. Really, really sorry. What the hell, just . . . I . . . Did I hurt you? Here . . . let me help you up."

Bruce accepted Xander's hand up and settled his gi. "What happened? I touched you unexpectedly. Don't be sorry. I didn't expect something like this. This is good, in one way, and bad in another. Your natural reflexes have been suppressed so thoroughly that it's a crime, but this proves to me that you can be retrained."

Xander held up a hand to silence Bruce. Bruce obediently fell silent as Xander paced and thought. When he finally came to a standstill, he had an unexpected expression on his face. Fierce, furious, determined. It sat well there.

"I know you said you wouldn't train me like you were trained. But . . ." Xander sighed, outlined the threat from the unknown person and reason behind it briefly. Then went on to floor his teacher. "I don't care what it takes. I want what I should have. I want my reflexes to be what they should be. Train me. Teach me."

Bruce knew exactly what he had to do to break Xander's ingrained flinches. After he explained it to Xander, all Xander said was, "If we do it that way, how long will it take to fix me?"

Bruce thought carefully. "If you can take it, two days, maybe three."

Xander nodded. "I'm going to spend tonight finishing up a translation, eat a good supper and breakfast. Then we'll train. Ok?"

Bruce nodded. "Yes. I'll see you this afternoon for our second session, where I'll finish my assessment. Then I'll see you in the morning. We'll begin intensive training then."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike examined the blueprint of his mansion and grumbled. He didn't like hidden passages, no matter that he used them to his advantage. They were a disadvantage when he was trying to establish security.

The stairs were a problem. One staircase went to the lower level where the vampire populace lived, another one went to the next level where his stable was situated. But there were two more. One was blocked at the top with a layer of concrete, the other descended several levels without a doorway and disappeared into darkness. He didn't like the smell of it. Neither did anyone else.

He thought about sending someone to investigate it but he wasn't sure who he could trust. If he sent in someone he didn't trust, he would never be sure of the answers he got. If he sent in someone he trusted and something happened to him, he'd be out a valuable asset. Either way, he was fucked. He decided not to worry about it.

"Make a sign for that door. No one goes down there."

Spike ambled off and forgot about the door for now. He had other fish to fry.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike spent a while examining the quarters his stable occupied. They were clean, neat and badly constructed.

"Who built this rabbit warren?"

Timmins glanced around then motioned to two men, who came forward. Spike recognized them as members of his stable.

One of them spoke, carefully keeping his eyes on the floor. "We did, Master. We're just jack leg carpenters, so it's not much. But it's better than nothing. . . Sir."

Spike eyed him but realized that he wasn't trying to be insolent, he just didn't know how he was supposed to act. Timmins frowned at the man and he shuffled his feet.

"You address me as Master exclusively. Not Sir, not Mister, not anything but Master. Ok? Now . . . I know you did your best and I appreciate it but this mess has got to be fixed as soon as possible. Timmins. . . see if you can't get Xander to set something up. The humans need . . . different arrangements."

Timmins nodded. "Yes, Master. I'll . . ." Timmins shut his mouth as Spike made a sharp gesture.

"Never mind, I'll ask him myself. I'm going to have to do more with the boy. I've been neglecting him. All this politicking is getting in the way of my unlife. Gonna stop soon. . . or else."

Spike stomped off in a flap of black leather.

He had some arrangements and a call to make.

It didn't take him more than twenty minutes to start delegating; he'd always been good at picking seconds. He could weigh a man, or demon, figure out his strengths and weaknesses. So he got things sorted and sifted, as me ol' mum used to say.

"Now, if there's a question, come to me. Day to day, you lot take care of it. I don't want to be bothered with petty stuff. I'll hold court once a week. Anything you can't handle that won't wait until then, I'll handle as needed. Now get out, go to work and stop pestering me."

Spike lit a cigarette and glared around, all the ‘advisors' either looked down or away. He nodded his head sharply and headed out to find Xander.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander settled down to work on his translation. He was finding the scroll interesting in a weird sort of way. And very informative. He just wished whoever had written it had used a better ink for the diacritic marks.

Spike sauntered in the room and wandered over to see what Xander was glaring at.

"Wot ya got? That scroll again? What's so interesting about it?"

Xander noticed that Spike's accent faded the more he talked. What's with that? he wondered. "It's just neat. Great information on how the oldest vampire court was run. All the rules and why they were made and how they were enforced. It's really interesting. Here. . . here's some that I've already translated."

Spike took the scribbled over sheets from Xander and squinted at one. "Can't read this."

Xander flushed. "Sorry. It's in shorthand. I'll type it up for you, if you like."

Spike put the papers down on Xander's desk. "Get you a transcriptionist. You don't need to waste your time with that. What language is that in?"

Xander looked at the scroll Spike was pointing at. "That's in cuneiform. And this one is in Demotic." Xander handed Spike a potsherd.

Spiked squinted at it. "You've got to be kidding me. Since when do you know this stuff?"

Xander shrugged. "I'm good at symbolic languages. Don't know why, just am."

"Well, pet, if you're so good, why don't you let the Watcher know?"

Xander shrugged. "Since when does a Zeppo know anything? I told Giles it was my work the first time I did a translation. He made Willow do it again. She had a pile of homework to do, which I never did. She was so upset I didn't have the heart to do it again. I just did the translations, handed them to Giles and let him believe whatever he wanted. No skin off my nose, after all."

Spike gritted his teeth. "Well, that stops now. No more translating for Giles without you get proper credit. Got me?"

Xander gazed at Spike with a bemused expression on his face. He wondered why Spike was getting so pissed; it wasn't like he was invested in this.

"Ok. That's fine with me. I kinda like having time to translate what I want to instead of some boring old prophecy that's probably wrong anyway. . . why is that, do you suppose?"

Spike settled on the edge of Xander's desk. "Because the damn things have been translated through several different languages, most like. There's only a few really reliable demon seers and even fewer human ones. If you like, I'll see if I can't get you a copy of Radell's Sights. It's reliable, but it's in Itemme. And it doesn't lend itself to the English alphabet."

Xander shrugged. "What does their symbology look like?"

"Sorta like hieroglyphics. And there's more than six thousand of them."

Xander thought. "Can you get me a dictionary?"

"Sure. Not that hard to come by." Spike patted his pockets, withdrew his cigarettes and headed for the door. "I'm going to work out with Bruce. See you in a few."

Xander noticed that Spike didn't light up until he was out the door, for which he was grateful. Smoke bothered him since he'd been sick.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike ambled into the gym. "Got something for me to wear? I don't fancy tryin' to work out in this duster."

Bruce smiled at his Master, who was smirking at him in an amused way. "This way, Master. I checked some sources and I know what you're entitled to. Please."

Bruce motioned to Spike to go before him. Spike picked up the uniform and snickered softly. "Hakama always look like a skirt. So . . . I'm entitled to this?"

Bruce bowed. "Yes, Master. Unless you'd prefer a gi."

Spike shrugged. "You went to a lot of trouble to get this. Thank you." He bowed slightly, Bruce bowed back and left to prepare the dojo. Spike put on the hakama, never bothering to think that they seemed inappropriate to someone who'd never been to Japan. He'd earned the right to wear anything he wanted a long time ago.

Spike settled into a kneeling position facing Bruce. They bowed to each other and went through the formalities necessary to keep their demons from rising and killing each other. Spike was more concerned than Bruce was.

After the short ceremony, during which Spike accepted a bit of blood from Bruce and gave him a drop from the tip of a finger, they were ready to work out.

Bruce started them out with a short warm up so that he could watch Spike. He wanted to familiarize himself with Spike's style and let him do the same. Spike allowed Bruce his illusions, just for a little while. When Bruce started the workout proper, Spike didn't pull his punches.

"Ow! Master, I knew you were good but this is exceptional. How . . . er . . . don't punish me, please. But how that Slayer could beat you time after time, I don't understand."

Spike sighed. "Not gonna punish you. Had to let her beat me. I had a debt to pay to the Order of Taraka. They wanted me to stay here and keep her distracted. Didn't tell me why, and I'm not stupid enough to ask. And I'm supposed to keep the newbies to a reasonable level, now I'm Master of the Hellmouth. Thanks for nothing. So. . . "

Bruce flinched. "Owing a debt to The Order is nothing to fool around with. So now I have my answers. And another question, if you don't mind." Spike raised one eyebrow. "What is that buzzing? Or humming. Maybe it's a vibration of some sort."

