Ulterior Motives


Part Seventeen

“Wake up, pet. Glorious night. Got ta hunt. Found me a rapist.” Spike bounced on his toes, grinning fit to split his face. “An’ I learned some at’ else. I can do that ‘little drink’ thing. The Old Master was always sayin’ that it was impossible, but the bastard lied. I got a nibble offa a pimp and another offa some git that passed out in an alley.”

Xander frowned for a second, then lit up. “You didn’t kill? I mean you could but didn’t? That’s great. If you learn to do that thing that Dru does. That confuse/ snooze ... whatever. Then you don’t have to hide bodies. And I don’t have to feel bad about not trying to stop you from killing ... and ... never mind.”

“‘zactly. I have my stables an’ I’m keepin’ them. I don’t have time to go runnin’ all over hells mouth tryin’ ta keep body and ... well, whatever, together. An’ it really ain’t dignified. Consider me cured.”

Xander raised an eyebrow. “Really? And why, exactly? Enquiring minds want to know.”

“The smell is awful. I don’t remember them smelling quite so bad. Even in Vickie’s day.”

“Oh, well, maybe you were just more used to it? Or maybe it’s the drugs.” Xander nodded wisely. “Well, come on. I’ll run you a tub so you can have a nice soak. And I’ll tell Timmins to bring you some tea. Ok?”

Spike sighed, stretched and nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”

It didn’t take long for Spike to shed his dirty clothing. He dumped it in the closet in the hamper and got to the bathroom just in time to get a wonderful look at Xander bending over to test the water.

“If you don’t straighten up right now, I’m not gonna be responsible for my actions.”

Xander just looked over his shoulder, without straightening up. “Oh? We’ll get around to that sooner or later. Why not now?”

“Because I’m tired, wound up and not in the mood to be careful. So we don’t. I won’t hurt you. I don’t want you scared of me. That’s not in the plans. Now, finish an’ straighten up before I smack that pert ass of yours.”

Xander straightened. “Pert? Me?”

“Got an ass like an apple. All round an’ sweet and so damn biteable. Where’s me tay?”

“Not red?”

Spike gave Xander a mock aggravated look. “Will be in a mo’, if ya don’t get a wiggle on.”

Xander walked to the door, stopped in it and wiggled his ass at Spike who yelped ‘oi!’ in an indignant tone of voice. He laughed. The deep chuckle sending goose bumps up Spike’s back, and left, shutting the door to keep the steam in.

He returned soon with a tray laden with a pot, cup, saucer, sugar bowl and spoon. He set it on the tub tray and poured tea. “There, Mr. Cranky Vamp. Drink your tea and I’ll tell you all the latest.”

“Latest what, pet?”

“Stuff. Buffy called again just after you left. She was all ‘I’m so sorry, Xander, but could you tell Spike ...”

“Tell me what?”

“No idea. I told her that if she called to talk to me, great; if she was wanting me to be some messenger boy, you’ve got a secretary for that. Then I hung up. I’m not going there again. I’m not the donut boy anymore, nor the Zeppo. She wants you to do something, she can ask you herself.”

Spike nearly did a spit take with his tea. “Good for you, pet. That’ll take the starch out of her knickers.”

Xander shrugged. “I’m not going to be ignored or trivialized anymore. I’m sick of it. Now, out of the tub when you feel like it and into bed. I’ll give you a massage for once.”

Spike smiled into his cup, things were looking up.


Xander gave Spike a massage that made him groan in pleasure. After his massage Spike settled in to sleep with Xander curled up beside him. He decided that now was time to get one or two questions answered.

“You said that Red had the ... what did you call ‘ems for that chip? Spill.”

Xander snuggled deeper into the covers and sighed. “She gave me her old computer when she got a new one. I managed to keep it hidden from pop by not using it much. So when I had time to really explore, I found a file she’d downloaded with all the schematics and specifications on that chip. I can’t believe that she lied when I asked her if she’d found anything. So anyway, I used them to figure out how to deactivate that chip. Ok?”

Spike nodded against Xander’s shoulder. “Yeah, I get it. It’s still in there, but you gutted it, right?”

“Yup. Killed it dead.”

“Thanks, pet. I’ll reward you, you’ll see.”

Xander shrugged irritably. “Didn’t do it for a reward. Just don’t make me regret it.”

“Ok, next question. Zombies blowin’ up the high school? What was that about?”

Xander snorted. “You remember Jack O’Toole by any chance?”

Spike thought for a moment. “No. Can’t say as I do? Who’s he when he’s at home?”

“No one much. He was ... is? A bully. Made my life miserable for a while. Then he got himself zombified. Don’t remember why or how. Just he and his crew wanted to blow up the school. I sort of talked him out of it.”

“By usin’ your sparklin’ wit and charm, I’m sure.” Spikes sarcasm made Xander chuckle.

“No by explaining to him that there are different sorts of dead. The walking around and talking, not breathing kind and the really, real dead, six feet under kind. He smarted off and asked me why I wasn’t scared. I told him I’d kinda like the quiet. He disarmed the bomb, Oz ate him and that was that.”

Spike felt his stomach fall. “You faced down a zombie with a death wish? I ought to whale the tar outta ya.”

Xander sighed. “That’s why I didn’t tell anyone. No one would believe me. Not even you.”

“Oh, I believe you, pet. Smell it when ya lie. Ya bloody pillock, what if he’d blown you up.”

Xander shrugged, shaking the bed. “Then I’d be in a quiet place. No one would have cared a bit. You know that.”

Spike sighed and ran his fingers through Xander’s hair. “You’re right and it sucks. Go to sleep.”

Xander snugged against Spike and obeyed him.


The next morning Spike got up and slipped into the kitchen, as he did every morning. Although it wasn’t really morning, more like 11:30.

He nicked his thumb and let the blood drip into Xander’s orange juice. Xander knew what he was doing, but he still didn’t want him to see for fear of squicking him out.

