Ulterior Motives


Part Eleven

Xander called Aims and asked for Jake. Jake answered the phone with ‘Lonergan. Talk.' Xander smiled a little at that. Jake had a completely different persona on the phone than he had in person.

"It's . . . Harris. When can I get my pay check? It should be cut on Friday."

"Harris? Oh, Xander. Well, speak of the devil. You did good boy. You've saved the company a bunch of money . . . again. So . . . thanks from all of us. As to the check . . . don't have a clue. Since you're on leave, your check won't come here. You'll have to go to corporate to get it. I'll get you the number in a sec." Jake put his phone down on something with a clunk. Xander could hear papers rustling. "Let me call you back or have someone else call you. There's some confusion as to where your check is. It was cut last week but none of those dummies thought to call you and tell you that it was cut early. Sorry, kid. Trust corporate to fuck up something as simple as getting you a check. Bye."

Xander snarled softly at the phone, sounding uncannily like Spike. "Fuck. Desk jockeys. My ass."

"Wot's up pet?" Spike sauntered into Xander's office casually. "Wot desk jockeys."

"I called Mr. Lonergan to see when I could get my check, but no one seems to know where it is. It was cut last week for one thing. After I get that check, my pay comes from a different account and they're supposed to mail it to me, but this one is . . . lost in the ozone so to speak. Someone's supposed to call me back in a while."

"Sucks, but count on the corporate johnies to screw up something that simple." Spike wandered in behind Xander and began to massage his stiff shoulders. Xander stiffened. "Relax, you git. Not gonna . . . jump ya or anything. Just . . . you look all stiff like, thought I'd see if I couldn't make it better. And I'm not up to anything either. So don't go all . . . whatever."

Xander relaxed, by main force of will, but he did it. "Well, every other time you get behind me, you try to bite me. So . . . sorry . . . Mmmmm. That does feel good."

Spike worked on Xander's neck and back for several seconds and felt him really relax at last. He continued to work, enjoying the scent of ‘his boy' and the feel of his skin beneath his fingers. Xander's skin was surprisingly soft and smooth. Where he could touch it. Which was mainly the back of his neck and what part of his upper shoulders Spike could reach without moving Xander's t-shirt. He knew better than to disarrange his clothing. Xander would stiffen up like a board. Spike knew he was making progress though. Xander wouldn't have allowed the massage at all only a month ago.

"There you go pet. Feel better?" Spike eased around the desk and settled in one of the guest chairs facing it.

Xander shrugged his shoulders gently and twisted his neck. "Yeah, feels a whole lot better. Where'd you learn that? Wouldn't have thought that a master vampire would know how to give a massage. Shouldn't you be getting them instead?"

Spike snickered softly. "Wasn't always a Master. I was made a Childe, not a minion, but I was subservient to Angelus for over thirty years. And he wasn't a kind master. I learned all sorts of things from him. Massage among them. Then Dru . . . she'd get the most hellacious migraines. Sometimes the massage was all that kept her from running out into the sun. . . . change of subject."

Xander absorbed Spike's admission with a blink then handed him a piece of paper. "I'm working on a translation. It's a bit difficult . . . in fact it's a royal pain in my ass. But I think I'm getting it. It's some sort of code but I've identified two letters so far."

Spike looked at Xander with new respect. "Two letters? Are you sure?"

Xander sighed and shook his head. "No, not really. But they're both vowels, due to the frequency of occurrence. And the language is Germanic. Again . . . I think. It's all sort of up in the air. But I'll keep hacking away at it until I either get somewhere or I have to tell Timmins that I'm stuck."

Spike nodded, this was more proof that Xander was a lot smarter than he let on. He wondered again if he could get away with eating Xander's father, the man obviously wasn't human.

"And how about that scroll you were working on? How's that going?"

Xander shook his head. "Well, I got the title translated for sure. And part of the first page or so. Only they're not really pages since it's a scroll. They're actually panels. And it's a direct copy of something older. And probably written on clay tablets. I've found a web site that has a library of tablets photographed and posted up. Interesting and really weird. It seems to be some sort of . . . commentary on the proper etiquette at . . . well, a vampire court."

Spike quirked his scarred eyebrow at Xander. "Etiquette at court? What year?"

Xander shrugged, shuffled papers and read one. "Around 600AD? No, sorry, that's when the scroll was written. The tablets were inscribed at the time of Hammurabi, or Hammurapi. What you call him depends on which bible you read or which expert you like. Not that you'd like any of them much. Dry bunch of assholes. So . . . um . . . 2000BC or there abouts. Um . . .court of a vampire lord whose name I haven't found out yet. But one thing I do know. He's really hooked on disemboweling. And may I just say with real emphasis. Eeeewwww! And also. Ick."

Spike cracked up, Xander had gone from sounding like Giles to sounding like Willow in a split second. "Yeah, I can see where you'd think that. But think about this. If a vampire court gets out of hand . . . how many people die a true death?"

Xander nodded. "I have thought about that. Did some research. The last time one got out of hand. And I think you said something about it. An entire town disappeared off the map. Some . . . eight thousand people. Real big city for the time. And ick again. Are we repeating ourselves for some reason other than that I'm an idiot?"

Spike valiantly squashed the urge to smack Xander. "No, just . . . it don't hurt to go over stuff once in a while. When you get that scroll translated, I want a copy."

Xander flapped his hand at Spike. "Ok, ok. Repeat-o-boy. When I'm done, you'll be the first to know. I just hope you can read short hand. Now. If you don't want anything else. I'll get to work."

"No, I don't want anything, you single-minded git." Spike snorted, who'd have thought that Xander Harris the idiot donut boy would be so fixated on translating a several thousand year old scroll. Ancient Sumerian/Babylonian vampire court etiquette, no less. He levered himself out of the chair, stretched and cautioned Xander not to strain his eyes then left.

Xander sighed and looked at the scroll again, or rather the copies. It was driving him crazy and he was sure he was missing something. So he decided to go over everything in his mind again. One, it was a copy of a set of clay tablets. Two, it was in a demon form of ancient Babylonian. Three, it was really, really old. Xander bit at his lip. He'd figure this thing out if it killed him, pulling a pad of paper closer he started working again.


Spike retreated to his own office and sat at his desk. He finally realized he was brooding, muttered, "Broodin' like the bloody poofter isn't gonna get me anywhere. Suck it up, Spike. Get on with it." He called Timmins to him and issued orders. Timmins just nodded and left.

Spike picked up a manila folder and read the report from one of his lieutenants. It was nice to have them again. Spike realized that for years he'd been trying to control every single thing in his courts himself, now he delegated a lot of responsibilities. Sunsu was wise and so was De Medici.

After finishing with his paper work, Spike wandered down to the stable to have a snack. He called on one of the men who was in charge of keeping track of who was ready and available. He made sure to keep excellent records. He didn't want any of his ‘cattle' to be addicted to the bite or die because he over bled them. He took the time to gaze around the area and realized that the walls, which Xander held in contempt were actually in danger of collapsing if anyone got too rough with them.

"Have to make sure Xander sets this up proper . . . hey." Spike skipped aside as someone bumped into the wall from the other side, making it slap into his shoulder. "Take it easy over there. Ya wanna knock that shite down?" a muffled apology was offered. Spike started to go around to have a few words with whoever it was but was distracted by his snack calling him to the ‘feeding' room.

He went into the room and carefully took his meal. He was always careful to be courteous and thank them; besides not hurting them. He'd always been told that the blood was sweeter spiced by fear and pain. That was a great big wrong. In capitol letters. The blood was actually sweeter when the subject was relaxed. Adrenalin had a salty, sour tang that he realized wasn't that pleasant. Especially after you had sweet, warm blood willingly given. He wondered where the idea that the other was better had come from. Bloody hell, research time for William. Fuck.

Spike carefully laved the puncture marks on the woman's inner elbow with his tongue. "Thank you, missus. That was very nice. You see that you eat right now." Spike got up and walked out the door signaling to the attendant, who had been dinner three days ago, to attend the woman.

He stopped by the desk by the door and addressed the woman keeping records there. "I want everyone out of the dormitories as soon as Young Master Harris gets the first walls up. This is more dangerous than I thought it was. Understand?"

The woman made a squeaking noise and nodded. Spike left mumbling under his breath about the state of things, when a Master vampire such as himself had to see to minor domestic details like building proper walls.


Xander closed his notebook in frustration. His eyes were beginning to vibrate and ache. He decided to finish the last of his preparations to redo the stable dormitories. He thought changing the open room into singles was a better idea than trying to do something with the mess already there. If he divided one dorm into two, he could do half the rooms then move people into them. Then he'd divide the last half into half and when he finished that go on to finish the last quarter. He wondered if he would have any help on this. He wasn't too sure about having minions that close to humans they weren't allowed to touch.

He got up and fidgeted with his desk for a moment then he called Timmins. Timmins entered and Xander asked him for a guard so he could go to the stable level. Timmins just nodded and walked out to call for a guard. Xander picked up a small spiral notebook and a pen, sticking them into a thigh pocket he rummaged in a drawer for a tape measure. He looked up in time to see his guard.

"Hey, Bud, how are you. Been a while."

Bud grinned at Xander. "Been busy. Master Spike is still trying to get his court in check. The demons are no problem, except for the whole ‘show us your pet' thing. But the minions and fledges are a real pain in the ass. I say stake a few of them, but will Master Spike? Hell no. He says he isn't going to fall into the same trap as old Heinrich." Xander made a face at Bud. "The old master. The Slayer did for him a couple of year ago, I think."

Xander remembered Heinrich well enough. "Why do you call him the Old Master? And I do remember him. Buffy ground his bones. Neat."

Bud blinked. "Well, well. You were there? What happened? I thought there was some sort of prophecy? Slayer died or something."

"Sort of. She died, just like the prophecy. But I gave her mouth-to-mouth and brought her back. She staked him good but he came back so she staked him again and crushed his bones to dust." Xander managed to look amazed and proud at the same time. "I helped."

"Well, damn." Bud gave him a look of dawning respect. "Ok, so what are we doing?"

"I need to go to the stable level and take some measurements so I can finish my materials list. Take me down?" Bud nodded and led the way.


Xander finished his measurements, wrote his notes and did his figures. He settled in a squat to finish his list of materials. When he did, he found himself looking through a vent right into the feeding room. Spike was feeding from a relaxed looking woman, gently suckling from her arm. The expression of ecstasy on Spike's face startled Xander. And made him feel a little jealous. He shook it off and returned to his work. But he did hear Spike thank the woman. He shook his head slightly. What was up with that?

He couldn't equate Spike's tenderness with one of the four Scourges of Europe. It was actually a bit unnerving. Xander decided all the thinking was making his head ache so he flipped his notebook shut.

"Ok. All done. I have to work this up into a requisition for Spike. Or Timmins. I'd like to get started as soon as possible. I'm afraid that one of these walls will fall on someone. Come on."

Xander headed for the stairs and ran right into Spike.

"Xandpet. What's going on? What are you doing down here? And . . ."

Xander held up a hand. "And where's my guard?" Xander pointed to Bud. "Right there. Bud."

Bud bowed to Spike carefully, giving him his full name and waiting until Spike acknowledged him. Then he straightened. Spike said something in a language that Xander didn't understand but Bud laughed and walked away waving at Xander in a friendly way.