"That's the Hellmouth. The other reason most of my plans went south. It interferes with . . . brain waves or common sense or something. Bugs the hell out of me. Makes me short tempered and distracted. I hate the sodding Hellmouth. If it wasn't direct orders from the Master of Taraka, I'd leave. . . for good."

"I see. It doesn't seem to bother me much, except when I'm really tired."

"Some are more susceptible, or sensitive, than others. I know demons that can barely feel it, and others that like it. Then there are others it drives crazy. And it attracts demons and vampires like a magnet. I think it messes with humans, too."

Bruce gathered himself together and spent another hour working with Spike. There was nothing he could teach, but he could catch and correct errors in form. Spike did the same for him.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander eyed Spike for a moment then entered the dojo. After bowing to Bruce, he turned to Spike and bowed. Spike bowed back, keeping his eyes on him. Xander blinked then grinned.

"I'm supposed to work out with you. You're going to help me learn to fall? Not so happy with this. But. . . "

Bruce shushed Xander. "Master Spike is very good. Very good. You'll learn how to fall without hurting yourself." Spike couldn't suppress a snicker. "Hush. And you'll learn how to throw. Simple, down and dirty throws. None of that stuff you see on TV. You're learning how to defend yourself, not entertain a bunch of Jackie Chan wannabe's. Nothing against Master Chan, you understand."

Xander nodded. "Yeah. Ok. Just . . . fragile human here. I don't want something broken just now."

Spike took the opportunity to check Xander out. He looked good. Hard and brown and – Spike forced his mind to take a sharp turn.

"Look good, pet. All hard body and healthy."

Xander blushed in pleasure.

"Yeah, well, I work out. Speaking of which. . ." Xander walked to the middle of the mat. Spike and Bruce exchanged amused glances and followed him.

Xander had been in fights with some fairly large demons and it showed. He flinched every time Spike got near him.

"Oi! Xander, if ya don't stop that, you'll never learn anything."

Xander straightened up with a grimace. "Yeah, I'll never learn how your fist feels in contact with my face."

"Codswallop. You're more likely to feel the flat of my hand." Spike turned to Bruce. "I thought we were going to teach him stuff. What's up?"

Bruce nodded. "We are. Right now, I'm just watching. I need to see what he does from the outside of a fight. I can't see his triggers as well if I'm fighting him myself." Bruce walked around Xander. "The first thing we need to teach him is how to fall without hurting himself."

Xander gulped. "I don't think I want you two throwing me around."

Spike reached out and grabbed him by the back of the neck. He faced Xander and touched his face. Xander flinched.

"Stop that. Feel. Think. Have I hurt you? Really?"

Xander thought. "Well, there was . . . but I take your meaning . . . not in a long time. And even when we hated each other, you never bothered much with me. Mostly Buffy. But that's over, isn't it? Things are really different. You . . . I'm confused. Are you bad? Or good? Or what? And ... " Xander frowned. "Do I really care?"

Spike watched as Xander did some quick thinking.

"Aaannd, I'm done. I really don't care about the past. Things are different now than they were before. So . . . you haven't hurt me in. . . probably . . .nearly two years?" Xander made it a question.

Spike nodded. "Seems about right, pet. So?"

"So, fresh leaf. You don't hurt me. I don't scream like a girl. Sounds fair. So, throw? How? What?"

Spike grinned. "It works like this: Bruce will throw me and then I'll throw him. You watch. Then Bruce will throw you and I'll spot so you don't fall wrong and get hurt. Yeah?"
Xander admitted that it seemed like a good plan.

He settled on his knees at the side of the mat to watch as Bruce threw Spike several times, explaining while he did so. Spike took over and threw Bruce. Xander took it all in and considered his options. He wanted to learn to defend himself. He needed to learn to fall, but he was frankly scared. So he showed he was made of sterner stuff than the Scoobies realized.

"Spike, this scares the hell out of me. I . . . what if I get hurt? I mean, really hurt."

Spike just sighed. "If you get really hurt, I call the healer and get it fixed. Then, I apologize, we go on. But you won't get hurt. I won't let you. . . git."

Xander smiled.

"Ok. Now I get to be thrown around by a Master Vampire. In advance, I say . . . ow!"

But it didn't turn out to be anywhere near as bad as Xander feared.

The first throws were so slow and low that Xander was really only tripped. He learned quickly, easily mastering the skill; after all, he'd spent most of his life falling down, or being knocked down. He wished he'd had this skill sooner.

As he got more confident, Bruce threw him harder, farther and higher. Xander handled it well. Spike was beginning to relax when it happened.

Bruce threw Xander, but Xander didn't get his setup right. Bruce gasped in horror as he realized that Xander was going to land badly. He was in for a bruised shoulder at the least, if he didn't dislocate it or even break it. His two hundred plus pounds landing on it wasn't going to be good, no matter what.

Spike plucked him out of the air and cradled him in his arms for a moment. When he set Xander back on his feet, Xander just stood there

"Well, that was nice. Not. Spike, thanks for saving me." Spike smirked at Xander.

Xander turned to Bruce. "I'm sorry, sefu. That was my mistake. Please let me try again."

Spike wanted to grab Xander, drag him off to his rooms and tuck him into a hot tub then his bed. He refrained by main force of will. That wouldn't do Xander any good, nor would it help him advance his scheme.

"Very well. We'll both be more careful." Bruce went through all his instructions again. Xander listened carefully.

When they continued the exercise, Xander did much better. He managed to get through the rest of the instruction without a single mistake. Spike was very pleased with him and said so. Xander nearly glowed with pleasure. Bruce gave Spike a pleased look behind Xander's back.

Bruce was fond of his young student and was pleased to see that Spike seemed to care for him much more than he wanted to let on.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander groaned his way to his rooms. He knew he was going to hurt all over tomorrow and he wasn't looking forward to it at all. He wanted a bath and a massage then a long soak in the hot tub.

He pulled the door of his rooms open, feeling the burn in his shoulders. He was greeted by two demons who helped him undress and get on a massage table set up in the sitting room.

"Thanks. Where'd you come from?"

One demon bowed slightly to Xander. "Master Timmins summoned us. We're to see that you don't stiffen, or get sore. On your stomach, please."

Xander obediently maneuvered himself onto his stomach and relaxed. It was nice to be taken care of instead of caring for someone else. He could really get used to this.

As he was massaged, Xander thought about some of the things he'd found out from the scroll he was translating. They were very interesting and explained a lot. He decided to finish his translation, have it and his notes typed up and give the whole thing to Spike. He thought it might help both Spike and himself.

He realized he'd fallen asleep when one of the demons patted his foot gently to wake him.

"Ummmm. I'm awake. Now what?"

The demon clicked his tongue. "Next, shower. Then hot tub. Please make sure you wash off all the soap. It makes a mess in the tub."

Xander stood up. He wrapped a towel around his waist, heading for the shower as he did so. He wasn't that body shy, except when he had bruises from his dad. He sighed happily; didn't look like he'd have to worry about that anymore.

He stepped into an already running shower and washed away the remains of sweat, massage oil and tension.

After settling in the hot tub, Xander sighed. He knew that this was going to be the last time he was comfortable for the next two or three days. He was going to enter an intensive training regimen that would break him of his bad habits or just plain break him. He wasn't too worried; if Bruce could survive it, so could he. He just wasn't looking forward to it.

After groaning his way out of the tub, Xander headed for the kitchen to see what Timmins had fixed him for supper. Timmins was still keeping him on a fairly strict diet: the food was good, nourishing and not what he wanted. He especially missed Ho-Hos and chocolate bars. He decided when he was over his training session he was going to treat himself to a pig out of chocolate milk, Ho-Hos and Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia. He practically drooled at the thought


~*~*~*~*~


Timmins put Xander's supper on the table and waited for him to come for it. Something was up with him and Timmins was determined to find out what it was. If Master Spike asked, he wanted to be able to tell him. It wouldn't do to be caught without information Master Spike wanted. Timmins vowed not to let his Master, nor Xander, down.

Xander settled in his chair and eyed the broiled chicken on wild rice dressing and steamed broccoli with disfavor. There was no sauce on the chicken and no butter or anything else on the broccoli. Everything was healthy, bland and boring. He ate, thanked Timmins and left.

Timmins sighed, cleared away the plates and made Xander a large cup of cappuccino from his treasured hand pull espresso machine.

Xander looked up absently and thanked Timmins for his coffee. Timmins tried to snatch a discreet peek at what Xander was working on but Xander caught him. Instead of being angry or irritated, Xander just handed Timmins a handful of paper, telling him, "If you like, you can read some. If you can read Gregg, that is."