Xander ambled in and caught him.

“Hey, morning.”

Spike started to lick his thumb healed but Xander caught it carefully. “Easy there, you’ll waste it. Let me.” Xander took Spike’s thumb into his mouth and carefully sucked on it until it quit bleeding. Then he licked it a long slow lick that made Spike swallow convulsively. He took the digit back between his lips and sucked gently as he stroked the small cut with the tip of his tongue. He gave Spike a scintillating look from under his eyelashes. Spike licked his lips, his mouth surprisingly dry.

Xander straightened up from the slight bend he’d been in to reach Spike’s hand. Timmins took the opportunity to slip out of the kitchen, leaving the juice on the table.

Xander nudged Spike’s nose with his, making him turn his head and tip it slightly. “Perfect”

Xander licked at Spike’s lips and when he opened them to gasp in surprise Xander pressed his advantage. Spike let Xander have his way just to see what he’d do. Xander slipped his tongue into Spike’s mouth and caressed his tongue. Spike sighed softly. This was nice. Xander ran his tongue across the top of Spike’s. The smooth bottom of Xander’s tongue slid across the rough top of Spikes in a caress that left Spike feeling weak in the knees. Xander ran his tongue around Spike’s top to bottom, bottom to top. The alternating smooth then rough feeling exciting both of them. He sucked gently on Spike’s tongue then more aggressively as Spike didn’t resist.

Xander tangled his fingers with Spike’s and leaned into him a bit, Spike settled against the counter top and relaxed. Xander pressed his advantage and pinned Spike’s hands to the counter on either side of him and sucked harder. Spike managed a soft whimper and leaned back more. Xander groaned and thrust his tongue into Spike’s mouth. He pressed it against Spike’s fang and let Spike taste. He had to press his thighs against Spike's to keep him from crumpling.


Spike sighed. “Bloody hell, pet. Where did you learn to kiss like that?”

“Just followed Cordelia’s advice and did what I like. You ok?”

“No ... I’m dead. Dead dead. Killed by a kiss. Your blood is ... fantastic.”

Xander leaned in for another toe curling kiss and waited until Spike got his breath back, figuratively speaking, before letting go of him. He stood back and watched in some amusement as Spike gathered his wits. He picked up his juice and swallowed it down.

“Good stuff. How much longer are you going to do this?”

“Give you blood?” Xander just nodded. “Forever, it makes you smell like me. Keeps the minions and fledges from doing something ... irretrievable. I don’t think you’d like the other way.”

“No. Having you come all over me, then rub it in? Ick!” Xander set the juice glass on the table again and stretched. His shirt rode up showing his abs. Spike admired the flat plains of his body and smirked.

“Stick your eyes back in your head. The blueprints for the garage are here.”

Spike raised an eyebrow, making Xander feel a bit hotter than normal. “Are they now?”

“Yeah, came last night. I just put them in your office. The messenger apologized and said that they came all the way from Holland.”

“They did. I consulted an expert on renovations there. He sent a list of reliable demons to take care of the hoist, I hope.”

“Didn’t open them. I decided to wait until you could be with me. Come on. I’ve been patient long enough.”

Spike grinned and started to follow Xander. Timmins stepped into the room and stopped Xander. “We’re out of popsicles. Do you want me to get more?”

Xander grinned at Timmins. “Don’t think so. I think you and they have done their jobs.”

Spike thought about that for all of a second. “Oi! It’s not that cold!”

Xander laughed and ran for the office, with Spike in hot pursuit.


After reviewing and approving the plans, they settled to finish their respective work. Spike to order the materials for the renovation and Xander to finish up that ‘damn, idiotic bastard Latin farce of a spell’ Xander grumbled all the way to his office.

He settled in his chair and pulled open the drawer. The parchment lay there like a lump, waiting for him to tackle it again. He knew he was going to have a headache in about thirty minutes. But Spike had promised the personage that he would translate this, so he would.

He struggled for a while then put it aside to work on some details for his orchidarium, he would return to the translation once his head quit hurting. He rubbed at his eyes and grumbled, “stupid master ... what was his name? Blac something with too many consonants and not enough vowels. Shit!”

Spike looked up as Master Bruce came into his office. “May I have a moment, Master?”

“Sure. What’s up? Boy doin’ well?”

“That’s what I wanted to speak to you about. He’s doing very well. I’m impressed. But he’s stronger than he should be. I need to know what spell he’s using. It might be dangerous and I’m concerned.”

“I’m feedin’ him my blood. Just a little. Don’t worry about it.” Spike smiled at Bruce, he was obviously worried about Xander.

“Ah! Master’s blood. That explains everything. I was worried. Now that that is cleared up, I need to ask you if you want him to continue on to the next level. It’s a hard route but he’s capable of making it. If he is dedicated enough. I’d really like to see him continue. His self-confidence is rising and I’m sure he’s capable of the Ryu Sui Sen. And several other high level attacks that I haven’t wanted to teach a student in more than two hundred years.”

Spike blinked for a moment. “Boy’s that good?” Master Bruce just nodded. “Well, well. Teach him anything he’s able to learn. Just, if you’re going to keep him for several days, I want to know about it at least a week in advance. Need to make arrangements so I can watch. I won’t interfere but I do enjoy watchin’ my boy do well. All sweaty and ... never mind.” Spike had the grace to look a bit shamefaced.

“Don’t worry. I’m glad to see that you prize him so. He’s worth it.”

“I’d like to get him something. He’s working so hard and doing so well. What should I get him? Got any suggestions?”

Master Bruce folded his arms and thought. “Well, he really needs a decent gladius, the one he’s using now is going to break any moment.” Spike’s head shot up. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make sure that he doesn’t get hurt when it does. It’ll be good for him. But he needs a reliable one. I could check the markets?”

Spike shook his head. “No, I’ll do it. I want to be able to say I picked it out myself. Ok, anything else?”