Xander waved back and then turned to Spike. "I need these materials and soon. Those walls are . . . "

"Yeah, they are. One of them nearly fell tonight . . . right on me. How soon can you get started on the work?" Spike tapped a cigarette out of his pack and lit it. He blew out a plume of smoke and then popped his jaw, forming a perfect ring of smoke.

"I have a requisition right here for the last of the materials. Timmins can order them tonight. I'll get my heavy duty gun when I get my check. It won't take but a few minutes to drop by the site and get it. I can start then. I don't think even Timmins can get materials delivered before Friday. Ok?"

Spike smiled at Xander, surprising him because it was a simple smile without snark or sarcasm. "Sure. You're the expert. I'm finally learning to delegate things to experts. You tell me what you can and can't do. I'll tell you if it's good enough or I have to find someone else. How's that?"

Xander blinked for a moment. "You're trusting me? I mean, really?"

Spike just nodded. "Yeah. So. Timmins will order the stuff an' you'll start Friday after you pick up your . . . gun? Didn't know you had one."

Xander gave Spike a disgusted look. "Not that kind of gun. I can't afford the ammunition to practice. It's a heavy duty nail gun. I need it to set the base plates. Concrete floors are a bitch."

Spike listened as Xander explained that regular nails just split and chipped concrete so he had to use special nails. The gun had to be more powerful too as the concrete was so much harder than wood. He wondered if Xander realized that he knew so much about something. Spike wasn't experienced in construction but he knew a real expert when he heard one.

"Hate to interrupt this interestin' lecture on the properties of nails. But you're going to be late to your lesson with Master Chen if you don't get a wiggle on. Not a good idea, he's old school and has asked my permission to discipline you proper. I gave it." Spike knew Chen wouldn't damage Xander and, being a vampire didn't see that much wrong with corporal punishment as long as it wasn't carried too far. Xander made an eeping sound and scurried away. Spike watched his tight rear end with a great deal of enjoyment.


Xander was just in time for his training period. Master Chen, however wasn't best pleased with him. "You were very nearly late. What were you doing that was so important that you would be late?"

Xander didn't make any excuses. He knew better. Master Chen wasn't unreasonable so if he was upfront with him he probably would avoid punishment.

"I was finishing the measurement of the stable level. I have to build the walls myself." At Master Chen's expression Xander shrugged. "Would you trust a bunch of minions around that stable? Yummy treats just standing around like that?"

"Frankly, no. So you avoid punishment this time. Don't be nearly late again. Now. We start with a new form."

Xander settled into his training routine. He was learning faster and faster. As he built more skills, Master Chen moved him along faster. He was learning down and dirty sword techniques right now.

"Take this sword. I have chosen it for your height and strength. I'll also teach you how to use a gladius. A short roman sword. This wakazashi will give you an advantage with your longer reach, but the gladius is easier to hide. So . . . we start."

Xander spent the next hour practicing sword work. The simple forms were easy to remember, but much harder to actually do right. Simple didn't always mean easy.

Master Chen watched Xander carefully. He wasn't about to let Xander hurt himself or do any of the forms wrong.

Xander had strong wrists and calloused palms from working construction for so long. But right now he felt like his wrists were made of noodles and his palms stung. He really wanted to stop exercising but he wasn't about to give up. His stubborn nature wouldn't let him. So he continued much longer than he should have.

Master Chen had stepped out of the room for a few moments, cautioning Xander to stop at fifty repetitions of the form. Xander had continued to one hundred and he felt it.

He was standing at the water cooler letting the cold water run over the palm of his left hand. He'd almost blistered it and it stung something awful.

"What are you doing?" Master Chen looked at Xander's hand. "You went too far. Didn't I tell you fifty reps and then rest?"

Xander nodded his head miserably. "Yes. But I thought . . ."

"No, you didn't or you would have obeyed me. Now you're in for a punishment. And not extra forms this time."

Xander hung his head. "I'm sorry, sir. I just want to be good. I mean . . . well, you know what I mean."

"Yes, you want to excel. I understand that. But you won't excel if you over do. Now. Kneel."

Xander knelt, expecting some sort of beating, but Master Chen had other ideas. He pulled Xander's hands behind him and tied them together with a string. "You will stay there until I tell you you may rise. And you will repeat, ‘I will not disobey my master' until I let you up."

Xander shuddered once then nodded. "Yes, sir. I'm really sorry." Xander began the required recitations of the ‘mantra' speaking softly but distinctly.

Master Chen sighed, shook his head and retreated to his zafu to watch Xander. Xander realized that all he had to do was tug a bit and the string would break but he was also well aware that this part of his punishment was to teach him self control. No doubt he needed that. Xander continued his soft chant while Master Chen counted. When Xander reached one hundred repetitions he told him to stop.

Xander started to stand up but Master Chen asked him what he thought he was doing. Xander dropped back to his knees. "Nothing. But . . . I need to be in my office pretty soon. Someone's supposed to call me about my check. I'd really like to get it before it disappears into the wilds of corporate paper work again."

"I'll let you go in a moment. Do you understand why I punished you?"

Xander shook his head. "Not really. I figured that I'd do a few extra and maybe improve quicker."

Bruce nodded. "I see. But what you don't understand is that when you're breaking a bad habit, getting so tired you can't think is good. You just do what you're told. But when you're learning new forms you need to be alert, aware and concentrating on what you're doing. Or you'll do the forms wrong and have bad habits to break again. You will do exactly the number of repeats I tell you to do and not one more or less. Do you understand now?"

Xander bowed keeping his head up, eyes on his Sensei. "Yes, Sensei, I do. I'm sorry I disobeyed you."

Xander was more used to being beaten within an inch of his life for leaving the butter out than he was having things explained to him. He straightened and vowed not to disappoint Master Chen again.

"Well, you only wanted to improve yourself. So it's all to the good. You've learned your lesson at a small cost. You may free yourself . . ." Master Chen stretched. "I'm going to get some tea. I'd advise a shower before you go anywhere."

Xander pulled his gi jacket off and pulled his t-shirt up to sniff at it. "Eeewww! Now that's just plan gross. Stinky Xander. Peee euuu."

Xander slung his gi over his shoulder and headed for his quarters. He'd take a shower, check for messages about his check and settle for some tv. He was still having trouble believing that he had a wide screen with surround sound and the latest and best accessories. He thought I'll call Willow and tell her about it, then he firmed his resolve, they'd been the ones to shut him out, they'd have to be the ones to invite him back in. And he was really pissed at Giles. All he'd have had to do was pay a little attention to Willow and her penchant for bad mojo. He entered his quarters, tossed his gi jacket and trousers into the hamper, followed by his shorts and t-shirt.

He turned the shower on and stuck his hand into the flow of water, grimacing as it flowed cold. He wondered if Spike would have a fit if he put in a secondary heater so he could have hot water faster. Then decided that he'd just ask. Spike probably would just snark something like ‘ya stupid git, wot difference is it ta me whot ya do.' Xander mouthed the phrase again trying to get the accent right.


When he was done with his shower, Xander rummaged in his closet for something to wear. He decided on a new pair of black jeans and a dark green t-shirt. They were a little too tight but Spike had flatly told him that if his clothing was too loose it was going in the rag bag. He claimed that it was dangerous to wear baggy clothing at a construction site, a fact that several of Xander's co-workers had seconded. Xander looked for his boots and couldn't find them.

"Timmins! Hey." Timmins stuck his head in the door with an inquiring sound. "Where's my boots? I have to go find my check so I'd really like them, just in case."

"Sorry, sir, I tried to clean them but they were so dirty and worn that Master Spike told me to toss them. He said that I should get you new. I put it off when I found out that you were on leave . . . don't you have a pair of . . . of . . . cowboy boots?"

Xander remembered the western style boots with the diamond cut steel toe caps that he'd rescued from his father's greed. "Yeah, now all I have to do is find them." He rummaged in the closet again and found them placed neatly on the floor. He picked them up and admired them. "Timmins, you knew I had those. There's no way I could have polished them this nice. Thanks"

Xander finished dressing and went to his office. He got there just in time to answer the phone.

"Harris here."

Mr. Harris. This is Lily Jones from the accounting office. I was told you are looking for your check. It was sent to the site last week by mistake. No one has sent it back to us, so I assume that it's still there. You'll have to go down after six to look for it. If you go much before the office help will be too busy to look for it. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience but it can't be helped.

Xander bit at his lip, he was sure something was off but he wasn't sure what. "That's ok. Do you know for sure where it is? Or do I have to go to every office trailer on the site?"

I know just where it is. It's at the time clock trailer. Just where it's supposed to be picked up at. You go there and ask the clerk for it. Oh, boss want's me, gotta scramble.

Xander eyed the phone receiver for a second and wondered just what was off. Unable to figure it out he hung up the phone and glanced at the clock on his desk. It was just after four. He decided to find something fun to read on the internet until he had to leave.

He found an X-men fic to read and read until he heard a knock on the door frame. He looked up to see Spike standing in the door.

"Hey, Hi! What's up? I was just reading." Xander shut his monitor off and stood up.

"Heard ya had a' appointment to get your check. I'm goin'." Spike's flat declaration left no room for argument, not that Xander wanted to.

"That's good." Xander rubbed at his forehead. "Call me paranoid but something wasn't right about that call. I can't quite put my finger on it but . . . well, it creeped me a little."

Spike stuck a cigarette in his mouth, lit it and shrugged. "Not paranoid. Maybe jumpin' at shadows, but I'm comin' whether ya like it or not. So now that we're both happy. When we takin' off?"

Xander fiddled with his letter opener. "Need to be there after six because of book keeping having to be done first. My check is with the . . . clerk . . . at . . . now that is odd." Xander brushed away the feeling. "Never mind. They've changed protocol or whatever they call it. My check got sent to the clock in office back in the back of the site. I have to go there to get it."

Spike wondered what Xander had been about to say then shrugged it off as unimportant, if it was important the whelp would have finished the thought. "Ok. I'm gonna see if I can't take care of some of the stuff my lieutenants couldn't do. Bloody fledges. I'd gut the bunch of ‘em, but healin' ‘em is a right pain in my arse. See you . . . when?"

Xander figured silently for a second. "About quarter after five. That gives us time to get there without driving like a mad man. And the sun sets at about five thirty, so, with my windows you should be safe from bursting into flames. See you then." Xander sat back down at his desk and pulled a handful of notes onto the blotter. He decided to just go over them to refresh his memory.

Spike ambled out calling over his shoulder. "Come get me when you're ready to go."


Xander reread his notes for the second time, hoping something would click. It didn't, but the phone rang.

When he answered it, all he heard was some heavy breathing and a funny click. He hung up the phone muttering ‘perv'. He put his notes away and glanced at the clock. It was getting on for four and he wanted something to eat before he left.

Xander wandered into the kitchen just in time to see Timmins making a sandwich. He reached over the vampire's shoulder and snitched a bit of pepperoni.

"Mmmm. That sandwich looks great. Make me one too?"

Timmins let Xander have his tidbit. "It's for you. I thought that you would be hungry. If you're going to leave soon, you should eat. I also have ice cream. But you have to eat the salad first."

Xander pulled a face at Timmins. "Salad's ok, if you're a rabbit. But a man needs manly food. And I'm a manly man." Xander grinned at Timmins; this was one of those private jokes that Xander had never had before.