Nodding, Timmins settled down to read, his eyes widening in surprise as he perused the translation. He realized that he had a lot to do and it needed to be done soon. Sighing, he got up and left after carefully putting Xander's papers back on his desk. He also decided that he needed to get Xander the requested transcriptionist soon.

Xander worked for about an hour more then started to power down his computer. He noticed a file that he'd flagged, so he decided to open it for a quick scan. He slowed down when he realized what it was about. The chip. The bloody, thrice damned shackle that held Spike down. Xander read carefully then realized that, once again, he was research boy. He closed the file and headed back for his quarters to rest up for his ordeal.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander ate breakfast the next morning but couldn't remember what he'd eaten the second he'd finished swallowing it. He headed for the gym with some trepidation and a great deal of determination. He was going to be fixed, or die trying. He was tired of being the Zeppo, the one everyone else rescued.

Master Bruce was waiting for him when he came into the dojo. He knelt and faced the vampire and bowed then settled back on his heels and waited.

"This is going to be very hard. Once we start, I'm not going to allow you to quit. Think well, make very sure." Bruce waited while Xander took time to really think about what he was going to do, for the thousandth time.

"I need to do this. I don't want to, I'm not fond of pain. But if I don't, I'll always be less . . . not . . ." Xander sighed. "I'm not explaining this well at all."

Bruce shrugged. "I think you're doing a hell of a job. You just don't have the vocabulary. I understand perfectly. Take off your gi."

Xander took off his gi and, at Bruce's gesture, knelt again. Bruce whacked him across the shoulders with a bamboo. Xander didn't even wince. Bruce sighed; he was definitely having words with Xander's father.

"If you can take that, we'll continue."

Xander looked at Bruce for a moment. "I've had worse for not putting down the lid."

Bruce looked blank for a second then said flatly. "I'm eating that man, I swear."

"Please don't. He'll just give you a belly ache. Let's get this show on the road."

Bruce got Xander on his feet and started teaching him a kata. Xander learned quickly but, as usual, he had a tick. This time, every time Xander ticked, Bruce gave him a lash across whatever thick muscle he could reach. Xander finally managed to make it through the entire kata without a tick.

"Not bad, but you haven't got most of the forms correct. Close won't do. You could snap your own arm as easily as your opponent's. Again."

Xander grimly began again. This time the corrections were not so gentle jabs that rearranged him to the proper form. At the end of the kata Bruce grimly announced, "Ten mistakes that could have injured you. Kneel."

Xander knelt in the position he called ‘bow to the master'. On his knees, palms flat on the floor, Xander bowed his torso to the correct forty-five degree angle and accepted the lashes without complaint.

He stood up again and started the kata without being told. It took him three hours and fifteen lashes to get it to suit Master Bruce. Then he was made to do it ten times perfectly, which meant he had to do it fifteen times in all. He settled to kneel back in his place when he was done.

Bruce demonstrated the next kata and went through the new forms again. Xander rose and started working on them. Bruce corrected him as he had before and again Xander didn't even flinch, though Bruce knew it had to hurt.

They worked for more than six hours altogether and Xander was drooping visibly when Bruce-sensei called a halt.

"Enough. You're sweating too much. Sit on the edge of the mat."

Xander obeyed and settled, head drooping. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a water bottle was thrust over his shoulder. Bruce's shout was too late to keep him from socking the demon servant in the face.

Xander started to apologize then realized that that was one tick he needed to keep. He looked up to see Bruce smiling at him. Bruce ordered the demon out, telling him to be more careful in future.

"Back to work. You're already getting better. This form is advanced. I don't expect you to get it as quickly as beginner forms. It's a test, so I'll only be pushing you into place. After I'm sure you've got it right, you'll have to do it perfectly ten times. Punishments will be after the last repetition. Questions?"

Xander sighed. "Do I get to eat?"

"Maybe."

Xander worked on the new kata until he was ready to drop, Bruce keeping a careful eye on him. It wouldn't do for Xander to keel over from exhaustion. Bruce noticed that Xander had stopped out-thinking himself and was moving with the natural grace expected of someone who had worked with a Watcher.

He was pleased with Xander's progress. Bruce knew that Xander was trying very hard, obeying commands he didn't understand the reasons for.

Xander sat on the edge of the mat again, tired, thirsty and pretty sure he wasn't getting anywhere at all.

"I'm pleased with your progress. Drink all that water, please. I'll call for some supper then you're going to learn to meditate. You need to center yourself. You have no idea where your hands and feet are most of the time. I'll give you a meditation to help with that." Xander gave him a puzzled look. "I am going to teach you philosophy as well as technique. I'm not having you leave my hands an unenlightened savage. I don't care if you never use what I teach you after you leave my hands, but you will learn it. Yes?"

Xander nodded. "Ok, coach. You got it."

Bruce swatted him on the head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"You never call me anything but sensei or sefu. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sensei. I'm sorry, Sensei."

"I know you're tired, but that's no excuse for carelessness or foolishness. Drink your water. I'll order something to eat."

Xander finished the water then flopped back on the mat. He knew it wasn't proper dojo etiquette but he was so tired he didn't care.

Bruce took the tray from the delivery demon and carried it to a small table in one corner. It was low, from Japan. He placed cushions to kneel on and called Xander to come eat.

Xander knelt on the zabuton, accepted chopsticks, bowl and cup from Bruce. "Thank you, Sensei."

Bruce ladled out soup, which they both ate by drinking off the broth then shoveling the vegetables into their mouths with the chopsticks. The next dish was steamed fish. Xander accepted his portion and dribbled some soy sauce on it. Bruce passed him the sesame oil without comment. Finally, Xander held out his bowl for more rice and settled to drink the last of the tea.

He ached all over; his back hurt, and his legs, arms, even his hair seemed to throb. He squirmed, trying to get comfortable.

"Hurt somewhere?"

Xander shook his head wearily. "No. Everywhere."

Bruce handed Xander a mat, pillow and blanket. "Here, lie down and get some sleep. I think we'd better leave the meditation for some other time; you'll just fall asleep instead. I'll wake you up when it's time to go back to work. It'll be early and you'll be stiff." He turned away, headed for his own bed, but turned back. "You're doing very well. Don't give up."

Xander snorted. "Not a chance. I'm too stupid. Good-night." Xander bowed slightly then turned to lay out his bedding.


~*~*~*~*~


Bruce started to wake Xander by shaking him by the shoulder. He got a rather nasty surprise. Xander slugged him. He staggered back, startled. He hadn't expected this but he was happy to see that Xander still had some reflexes in place. "And good morning to you too, Master Xander. Get up."

Xander started to apologize but realized that Master Bruce wasn't angry at him, in fact he was going to act like nothing had happened. So he staggered out of his blanket and over to the table. Settling himself, he waited for Bruce - he was going to have to start remembering to append sensei - to come so he could pour tea.

Breakfast was something Xander had never seen before. "What's this? Rice?"

"Congee. Left over rice, fish, and . . . looks like tofu." Bruce-sensei took a spoonful and smelled it. "Not bad, by the smell." He tasted it and sighed. "Not bad at all. I've eaten lots worse."

Xander ate some of the rice porridge, which really wasn't bad. "Um . . . Sensei, can I ask you a question?"

"You just did."

Xander snuck a quick peek at Bruce, who grinned at him. "Another, then. Why do you eat?"

Bruce didn't quibble with Xander; he simply answered his question. "Because I can still taste it. And smell it. Vampires that can still taste and smell human foods usually do still eat and drink. Those who can only smell it don't. Master Spike, me, and many others that I can think of can smell and taste. Master Angelus can't. He never had any patience with it. Answer?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah. You know Angel?"

"Sort of. I was at Master Heinrich's court and saw him, and Mistress Darla. I wasn't impressed. He was too much the lap dog then. Sniffing around Mistress Darla's skirts and making foolish comments to amuse her. He's grown since then but I've never forgotten." Bruce knelt back, allowing Xander to finish his food.

"Today we're going to work on swordsmanship."

Xander blinked slowly, absorbing this with some difficulty. "Um . . me . . . sword. Sort of unmixy things. Last time I got hold of a sword I . . . Giles still has a scar."

Bruce just shrugged. "We'll start out with wooden ones. You can still hurt yourself rather badly, but you won't lose a limb. Come on. Stand up and get started. I don't intend to teach you anything more difficult than you can handle."

When Xander accepted the practice sword, the first thing he noticed was the thing didn't look anything like a sword.

"Ok?"