Master Bruce stood and bowed. “No, master. Thank you for your kind attention.” He turned to go but stopped. Returning to stand in front of Spike’s desk he said, “I hear you’re going to do something special at court tomorrow. I hope it’s not to the Young Master’s detriment.”

Spike started to get pissed then decided that if Bruce had nerve enough to try to protect Xander from him, he was magnanimous enough to ease his mind. “Boy and I are puttin’ the screws to his so-called friends. He’s gettin’ his evens. He knows what’s up. Ok?”

“Yes, master. I’m sorry, master.”

“Don’t be. Glad to see you want to take care of Xander. Now git.” Master Bruce got.


Xander nibbled at his lip and sighed. This translation was turning out to be a farce. It was nothing but a really elaborate hair growing spell. Combined with a stinky herb salve recipe it was guaranteed to grow hair. In other words, it was nothing but snake oil. He sighed again, finished up the translation and stuck a sticky note to the file telling Sylvia to type it up and send it.

He decided that he’d had enough and was going to bite the bullet and find out what Spike had in store for him. He’d delighted in putting off all Xander’s questions about his new harness. This was enough. Xander was going to find out now, or else. Or else what, he wasn’t sure.


“Spike? You busy?”

Spike took off his glasses and smiled at Xander. “No. All done. And I can tell you’re flonchin’ at the bit to find out about your harness.”

“Yeah. Kinda nervous about this. Will it hurt?”

“Better not. If it does I’ll have that urusha demons guts for garters.”

“Ick. Spike, what woman would wear garters made out of guts? And don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.”

Spike just laughed. “It’s only an expression. Guts aren’t elastic enough to make garters. Now, come on. I’ll show you the harness, we’ll have a dry run so that everything’s right for your performance. Ok?”

Xander bounced on the balls of his feet. “Yeah, great. I just hope it works the way I want it to.”

“Me too, pet. But here we are.” He opened the door and yelled for Timmins. The vampire stuck his head out of the walk in closet. “Bring out the new harness. Oh, and that old stuff. The first stuff we used.”

Xander eyed the new harness with a slightly bemused expression. “Um ... those chains are a bit much, don’t you think?”

Spike just smirked. “Bring the old harness here Timmins and help me get it on him.”

“I thought we weren’t going to use it anymore.” Timmins worked at untangling the discarded harness.

“Not, just wanna prove somethin’”

Xander stood patiently while they fastened the harness over his clothing. He refrained from comment for now. If Spike had something to prove, he wanted to see it.

“Ok, pet. Just walk across the floor.”

Xander started to walk, shuffling awkwardly. Spike snapped, “Age tsuki!”

Xander fell into the required stance for the rising punch and felt the chains snap to their limits, and then some.

“What the hell? Spike?”

Spike reached over and unbuckled the cuffs from Xander’s wrists while Timmins knelt to remove the one’s around Xander’s ankles. Spike examined the chain then turned to Timmins. “See? It’s workin’ just like I said.”

Timmins smiled. “Indeed. My apologies.” Timmins bowed to Spike who snorted and said rather fondly. “Stupid git.”

Xander had waited as patiently as he could but now he demanded. “What the hell was that all about? And why are you two smiling like a couple of idiots.”

Spike just handed Xander the chain that had led from one ankle to the other. It was stretched, the links warped out of shape and nearly parted in several places.

“Um. Oh. Um. I did that? Ok?”

Xander’s obvious confusion endeared him to Spike even more. Timmins just whispered for Spike’s ears alone. ‘I told you’.

Spike laughed. “Yeah, pet. You did that. Master’s blood is a powerful thing. Although I will have to say that yours is really good. What little of it I got. Now. . . we’re goin’ ta try that new set on. So strip.”

Xander couldn’t help but grin. “You just want to get me naked.”

“Always, pet.”


Xander sighed. This was not going to be fun. Even though it was. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing his so-called friends again. He was happy with Spike, happier than he’d expected by a long shot. Spike treated him with respect and expected him to do well at what he tried. If he had problems, he knew that he could go to Spike for help without being laughed at. It felt good. Why the Scoobies couldn’t have done the same escaped him completely. So now he was almighty pissed, in the American way, and intended to get his back.

He wanted to be calm for the court appearance so he settled to meditate for a while. He meditated longer than he’d thought he would and so was late getting back to his rooms to get harnessed up.

Timmins was waiting for him with a small smile on his face. “You’re a bit late. We better hurry. But, did you enjoy it?”

Xander didn’t play ignorant, this was the first time he and Timmins had been alone since the kiss. “Yeah, I did. I never thought I’d like kissing a guy. Very freak making.”

Timmins snorted. “Why? I never did see the problem. Vampires will mostly screw anything willing and things not so willing. Some humans seem the same without the excuse of not having a soul. I believe the best explanation is you’re bi.”

“I’m bi? Ok, enlighten me. Oh, educated one.”

Timmins smacked Xander in the back of the head. Very gently, to be sure, but it was definitely a smack. “Stop that. I have the time to do the research, you don’t. Now listen. You’re just big hearted. You see the person, before you see the gender. You fall in love with the person you see. I’ve heard about Cordelia Chase from some of the others. You saw something there that no one else did. So you fell in love with her.”

Xander snorted. “More like lust but go on.”

“Love, lust. At your age there’s not much difference. So, if you like someone, you like them. Having sex, making love, doin’ the horizontal mambo. However you want to describe it. Has very little to do with matching or meshing parts and more to do with mutual respect and affection. Do you understand?”

Xander grinned at Timmins. “I do. And thanks for that bit of moral support and ego stroking. I really need it. I’m so nervous I could puke.”

Timmins cleared his throat. “Would you like something? The healer left some medicine for you when you were sick before. It’s very mild, just enough to allow you to relax.”

“I don’t think so. Spike will have a fit and I really need all my wits. If I show up half scrambled, he’ll clobber both of us. I’ll manage.”