"Oh, yes sir, you're quite the manly man. And here's your sandwich, an apple and the salad. If you eat it all, you can have ice cream. Now . . . I have to do laundry so if you want something you'll have to shout." Timmins left the room and shut the door with a snap.

Xander wolfed the sandwich and salad, nibbled the apple and then dug the ice cream out of the fridge. He found a spoon and dug into the tub, ignoring the fact that Timmins would scold him, telling him it was unsanitary. Who else was going to eat it anyway?

After he was done eating, Xander went to Spike's office. Spike was snarling at someone. "Don't threaten me. I don't care. Not havin' ‘em scared or hurt. ‘E ‘as to come to court, I know. But I'm not havin' every Tom, Dickless and Harryballs feelin' him up. Hear me? If I lose control of my court the High Master'll have my guts for garters, but so what? If he rebels because I scare him, it'll be the same thing. Only he'll be dead. So gimme a break. I'm workin' on it. . . . now get the hell out. Tell the High Master I got it under control. Or not."

Xander heard a slam from behind the door he was just about to knock on. Then another voice, quite calm and rather bored sounding said, "Far be it from me to threaten you. I like my head on my body. I'm just the messenger. I'm well aware that you're overly fond of that thrall. But if you don't get things under complete control soon, things are going to take a turn for the worse. You've got control of most of the older vampires and the demons are falling into line too. But there are a few who insist that you can't control your court if you can't even get your thrall to submit to being shown. I'd suggest falling back on older traditions, one's that pre date most of these fools memories. Do some research. . ." there was a soft smacking sound. "I have other things to do besides hold your hand. Get things done. The High Master is losing patience. Not a good thing. Good-bye"

The door popped open to an empty corridor, Spike could have sworn he heard someone there. But he said good-bye to the messenger and went back into his office.

Xander leaned on the wall of the corridor around the corner from Spike's office and thought furiously.

It didn't take him long to decide, he chased the demon messenger down and asked him a bunch of very intrusive questions and got some answers that firmed his resolution to steel. He thanked the being for telling him the truth of his situation. Then assured him that everything would work out.

"Um . . . before you go. Could you tell me who Heinrich is . . . or was?"

The demon shrugged. "Heinrich bar Aurelius. Eighth High Master of the house." Xander looked confused so the demon explained that Heinrich was ‘the' master of the house as opposed to being ‘a' master of the house. "When he was dusted the . . . er . . . crown, for lack of a better word, was passed to the next able high master who is Angelus. But he doesn't want it. We're having real trouble keeping the Hellmouth from opening. Too many fools who don't understand that if it opens the entire west coast is . . . gone. Every living thing from California to the rocky mountains will die . . . that answer enough?"

Xander felt all the blood run from his head into his . . . somewhere not his head. "Yeah. And Spike will have an easier time of it if this thrall . . . submits? How?"

"All the fool has to do is wear the appropriate . . . costume . . . and sit at Master Spike's feet during court. Not that big a deal, but Master Spike seems to think that the idiot is too tender to submit to a pet harness and an hour sitting on a cold floor. It's not as if he can't give the boy a cushion or something. All he has to do is show the trembling flower, not let every ass and idiot abuse the boy, like some do. That's not showing control of a court, that's pandering to its prurient demands. A soother for a cranky child. Master Spike is endangering everything to coddle an ape. I just hope we all don't regret it." The demon glanced at his watch. "I'm sorry. I don't tend to rant like that, but this situation has gotten me all upset. Did that answer your questions?"

Xander squared his shoulders. "Yes, thank you, sir. Excuse me. But . . . um . . . is there any reading on the subject of vampire court . . . etiquette . . . well, shit. Sorry, sorry language."

But the demon just shook his head. "There are some texts, but none of them translated into anything useful. There was a journal of The Master's, but it disappeared eighty years ago or there abouts. Now I really must go. Thank you for your interest. Please use whatever influence you have with Master Spike to see if you can't convince him to put that boy on display as soon as possible. It might be the only way to avoid the kind of rebellion we really can't cope with just now."

Xander nodded his head and said he'd see what he could do.


Xander tapped at Spike's door right on time. He'd found out that the snarky vampire hated it when he was late. Of all the things Xander thought would irritate Spike being late was way down on the list.

"You ready? We should get on our way if you are."

Spike looked up from the parchment he was reading. The look on his face told Xander that he wasn't pleased by whatever he was reading. Xander decided to get a look at the missive as soon as he could.

It wouldn't be that hard, Spike just left things lying about like no one would dare touch them. Xander considered that thought for a moment then realized that most people wouldn't dare snoop Spike's desk. The consequences could be unpleasant to say the least. Xander decided he still had to see the letter. The worst Spike would do to him was . . . what? Spank him. Xander sighed

"What's that great heaving sigh for? Come on. Let's get going."

Spike picked his duster off the hall tree by the door and led the way to the garage, smoking as he went.

They got into Xander's truck, with a nasty glare from Arnold. Xander gave him his blandest look and thought, You could never do what I'm going to have to do. You'd chicken out. Tosser



"What the hell is a tosser?"

Spike turned his head to look at Xander for a long second. "Where the hell did you hear that?"

"You say it all the time. And prat. What's that?"

"Tosser just means they're worthless. A thing to be tossed out. Ok? And prat means a fool or idiot. And I don't say it all the time sometimes I call ‘em a berk. So any other questions?"

Xander maneuvered the truck out of the garage and into the parking lot. He eyed the pile of covered lumpy objects and realized that it was part of his materials.

"Wow. Already? I don't believe this. I figured it'd be at least a week. I'll have to move that stuff down tomorrow and get started."

Spike realized he was smoking in Xander's truck, swore and put down the window. "Tell me when I'm smokin' in your face, will ya? I don't want you getting cancer or summat." He flicked his butt out the window and left it down. The air was cool and sweet and it was dark enough that he didn't have to worry about catching fire. "I thought you didn't want that stuff until next week. If you want it now, I'll have it moved tonight and you can start work tomorrow. I figured you were busy trainin' and workin' on that translation."

Xander shrugged as he guided his truck into traffic. "I am. But those people deserve better than they have. I can change my schedule a little. Workout, breakfast, translate, lunch, build stuff, workout, dinner. And all evening to mess around with you . . . " Xander's eyes dilated, "I mean . . . not mess around in mess around like mess . . . I mean . . . like men mess around . . . watching foot ball and that, Manchester United and like that mess around, not the other. Which I figure we'll get around to sometime or other but later not sooner. Ok. And shutting up now."

Spike nearly went into convulsions trying not to laugh. "Relax, pet. I swear the first thing I'm gonna buy you is a gag." Xander muttered, ‘please'. Spike went on, ignoring him. "And . . . vampire here. We probably will get it on sooner or later. But I'm not in a rush. Got plenty of time, don't I. And if you really get difficult, I will compel you. But don't worry about that right now. Get used to the idea. Ok? Now . . . where are we going?"

Xander gratefully accepted the change of subject and added another thing to his list of worries.

"To the job site. I told you they sent my check to the trailer where they keep the time clock. Why it's there, I don't know. But there you are. And there it is. So we go get it."

Spike nodded. The boy was worried about something, he could smell it. But with Xander you never knew if he was worried about being dismembered or having bad breath or something else. So he decided to wait until whatever it was broke surface in the idiot's conscious and spilled out his babbling mouth. Spike thought about that for a second and realized that Xander didn't babble nearly as much as he used to.


Xander obviously thought that silence was the better part of common sense as he didn't say another word until they reached the job site. Then he pointed out things as he drove to the back side of the lot. He pointed out the dome he'd saved and the place the crew had been storing the cored bundles of lumber. Spike looked at the bundles of lumber and didn't see much, not that he was really interested. Then he turned around and got a good look at the dome. And flipped out.

"Bloody hell! Pet, that dome is . . . over seventy feet high if it's an inch. And you climbed to the top and . . . what, you bloody idiot. That dome . . . nothing is worth your life. You could have fallen, you did get hurt. Prat. You've got bollox the size of . . . I'm not sure what. If I ever hear of you puttin' your life at risk for nothin' like that again. I'll . . . I'll take my belt to you sure."

Xander put on the brakes. "Spike, if you ever hit me with a belt, I'll run." Spike started to say something. But Xander turned a look of such cold determination on him that he shut up. "I mean it. And I don't want to talk about it. At all. Ever." Spike decided to keep his mouth shut until he found out more.

Xander pointed to a trailer ahead of them. "There's the trailer. And a light is on. I'll pull right up to the trailer, run in and get my check. No . . . I better get my nail gun first. That clerk is sure to want to jabber on forever and I'll have trouble finding the locker if they turn off the site lights before I go in." Spike made a soft sound in his throat. "There's lights in the locker area but they only turn them on until everyone is out of the area. Costs a fortune to run them. So gun first, then check."

Spike nodded. "Ok, pet. We'll get the gun first. Where is it?"

Xander parked his truck and gestured. "Over there. You don't have to come with me if you don't want. Why don't you stay here and have a smoke? Um . . . By the way, thanks for not smoking around me. I really hate the smell. Smells like my dad and Uncle Rory. And . . . bad memories there." He strode away, calling over his shoulder. "I won't be long."

Xander disappeared from Spike's sight, walking quickly into the depths of the half-completed building.

As Xander walked away, Spike suddenly got a cold chill down his back. Something wasn't right. He decided he'd better follow the whelp and keep an eye on him.

Xander opened a steel locker and pulled a plastic tool case from it. He opened the case, checked its contents and then closed it again. He put it on the floor and reached into the locker again.

"Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. Our little whistle blowing cock sucker."

Xander stiffened but didn't turn around. "Not in the mood for you guys. Go away."

"Go away, he says. Boys, you hear. We're supposed to go away because he says to." All four of the men laughed at that remark. Spike didn't, all he could see was four humans bent on hurting his boy. He grabbed the nearest man and threw him across the space, then fell to his knees screaming in pain.

Xander didn't give the other three time to do much. One of the first things Bruce had taught him was bo-staff. You could find one of those almost anywhere. A broom stick, a curtain rod or, in this cast a closet rod.

Xander snatched it up and took a defensive stance, waiting for someone to do something. He wasn't going to attack, he was in the most advantageous position he could have found. He was backed up into a narrow void between two half finished walls. It was about eight feet deep and twelve feet wide, the lockers were in the back of it. It's size and shape made it very defensible, they could only come at him one at a time and they had no chance of flanking him. So he waited. He was worried about Spike but knew that his scream was only the effect of the chip firing.

"We'll get you boy. Come out and make it easier on . . ."

"You to break my knees. Don't think so. You want me? Come and get me."

The man Spike had thrown groaned, distracting another man. Xander darted out of his refuge and cracked the man over the head with his bo. The man went down like a pole axed ox, but Xander knew he only had a few seconds before he was back on his feet. Guys like these had hard heads. Xander ducked back into his hole before the other two could react.

Spike groaned softly attracting the thugs attention. "If you don't come out of there, your friend will suffer for it." Spike managed to make it to his hands and knees. He shook his head, "Don't do it, pet. They'll do for you sure. I'll be ok. You stay. . ." The nearest man kicked Spike in the side knocking him back to the floor. Xander snarled, "Dumb ass. Stay down."

Spike stubbornly struggled to get to his feet again. He had to help Xander somehow. He succeeded in distracting the man who'd kicked him long enough for Xander to dart out of his spot again. This time he managed to get in a good hit to a knee. The man who'd been watching him squealed and fell down on one knee clutching the other with both hands. Xander took the opportunity to crack the first man in the temple, knocking him out again. "Brain damage, much. I so hope."