"You're not ready for a bokken yet. That's a shinai. I'm combining the practices of several different schools, but whatever works, works."

Xander eyed the round, three foot long practice sword. It was made of slats of bamboo bound together with cord. The grips were canvas, as was the guard. It didn't look dangerous, but Xander was cautious. Buffy didn't look dangerous either.

"Also, from now on all your punishment will be with the shinai."

Xander just nodded and went to the center of the mat to begin the second part of his training. He knew this was just a stopgap, but he was willing to do anything necessary to get rid of his annoying and dangerous flinching. He thought he'd almost conquered most of it.

Bruce started Xander on the first of several forms which taught him the various sword strikes or strokes used. He called them first head, second head, first torso, second torso, and first and second leg. There were also three stabs. Xander followed carefully. When Bruce instructed him to begin, he stepped up to the practice target.

Bruce watched, corrected and punished Xander until he had the single forms correct. Then he started teaching Xander combinations.

They worked on combinations for most of the morning. By noon Xander was so tired and sore he wasn't sure he could go on. He wanted to but he was afraid he was too weak. When he told Bruce, Bruce just nodded.

"Now is the time you find out if you're . . . strong or weak. Not physically, but mentally. I think you're one of the strongest people I've ever met. Keep going."

Xander started making mistakes, so tired that he couldn't concentrate. Bruce poked and prodded with his bokken. Xander now had bruises on both biceps, wrists, thighs and several other places, where Bruce had continually poked him to correct his form.

He was also sweating heavily, and beginning to stagger. Bruce kept up the pressure until Xander felt like he was going to implode.

"Please, Master, just a few minutes' rest. I'm making stupid mistakes. I shouldn't be handling even a shinai in this condition."

Bruce blinked then smiled with pleasure. "Very well. Excellent. You're not too proud to ask for help when you need it. You're coming along very well. I'm proud of you. Sit down and I'll get you some water."

Xander sat on a small cushion placed on a zafu. Bruce came back to give Xander the water but he was asleep where he sat. Bruce let him sleep.


~*~*~*~*~


Bruce woke Xander by tapping him on the foot with the shinai. Xander twitched, fingers clenching and unclenching. Bruce called his name gently.

Xander blinked himself awake, apologizing, "Sorry, really sorry. Didn't mean to fall asleep like that. What . . . ok." Xander rubbed his face with both hands. "Is there any tea? I'd really like a cup of tea, coffee would be better, but tea is good."

Bruce poured Xander a cup of hot tea and waited while he drank it. He considered Xander; he was tired looking but he hadn't once asked for Bruce to let him stop. He'd done everything asked of him wholeheartedly, putting in his best efforts. And it was paying off - Xander was rapidly turning into a good fighter. All Bruce had to do was convince him of it. He decided to send one of the lesser minions to see if some of Master Spike's stable could spar with Xander.

They could, so he made arrangements while Xander had something to eat.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander stepped into the middle of the mat and shuddered. Bruce punished this with a sharp blow from the shinai. Xander steadied himself and waited for someone to do something.

The first attack came from a man about Xander's size. Xander swept him off his feet with a simple kick and stepped back. Bruce sighed and waited for Xander to lose the fight. He was doomed to disappointment. Xander let the man start to get to his feet then put his foot on his butt and shoved. That put him in the way of the next man in line, which tripped him and made him fall into the last of Xander's opponents. They all flailed and stumbled. Xander stepped off the mat.

"Next I run like hell. That ok?"

Bruce sighed. "It'll do for now. You show a true aptitude for martial arts. I don't understand why you're so flinchy."

Xander grinned, shamefaced. "Tender human here. Fighting demons. Seems like a good thing."

"Not really. All that does is put you off balance. You're better off to stand up to them than flinch like you did."

Xander got a thoughtful look on his face then nodded. "I think you're right. I always did well enough. Buffy saved my ass a time or two. But all in all I took care of myself and Willow. So . . . can I try again?"

Bruce nodded and waited while Xander went back to the middle of the mat. He hadn't quite reached it when Bruce signaled his sparring partners to attack. The surprise did everything that Bruce intended it to. Xander swung into action like a Slayer. The attack was over before it really got started. Xander punched one man, who had simply charged him, in the solar plexus which left him wheezing on the mats. The next man found himself flat on his back via a clothesline. The third man went over Xander's shoulder and into the mat, hard.

Xander backed up again and this time Bruce took the shinai to Xander, striking him several times across the shoulders.

The roar from the open door was the first sign that Spike didn't approve. The second sign was when he grabbed Bruce and started to bite him. Xander didn't think, he just grabbed Spike by the collar and jerked. Spike landed flat on his back, Xander climbed on top of him and started talking, fast.

"Spike, hey! Take it easy. It's ok. I'm fine. Master Bruce got me to quit flinching and I'm gonna be good at this. I've already learned sword techniques and everything. Stop. Easy. Listen to me. Ok? Spike?"

Spike already had his temper under control. He rolled Xander over onto his back and smelled him over. Xander endured it with stoic indifference. When Spike was done, he stood up and turned to Bruce.

"Talk. Fast."

After hearing Bruce's explanation, Spike nodded once. "Fine. Next time you decide to do something like this, tell me first and I'll make arrangements for a healer to be here. I'm calling one now. I want Xander gone over. You done here, or what?"

Bruce thought for a second. "I really think we are done. . . for now. He's too tired to carry on. But did you see? He did well. Very well, don't you think?"

Spike grinned and allowed that Xander had, ‘taken those three down a bit.' He even admitted that Xander had taken him down.

"Come on now, pet. Wanna take you to your quarters and get you in a hot shower before you stiffen up too much. Call a healer in, too."

Xander hitched his shoulders around, checking how stiff he was. "A hot shower would really feel good. Healer, not so much. I don't think I need one." He followed Spike to his rooms and just stood as Spike stripped him out of his sweat stiffened gi and guided him into the shower. He stood in the shower stall and let the water run over him. He didn't pay much attention when Spike stripped down and got in with him, just leaned against the shower wall and waited to see what happened next.

Spike stood behind him and started washing his hair. It felt so good that Xander didn't even protest, just enjoyed the sensations caused by Spike's fingers massaging his scalp. When Spike went on to wash the rest of him, Xander managed a feeble protest.

"Shut it. You're mine and I'll touch any part of you I like. Hush and enjoy it."

Xander decided that it didn't make any difference. Spike wasn't indulging in naughty touching so it was all right.

Spike washed Xander's back from neck to heels, being careful not to touch him anywhere that might make him flinch. Then he had him turn around and started on his front. He washed Xander's face gently, laughing softly as he scrunched his face up

"Git, I won't get soap in your eyes. Tip your head back a bit."

Xander obeyed without thought and Spike washed his neck and shoulders. He worked his way down Xander's body as Xander leaned against the wall, eyes closed. He looked like he was about to fall down any second. Spike finished washing Xander's legs then stood up.

"Ok, don't jump out of your skin. I'm gonna wash the rest of ya."

"Uh huh?"

"Yeah, washed down as far as possible, then up as far as possible. Now I'm gonna wash possible."

Xander snickered slightly at the old joke.

Spike took Little Xander in his hand and washed, keeping his touch impersonal and quick.

Xander didn't have time to realize exactly what was going on until it was too late. He declined to make a fuss. Spike patted him on the shoulder and eased him out of the stall.

"Come on now, pet. We'll get you dried off and into bed. You'll sleep until you wake up. Ok?"

Xander mumbled something snide but followed Spike into the bedroom. Spike tucked Xander into bed and ran a hand over his wet hair. He loved Xander's hair. It was soft and silky. Its thick waves attracted his fingers like a flame does a moth.

"Mmmmm. Sleep now. Want . . m . . . " Xander mumbled off and started snoring softly.

Spike watched him sleep for a few seconds. Xander was breathing easily and didn't seem in any sort of distress so Spike decided not to call a healer to him. If he didn't get up within a reasonable time, he'd have Timmins send in the healer.


~*~*~*~*~


Arnold snarled softly. Harris was a big pain in his ass. He got all the attention of Master Spike. He, Arnold, was way more worthy and he was going to prove it. He had been spying on Xander for the last week and now he thought he had it made. He knew that Master Spike had told Xander not to snack. Everyone within earshot had, and earshot for a vampire was quite a way. He hadn't seen Xander in two or three days; he'd heard that he was training for something. Well, he was training too, training to be the Master's new favorite.

He watched for Xander to come back to his storage room. He knew Xander had a stash of forbidden snacks there. All he had to do was wait. If Xander made a fool of him, Master Spike would send him away, clearing the way for a new First Consort. Arnold wanted to be that consort very badly.