“Very well. But I’ll tuck one in my pocket, shall I? That way if you need it, I’ll have it. Now. This goes here. And ....”

Xander stood still while Timmins buckled, snapped and fussed. Xander settled himself and squatted slightly so that Timmins could put on his cloak and pull up the hood. Spike had made all the plans and insisted on this, declaring it, ‘Quite the thing. Dramatic, but not overboard.’


Spike settled on his throne and grumbled under his breath, “Soddin’ minions and their bloody ritual fixation.” He crossed his legs at the ankles and motioned for the guards to open the doors.

The doors swung back with a resounding boom and the court traipsed in, in a ragged stream. Vampires, demons, humans and Scoobies all trying not to get in each others way. Spike smirked slightly, the Scoobies all clustered in a tiny group. Like baby quail before wolves. Although these quail had stakes and swords and the two witches were obviously ready to cast at least one spell.

Spike stood up. “Silence. Thank you. First business.”

He settled back to listen to minor complaints from minions and fledges. He didn’t bring Xander in until he started with major complaints and greeting visiting ‘royalty’. He didn’t see any reason for Xander to have to kneel for hours on end. Nor did he see any reason to subject him to the lascivious leers and heated glares of people beneath him.

Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Buffy started to say something but Giles silenced her. Tara and Willow just stood and watched everything with interested eyes.

Spike took care of the minor business easily. He knew that Giles was getting an ear full. Buffy couldn’t have understood half what was going on if she tried but Red and Glenda were both smiling by the time he got through.

He dismissed the last of the minor cases and called to Timmins. “Where’s my pet? Bring him.”

Timmins led Xander forward by his leash. The entire court quieted, they always did. This was one of the high points of the session. Xander was now a real beauty, tall, straight, broad shouldered and muscular.

He moved forward confidently. He wasn’t worried about appearing in court anymore. Especially since Timmins of all people had ripped the arm off an impertinent demon and literally beaten him over the head with it.

Xander walked to the base of the small platform that Spike’s throne was on. He stepped up onto the dais easily, Spike had made sure that while the chains were dramatic, he could still move fairly easily.

He turned and faced the court, chain rattling. He waited a moment to gain his bearings then gazed out from under his hood. He checked out the regulars first. They were all nearly salivating in anxiety, waiting to see the new harness. The few visitors were mostly looking curious, having heard about the new tradition of allowing Master William’s pet/thrall into court. But Buffy looked like she wanted to either scream or cry and Willow and Tara were both just crying. Giles, however was another matter, he really looked like he wanted to kill someone, or something.

Xander gave a tiny nod and Timmins pulled the cape off his shoulders.

The concerted gasp that rose from the entire court was everything Spike and Xander could have wanted.

Xander stood proudly and gazed out over the court with a bland expression on his face. The collar around his neck was heavy brown latigo leather, padded with creamy chamois which covered the foam core. His arms were bound around the biceps with straps that were equally heavy and padded. The straps were connected with a glittering chain across his back. His wrists were enclosed in a set of cuffs that matched the collar and straps. The chain that connected them at his belly was only eight inches long and each cuff was also fastened to the belt around his waist with more glittering diamond cut chains. A chain depended from the collar to the belt and supported nipple clamps with small tassels of chains on them. He was decently covered as Spike announced that his ‘bits’ weren’t on display to a bunch of commoners. The shorts were tight enough that Xander’s tight buttocks were clearly outlined. A chain dropped from the belt to just above his knees where his legs were circled by more straps with glittering chains between them. The chain fell on down to his ankles also bound with straps connected by more glittering chains. He was also draped with chains whose only use was to emphasize his muscles. The straps were all embossed with rows of crossed rail road spikes.

Xander lifted his chin and turned to face Spike, he bowed and then knelt at his feet in the up kneel position. He carefully kept his eyes down and the smirk off his lips.


Buffy stared at Xander and nearly had a melt down. He didn’t look like he was hurting or upset. In fact he looked a bit self satisfied. Not what she’d expected at all. She’d expected him to be dragged in kicking and screaming or to be huddled in a terrified and abused heap at Spike’s feet.

Willow nearly fainted, Tara had to hold her up. This was not her Xander. This self contained confident man wasn’t what she’d expected at all. Tara just nodded to herself. Xander looked good to her eyes, sleek and strong.

Giles took one look at the harness and nearly had a fit right there. The bondage didn’t bother him as much as the thought of what Spike might have done to make Xander so accepting. Except that he didn’t look particularly abused, all in all they were a very confused group.

Xander settled back against Spike’s leg when he pulled gently on his collar. He had to kneel in kizu because of the bands around his ankles. Carefully keeping his eyes lowered, he leaned against Spike and waited.

“Well, people, we have some visitors today that I’m sure all of you would like to greet. Please welcome. Buffy Summers, the slayer. Rupert Giles, the Watcher. And Willow Rosenberg and her friend Tara Maclay. They’re witches.”

There was some muttering but most of the demons and vampires gave a pattering of applause. Giles glared around then pinned Spike with a murderous look. “What did you do to him?”

Xander bit his tongue to keep from snarling, now he got all protective.

Spike just shook his head. “Not your turn yet. Got some other business ta take care of.”

Buffy snarled but Giles grabbed her arm and shook his head. He pulled off his glasses and polished them so hard he punched out a lens. It fell to the floor with a sharp ‘tink’.

Timmins picked it up and held out his hand. “If you’ll allow me, sir? I can fix it.” He examined the lens carefully. “The lens isn’t chipped or scratched.”

Giles glanced at Timmins without paying much real attention, all his attention was pinned on Xander and Spike. Timmins popped the lens back in the frame and tightened the tiny screw that held it in using a screwdriver he produced from somewhere.