Spike wrapped his arms around the legs of the man who'd kicked him. He whimpered in pain as the chip fired again. And again. Xander saw that Spike was nearly unconscious but still fighting to help. He ducked under a rather wild swing and countered with a sharp jab to the rib cage that had his attacker on the ground making wheezing sounds. He spared another glance around and realized that the only one still on his feet was the man Spike had hold of. Xander solved that little problem by cracking the man across the small of the back. He yelped and fell. Another look around told Xander that he could take time to check on Spike.

A quick check proved that Spike was only suffering from the effects of the chip. Xander helped him up to lean against the nearby studded out wall. Spike pressed his hand to his forehead and moaned., "Soddin' chip. Bloody hell."

"Take it easy for a few. I've got some clean up to take care of. Um . . . kinky question, but . . . do you have any handcuffs?"

Spike managed a half-hearted smirk. "Cuffs? Now what would I want with something like that?"

Xander grinned back, panting slightly. "Who knows? Not me, no sir, don't have a clue. So . . . rope? Wire? Not a damn . . . fuck!" This last exclamation brought about by one of the thugs managing to get to his feet and take a swing at Xander. He snarled and whacked the man with his bo. "So not liking this. I wonder where . . . or who . . . Spike?"

"Not a clue. Called you a whistle blower. I assume that they're from that company you're supposed to testify about. So . . . now what? We need to tie them up or something." Spike heaved himself off the wall and groaned. "Soddin' hell. Well, let's figure out what to do with these prats."

Xander listened to the threats from the leader of the four men, mind wandering. He clicked in when the boss announced. "We'll find out who you love the most and they don't stand a chance. Why don't you be a good little boy and have a memory loss?"

Xander lost his temper. "Well, let me see. Because the one's I love most don't love me back? Because I'm a stubborn ass hole? Or maybe because being threatened just makes me pissed? Pick one, or all of the above. Shut up."

Xander let his gaze drift around the half-finished room looking for some way to tie these guys up. It was fruitless. There was nothing.

"Ok. I've got a few questions for you four and I intend to get some answers. Now . . . Spike are you up to helping me?"

"Sure, pet. Not much I can do to help ya though. Got a hell of a headache. What do you want?" Spike dragged his aching body to its feet again and made it over to Xander.

Xander got an ugly look on his face. "You can't actively hurt a human but how about holding them while someone else does it?"

Spike made a face. "We could try it. Worse that could happen is the chip fires again. Maybe it'll fry my brain completely. Useless berk. Damn Initiative. I'm . . . never mind. Let's deal with what we've got and whinge later."

Xander nodded. "Be back in a sec. Just figure out what you want to know and be ready to ask your questions . . . after I ask mine."

Xander was well aware that someone knocked out was only going to be out for, at most, fifteen seconds; that only if they had a concussion. He had about another five or six minutes where they would be confused enough not to be too much trouble, but he still didn't have time to be nice, or kind. So he did what he could.

He was sure there was rope or wire somewhere. It was a construction site after all. But he didn't have time to search for it. So, he'd make do. First he searched each man for something to tie them up with, frisking them efficiently.

One of the men had a belt on, so he used it to tie his hands behind his back. But the others didn't have belts or even shoe strings.

"Spike, you got any thing to tie these jamokes up with?"

Spike eyed his laceless boots with a sigh. "No. And I'm not wanderin' around lookin' for somethin' either."

Xander shrugged. "Ok. Are you sure you can help me? I mean, if you don't actually do the hurting?"

Spike shrugged back at Xander. "I'll give it a go. What're ya up to?"

"We can't control all four of these idiots and I want some answers. So, they've got to be controlled somehow. Got an idea and it's not nice."

Spike ran his tongue over his teeth then grinned. "If I don't actually do the hurtin' I think I can help. Well just have to see, won't we."

Xander thought about what he was about to do and decided that the men deserved it. He got out his heavy duty nail gun and fitted in a bar of nails. He turned on a compressor and hooked up the air hose. Spike watched all these arrangements with interest.

"Whot's that, pet?"

"You'll see. Will you hold Mr. Wriggles for me?" Xander pointed to the first man to start regaining consciousness. Spike obligingly grabbed the man being very careful not to hurt him.

Xander caught the man by one ankle, put his foot flat on the flooring and put the orifice against the man's foot. He raised the nailer about a foot then smacked it down, hard. The thug jumped and screamed at the loud thud.

Spike blinked at the nail head that rose about half an inch from the top of the man's boot.

"Bloody hell!"

"That ought to keep him in one place for a while. I don't think he can pull it out. There's about half an inch in the floor. Maybe I should set the depth to the stop." Xander fiddled with the gun while the man alternately moaned and screamed. "Will you shut up, you big girl? Or should I nail your tongue to something to keep it from flapping until I want it to?"

Spike was impressed as hell, Xander didn't look anything like the goofy Scooby he was used to. He looked grim and fierce. The man shut up.

Xander nodded to the next man to wake up. Spike wearily crawled to him and positioned his foot for Xander.

"Head hurt? Don't worry. It won't take me long to nail these ass holes up. Then you can rest. I even think I've got some Tylenol in the case there. I'll get it for you in a minute . . . Master."

Spike noticed the hesitation and wondered what the hell the whelp was up to. He'd figured he'd have to do some real Compelling to get him to call him more than Fangless.

The next few seconds were interesting to Spike, Xander nailed each man to the flooring by one foot. The first man had screamed, the next one did too. But the third one just flinched and snarled. The last one tried threatening Xander.

"Ok, so not scared. I'll let you in on a big secret. Vampires really exist, and demons too." The man gave Xander a disgusted look. Spike squeezed him a little. "Yeah, give me the ‘are you nuts?' look. Master Spike, will you give our friend a little demonstration. You might just show him your face, if you don't mind."

Spike grinned at Xander, now this was something like. "I don't mind a bit, pet. Can I bite him? Doesn't look nummy, but I'm a bit peckish. Could do with a little nosh."

Xander shook his head. "You'll get indigestion. Just show him."

So Spike gave a very put upon sigh and vamped right in the man's face. He yelped and cringed back.

"Now, I have some questions I want answered and I'm afraid that you're answering them. So. Question, one. Who sent you and what exactly were you told to do to me? And don't lie. Master Spike will know. He'll smell it."

"What's it to him anyway? I thought . . . well, shit." The man shut up as he realized that, as he'd never been interested in horror movies, he had no idea what vampires did.

Spike shook his head. "Boy's mine. You hurt him. Now, answer the pretty boy's question before he gets testy."

Smartmouth had to pick at that one. "So, what? He get's his panties all in a twist. So what?"

Spike eyed the man for a second. "God, you're a twat. ‘E just nailed your buddies feet to the floor, yours too, and you're askin' so what? You're all about in your ‘ead is so what. ‘E's a bad boy. I'll just eat ya."

Xander felt a swell of pride, Spike had paid him a compliment, backhanded or not.

"Now, answer my question. Or I'll nail something else to the floor. And tell me your name, I can't keep thinking of you as smartmouth."

"Otto. All you need to know. But Mr. Parish sent us to get you to back off, not testify in court about the lumber deal."


"Well, breaking your legs was mentioned, as well as beating up your girl friend. But we couldn't find a girl. So legs it was."

Spike snarled softly and then clutched at his head. The chip had fired again. Xander patted Spike on the shoulder and nodded. "Go over there. I'll finish up here and we can leave." Spike just got up and staggered away to lean against the locker.

Xander asked the man another question and got a sneer for his trouble. He grinned in a decidedly non-Xander way. "I ask, you answer, or I get nasty. You see, my reputation as an all round good guy is a bit on the exaggerated side. My daddy taught me lots of stuff. Like how to be a real prick when I want to be. Won't mean a lot to you but I backed Angelus down. Now. Answer my question."

All he got was another sneer and the idiot spit in his face. Xander bashed the man in the head with the gun, knocking him cold for the second time that night.

"Easy there, pet. Won't do ta scramble ‘is brains."

Xander nodded. "You're right, but goons like this have hard heads. I'll . . . just. . ." Xander grunted as he straightened the man out. He pulled his arm out to one side and put the gun in the palm of his hand. He raised it preparatory to using the secondary trigger to shoot a nail.

"Wouldn't put a nail there. It'll pull out too easy."

"Well, how do you know that? Or should I ask?"

Spike rummaged around in Xander's case, found the Tylenol and swallowed two, dry. Xander waited impatiently for him to answer.

"Nazis did some experiments on crucifixions, found out that the palm will rip out in no time. The actual crucifixions were carried out by nailing through the radius and ulna; got archaeological evidence to prove it . . ." at Xander's rather blank look Spike sighed out a gust of smoke. "Two bones in the fore arm. Nail between them. Put a piece of wood over it and it won't pull out."

Xander nodded his understanding and picked up a piece of waste hard board. He put it over Otto's arm and slammed the gun down shooting a nail right through his arm. "How's that?"

"And I, as a vampire, have to say; good show. As a man, Jesus, you're a regular fiend when you're pissed . . . Hey! Is it really true? Did you really back Peaches down?"

Xander gave Spike a long, slow, insufferably smug look. "Yeah, I did. Right down. Chased him away like a whipped dog."

" ‘m speechless, I am. And sorry as hell I missed it."

Otto had been moaning through all this and Xander and Spike both told him to shut up at the same time. He shut.

"Now, I'm going to ask you questions. ‘I don't know' is a good answer, but remember, Spike will know if you lie. If you refuse, I'll find something else to nail to the floor. If you really piss me off your pants are coming down. You got me?"

Otto did and was now very cooperative. The other three men, strangely, or not so strangely, silent, now tried to get him to be silent too. Otto snarled to them, "Well, shit. It's not your nuts the guy is threatening to nail to the floor. Shut the fuck up yourselves . . ." he turned to Xander. "Why don't you ask them some questions and leave me alone?"

"Because you're doing so damn good. They're not all softened up, you are. But I could let Spike try out the gun on one or two of them. Nailing their flapping tongues to the floor ought to amuse him." Somehow this seemed to make flapping of tongues not so attractive anymore.

Xander got his answers and Spike did too.

It seemed that this particular fraud was a ‘kick back' sort of arrangement. The lumber yard had been doing it for years, without trouble. Xander had blown the whistle on them to a company from out of town, one that didn't understand long standing arrangements. And wasn't in the mood to deal with them. Xander's testimony was going to break a long standing and very lucrative arrangement. The boss wanted Xander silent and he didn't care how it happened. They'd never expected Xander to be so good with any kind of weapon. The boss had described him as a ‘wimp.'

"And who's the boss? And don't sit there and smirk at me. Who?"

"Clive Chase." The man seemed to think that this would send Xander into some sort of panic.

"Clive? Cordelia Chase's uncle?"

"Yeah, so now you know who you're dealing with, you should cut us loose and run for cover. He won't hold this little . . . accident against you. If you apologize real nice."

"Not a chance in the world. I dated Queen C. for a while. And, you know? I really resent the fact that I had to pay for her Prom gown, because Uncle got the whole family in a mess with the IRS but he didn't lose a thing. Funny, huh? Not. So, now you tell me that. I'm sure I'm going to put his tit in a wringer." Xander stood up and started taking his gun apart. "Spike, let's go."