Xander woke up and lay in bed for a while, deciding whether he wanted to get up and go to breakfast or sneak out with a cup of coffee and have an orgy of Ho-Ho's and Ding Dongs. He made the mistake of deciding on the latter.

He slipped into the kitchen and made himself the biggest cup of espresso he could manage. Then he headed to his storage where he intended to stuff himself with chocolate. He deserved the reward for all he'd gone through. He still had bruises on his back and thighs.

He peeked in on Spike, who was snarling into a phone, something about turning something over to subordinates as he wasn't going to drive himself ‘round the bend' with niggling nothings. He raised his cup to Spike and wandered on, still stiff and a little sore.

Spike snarled into the phone. He was in control of his court; how dare the Tarakaite infer otherwise? If he wasn't careful he was going to lose his temper and that was never good.

The phone rang again, Spike picked it up and snarled "William." He'd learned quickly that no one reacted properly to Spike. He listened for a moment then put the phone down carefully. If he didn't, it was going to be powder.

"If that stupid git has bollixed up my rep, I'm gonna blister his butt. Damn it." Spike headed for the garage, striding along, coat tails flapping. Hoping against hope that Xander hadn't done anything to undermine his shaky control.

Spike entered the garage and found Arnold standing by the door, waiting for him. Arnold pointed to the door of one of the storage rooms across the garage proper and nodded. "In there. You'll never believe it. He's stuffing his face as we speak."

Spike crossed the room in a flash of vampiric speed and yanked the door open.

Xander looked up, one cheek bulged out like a chipmunk, mouth smeared with chocolate. Spike snarled, furious at Xander for putting him in this position.

He grabbed Xander and snarled. "What did I tell you?" Xander shook his head. "I told you no snacks until the healer ok's it, didn't I?"

Xander nodded, trying to swallow through a dry throat. Spike dragged him into the middle of the garage and stuck a finger down his throat. Xander gagged and choked, his reflexes trying desperately to expel the intruding digit. He vomited, gagging harshly.

Spike made Xander throw up until he was sure his stomach was empty then he stood him on his feet. Xander staggered a second then got his balance. He felt awfu; his stomach hurt from vomiting and he was sweating. He waited, pale and shaky, to see what excuse Spike was going to have for this abuse.

"Damn you, Harris. I told you no snacking. Now. . . " Spike sputtered into silence, grabbed Xander again and settled onto a stack of tires, dragging Xander with him.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Let go of me, Spike!"

Spike flopped Xander over his lap and pinned him.

"You know how much trouble I've gone to, to settle my court?"

"So what? What does that have to do with me?"

"You're my thrall. How the hell am I supposed to get my court to obey me if I can't get a thrall to do so?"

"So what?"

Spike lost his temper.

"So what? How many humans die if I lose control and all my minions go back to their old ways? How many demons die when human hunters find them and don't know the difference between a Thurga and an Itchick? You want that on your head? It is. It will be. They think, if I can't control and dominate you, I can't handle a court either. Dammit, Harris."

Xander suddenly stopped struggling and went limp. He knew exactly what Spike was talking about. He remembered Giles talking about how Heinrich had lost control of a court in the 1300's and the resultant rampage that had devastated Krakow. This was something he hadn't thought of when he'd decided to defy Spike.

"I'm sorry. Really, I'm sorry. I didn't think about that. I . . . please, I'm really sorry."

Spike snapped, "Won't help you none now."

He brought his hand down on Xander's backside with a loud smack. Xander yelped, more in startlement than pain. Spike stood him up.

"Drop trow. Now."

Xander took one look at Spike's face and did as he was told. The heavy push of Master's Voice didn't hurt, either. Xander fumbled his belt open and slid the zipper down. He pushed his jeans down over his hips and to the floor. He started to step out of them but Spike just silently pointed to his lap. Xander obediently went face down over Spike's knees again.

Spike yanked Xander's boxers down to his knees and smacked his hand down on one rounded globe. Xander jumped but didn't protest. Spike continued to smack Xander, covering both buttocks. He spanked until his hand was tingling and Xander's ass was cherry red. Xander finally started to cry. Not very loudly, just small hitching sobs. His tears soaked into Spike's thigh.

"Well, enough. Pull up your pants. Now. Don't argue with me, just do as you're told."

Xander pulled up his jeans, rearranged his clothing and sniffled to himself. He went to stand in front of Spike at his rather pointed glare.

"Yes?"

Spike cleared his throat.

"Yes, Master?"

"You know why I did that?"

"No." Xander's sullen expression and sulky tone of voice got him a raised eyebrow. "Sorry. No, Master, I don't know."

"Don't play stupid with me If you act like a child, I'll treat you like one. You were supposed to wait until the healer cleared you. You snuck around behind my back in direct defiance of orders. I'll have obedience even from you. Next time . . . well, there just better not be a next time. Understand me?"

Xander hung his head. "Yes, I understand."

"Best head for your quarters. I'll send the healer to see you. If he says it's alright, you can have snacks again. Get going."

Xander left, walking carefully.

To see a shinai go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinai





Part Ten

Xander sulked for the rest of the day and into the evening. Spike left him alone until the healer finally got there.

"I called hours ago. Where ya been? Wanker."

Spike glared at the healer until he shrugged. "I had a female in labor. It took a while. If the service had thought it was life threatening, they'd have said so. You smacked his ass. Where's the emergency?"

Spike looked a little shamefaced. "I think I overdid it. He won't talk to me, so I'm not sure how bad it really is. Best take a good look at him."

The healer thought for a moment then faced Spike. "It's none of my business except in my capacity as a healer. But . . . I . . . I know I'm taking my life in my hands so . . . if you're interested in a real relationship with the boy – sexual, I mean – you'd better be really careful. You hurt him and he'll never like it. You need to touch him . . . a lot. Get him used to the idea. You're very tactile and I think he is too. He'll forgive you a lot if you cater to his emotional needs. Enough said. I'd better see to him."

Spike started to get indignant with the healer until he realized that the human had his best interests in mind, as well as Xander's. He thought about what the man had said and realized that he had, indeed, been neglecting Xander. He had wanted to get his business under control then see to Xander, but he was going to have to balance things better or he'd never get the boy to like him.

"Ok, so . . . you don't . . ." Spike followed the healer into Xander's room and blinked. Xander was face down on his bed, naked. His buttocks were rather badly bruised and he was really sulking.

Spike sighed silently. Damn

"Well, young man, let me take a look at you. This isn't as bad as it feels. You're bruised but . . . mmmm . . . ."

Xander cringed. That particular noise from a doctor usually meant he had a broken bone. Spike snarled at the healer. "Don't scare him."

"You're sure he's afraid?"

"Smell it, can't I?"

"Of course. . . . Xander, truly, there's nothing wrong but some bruising. I'm going to give Master Spike a lotion to put on it. And forgive me for touching you without permission. Sorry."

Xander lifted up and looked at the healer over his shoulder. "Excuse me? And when can I have chocolate?"

Spike couldn't help smiling at Xander's priorities.

"You can have chocolate, in moderation, any time you want it. And, as you're Master Spike's pet; no one is supposed to touch you without his permission. Or yours, in the case of healers and such. Few of the new generation of vampires know the true way of things. They share their pets and abuse them. Most of them haven't got a clue. I keep treating the poor things, but most of them don't last long. Now . . . here's the lotion. Pat it on, don't rub." He turned back to Spike. "And if you have aspirin, he can have some of that. Well, I've got several other patients to visit. If you have any questions or concerns, call the service. I might not be available, but the other two healers are as good as I am. Trust them."

He closed his case, nodded to Spike and walked out, leaving the lotion on the bedside table.

Spike sat down on the side of the bed and picked up the lotion. "I'll put this on for you."

Xander stirred restlessly. "You don't have to. Timmins can do it. It's ok."

"Not ok. Xander, I . . . Bloody hell, I'm no good at this stuff. Just be still an' let me, yeah?"

Xander shrugged. "Ok. Whatever . . . Spike?"

"Yeah, pet?"

"I'm sorry."

"Know ya are. Kinda obvious."

"Don't be a shit. I'm trying here. It'd help if you'd try too, ya know."

Spike patted lotion on Xander and sighed. "Yeah. Sorry again. Make your point."

"I . . . shouldn't have snuck around behind your back. I should have just stood up to you and told you what I wanted. I put you in an awkward position, one I wouldn't want to be in myself. You've got a hell of a job to do. Keeping the Hellmouth under control, even with the help of a slayer," Spike snorted, "isn't easy. So I . . . for lack of a better comparison . . . damaged your face. Questioned your leadership. Whatever."