He handed them back to Giles and when Giles did a double take smiled at him kindly. “You’ll find that you’re definitely in Young Master Xander’s black books. And will be for quite some time. Get used to it.” He bowed just enough to be what he considered barely polite and went back to his position in the shadows behind the dais. Spike just raised an eyebrow at Giles and continued his business.

He greeted the new head of some demon clan, Xander stopped listening when he realized that he didn’t understand the language. Instead he covertly studied his erstwhile friends. Buffy looked pissed and bored, like she’d rather be in math class than here. She bounced on her toes, shifted restlessly, glared around and generally was impolite. He decided that she was a self centered, irritation, slayer or not; or maybe that was exactly what was wrong with her. She thought too much about slaying, to the point of obsession, and not enough about the people who surrounded her. He decided that he just wasn’t capable of judging her fairly. Dropping that line of thought, he went on to study Willow and Tara.

Willow was clutching Tara’s hand and looking like all she wanted to do was run. Tara was surprisingly calm. She looked around her with interest and a polite nod when she met a being’s eyes. Xander was impressed with her and annoyed with Willow, she was muttering under her breath in a way that could only mean she was cooking up some sort of spell.
“Oi, Red. You do a spell and I’ll have yur head. Not nice, that. Got a shaman of my own to do that when I need it.”

Willow eeped and clutched at Tara. Tara patted her hands and hissed, ‘Told you he’d know. Stop it.’ She raised her head to look Spike in the eyes. “I’m sorry. She’s just very upset. She does foolish things then.”

Spike smiled at Tara. “That’s all right, Glinda. Red’s gonna learn not to do mojo on the unwilling one way or another. Just you see that you’re not in the way when the shit hits the fan. Ok?”

Tara sighed and nodded.

Giles refrained from all comment and pinned his attention on Xander, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Spike turned his attention to the next matter of business and had to suppress a snarl.

“Master, we have a real problem. There is one fledge, of another order but in your court, that is making ... things ... difficult. He won’t hide the bodies, drink from the public supply, or obey any orders. He says that he’s the fledge of Angelus and doesn’t have to. Will you intervene?”

Spike blinked once. “A fledge of Angelus? I doubt that. Bring him forth.”

Xander snorted. Spike squeezed his shoulder. “Quiet. Sounds good. I’ll deal with him quickly an’ we’ll get on with the fun.”

“ ‘K.” Xander eyed the Scoobies as they shifted restlessly. Giles had a particularly sour expression.


The vampire that was hauled in and dumped unceremoniously at Spike’s feet was big and hard. He’d been a boxer while he was alive and it showed. But he was no match for a strong master vampire. Spike jerked him to his feet and shook him like a rat.

“What have I told you all about messin’ in the nest?”

Since the vampire couldn’t draw enough breath to talk, the question was more rhetorical than not.

Xander watched with interest, this had happened before and Spike was considered a lenient master as he usually just dusted the offender then gave a lecture about not leaving bodies and body parts within six blocks of their dwelling place. He called it ‘messin’ in the nest’.

Spike shook the vampire again. “I’m waitin’.”

“Might let up a bit. He needs air to talk, you know.”

Spike took Xander’s advice and loosened his hold a bit. “Well?”

The vampire choked and coughed. “I was made by Angelus himself. I don’t have to put up with this. You watch out unless you want to get dusted by him.”

Spike dropped the fool and gave him a kick for good measure. “Last childe that was sired by Angelus himself was Penn, git. I should know. So don’t be givin’ me that. Who sired ya?”

The vampire snarled. “I am Drake, childe of Moxa, childe of Angelus. That makes Angelus my sire.”

Willow couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Does not! And Moxa isn’t a childe of Angelus. Moxa is a childe of Antitum. Big faker.”

Giles started to say something but Spike held up his hand. “ ‘S ok, Watcher. Thank you, Red. Now stuff yourself.” He turned back to Drake. “So, you see, even a human knows who’s who. Got anything else to say?”

“Yeah. If you’re so much, who’s your sire?”

Spike sighed. “Don’t you idiots listen to anything? Well, never mind that. Timmins, give my line. I’m sick of repeating it.”

“Yes, master.” Timmins stepped forward, cleared his throat and announced. “Master’s linage . . . excuse me, master, how far back do you want to go?”

Spike considered. “Start with Heinrich. He was how old?”

Timmins shrugged, “He was a direct childe of Kato, who was a childe of Aurelius himself. So from master to childe. From Aurelius to Kato to The Master known also as Heinrich to Darla to Angelus to Drusilla to William. Our master, also know as William the Bloody, Bloody Bill and Spike.” Spike licked his lips and grinned.

“Now you know. I’m a direct descendent of one of the oldest lines around. You’re the descendent of a wannabe. Defy me, will ya?”

Spike grabbed Drake by the neck again and shook him hard, his teeth could be heard clicking all over the room. After giving Drake a good shake Spike dropped him on the floor, where he just sprawled glowering.

Giles knew what was coming, but not exactly how it was going to be accomplished. Buffy knew too and was hoping to be the one called. Willow just nudged Tara behind her and eased them both behind Buffy and Giles. No matter who did the deed, it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Xander had stood in his place on the dais all this time, patiently waiting for this to be over so he could continue to aggravate his so-called friends. He was especially mad at Giles, as he was supposed to be older and wiser and Xander felt that the watcher had let him down the most. Willow he could understand, she was not only young but too smart for her own good. Spike had explained that smart didn’t mean she had any common sense, only brains. Buffy was just self-centered enough that she would never really understand and besides, she was a slayer not a magic user. Her apology had kind of rubbed his nose in that fact. He had to wonder if she’d have done something if she knew how.

He glanced over the court and missed what Spike was saying, a sharp jerk in his dangling leash brought his attention back to the business at hand.

“Oi! Day dreamin’ again? Pay attention or I’ll blister ya.”

Giles flinched, the three girls all gasped.