Spike shoved away from the lockers and kicked the hose aside. "What now, Pet?"

"We go."

Spike started to tell Xander that the men were sure to be fair game for any passing vampire, but Xander was already dialing his phone.

He talked to someone for a moment, said. "Yeah, they're not going anywhere until you get here. Might bring along an industrial nail puller and a medic. Bye." and hung up. "We better not be here when they get here. And, damn, I still haven't gotten my check. See what you can do about that when we get home, will you?"

Spike allowed as how he'd see what he could do.

Xander got his case, put the nail gun away and headed for his truck. Spike followed him, thinking furiously. This, new, ruthless Xander was something to think about.

If you're interested, here's what Xander's nail gun looks like.

Part Twelve

Xander dumped his stuff in the bed of his truck and climbed in. He didn’t insult Spike by offering to help him, he just waited until Spike levered himself into the passenger’s seat. As Spike settled in, Xander drove away.

Spike sighed, “Ok, pet. What the hell was that? Not that I’m complainin’, mind. But . . . inventive . . . I’m not even sure where to start.”

Xander shrugged, paying more attention to driving than speaking for once. “I’m ruthless when I have to be. I do what I need to. Learned that from dear ol’ daddy. They’re not dead . . . yet. I didn’t kill them. So what’s the prob?”

Spike eyed Xander, wondering how he’d managed to miss the hard, cold, steely core of the man. “No prob here. I just was surprised. And now I’m wonderin’ why. So, I could use a nap. That soddin’ chip is gonna kill me yet.”

“Yeah? And what was that about? You got at least six shocks from that thing because you wouldn’t lay down. Never learn, do you?”

Spike raised his head and glared at Xander. “You don’t get it, do you?” Xander shook his head. “You’re mine. I take care of what’s mine, or at least I try to. That soddin’ bloody be-damned chip keeps me from it. I can’t protect you from the weakest of attackers. Bloglut demons, Fyarl, Nix’coth, I’m good. Great even, but soddin’ humans and I’m helpless.” Spike taught Xander a few British curses and shut up.

Xander drove, thin lipped and grim.


Xander pulled into the garage and parked. He tossed the keys on the floor, let Arnold pick them up and put the truck away.

Spike followed Xander into the mansion, groaning softly. The Tylenol hadn’t done much good for his aching head and Xander’s unaccustomed silence was wearing on his nerves. “Ok, pet. What’s got you in such a lather?”

Xander turned to Spike and looked him over like he was searching for something. Spike just raised a weary eyebrow and waited. “You . . . if I . . . damn . . . Spike?”

Spike waited a second while Xander tried to organize his thoughts. “Just spit it out, before it chokes you.”

“Ok. If I do what you want . . . if I let you put me on some sort of display . . . no one touches me but you . . . and maybe Timmins. And you never make fun of me. Ever. Or throw it in my face.”

Spike gave Xander a level look. “If you do what I want, I’ll never throw it in your face. And no one touches what's mine unless I give them express permission. Timmins has it. And, you’ll notice that I’m being very generous here, you get to pick the harness. How’s that?”

Xander just nodded. “Ok. I won’t let you down if you don’t let me down. Come on. You need to feed and I have to do some research. Move it.”

Spike sighed again and followed Xander to his quarters where Xander helped him get undressed then undressed himself. Spike was shocked when Xander crawled into the bed with him, but he kept his smart mouth under iron control. He knew better than to say anything at all.

Xander groaned. “I should be doing that research but all of a sudden I’m shaking all over.”

Spike put his arms around Xander. “I don’t need to feed just yet. Why don’t we just lay here for a mo’? Kinda cuddle down and recover.”

“Sounds good. But then I get up and be research boy. Got it?”

Spike rubbed Xander’s arm for a moment. “Sure thing, pet. Just . . . I could do with a few z’s myself.”

Spike waited for a little while. He knew something was going to happen, he just wasn’t sure what. As he suspected, Xander started to shake about five minutes later, his adrenalin high fading and leaving him shaky.

“Ok, pet? You don’t regret what you did? I think it was beautiful. Thank you.”

Xander mumbled. “You’re . . . I saw . . . it made me so mad. Why’d you do that?”

“Do what, pet?” Spike stroked Xander’s shoulders and back, rubbing his hands up and down, hoping to generate some heat.

“I saw. You were down with a chip zap, but you kept trying to get up and getting zapped again and again. Why?”

Spike snarled deep in his chest. “You’re mine. They were trying to hurt you. It’s my duty and privilege to protect you.” Spike took one hand from Xander’s body and pulled viciously at his own hair. “Stupid, soddin’ chip. Fuckin’ piece of bloody military plastic. I can’t even do what a fledge can.” Spike pressed his face into the curve between Xander’s neck and his shoulder. “But I thought, if I could just get in one good . . . something. I could at least help a bit. Fuckin’ fangless loser. You’re right to call me Willy Wanna-bite.”

Xander, with a clear vision of Spike grimly crawling towards one of his attackers while the chip sent him into convulsion after convulsion dancing in his head, pulled Spike’s hand out of his hair and held it. “Not either. And, need I say, I’m really sorry. No one ever did anything like that for me before. Even if it didn’t hurt them like hell. I’m not a nice person. I’m . . . Cordelia said I was one of the most ruthless people she’d ever met, including her dad. I want what’s right and good, and I don’t care what I have to do to protect people who can’t protect themselves. I should have included you in that mission.”

Spike was rendered speechless, something that didn’t happen often. Xander, the white knight, apologizing and including him on his list of people to be protected?

“Well, call me gobsmacked. Pet, I’m capable of taking care of myself. Unless they’re human.”

“Yeah, and all some idiot has to do is figure that out and we’re all fucked.” Xander sighed and settled against Spike. “I’m so tired. Why’m I tired? I didn’t do all that much. Go to sleep now.”

Xander drifted off with Spike still petting him. He didn’t seem to notice that they were both only wearing boxers and Spike wasn’t about to wake him and tell him.


Xander woke to someone blowing in his ear. He slapped at whoever it was and then sat up in the bed. “Spike! Damn it! I was having a nice dream and you woke me up.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

Xander made a disappointed face then shrugged. “I don’t remember.” He sighed. “I never remember the good ones, only that I was having one.”

“That’s too bad, pet. Come on, get up.”

Xander’s stomach announced its interest in getting up. Xander blushed and crawled out of the bed.

Suddenly he clenched his hands in front of himself and started sidling toward the bathroom.

Spike got a good look at the outline of what he was trying to hide. “Don’t bother. I checked you out good a long time ago.”

Xander spluttered indignantly. Spike gave him his best innocent face. “Wot? ‘M an evil, undead, blood sucking fiend. A little peeping tomery is nothin’. Come on. Brekkers in ten.”

Xander managed to get into the bathroom and take care of his business without dying of embarrassment.

Spike went into the kitchen and told Timmins to make Xander some juice. Timmins poured the juice and turned to see Spike bite into the ball of his thumb, like he’d done every day since Xander had come to live with them. Neither one of them noticed Xander standing in the door in nothing but his jeans.

Spike froze, eyeing Xander, waiting for the explosion. Timmins prepared for twin temper tantrums. Neither vampire expected what did happen.

Xander sauntered over to Timmins and took his glass of juice. “How long has this been going on and why? And can I just say, sneaky much?”

Spike relaxed; if Xander was descending into Snoopy speak, he wasn’t too pissed off. “Since you came here, pet. Makes you strong, helps you heal . . . makes you smell like mine. So . . . pissed?”

Xander sipped at his juice. “No, not really.” Xander noticed that Spike was still bleeding as he’d forgotten to lick his thumb healed. He reached out and took Spike’s hand in his. Giving Spike a sparkling look, Xander licked the blood off. “No sense in wasting it, is there?”

Xander licked once then sucked Spike’s thumb into his mouth and suckled it. Spike nearly fell to his knees. This was sudden.

“What are you doin’? Tryin’ ta drive me out of my mind?”

Xander gave Spike a long, slow, sultry look. Spike nearly bent him over the kitchen table right then and there.

“No. But you and I both know that you’re going to have me sooner or later. I’d rather not tear and bleed. Been there, done that. Didn’t like it. I’m not a vampire.”

Spike clenched his teeth and bit back a snarl. “I’m not gonna ask. I already know. . . .Pet? I’m not gonna hurt you like that. I don’t like rape. That was always the poof’s kink. A little BDSM, or D/s, that’s more the ticket.”

Xander smiled at Spike. “I want a contract with safe words.”

Spike opened his mouth, closed it, swallowed and tried again. “Contract . . . safe words. Where the hell did you learn about all this. And what the hell is going on?”

Xander shrugged. “Oxnard. The Fabulous Ladies Night Club. There weren’t any ladies there. Never ask again.” Xander gave a dramatic shudder. “As to what’s up, I had a thing. Woke up and had it. Like an orgasm only not and I didn’t say that either. Only one of those penny things. Like a lightning bolt in my head only it didn’t hurt. And I made up my mind and I’m not backing down and you can’t make me so don’t try so can I go now. I’ve got research to do and I want to do it before I chicken out and if you let me make a fool of myself I’ll stake you and then stake your dust and spit on it and I’m going now.” Xander took a deep breath and scurried out

Spike stood looking at the open door with a baffled look on his face. A ‘penny’ thing like a lightning bolt? What was Xander babbling about?

“I think he meant an epiphany.” Timmins looked after Xander. “Does he do that a lot? Talk like that, I mean?”

Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Blowing out smoke as he talked, he announced in disgust, “Yeah, he does. Not much around here, but he took lessons from the mistress of the babble fest. Sometimes referred to as Willow-speak. Now . . . I’m going to my office to try to figure out what he was on about. If that . . . garden . . . what the hell was his name? Anyway, if he shows up send him to me.”

Timmins searched his memory, but couldn’t come up with the name either. “I will.” He looked around. Xander had taken his juice with him, but he hadn’t eaten a thing. “You should go feed. You look a little peaked. I’ll just make up a tray for the young master.”

Spike sighed. “Yeah, you do that. I do think I’ll go feed. I’m feelin’ a little peckish.”


Spike worried at the apparently abrupt about face until his head ached. He decided that he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was just going to ride the wave of Xander’s turnabout and enjoy.

A soft tap at the door alerted Spike to a visitor.

He didn’t recognize the vampire who poked his head in the door but before he could snarl at him, he scurried in and knelt at the side of the desk.

“Most honored High Master. My superior has sent me to tell you the garden is ready for your approval. We hope you find it acceptable.”

Spike nodded his head. “I’m sure I will. That bloke from Kew seemed to know what he was doing.”

The vampire cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, Master. He . . . didn’t come back from feeding two weeks ago. I’ve been taking over the construction. I humbly beg your pardon if that is unacceptable. I did read all the notes and followed them exactly. I added a bit of my own ideas, but if you don’t like them they are easily changed.”

Spike sighed. He’d liked the gardener, even if he couldn’t remember his name. “I’ll take a look. What’s your training? And your name.”

“It’s Narma, Master. I was trained in Egypt . . . about seven hundred years ago.”

Spike nodded. “I see. Gardener? Or herbalist?”

Narma smiled hesitantly. “Both. I do enjoy this so much, Master. The lights don’t burn me, so it’s almost like being in the sun again. I do miss it.”