"Got you, pet. So you're not mad? Not that I care."

Xander grunted as Spike touched an especially sore spot. "Sorta, but not really. I mean, I'm your thrall. I looked up that spell and its consequences. Thanks, by the way, for not taking real advantage. I . . . let's change the subject, ok?"

Spike agreed. "Yeah. You need to keep working out with Master Bruce. You're getting real good. Give yourself a rest tomorrow."

Xander agreed but suddenly exclaimed. "Oh, shit. I have to collect my paycheck. It'll be ready tomorrow. I can put them off until Friday but much longer and they'll cancel it and I'll have to have it reissued. And don't tell me I don't need it. I earned it and I want it."

Spike shrugged. "Well, you're right. It's yours and you should have it. We'll go ‘round on Friday and pick it up. I'll go with. How's that?"

Xander nodded, rubbing his cheek against the pillow. "That'll be good . . . um . . . Spike?"

"Yeah, pet?"

"You said you'd arrange for me to have lessons, if I wanted?"

What kind of lessons?"

"Guitar." Xander's ear tips turned red. Spike smelled his nervousness.

"Ya wanna learn to play harpsichord, I'll get you lessons. Don't ever be afraid to ask me for stuff. I may say no, but there'll be a good reason."

Xander sighed; his butt was beginning to feel better. He told Spike so and Spike just grunted but he continued to put the lotion on.

He also admired the view. He could see everything Xander had and his package was very nice. Spike looked one more time at the portal he hoped to enter. "Ok, pet. Does that feel better?"

Xander mumbled something, nearly asleep. He rolled over onto one side. Spike pulled the covers up over his shoulders, capped the bottle and left.

Xander grumbled, aware that something was missing but too close to sleep to figure out what.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander woke the next morning and groaned. Spike had done a thorough job of applying the lotion last night but he still felt the effects of being spanked by a master vampire in a temper. He groped for some kind of support so he could get out of bed and take care of his screaming bladder.

Timmins had been listening for sounds from the room. Spike had told him to come get him when Xander woke. He went to get Spike and missed Xander falling out of the bed.

When Spike found Xander lying on the floor, he went into game face immediately. "Ya stupid git! Why didn't you call someone? Here, let me help you."

Timmins stepped into the room hesitantly. He knew Spike was furious; he should have checked on Xander before he went to get Spike.

"Timmins, get in here. Xander needs both of us." Spike was going to have words with Timmins later, but right now Xander needed seeing to.

The two vampires lifted Xander to his feet. He was so stiff that he had trouble moving his legs. Spike finally eased him into the bathroom, with Timmins hovering in the background. Xander flushed bright red when he realized that he couldn't even pee without help.

"Dammit, Spike. I thought that lotion was supposed to keep me from getting stiff like this."

Timmins was examining the bottle while Spike helped Xander. "Er. . . no, sir. It is just a formula to keep you from bruising. It doesn't do much for stiffness. I've got something. I'll go get it. . . Master Spike?" Spike grunted to indicate that he'd heard. "Well, I . . . you should give the young master some Tylenol. I'll be back in a moment with the salve."

Xander finished his business and washed his hands. He wanted a shower but he knew that wasn't happening so he didn't resist when Spike helped him back to bed.

"Xander. Luv. I'm sorry. I went overboard . . ."

Xander held up a weary hand. "You already said that . . . like ten times or something . . . never mind. I've had worse for less. I'm just really stiff. Nothing really hurts. Timmins said I could have something? Will you get it for me?"

"Sure. And I'll see about that teacher, too." Spike didn't flinch as Timmins handed him a bottle over his shoulder. "Fix Xander's breakfast."

"Yes, master. I'm so sorry, master. I wouldn't have let him hurt himself for anything. But you said to get you the minute I heard him awaken."

Spike considered this for a moment. "Well, I'll have a talk with you later. And I do mean a talk. So make some breakfast, yeah?"

Timmins left to see to pills and breakfast and Spike bent to the business of anointing Xander's buttocks with the new lotion.

The minute the stuff touched him, Xander started to relax. The residual pain faded at the first touch of the soothing liquid. Timmins placed water and pills on the bedside table and left again.

Spike continued to smooth the analgesic over Xander's bruises long after it ceased to be necessary. Xander just enjoyed the sensation of being touched with kindness.


~*~*~*~*~


When Spike finished, Xander headed for a shower. Spike followed him into the bathroom and settled one hip on the counter.

"Pet, we gotta talk."

Xander adjusted the shower temperature and made sure he had towels. Spike watched without comment, just enjoying watching Xander move around. Spike noticed that Xander's butt was bruised despite the lotion that was supposed to have prevented that.

"We're going to talk? While I'm in the shower?"

"Yeah. Why not? You don't have to think much to shampoo hair, do you?"

Xander stepped into the shower. "Guess not. So . . . what do you want to talk about?"

Spike sighed. One of the reasons he had wanted to have Xander semi-preoccupied was what he was going to talk about. This subject was sure to bring about a real explosion.

"You remember when I said I had plans for you?"

"Yeah, I remember, and why do I suddenly have cold chills running up and down my spine?"

"Because I got to put you on display. I'm losin' control of the court. Some of the older vampires and demons remember when the high court Master had a pet. I have a pet, you, but I don't bring you to court. It's causin' trouble I don't need." Spike waited for Xander to fly off the handle and refuse.

"Ok, I could feel that one coming. It's going to be a real problem. If you let them touch me, that is. I'll cooperate; I know the consequences if I don't. If it was just you beating my ass, I'd go for the big N. O. But if you lose control of that ravening horde, it's bad . . . real bad. In an apocalyptic bad badness. Right?"

Spike took a moment to translate that into real English. "Yeah, it is. So, you're not going to raise hell?"

Xander shut off the shower and stepped out. Spike handed him a towel and he started drying his hair. "No. I'm going to be calm guy. Real calm. Otherwise, I'll be running in circles biting myself in the small of the back. So, here's the deal. I'll do research on the old traditions. I'm not going for the way the modern Masters treat their pets. And remember I'm a thrall. Um . . . is that better or worse, by the way? So anyway, I'll . . . we'll . . . um." Xander trailed off, red-faced and flustered.

Spike took a moment to admire Xander's body, his courage and his blazing flush.

"Ok, pet. I'll write up a sort of contract. What I expect of you. You write up what you can't deal with. We'll just do this like the B/D'ers do. Safe, sane and . . . sort of consensual. I'll order you to, if I have to, but I'd really rather not. Being bound to someone who hates me isn't to my taste at all."

Xander wiped his face and mumbled something into his towel. Spike heard most of it and just exclaimed ‘Oi!' in an indignant voice. But he decided not to make a big deal of Xander calling him soft hearted.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander ate the breakfast Timmins provided and asked him to get a message to Master Bruce that he wasn't going to be working out today. He was still stiff.

"What will you do?" Timmins hoped that Xander wasn't going to brood over his punishment. It wouldn't do any good and a sullen Xander was sure to piss off Master Spike.

"I'm going to do some Tai Chi and yoga, try to loosen up some and work out the last of this stiffness. Then I'm going to my office to work on my translation. I still can't believe I actually have one. An office, I mean."

"That's good. Um . . . Young Master?"

Xander looked at Timmins sharply. He was looking uncomfortable, for some reason. Xander didn't like it. The valet was usually so together. "What is it? Just get it out. I won't be pissed or anything. Pinky swear."

Timmins looked blank for a second then decided not understanding ‘pinky swear' didn't make any difference.

"I have a book that was left to me by my last master. I can't read it, but I'd really like to know what it says. If I leave it on your desk, could you give it a quick glance? If you can read it, I'd like you to tell me what it's about." At Xander's doubtful look he hurried on. "Oh, I don't expect you to translate the entire thing. But if you could figure out what language it's in, maybe I could learn it."

Xander smiled. "I wasn't looking . . . I mean . . . well, I'll be glad to translate it for you. It might be a while before I can get around to it but . . . yeah. I'll manage sooner or later . . . if it's in a language I know."

Timmins bowed slightly. "I'll be eternally grateful for whatever you can do. Thank you very much. I'll bring you some coffee about ten minutes after you come in, if that would be acceptable."

Xander nodded. "That would be great. I'll be off."

"Young Master?" Xander turned at the doorway. "Perhaps you should do Tai Chi first. You shouldn't eat so much just before doing yoga."