Xander bowed his head, flicking a look at Spike from under his lashes. Spike looked bored and just a touch annoyed, but he winked at Xander as soon as his back was turned to the court.

“I’m sorry, master. I was just wondering if he’s worth your trouble. Maybe you should let Timmins stake him instead.”

“He’s not even worth Timmins getting dust on his kit. You’re gonna do it.”

Xander just blinked at him. “Oh.”

The uproar from the Scoobie section was immediate and annoying, to both Spike and Xander. Spike turned his head and snarled, “Shut it. I’ll do what I please with what’s mine. You don’t like it? You should have seen to him yourselves long ago.” Spike stepped off the dais and got in Giles’s face. “Especially you, watcher. Boy needed trainin’. Did you do anything?” Spike shook his head in mock sadness. “Not that I could tell.”

He returned to Xander, turned and faced the court. “Send for Master Bruce.”

The Sensei stepped out of the shadows to the side of the dais where he had been standing with Timmins. “I’m here, master. What do you desire?”

“He up to it?”

Master Bruce nodded immediately. “Yes. More than.”

So Spike snapped his fingers at Timmins who came to him at once. “Turn him loose.”

Timmins unsnapped the quick snaps that held Xander’s arms in place then knelt to do the same for his ankles. Xander just stood and waited. Timmins unfastened the ankle cuffs from the drop chain and fastened the drop chain to Xander’s belt. He took the cuffs away with him.

When his limbs were free of their bonds, Xander turned to Spike. “May I have a bokken?”

“Can have anything ya want, pet. Just don’t get dust in your eyes.”

“Ok. Um ... maybe you should do something with him for now? Looks like he’s trying to ... um ... sneak out? Maybe.”

Spike turned to watch Drake as he tried to ease into the mob of courtiers. It wasn’t working very well as they kept easing away from him. Spike snarled, “Should a’ kept a hand on ‘im. Sorry sack a’ shit that he is. Well, get ready, pet.”

Giles had started when he saw Master Bruce and now he was practically foaming at the mouth. Spike not only let Bruce Chen near Xander, he actually let him train him. Buffy had to pinch him to keep him from doing exactly what he’d cautioned her against.

The Scoobies watched helplessly as Spike crossed his arms over his chest, nodding to Xander to step forward. Xander accepted the bokken from Master Bruce and set himself.

Spike addressed his court. “Ok, here’s the deal. My boy needs the practice. Just keep Duck here from leavin’ the arena. No one interferes except me. Keep the watcher and his crew from gettin’ in the way.”

Xander just stepped down from the dais, loose chains rattling, and took his stance. He’d let Drake make the first move. The vampire was big, although not that much bigger than he was, which meant that he might be slow. Xander wasn’t going to take any chances, though, he didn’t want his ass blistered.

“Ok, Duck. Ya got one chance ta save your rotten unlife. Ya get past my pet, ya go free. Ya fuck up an’ you’re dust.”

Xander wasn’t going to argue ethics at a time like this, in fact, he didn’t care about them much at all. He was going to do what Spike asked because he was well aware that Drake was very close to attracting the kind of attention that none of them wanted. Even Sunnydale cops wouldn’t ignore half a dozen corpses dumped in the same neighborhood within a couple of months. They were lucky that the other fledges and minions had been cleaning up after him. Spike was really pissed and that wasn’t good for anyone.

Xander set himself and waited for the vampire to do something. All the idiot did was flex and beat his chest, figuratively speaking. Xander sneered at him. “What? Afraid of a thrall? You’re not so much. Master Spike was right. Duck. Or is it Duck and Cover. Chicken.”

A few minions started clucking at Drake who swelled up like a toad and snarled, “Master Spike is going to be disappointed when I rip you limb from limb.”

Xander snorted. “I’m so scared. Do something, anything. Come on.”

Drake charged Xander who just stepped out of his way and pivoted to stay facing him. When Drake managed to get stopped and turn to charge again, Xander hopped backward and resumed his stance. “That all you’ve got? Man, and I was worried.” Giles winced at this, taunting a vampire was Buffy’s forte, not Xander’s. But Xander was still goading Drake, and it was working. Drake was losing his temper.

Another two attacks saw Drake completely out of control. He stumbled and then tried to run into the crowd, but wound up pushed back into the makeshift arena.

Xander met him right in the middle, sword at point guard and took two quick steps forward. Drake tried to dodge but Xander poked him in the chest. The resulting cloud of dust was most satisfying. Xander turned to Spike and bowed.

“Thank you for the practice, master.”

“Welcome, did good. Excellent form. See Master Bruce after for a critique.”

“As you wish.”

Spike motioned to Timmins, who stepped forward, rechained Xander and faded into the woodwork again. Xander stepped back onto the dais and the Scoobies all realized that he hadn’t even broken a sweat. Giles especially gave this considerable thought. He wasn’t sure he liked his conclusions but didn’t see that he could do much about it now.

Xander continued to lean against Spike’s leg as he concluded his business and dismissed the court. He turned to Xander and said softly, “Ya wanna really rub their noses in it or are you satisfied.”

“I don’t think I can be satisfied. They don’t seem to really care. They’re just standing around. Why are they really here? Just to introduce themselves to the Master of the Hellmouth? Or what?”

“Introduction mostly. And I think the Wanker wants to check up on you. Buffy? She’s just a null. Self-centered enough that she really doesn’t realize the problem. The two witches are ... not null, but not competent to judge the situation. Giles ... he’s supposed to not piss me off. So, up to you.”

“Whatever you decide is good by me. I’m still pissed as hell at Giles and Willow. Not at Tara though, she didn’t do anything. And Buffy just ... I don’t care. She didn’t do anything except do nothing. I’m just ... I don’t know.”

“Try conflicted, pet. I don’t blame you for bein’ mad. Glinda’s a good kid, she would have done something, I think, if she’d realized that Willow an’ the watcher weren’t. Buffy? How’s she supposed ta do somethin’? She’s a slayer, not a witch. Think about it while I sort this.”