Spike snarled softly, causing the vampire to cringe. “Stop that. I’m not mad at you. I’m just . . . annoyed in general. Now . . . show me the garden.”

Narma led Spike into a large warehouse sized room half filled with planters and hung with an overhead lighting and watering system.

Spike looked around. This was the result of his quick watercolor of what he’d thought of as Granny’s Garden.

Starting in the front center of the room there was a fountain. Then several wedge-shaped planters about six inches high, giving the illusion of garden beds. He eyed the depth for a moment.

“Those don’t look deep enough. Lavender is a large plant. How’s that work?”

Narma smiled happily. “This is a false floor. The beds are almost three feet deep. We built them then built up the floor. Master Xander actually almost caught us. I’m sure he’ll rebuild all of it. It’s not that well done. We’re all gardeners or, as Master Timmins calls them, grunts. We also ran pipes for the fountains and other water features under there.”

Spike quirked one eye brow and wondered how sturdy the flooring was. He continued his inspection with interest. The beds were about three feet apart which made the intersections fairly large. They were decorated with urns full of cascading plants, statuary, or small fountains. As Spike walked deeper into the vast room he realized with pleasure that Narma, or someone, had expanded on the small herb garden and turned the front half of the room into several smaller garden ‘rooms’ by placing lines of small potted trees, potted roses and long planters to divide the large space. One room was filled completely with potted rose plants of all sizes and colors. Another was Japanese style. There was also a water garden with a large koi pond filled with lilies as well as other water plants and fish.

“I’m pleased. You took that simple little garden and turned it into something special. I’m sure Xander will love it. Using his grandmother’s small herbal garden as the gateway was brilliant. Good work.”

Spike was pleased as well and smiled kindly at Narma. He was remembering things his father had told him when he was small, more than a hundred years ago. Things like, ‘praise is cheap, anger expensive’ ‘butter makes things run smoothly’ and ‘pinch pennies, lose good will.’ He remembered all the times he’d tried so hard to please Angelus and the anger when he got nothing but a kick or a flogging for his trouble. He was determined that his reign would be different; besides, he didn’t feel like all that fighting. It was exhausting. Fighting for the joy of it was one thing, fighting because everyone wanted what he had was a ‘right pain in me arse’.

“This looks very good. I’m sure that Xander will like it. I’m going to get him now. Call everyone to assemble; he’ll want to thank you.”


Xander opened his laptop and searched for the file. It didn’t take him long to find it. It was the only one with a string of numbers in the file name. He immediately started reading.

The first part of it was mostly schematics that didn’t mean a thing to Xander. But he grimly continued on deeper into the convoluted military jargon. He was actually glad that his ‘stint’ as a mock soldier that Halloween had stuck as much as it had. He could actually understand most of the text.

He started searching the internet. Google wasn’t much help at first. He had to refine his search quite a bit. Wikipedia was more help, at least it had some decent information on the effects of electromagnetic fields on computers. Xander closed most of the threads he had open and carefully studied the four he still needed. Who said I’m stupid? I can too do this, he wondered.

When Timmins came to stand in the doorway, Xander barely acknowledged him. He just glanced at him and begged. “Timmins, pull me a Milky Way, will you? I need the caffeine. Make it a triple.”

Timmins blinked,; Xander wasn’t usually so short with him. “Young Master, are you sure? All that sugar and caffeine isn’t good for you. Master Spike was specific. . .”

Xander glanced up at Timmins, making Timmins sigh. He recognized that particular mulish expression. “See . . . resolve face. What I’m going to do for Spike, not to mention the world, gets me all the caffeine and sugar I can abuse my system with. Coffee . . . now . . . please.” Timmins turned to go but Xander’s next words made him turn back. “And I got your journal translated. I had one of the women in the . . . um . . . stable, she’s a secretary, type up the translation directly from the shorthand. See if it’s ok to get her a workstation or something. It’d be a real help to me if she could do the transcriptions. It gives me a raging headache. Ok?”

Timmins smiled at Xander. “Of course, sir. I’ll be happy to get her a station. I’ll see if I can’t get her a small office down in the stables . . . well, I’ll leave you a note to build it. I think it would be good if you built several small offices somewhere down there. There are several people in the stables who have skills we could use.”

Xander dragged his attention away from his work long enough to think about that. “And I bet there are a bunch of vamps who have skills we could use. I’ll look into finding them some office space too.” Xander gave Timmins his best begging puppy eyes. “Coffee? Please?”

Timmins threw up his hands and went to get Xander his coffee.


Xander finished his coffee and his research at the same time. He was sure exactly what he had to do. He just wasn’t sure he liked it. The journal the Master had written made it plain that the old scroll told the true story of what a vampiric court was supposed to be like. Xander decided that Ol’ Batface, as he called the late head of the Aurelian line, was not only a pervert but an excessively brutal one. He wasn’t sure how he was going to use his information but he wasn’t going to put up with being treated the way the old master treated his human pets. He wasn’t a pet, he was a thrall. He decided to do research on thrallness, or was it –dom, but soon gave up.

“My brain hurts. Damn, I want more coffee. Timmins!”

Xander’s shout was greeted by Spike ambling into the room.

Spike took one look at Xander’s face and announced in no uncertain terms, “No more coffee for you, pet. You’re bouncing off the walls as it is. I’ve got something nice for you. Come see it. Work off some of those caffeine nerves.”

Xander clenched his hands into fists so they wouldn’t shake. He realized that he had really had more coffee than he should have, especially on an empty stomach.

“Ok, but I better eat something too. I’m all . . . nervy. And, while I’m at it, I got that translation done. I’ve got a copy of the scroll and Ol’ Batface’s journal too. You want?”

Spike didn’t take a second to realize who ‘Ol’ Batface’ had to be. “You’ve got one of Heinrich’s journals? Yes, I want. ‘E nearly ruined Angel. Did ruin Darla. What’s in it?”

Xander picked a piece of paper up and eyed it for a moment. “A bunch of ranting about a lover who betrayed him and what he’s going to do to all his human pets to get even for it. And the . . .” Xander made air quotes. “New rules for his court. Seems he wanted someone else’s human lover and wasn’t too particular how he got her. He even refers to the Babylonian scroll here. You should read both of them.”

Timmins cleared his throat from where he was standing in the hall. “You bellowed, sir?”

Xander grinned at Timmins. “Yeah, but Spike says no more coffee. I have a list of stuff I need. Will you get it for me? No big rush.”

Timmins took the paper from Xander and eyed it for a moment, started to say something then just nodded. “Yes, sir. I’ll get it as soon as I can.”

Spike just grabbed Xander and hauled him out the door, impatient as usual.

“Come on, pet. I got something special to show ya.”

Xander allowed Spike to pull him along, wondering what had ‘Mr. Hyper-vamp’ so excited.


Xander waited as Spike insisted on blindfolding him before leading him into his surprise. Spike said that it was an exercise in trust, Xander thought it was just that Spike wanted to see his face when he saw whatever it was. They were both right.

Spike carefully led Xander into the large conservatory, making sure that he didn’t trip on anything. He positioned Xander in front of the gate to the Granny Garden. When he pulled off the blindfold, Xander blinked once or twice then yelped, “Grammy’s garden! Oh, man. Thanks, this is great. How’d you do it?”

Spike puffed out his chest and smirked. “I snuck into your house and painted the layout. Had a crew working on this all this time, and they went a little crazy. I hope you like the rest. This is just the entrance.”

Xander wandered through the small garden, touching plants and examining the wooden pathway. It was decent, made of precut lumber bolted and screwed together. He could do better but he was very pleased with what he had.

When Xander went through the gate at the back of the Granny Garden, he nearly dropped to his knees. He could see a bit of the garden from where he stood, but the artfully arranged lines of potted plants baffled his eye. He wandered into the garden, looking and smelling and touching. His expression of wonder and delight made Spike swell with pride. None of the Scoobies had ever made Xander look like that. Mostly they had made him look sad.

Xander delighted in the herb garden; he smelled each bush in the rose garden and nearly squealed in delight at the oriental garden with its koi pond, although he would deny that to his dying breath. He was especially thrilled with the smooth transfer from the oriental garden to the orchardarium. As he walked around the koi pond, the gradual shift from oriental to tropical was exquisite. He was in love and said so.

Spike was smiling in a way Xander had never seen before. He wasn’t smirking or gloating, just smiling. “You like it, pet? There’s a balcony sort of thing over there. It’s a walkway into an unused level, but if you stand on the landing you can see the whole garden.”

Xander practically dragged Spike towards the stairs. Spike let him as he knew that all the workers responsible for the garden were waiting there for him.


Xander stopped when he saw the uneasily shifting line of vampires and demons. He turned to Spike with a puzzled look on his face.

“They’re all the people who worked on the gardens. They want to meet you. Just smile, shake hands down the line and say thank you.”

Xander turned a terrified look on Spike. “Do . . . what? And . . . who, me? I don’t do so good with the speech making. What do I say?”

Spike watched in amusement as Xander fell apart. “Just shake hands with everyone who offers. When you get to the end of the line, the steps will be right there. Go up one or two then just say something nice. Like, say, ‘I really like the gardens, thank you all.’ Then go on up to the landing.”

Xander gulped and nodded. “Oh, ok. I can do that.”

Xander managed to shake hands and make his little speech without shaming himself; he even managed a few words with most of the vampires and demons. They were pleased with his compliments. He was pleased with his gardens.

Spike let Xander pull him up the stairs to the landing. Xander spent the next few minutes pointing out all the features that he liked the best. It seemed that he liked the oriental garden, especially the koi pond. And he rhapsodized over the herb garden. The English Cottage garden fascinated him and the formal rose garden with its neatly trimmed boxwood borders brought a smile to his face. The stream that flowed from the koi pond led into a small bog garden then a waterfall and on into a catch basin to be recirculated. Xander had a million questions that Spike couldn’t answer.

“Don’t know. I’ll send for Narma if you’re really interested.”

Xander turned and hugged Spike, surprising the hell out of him. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get with him later and ask my questions. I have some ideas that I’d like to discuss with him . . . there’s plenty of room in here that you haven’t used yet. Can I have it?”

Spike smiled over Xander’s shoulder as he hugged him back. “Sure, pet. Got plenty of room here. Do what you want. Don’t forget that you have a workout with Master Chen tomorrow morning, but after that you can send for Narma.”

Xander let go of Spike. “Um . . . sorry. But . . . no one has ever done anything this nice for me before. And you say you’re the evil undead. Big put-on, if you ask me.”

Spike acted indignant, saying, “Oi, evil, undead, blood sucking fiend. Ya said so yourself.” But his smile belied his words. “Come on, I want those translations you promised. And I’ve got to make arrangements for your appearance at court. No argy-bargy about it.”

Xander just bowed his head. “Ok. Just tell me when I need to be ready.”

Spike was so caught up with the thought of Xander’s delight in the gardens, as well as his interest in the translations, that he never thought about Xander’s uncharacteristic reply.


Xander smirked, a good imitation of Spike’s trademark expression. He was going to make his mark at court. He wasn’t going to wait for Spike to pick out an outfit for him to wear because he knew what Spike would pick: Some god awful conglomeration of stuff, anything that caught his magpie attention. Xander intended to put forward an image, something he could live with.

He went to Extreme Restraints and started ordering, on Spike’s credit card. There was no way he was paying for this shit himself. That thought reminded him that he needed to make sure Spike got his last paycheck for him. His next one would be coming from a different account and he was arranging for electronic deposit.