Xander nodded. "I know, but I was hungry. And I am doing Tai Chi first. And I'm going to avoid inverted postures, so I should be fine. I'll quit if I get nauseous. Don't worry."

Xander left for the gym and Timmins went to fetch his book.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander finished his workout and turned to find Bruce watching him. "Hey, sorry about crapping out on you today. But I just didn't think I should land on my butt too many times. It's bruised enough as it is."

"Yes, I heard. I'm ashamed of you. You know better than to defy Master Spike like that. But . . . you're so young. Maybe you don't know how most masters treat their pets." Bruce went on to tell Xander exactly what he could have expected if he had been unlucky enough to have been pet to any other master. Ever.

Xander felt sick. He was really lucky. Some of the things that Master Bruce told him about would have killed him outright, and others would have made him wish he was dead. He gulped and then sighed.

"Well, I'm glad we had this little talk. Sort of. Thanks. I guess."

Bruce nodded, satisfied that Xander had plenty to think about. He really hoped this was the last time Spike would punish Xander in anger. A master vampire who lost his temper with a pet was likely to kill him.

Xander had a lot to consider as he headed for his office. He was going to finish that translation today if he stayed up till midnight to do it.

He wasn't really reading it. He couldn't pay attention to meaning when he was trying to translate this language. He had to translate it word for word, then work on grammar. Actually understanding what the damn thing meant was the last step. So he needed to finish his word for word today, and the grammar if he could manage it.

He settled at his desk and pulled a large sheet of newsprint over to the blotter. He liked the end rolls of newspaper. He could cut them into sheets large enough to copy the actual original text onto, leaving large margins. He annotated and translated there then transferred his finished work to another sheet, triple spaced. This left him plenty of room for rearranging the text into something resembling English grammar.

After several minutes of review, Timmins interrupted Xander with his coffee and the book. Xander took the book absently, but carefully. He put it on the side table attached to his desk and returned to his translation. Timmins looked on for a moment then left Xander to his work. Surely, Young Master Xander wouldn't forget.

Xander opened his laptop and booted it up. He waited impatiently as it beeped and blinked. When the desktop finally, grudgingly displayed itself, he opened his calendar and made a note to look at Timmins' book in two days time. The calendar would show a popup to remind him.

After making another note to remind himself to get his paycheck, he opened his translating software. He used it for keeping notes, as it accepted Gregg. He didn't use anything else as he had real trouble reading. All he had to do was use the court steno pad he'd gotten online to enter notes in shorthand. The program converted the Gregg to English notes. It made him feel not quite so stupid. He also finally gave up on writing notes to himself in anything but Gregg; why torture himself with notes he couldn't read later?

He worked for more than three hours, finally getting the last word for word done. He stretched, reached over and picked up his coffee cup. He wrinkled his nose; it was empty, the cold dregs unappetising. He decided to get another cup. He needed to stretch his legs.

His foray into the kitchen yielded coffee, a Panini, and a slice of tiramisu.

He returned to his desk and worked as he ate and drank.


~*~*~*~*~


"Well, fucking hell on a bobsled. Son-of-a-bitching motherfucker! Crap!" Xander wanted to wad the translation up and toss it but he knew he wouldn't, couldn't. It was not good, in capital letters.

The gist of the prophecy was simple. ‘The fourth of the scourge will possess a human. The human will be the light. Without the light, the Hellmouth will open. With the light all will be saved.'

The problem with the word ‘light' was it had a tiny red diacritic mark over it. The mark indicated that the word referred to a human. In other words, it was really translated as the white or light-colored knight.

Of course, most of this was hidden in a bunch of flowery verbiage. Xander had managed to trim most of it off, leaving the gist of the prophecy. He wished he hadn't. The thing so obviously referred to Spike. One of the four vampires called the Scourge of Europe and Spike was the youngest of them. The white knight could only be one person. Angel had referred to him, Xander, as the white knight more than once. He shuddered. He had been so hoping that he could get out of this mess somehow or other. But he was really stuck now. How could he refuse when he knew that it would mean the Hellmouth opened?

He put his head down on the desk and cried. He didn't want this. Why couldn't someone else do it? Why me? Why? I don't want to do this. I so don't. Someone else could. Riley Finn . . . he's a good choice. He's all rescue the world. I'm just a regular guy. Hell, I'm not even a hero. I'm just a construction worker. Fuck.

He leaned back in his chair, swiped the tears off his face with the palm of one hand and blew his nose. Tossing the tissues into the trash, he straightened his shoulders. He rummaged in the drawer for the other scroll he'd been translating. That one was about the court of someone or other. He wondered if it would help any.

He settled in to work on translating the scroll. He realized that it was going to be a monumental task. The thing was disintegrating as he handled it.

He grimaced as he unrolled it. He had worked with it a little already, but this was bad. The closer to the end rod he got the worse it was. He decided to move it to the large table against the wall, unroll it completely and take pictures of it. He'd leave it unrolled. Rolling and unrolling it was going to make it disintegrate much more quickly.

He got the cheap digital camera he'd managed to save up for and took careful pictures of the scroll, well aware that he shouldn't have unrolled it. But who was going to preserve its content if he didn't? No one he knew of was interested in ancient demon court deportment. Except maybe Giles, but the last two times Xander had called him, he hadn't returned the message. Xander decide to give him a pass. If Giles was interested in Xander, he could do the calling.

After getting his pictures transferred into the laptop, Xander covered the scroll with a protective piece of newsprint and returned to his desk. He arranged the pictures in a queue and printed them all out then taped them together in order, checked that they matched properly and started translating again.

He didn't notice that it was after six until Spike knocked on the door frame and asked him if he'd turned librarian.

"Who, me? Not a chance. But this is fascinating. Great stuff. Really interesting. You know that scroll is over four thousand years old? I'm afraid I've ruined it. I didn't really believe that it was that old, so I just mishandled it all to hell. It's falling apart as we speak. I took pictures but . . . well . . . shit. I'm sorry, Spike."

Spike peeked under the paper then shrugged. "I'll have someone from the Order come in tomorrow and mojo it. It'll be ok. Don't worry. You finish your prophecy? Is it interesting? I haven't gotten that copy of Radell's yet. It's coming . . . well, enough of that. You coming?"

"Um . . . coming where?"

Spike swore. "I'm losin' my mind. I want you to come down to the lower levels and take a look at some walls. The minions built them but I got my doubts. Come give ‘em a look see, will ya?"

Xander knew an olive branch when it was shoved in his face. He bobbed his head and shuffled his papers into some sort of order. He glanced at the screen of his laptop, but there was nothing objectionable so he left it on.

"Sure, I'm right behind you. Show me the way. But I need to get back here fairly soon. I've still got a lot to do tonight. You want me at court, I've got a bunch to figure out. So, go already."

Spike didn't ask any questions of Xander. He didn't want to put him off. He seemed resigned to coming to court as a pet which was good enough for Spike. He wasn't one to question good luck when it showed its face.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander eyed the walls with more than misgiving, more like outright disgust. "Who built this? Whoever it was, fire them. I could do better than this drunk. Or asleep. Or even comatose. I'll have to pull it all down and do it again. Sucks. Waste of good materials." Xander wandered down the hall, poking his head into rooms and grumbling.

Spike followed him with a sour expression on his face. He'd forgotten that most of the members of his stable didn't have anyplace else to go during the day. He could hear at least ten of them in the day room right now. If Xander found out what was going on, he was going to have a fit.

So of course the next thing Xander did was stick his head into the day room. "Oh, hello. Sorry. I'm checking that the construction is up to code. If you're living here . . ." Xander was interrupted buy a quarrel breaking out at the computer station.

"Look, I know we all have our own laptops and all. But the net connections are still phone jacks and I need one. I have to turn in this assignment by five or it'll be late. It's way more important than whether you level up in Mortal Combat."

"Not Mortal Combat, it's Worlds Of War. And I'm about to become a commander of a brigade. So fuck off."

"I won't. You've got all night to do that and I've got exactly half an hour to get this turned in. So gimme the connection already."

Spike wandered in just at that moment and stalked over to the quarreling boys. "Ok, you two. Break it up. What is this?"

The two boys started explaining their sides of the quarrel at the same time. Spike just stood there listening. Finally, he pointed at the gamer. "I know that your game is important to you, but his education is more important. If you miss leveling up, it won't mess up the rest of your life. Turning in a late assignment will mess up his grade and his chances of getting a job. So, give over."

He turned to the other boy. "And as for you, the next time you're so close to missing a deadline, I just might let him stay online. Why did you cut it so close?"