“ ‘K.”

Xander stood and waited as Spike dismissed the court. He sent the minions and fledges out, told the visiting dignitaries that there were refreshments provided and if they still needed to talk to him, he’d be available in a while. Then he turned to the Scoobies. “As for you lot. Follow Master Bruce to the small hall. I’ll be there in a bit. Go on, no argy bargy, won’t have it.”

Master Bruce just took off for the hall without looking to see if anyone was following him. He really didn’t care. He was contemplating Xander’s fight, analyzing it, looking for mistakes. He wasn’t finding any.

Giles reached out to touch Master Chen on the arm and found himself grasped by the wrist. Master Chen was in full vamp face and snarled, “Do not touch me.” Giles gasped softly, Buffy heard it and had her stake ready. She tried to stake the master and found herself blocked by a forearm defense. Giles barked, “Buffy! No!” and stepped between her and Bruce.

Master Bruce just gazed at Buffy, holding her arm and that of Giles in unbreakable holds. Tara pulled Willow out of the way and held her hands to keep her from making the situation worse by casting a spell. Giles apologized softly, “I’m sorry. I just ... wanted to speak to you about Xander.”

Master Bruce let go of Giles, but kept his grip on Buffy. She stared at him for a moment then flinched as Tara poked her in the back. “What?”

“Apologize.” Tara’s voice was soft but Master Bruce heard her and nodded.

Buffy bit her lip but did as she was told. Master Bruce let go of her too.

“Come with me. High Master William will not be pleased if he has to wait for us.”

Giles nodded and motioned to the three girls to precede him. He then bowed slightly to Master Bruce, keeping his eyes on him. The master bowed back, dropping his eyes slightly. Giles gritted his teeth.


Xander followed Spike into the large room behind the dais and started laughing. “Did you see? Did you? That guy ... was he a fledge or minion? Never mind. He was so toast. I dusted him. I did.” Xander suddenly gave Spike a funny look. “Is it bad of me to be so happy? He’s dead now. Really dead.”

“No, pet. It’s not bad. He was a danger to all of us and to anyone wandering by. An’ remember, Xander, he was already dead. Just an animated corpse. He disobeyed me an’ insulted my court. You were just the ‘instrument of execution’ so to speak. Don’t fratch yourself over it. Come kiss me.”

Xander smiled, obediently coming to kiss Spike. Spike kissed Xander, exploring his mouth with his tongue. Xander sighed, he liked kissing Spike a lot. “Off! We better go see the gang or they’ll be all ‘Spike’s keeping Xander from us just for spite. And stuff.’

Spike sighed. “Yeah, pet. You’re right. So. Off with that kit and into this.”

Xander had to grin, ‘this’ was a pair of well-tailored trousers and a silk button down shirt. He pulled on the silk boxers Spike handed him and stepped into the trousers. As he buttoned the shirt, Spike grinned at him. The shirt was a French cuff and Spike knew very well that Xander couldn’t for the life of him fasten French cuffs. The links just defeated him. Spike loved to fasten the links for him. Timmins stood by with Xander’s coat in his hand. The coat matched the trousers and shirt. Timmins offered a tie which Xander refused. He hated ties and wouldn’t wear one if he could get out of it. Spike grinned at him.

“No tie, Pet?”

“No, no tie. And don’t you pet me. At least not like that. And why the brown? I do like this bronzy shirt, how does it turn green? But ...” Xander took a deep breath. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, pet. Just a bit, though. Nervous?”

Xander slipped his arms into the coat and let Timmins adjust it. “No, not really.” Spike smirked at him, Xander usually wouldn’t let Timmins fuss with him this much. “Ok, ok. I’m nervous. But not for why you think. I’m still pissed. What if I say something irretrievable? Something nasty that I can’t call back, that I really don’t mean?”

Spike just shook his head. “Don’t say anything at all, unless I ask you a direct question or tell you to answer one. That’ll keep you from sticking your foot in your mouth, piss off the lot of ‘em and be good practice, yeah?”

Xander sighed and nodded. “Ok. Let’s go.”

Timmins had to hide a smile. He’d heard the muttering the slayer had been doing and she wasn’t happy. The two other girls, whose names he had forgotten hadn’t looked happy either. And, he was happy to see, the watcher was positively livid. At least they’d all had better sense than to cause a scene in court.

Part Eighteen

Xander smiled at Spike. "You go stir them up. I'll make coffee."

Spike had to laugh. "You an' your bloody coffee, pet. But all right, I'll go take a poke at that lot. Just hurry. I might yield ta temptation an' say som'at I shouldn't."

"What?" Xander's innocent expression belied his tone of voice. "Like ... you should have done better? Or ... why didn't you train him? ... Or ... I donno any one of half a dozen other things? Coffee."

Spike watched as Xander stepped into the kitchen and started the espresso machine.

"It won't take long, just long enough for the machine to heat. About ten minutes." Xander touched the machine. "Make that five minutes total. Timmins turned the machine on."

Spike just nodded and headed to the small hall to confront the Scoobies. He was looking forward to it. He added a little extra to his cocky saunter and entered the small hall.

All the Scoobies were standing around a small table. Master Bruce was there too. Giles was attempting to question him about Xander and was meeting with no success at all. The Chinese martial artist was giving him a runaround of impressive proportions. All he would say was, "Ask Master Spike."

Tara was standing beside Willow just holding her hand while Willow tried not to look as put out as she felt. Buffy was listening to some internal voice or just staring blankly, with her, who knew?

Spike nodded to Bruce. "Answer his questions. In detail. I'm interested in his reactions."

So Giles asked his questions and got answers that made his mouth dry, his pulse race and his face flush in fury.

"And you allowed this? I thought..."

Spike just sneered and shook his head. "No, Wanker, you didn't think. The boy's been fightin' demons and what not since he was sixteen. You ever train him? Even a little?"