When he was finished, he settled back in his chair and wondered how he was going to get himself into the harness he’d ordered. Then he remembered that Spike had told Timmins that he was to be his valet. He called Timmins and told him what he needed. Timmins just nodded his head and said, “Of course, I will serve in any way I can. I’m sure Master Spike will be very surprised.”

Xander hoped so. He also hoped that Spike didn’t fall down laughing.


Spike settled down at his desk and eyed the pile of translation with a jaundiced eye. He wasn’t all that fond of reading anymore. When he had been human, he’d needed spectacles to see print. He was far sighted, an advantage now that he was a vampire. He sighed, resigned himself to having a headache and started reading.

Spike managed to get through most of Heinrich’s journal before he had to stop. His head was throbbing like a drum and all he wanted to do was kill something or someone. The first fledge or minion that got on his wrong side was dead.

Xander stuck his head in the door just then, “Spike, you wanna . . . Hey! You don’t look so good. What’s the matter?” Xander walked in and headed straight for Spike.

Spike rubbed irritably at his forehead and forced himself not to snark at Xander. “Head aches. I was reading that translation. Some of the grammar is off, but it’s really good. I looked at the journal. It looks like it might be German but it’s not.”

Xander positioned himself behind Spike and put one hand on his neck. “Whoa, big fella. Lot of tension in there. Let me . . .” Xander dug his thumbs into the tense muscles in the back of Spike’s neck. “That journal was written in German. But Ol’ Batface used a substitution code that gave me fits. He substituted y for a and moved the value of consonants three letters down.” Spike moaned softly, Xander had found the knots and was working them out. “And you have no idea what I’m saying, do you?”

“No, pet, I don’t. I’ll give you about a year to quit that.”

Xander laughed lightly. “I learned from that vamp you send to give me a massage when you can’t do it. By the by, have I ever truly thanked you for those massages? Really help. I never thought you’d bother with something like that. I like it. As to the other, moving the value only means that he substituted, like, m for j and like that. See?”

Spike did see and realized that he’d never have figured it out. “Yeah, I do. How the hell did you work that out?”

“Used a code cracker program. Old CIA stuff I remembered from The Soldier. Weirdness that is my life. So, anyway, after that it was simple to just do the substitutions. I got a real headache, though. The letters kept crawling around on me and gave me fits. As to fits, why the hell don’t you wear glasses if you need them? This is bad. Your neck is all tight and you’re squinting like crazy.”

Spike started to say that he didn’t need glasses, but Xander interrupted him. “Don’t be stupid. You’re not Angelus’ Childe anymore. You’re a Master in your own right. If anyone laughs, gut ‘em. That’ll shut the rest up quick.”

Spike sighed as Xander loosened a particularly tight knot. “You’re right, pet. I’ll see about spectacles tomorrow. If anyone has the nerve to so much as look at me funny, they’re toast. More right there. Yeah . . . As soon as you’re done here, head for the bath. We both need one, then I’ll return the favor.”

Xander sighed too. His evening massage from Spike was something he looked forward to. Sometimes it was the only bright spot in his day. He missed the other Scoobies desperately but he was determined that he wasn’t going to call them. If they wanted him, they could call. It still hurt that no one seemed to miss him. He gave Spike’s shoulders one final squeeze and left.

Spike looked after him and grumbled. He could smell the grief and had a good idea where it had come from. He decided to give Giles a call after he called the optometrist.


Giles answered the phone with an irritated, “Giles here.”

Spike grabbed his temper with both hands. “Watcher. You ever decide if you’re going to call Xander? He’s waiting, you know.”

Giles put his book down with a decided thump. “I was waiting for you to give him permission. I don’t want to cause him to be punished. If he wants to call, I’d like that.”

Spike nodded to himself. “That’s good. He misses you; why, I couldn’t say. What about the bints? They waiting for a message from on high, or what?”

Giles made a small sound in his throat. “I don’t know. I took off the protection spell that went along with the thrall spell as best I could. I’d have thought that they would at least have gotten hold of you to see if you’d let them talk to him.”

“Nope, not a jingle. Not a thing. And Willow is supposed to be Xander’s bestest bud in all the world.” Spike’s sarcasm made Giles wince. “And you’d think the Slayer would look out for her White Knight. Tell them to call Xander. I’ll tell Timmins to put them through.” Spike hung up sharply, the loud click making Giles wince.

After Spike hung up, Giles thought for several moments before he called Buffy to ask her if she’d called Xander and been refused. She mumbled around for a few moments then admitted that she’d been too busy to call him. Her excuse was that she’d been studying and slaying so she’d lost track of time. Giles hung up without saying anything.

Willow babbled and fussed, justifying herself with much the same excuses that Buffy had made. She was busy, witch stuff, Tara stuff, class stuff, just too much stuff.

Tara didn’t speak to Giles but she made a vow to call Xander as soon as she could. Willow felt so guilty about the mess she’d caused that Tara was sure she wouldn’t call Xander first. She was really waiting for Xander to call her to tell her that she was forgiven. Tara didn’t think Xander was going to call and told Willow so. Willow poo-poo’ed that, saying that Xander always called first when they had a fight and, besides, she had Wicca tonight. Tara sighed and worried.

Giles sighed and tapped his fingers on the phone. He jumped a foot when it rang.

“Giles.” By now he was decidedly snappish.

“Rupert Giles? Yes. Traver’s personal secretary here, Henderson. I’ve called to tell you that there’s a new Master of the Hellmouth. You need to make contact with him as soon as possible. We need to be on his good side. Do not let your slayer anywhere near him. The oracles say he’s going to be the only one between us and disaster. We’re not sure what disaster exactly yet. Good-bye.”

Giles didn’t even get in a word. He already knew about the new master, he even knew it was Spike. He wished the Council would get their shit together. He winced at the expression and realized he’d been spending too much time with Buffy.

“Bloody hell. I need a drink. I need two. I’m talking to myself.”


Spike left his office and went in search of Xander. He wasn’t in his bedroom or bathroom. Spike worried a bit; he couldn’t figure out where Xander could be until he remembered the new garden.

He found Xander in the Granny Garden on the bench at one side. He was smelling a small sprig of rosemary.

Spike walked over and sat down beside Xander. “Wot ya rememberin’ pet?”

Xander smiled sadly. “Just things. Change the subject. . . I like the garden, thanks again. I was looking at the unfinished areas. I can put in a gazebo, if you don’t mind. And some more stream.”

Spike shrugged. “Don’t much care what you do. If you finish the stables, I’ll be happy . . . you have any idea when, if ever, you’ll be returnin’ to work?”

Xander stuck the rosemary in his mouth and mumbled around it. “Don’t know. Trial . . . then . . . who knows? Depends on so many different things. And . . . well . . . never mind. I’m going to work on the stables tomorrow and every day after that until they’re done. Then I’m going to plan some alterations or additions to the gardens. I’ve got stuff to do. I’m going to work out with Master Bruce some more. I want to get better. And I’ve got a special project.”

Spike’s ears perked up at that. “Special project? Tell.”

Xander grinned. “Nope, nuh-uh, not a chance. If it works, I’ll tell you all about it. Ok? Please?”

Spike couldn’t deny Xander when he used that tone of voice and that special expression. “Bloody hell, who’s the master here?” Xander stuck his lip out more. “All right, all right. But you owe me.”

Xander just nodded and got up. “Come on. I’m tired and so are you. Bed.”

Spike got up to follow Xander.He concealed his surprise when Xander reached out and took his hand and squeezed it gently. “Ok, pet, bed.”


Xander took a shower and rummaged in his chest of drawers for the flannel shirt that had been Jesse’s. He loved that shirt, threadbare though it was. When he couldn’t find it, he went in search of Timmins. The last he remembered he’d put it in the wash.

“Timmins, that old flannel shirt. Where is it? I want it.”

Timmins looked up from his newspaper. “I’m sorry, sir. Which shirt?” Xander described it. “Oh, that one. It was so worn out it was nothing but rags. I tossed it. I’ll . . . sir? What’s wrong?”

Xander couldn’t help the tears that sprang to his eyes. That shirt had been all the clothing he’d had left of his childhood friend, left in his room at home the day before Jesse had been vamped then dusted.

“Nothing. Never mind. It’s . . . it was sentimental. I’ll be alright. I . . .” Xander whirled around and hurried out, not wanting Timmins to see his tears.

Timmins grimaced; this was bad. Master Spike was going to have a fit. He’d made it plain that he didn’t want Xander wearing ragged clothing, but he’d also been explicit as to what would happen to anyone who upset Xander. He followed the boy.

Xander headed for his rooms again. All he wanted to do was curl up and mourn. That shirt, in and of itself, wasn’t that much, but it had been almost all he had left of his friend. He felt its loss a great deal. He didn’t realize he was walking past Spike until he felt arms around him.

“Here now, pet. Wot’s this? Tears? Wot’s wrong and who do I kill?” Spike enveloped Xander in a gentle but inescapable hug.

Xander just bent his head and rested his cheek on Spike’s shoulder. “My shirt. Timmins threw it out . . . it’s old and ragged but it was about all I had left of Jesse. Gone. Just like him.” Xander knew he sounded like a girl but he didn’t much care.

Spike knew who Jesse was and all about him. Willow had a habit of telling things she shouldn’t when she was nervous and Spike could winkle anything out of her by going into game face.

“There now, pet. When was it tossed?”

Spike spared a glare for Timmins who replied, “This morning. I’m not sure. . .”

Spike jerked his head. “The dumpster won’t be picked up until tomorrow. Take all the fledges and minions you need and find it. Hand wash it and mend it. Now.”

Timmins hurried out as Spike turned to Xander. He didn’t bother with trying to lead Xander, he just picked him up and took him to bed. His bed. Xander didn’t struggle, he just cuddled into Spike’s arms and tried to get himself together again.

“I’m sorry. I’m not usually such a girl. But . . . and Buffy . . . and Willow. I’m just not . . . sorry.” Xander couldn’t manage a complete sentence.

Spike lowered Xander to his bed and climbed in with him. He pulled Xander half onto his torso and put his arms around him again. “Hush, pet. I’ll find it myself if I have to. I’m sorry, I told Timmins to throw out ragged stuff. I never thought about you having anything of sentimental value. I’m sorry. Hush now.”

Xander gave a shuddering sigh. “I know you’ll fix it. I do. Thanks . . . I’m . . . tired.” Xander raised his head for a moment. “And why am I in your bed . . . nice bed.” Xander lowered his head again, too emotionally drained to figure anything out. “Sleep now.” Spike cuddled Xander as he fell asleep.

An hour later Timmins entered the room. “I found it. It’s still in good shape. I’ll wash it and darn it. There’s not much I can do about the elbows except patch them with some plain color flannel but it should keep it in better shape. He really shouldn’t wear it much more or it’ll fall apart completely. I’m so sorry. I’ll wait for you in the punishment room, shall I?”

Spike could tell that Timmins was truly sorry and very upset so he shook his head. “No. If you’d done it on purpose, I’d skin you with a rusty file. But I know you care for the boy almost as much as I do. Take yourself off and fix that shirt. See if you can’t find him one like it. Maybe he will want to put that one up. Go on, get out.”

Timmins nodded to Spike, murmuring, “Thank you, master.” and left.