The boy hug his head. "I overslept. I donated yesterday. I don't expect you to remember. But it's hard for me to wake up the day after . . . um . . ." He shot a glance at Xander. "You know."

Spike also glanced at Xander, who was examining a wall with a critical expression on his face.

"I see. That does make a difference. But you shouldn't put off homework until the last minute, especially when you know it's coming up for your turn. Now sit down and send that off."

Spike ambled over to Xander, who turned to him and shook his head. "If you want anything done with this mess, I'll have to tear most of it down and start again. I'd suggest moving everyone to a different floor and pulling all this down. Start fresh."

Spike pulled a face. "Can't do that, much as I wish I could. Where would I move them?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. Why not in with the . . ." Xander took another look around the room. "They're not demons, are they?"

Spike slowly shook his head. "Nope."

"They're human. And . . ." Xander glared at a thin girl in a lacy tank top and Daisy Dukes. The bite on her neck was still green. Spike sighed. Xander would have to see that particular girl. She bruised easily and with her pale complexion the bruise showed badly. "You're feeding off them. But . . . that chip keeps you from . . . ok, explanation, please."

Spike was astonished that Xander wasn't looking for a stake. He was, in fact, being reasonable about the whole thing.

"Well, I can't get proper nourishment from pig's blood. I need human. And after the thin rations the watcher kept me on, I need frequent feeding. If I was to drain a human, I could go two or three days without feeding. This was the best . . ." Spike hung his head then peeked up at Xander. He didn't look pleased at all. "You don't understand."

Xander held up a hand, cutting Spike off. "Look. Two questions." Spike gave a jerky nod. "Are they willing?" Spike straightened up and nodded. "Ok. Question two. Are you paying them?" Spike nodded again. "And obviously you're not killing them. I'm not even going to ask about the chip. If you aren't killing them, or hurting them, the chip obviously lets you do it. So, like I give a crap. It's gross, but whatever."

Spike nearly fell over. Xander, the quintessential Scooby, didn't care he was feeding on humans? The boy was growing up fast.

"You don't want to rake me over the coals? What's up with that?"

Xander turned from his examination of the studding and shrugged. "If they're willing, and you're paying, who am I to interfere? I would like to know what you're paying them. Just curious as to what would make someone allow a vampire to bite them."

Spike stuck a cigarette between his lips and lit it while he thought on how to explain to Xander. He didn't need to.

"Excuse me. I heard that, and I'd like to explain. My story, at least." It was the skinny girl.

Xander nodded at her politely. "Be grateful. But could you talk to me while I look some of the rest of the construction over?"

The girl shrugged negligently and trailed after Xander as he went out into the hall. "Sure, whatever. So anyway, I . . . I was a whore. Not that I really wanted to be but my Pop farmed me out since I was twelve. I figured, if I got to peddle ass, I might as well get the money myself. My boyfriend was my pimp, until he got ate. Then I was on my own. Not so good, with the vampires and the Mong demons and what all else. Then Master Timmins asked me if I was clean. When I said yes, he asked for a taste. I figured, why not? I peddle everything else. So he tasted me, off a finger, no less. When I tested clean, he made me an offer. He'd get me my dream, if it was reasonable, in exchange for letting Master Spike feed off me."

"And how's that workin' for you? Not so good, by the look of your neck."

"Actually, really well. I just bruise really easy. Other than that, not so bad as you might expect. Doesn't hurt at all. No rush either, like some guys claim. But in exchange, I'm going to art school at UC Sunnydale. I'm makin' real good grades and Master Timmins says that, when my year is up, he'll see I get an internship. I got a contract with Master Spike and everything."

At the mention of a contract, Xander gave Spike a sharp look. Spike took exception, "Bloody hell, it's for their benefit as well as mine. I'll let you read the bloody thing." The girl squeaked in dismay. "Not mad at you, am I, pet. Calm down. You go on off and . . . put some makeup on that hickey. Scoot."

The girl left with an envious look back; she knew who was who.

Xander turned to gaze at Spike for a moment. "Well, I've got to say. This job is FUBAR from the word go. I want to see every inch of this floor. I'll see what I can do about some way to keep your . . . what the hell do you call this?"

Spike goggled at Xander for a second then pulled himself together. "A stable, Xander. Ancient vampires used to have one. Now, not so easy. But I'm managing, as it's Sunnydale. So not going to bite my head off?"

"Why? No one's getting hurt. Seems to me that you're giving as good as you get. People are getting something they need. Or want. So, who am I to mix in? I've been realizing for a while that Giles has some real prejudices and I'm starting to make up my own mind about stuff. No more follow the Council Dogma guy. I'll think for myself, Thankyouverymuch. And I think . . . I really don't care. You kill one of them and I might."

Spike digested this as he followed Xander into the women's dorm. Xander made sure it was empty by knocking on the out-of-true doorframe before entering. He examined the room critically then turned to Spike.

"You have to get these people out of this mess. None of these walls are safe. I'm not sure how they fastened down the floor plates but most of these walls could come down from their own weight. So . . . um . . . hmmm."

Spike waited patiently, Got patience when I really need it, don't I? until Xander got his thoughts together.

"If I had a good nail gun with me. . ." Xander answered Spike's puzzled look. "I left my heavy duty one in a locker at the site. I didn't think I'd need it. So of course I do . . . I'll pick it up Friday when I go to get my check. And . . . anyway, I'll nail the foot plates . . . the two by fours that make the bottom of the walls . . . to the floor better. That'll make them stay up long enough for me to set up this floor like I did the one above. And . . ." Xander rubbed the back of his neck, thinking. "I want to see the rest of the floor before I finish my plan. Let's go."

Xander led the way into the back of the floor. The dorms and day room only took up about a third of the whole floor.

Xander wandered around the empty floor area for a while then asked Spike to get his tape measure and a notepad and pencil. Spike didn't get indignant or snarky. He just called Timmins and told him what Xander wanted.

"You're really not goin' ta get pissed off?"

Xander looked directly into Spike's eyes. "Would it do any good if I did?"

Spike shrugged a little sullenly, "Might."

Xander snorted in disbelief. "Yeah, right. But I really don't care. If you're getting them . . . what?"

Spike took the question seriously. "Education. Off drugs. Homes for the homeless. They sign a year's contract, feed me once every six weeks, like, and they get whatever we contracted for. I feed twice a day, one medical unit from one person. I'm gettin' stronger everyday. And they're not weak or anything. At least, no worse off than if they'd donated to Red Cross or sommat."

"So, why should I care? I'll be doing them a disservice, get myself spanked again and accomplish . . . what? Not getting allowed to clean up this mess. Which will leave them living in dangerous conditions. Without privacy. And . . . oh, get them wireless. That way there won't be any fighting over connections. You'll have to get a Corporate connection, but you can afford it, unless you've been playing flash."

Spike shook his head, smiling slightly at Xander's use of cant. "Got dosh. I'll have Timmins set it up."

Timmins duly arrived with tape measure, notepad and pencil. He handed them to Xander who drafted a bystander to hold the end of it. Timmins went to the side to consult with Spike over internet connections and the wonder that was Xander not freaking out over Spike's feeding arrangements.


~*~*~*~*~


"Buffy? Buffy. I think something is . . . not good."

Buffy sighed; Willow had been going on and on about feeling off for the last day.

"Ok, if you can figure out what's up we'll go see Giles. He'll have to help you. I don't do mojo, you know?"

Willow made a face at Buffy, who had the courtesy to look a little shamed.

When Willow and Buffy finished listening to Giles, all Willow could do was cry and declare she was ‘the absolute worst friend ever in the world.'

"Yes, and how many times have I told you to check with me before doing so much as a candle lighting spell? I do hope you'll be much more careful in future. And . . ." Giles turned to Buffy. "No, you cannot stake Spike. You'll kill Xander too. We'll just have to wait until Xander decides to call us. We can't go barging in on them. We might upset the balance between them. If Spike feels in the least threatened, he might do something . . . bad to Xander. I'll see if I can slip a spy into his court."

Buffy made a face. She really wanted to rush in and grab Xander, drag him away from Spike and fix it. But after listening to Giles lecture Willow for nearly half an hour about the badness of ill-advised interference, she wasn't about to. She was just glad Giles had figured out what was going on and reversed the forget part of the spell. She felt really bad about more or less completely ignoring Xander for nearly six weeks.

Willow, meanwhile, was just hugging herself and crying. Her Xander was in big trouble and it was all her fault. She just hoped he would call her when he was over being mad.




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