Spike lay back to fall asleep himself.


The next morning was a revelation to Xander.

“Wakey, wakey, pet. Come on. Eyes wide open.” Spike gently shook Xander. He knew there was a chance that the Scooby might wake up and have a fit. He hoped not, as there was no way he was letting the man go back to sleeping apart from him.

Xander woke slowly, enjoying the feeling of being held. He had known this was going to happen for some time now but he hadn’t realized that he was really waiting for an invitation.

“ ‘m not gay.”

Spike blinked then started laughing. “Doesn’t make much difference, now, does it? ‘m not lettin’ ya get away. You’ll sleep here and either like it or lump it. Got me?”

Xander yawned and stretched, “Yeah, I got it. And looks like you got me, don’t you.”

Spike was amused at Xander’s pragmatic acceptance of his move. “Yeah, I guess I do. Come on. Breakfast is ready.”

Xander stumbled from his--their, bed and headed for the bathroom. “I’ll be right out. Tell Timmins that I want coffee, lots of it. I’ve got to get to work. And call about my check, will you? And tell them to start electronically depositing my checks from now on. Ok? So did you read the . . .” Spike decided he’d better follow Xander or he’d be yelling from his shower.

“Pet. Can this wait until we sit down or are you . . .“ Spike trailed off as he got a good look a Xander. “Damn, pet, you look good.”

Xander unselfconsciously examined himself in the mirror. “Do I? I don’t think so. I’ll never look nice. I’m too fat and too scarred and all . . .mmmmf,” Xander mumbled against the hand Spike had clamped over his mouth.

“If you spit in there. Or lick me. I’ll blister you. Shut up an’ listen. You’re striking. All muscle and sleek skin. A few scars here and there don’t mean nothin’. Who said you’re fat? I’ll eat ‘em.”

Xander resisted the urge to lick Spike’s hand; he didn’t want a spanking. “Dad said I’m fat.” Xander looked in the mirror again, trying to see what Spike saw. “And don’t eat him; he’ll give you indigestion.” Xander turned to look at his back. He didn’t like what he saw. There were pale lines all over it.

Spike distracted Xander from his contemplation by telling him to hurry or there wouldn’t be any breakfast left. Then he walked out of the room, leaving Xander to shower and think.


When he was clean and dressed Xander headed for the kitchen.

He found Spike sitting talking to Timmins who was making breakfast for them.

Xander pulled out his chair and settled to wait. Spike peeked at him through his eyelashes and decided to keep silent until the boy spoke. He obviously had something to say, he just wasn’t sure how to say it. Spike could wait until Xander got his thoughts organized.

“Don’t get mad at me, ok? . . . I think I need a contract. I know I’m your thrall and whatever and you can do anything you want to me or use your Master Voice thingy to make me do stuff but you said, and I believe you, that you . . . I’m all mixed up now.” Xander gave Spike a despairing look. “How do I do that? I had it all figured out and now it’s all gone. Fuck!” Xander slapped both hands down on the table and started to get up.

Spike just snapped “Sit!” Xander plopped down like a marionette with cut strings. “Don’t fratch yourself so. I know what you want. We talked about it a little already. You write up whatever will make you feel safer. I’ll read it. I’m not promisin’ to sign it, but I’ll make changes I can live with. Then you change those. We’ll keep at it until we reach some sort of agreement. . . how’s that?”

Xander just nodded. “Ok. And, can I just say, don’t do that! Making sure I sit down again isn’t a proper use of that tone of voice. You can’t just go all ‘order Xander to do stupid stuff’ without warning. Besides, I don’t think it’ll do much to build respect in your minions.”

Spike rubbed his face wearily, wondering how such a smart person could act so . . . stupid wasn’t exactly the right word. “Ok, pet. You’re right. I shouldn’t a done that. Minions’ll be thinkin’ I’m frivolous and that won’t do. So, anyway, you do your writin’ and get it to me before you have to make your first appearance at court. I’m goin’ to go finish readin’ that journal and the scroll too. Eat a good breakfast.”

Spike sauntered out, tapping a cigarette out of its packet.

Xander ate his breakfast, wondering at Spike’s affability. He decided to write up his contract as soon as he could.


The next week was busy as Xander worked on another translation and the construction in the stables. He prepared for his introduction to Spike’s court. He also worked out with Master Bruce every day.

His time in the gardens was relaxing, as was his nightly massage from Spike. He never did manage to move back into his quarters, only going there to get clothing. Not that he minded much. It was nice waking up to someone calling his name in that tone of voice, instead of yelling at him.

Spike showed up with new glasses which he insisted on calling spectacles. Xander secretly thought he looked sexy in them.

When his purchases arrived, Xander took the boxes into his old bedroom and opened them. He examined everything and sighed. His time at the Fabulous Lady’s Night Club had taught him quite a bit, information he was going to use now.

He called Timmins and asked him to help. Timmins nearly choked when Xander told him what he wanted.

“Are you sure, Young Master?”

Xander gave Timmins a calm look. “Not particularly, but it’s necessary. You know damn well that nothing else is going to work. And I want to surprise Spike. Do you think he’ll be pleased? I hope so. He’s been so nice to me, I’m not really sure it’s Spike. And he keeps telling me he has ulterior motives. Gives me the creeps when he says that. It can’t be good, ulterior motives, do you think? And please tell me you know how all this goes. Cause I sure don’t. So what next?”

Timmins gave Xander a kind and exasperated look. “Well, you could begin by being silent. I’ll figure out all this gear. Then . . . well, you might as well use me as a handler because you will never be able to put most of this on by yourself.”

Xander stripped off his clothing and let Timmins fiddle and adjust and fit. Timmins stepped back to examine Xander then shook his head. “It doesn’t fit right.”

Xander wriggled; it didn’t. “Why not? Where’s the instructions?”

Timmins handed Xander the printed sheet and waited for the explosion, which didn’t come. “Ok. This is embarrassing.”

Timmins raised an eyebrow. “Yes, it is. This isn’t going to work without . . . er . . .”

Xander just sighed and growled. “Just spit it out. The harness isn’t going to fit without a butt plug. So now what?”

Timmins sorted through the assorted plugs that had come with the harness. “The directions state that you have to wear . . . this one or . . . this one for the best effect. I don’t think . . . well.” Timmins braced himself and asked, “Have you ever worn one?”

Xander shook his head. “No. Don’t even know how to get one in without hurting myself. So can I just die of embarrassment right now?”

“No, sir, you may not. I’ll show you how to do this. If you need me to, I’ll put it in for you every time. I’d advise starting right now and working up to the proper size so that you don’t . . . um . . . “

“Walk funny? Just get on with it. What do I do?”

Timmins helped Xander position himself, bent over the bedside, and did what needed to be done. Xander straightened up and decided that this wasn’t that bad. It didn’t hurt, but he was certainly aware that something was inside him.

“Not bad. Not good, but I can do this. Just . . . I’m kind of weirded out right now, so could you kind of give me some privacy? Oh, and thanks for Jesse’s shirt. I put it up. And the new flannel shirt is good. Now. Bye.”

Timmins just smiled at Xander and left. By now he was used to Xander’s combination of ruthless pragmatism and flat out stubbornness, as well as his sometimes nearly schizophrenic switches of subject.

Xander walked around the room a bit then sat down on the easy chair in the corner. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as he’d thought it would be, though he knew as the plugs got bigger he was going to feel it more. He sighed. The things he did because no one else would or could.


Spike smiled happily as he contemplated the picture in his head. He would be the envy of all the High Masters. None of the others had human pets, or thralls, or anything. They didn’t seem to be able to command loyalty or inspire fear or whatever it was that made a human stay. He knew that if he could win Xander’s loyalty and the man’s heart, his loving, loyal heart, he would have a companion for eternity. If.

Spike returned to his contemplation of his mental picture. In his mind’s eye he was standing in front of a brick archway which he realized was the entrance to one of the old catacombs in Rome. Why? He didn’t have a clue. He was standing spread legged with Xander sitting on the ground at his feet, one arm wrapped around his thigh. Xander looked so sexy in his leather chaps and heavy boots. The collar around his neck and the bands around his upper arms were black leather. The leash held firmly in his, Spike’s, hand was leather too. Xander looked comfortable and relaxed. Spike had to loosen his jeans. Xander’s pierced nipples made him so hard it hurt.

Spike finally realized that he was doing himself no good, gave it up as a bad job, wanked off and went back to reading the journal. He had to admit that the spectacles made reading so much easier. He was enjoying it again.

He was also enjoying comparing the differences in the old, what he thought of as the true, court and Ol’ Batface’s perversion of it. Spike decided that he was going to introduce the old rules as quickly as he could. They actually made sense. Heinrich had ruled by fear and intimidation, and trained his Childer to do the same. Spike had to admit that it was notoriously inefficient. He couldn’t remember a time he hadn’t taken true delight in messing with Angelus as much as he could without being punished.

Spike wondered what Xander made of the differences then decided to go ask him.

As he wandered through the rooms looking for Xander, he grumbled, “Soddin’ place is fuckin’ huge. I’m puttin’ a bell on that boy. I better just find Timmins and ask him where the whelp is.”


Timmins looked up from his work when he heard Master Spike calling him. “Sir? How may I help you?”

“Where the hell is Xander? I want to talk to him.” Spike jittered from one foot to the other. He needed a cigarette. “And I’m out of fags again. Bring me my boy and a pack. I’ll be in my office.”

Timmins just nodded and went to get the requested pack of cigarettes and find Xander.

He found him in his bedroom, rather than in the master suit where he should be.

“Master Spike wants you. And these,” he added, picking up a pack of cigarettes from the nightstand and handing them to Xander. “You should go quickly; he seems very agitated. Something good, I think.”

Xander grimaced as he got out of the chair. The longer he wore the plug the more uncomfortable he got, but he knew if he didn’t stick it out he’d be really uncomfortable when he had to go into the court.

“Do you need my help?”

Xander shook his head. “No, I’m just a little sore. I’ll go see what Spike wants. Maybe it’ll take my mind off this. Do you have a clue?”

Timmins shook his head. “No, young sir. Would you like me to help you dress?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, I don’t think bending over is a good idea just now. Thanks.”

Timmins helped Xander with his shorts and jeans then left him to put on his own shirt. Xander ignored shoes or socks. The floors were warm enough that he really didn’t need them.

The soft pad of his feet alerted Spike to Xander’s arrival and Xander tossed him the pack of cigarettes as he flopped into his favorite chair with unpleasant results. He straightened up with a groan.

“Ow! Well, dumb much.”

Spike narrowed his eyes at Xander. “You alright, pet? Sounds like you hurt.”

Xander just put on his most mulish expression and started babbling. “No, nothing wrong with me. And don’t pry, it’s personal and private and not your business so nope not going there. Change the subject. Changing the subject good. Nosiness, not so good. So you wanted me what for and if it’s about that translation it’s right. I checked it twice and ran it by a professor and he said it was a myth but we both know better and now you talk.”

Spiked took a moment to admire Xander’s flushed face then started explaining exactly what he was going to do. Xander listened with interest and offered several intelligent suggestions. They spent the rest of the evening discussing changes in the running of the court. Spike didn’t miss the way Xander squirmed uncomfortably from time to time. He decided to let it go for now. If Xander wanted to keep some sort of secret, Spike knew he wouldn’t last long. The boy wasn’t good at secrets.

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