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I'm a Watcher. He's not my responsibility."

Spike snarled. "He is. The minute you let him start workin' with ya, you made him your responsibility. Shoulda trained ‘im."

Giles let Ripper show, stuck his face into Spikes and growled. "And when, exactly, was I supposed to have time to do that?"

Spike vamped in his face. "Shut it. I don't care when. When ya were trainin' the slayer? Ya think? Or when he came in all whipped an' limpin'. Ya think ya might a' comforted ‘im a bit?"

Giles jerked his head back like he'd been struck. "What the devil are you saying?"

Xander calmly interrupted them, bringing coffee in on a tray.

"Stuff yourself, both of you." Giles winced at that combination of English and American. "Coffee, black." Xander handed a cup to Tara. "Coffee, light, sweet and weak as a kitten." Xander handed another cup to Willow. "I steamed the milk, low fat, of course. "Mocha chino, extra sweet." Xander handed a cup to Buffy, who smiled slightly. "And tea. Hot, strong and naked." Xander passed a delicate china cup to both Spike and Giles. "And double double espresso for me."

Spike sighed. "Pet, you know you'll be up all night ... or day. Depends on how ya look at it."

Xander shrugged. "Couldn't sleep anyway." He smirked around at the gathered people. "Hey, Buffy." He held out an arm. "Like the new threads?"

Buffy eyed the coat for a second, then her eyes widened. "Armani? Wow. And silk. Very nice. Who dressed you?"

Xander smiled happily. "Timmins ... and Spike. And it's a silk cashmere blend." Xander posed, taking a stance that showed off the fit of his coat and pants. He pulled up one pants leg. "Calf skin. Made just for me." The black half boots and dark grey socks showed his foot and ankle off perfectly. Buffy eyed the boots for a second then sighed.

"Well, shit. Look, I'm sorry about it all, but ... um ... looks to me like you fell into a good thing. Not the slave thing but the ... way Spike looks at you thing. And you so don't want to piss him off ‘cause ... oh, I forgot, the chip. But anyway." She stopped, looking confused. "I lost my train of thought. Never mind." She gave Xander a rather tired look. "I really would have helped, if I'd known how. And realized that no one else was doing what they should have. Sorry."

Xander shook his head. Her apology was vague enough to seem insincere, but it was the best he was ever going to get from her. He decided to be satisfied.

"Thanks, I guess. You never know what you could do if you tried. You know?" Xander shrugged off anything else he might have said and turned to Willow. "But you, you I'm really mad at. Why the hell couldn't you just do what I asked? Not like no mojo was in ancient Etruscan or something. And then ... what? Did you just hope it would all go away? Tell me! ‘Cause I really what to know."

Willow bit her lip for a second then nodded miserably. "I thought ... well, the spells usually have an expiration date sort of thingy and go away on their own. I just ... well, I added some ... er... adamant powder ... to make the spell stronger? Only it didn't ... make it stronger, I mean. It made it last longer. And combined with... And he makes you wear that ... thing and everything and I'm so sorry. But ..."

Xander held up a hand before Spike could explode. "Damn, Willow. Enough already. You made so many substitutions it was practically a different spell altogether. Then you didn't do anything about it. You just let it ... simmer, for want of a better expression. Anything else to say?"

Tara winced as Willow got defensive. "Well, I meant well. You needed a male friend of the not boyfriend persuasion, I just thought..."

Xander made a rude noise. "No you didn't ... think that is. You just jumped in with both feet and made another mess for someone else to pick up after."

Spike smiled around his cigaret and muttered to Master Bruce. "Well, there goes another plan. Not that I thought for a sec that the boy could keep his mouth shut." Bruce snorted softly. "Yeah. Exactly."

"He wants the rest of the training."

"Of course he does. Ryu Sui Sen?"

"Yes. And he still needs a gladius."

"I'll see to it soon." Spike tapped Master Bruce on the arm. "Uh-oh. Here we go."

Buffy walked up to Spike and eyed him for a moment. "Well, done is done, ya know? So, shovel talk time. You do anything to hurt him and I'll whack your head with a shovel, multiple times. Got me?"

Spike nodded. "Got you. But ya know this concern, touching though it is, is a bit too late."

Buffy sighed. "I know. But still ..."She shook her head. "I don't know what I was supposed to do. By the time I realized that neither Giles nor Willow was actually working on anything like a cure .. Fix-it. What do you call a thing to fix a bad spell?" She looked at Spike who shrugged. "Never mind. Anyway, it was way too late to do anything. And then ... stuff got out of hand and I forgot about it. I guess Giles did too. There was an incursion prophesy and we were all running around like crazy people trying to figure that out, which we never did by the way. And here we are. Sucks but I don't know what to do about it except to warn you ... I don't care if you're the Master of the Hellmouth or the King of Siam, be good to Xander, or I'll ..."

Spike held up his hand. "Na, na, na! Slayer, take it easy."

Buffy just sighed and punched Spike in the face. He punched her back so hard she stumbled back a step.

"Ow! Spike!" Buffy waited for Spike's chip to kick in. When it didn't, she looked back at Giles but caught sight of Xander standing between them, calmly sipping his coffee. Willow looked terrified, Tara confused and Giles looked like he wasn't sure exactly what had happened.

Giles snarled as everything suddenly hit him. The chip wasn't working! Xander stepped between Giles and Spike. "Don't think so, old man. Step back or I'll give you an exhibition of my training, up close and personal. Buffy, you too." Xander's tone of voice brooked no argument and no one did. They all sat down at the table Xander had pointed at.

He made sure that they all had their drinks and a plate of sandwiches. After that everything went south as the saying goes.

"Ok, one, the first person who makes any smart remarks about court better be ready for a face off. Two, Spike's chip is on the fritz permanently, thanks to me. You don't like it, you should have been better friends when I needed you. Anyone got any intelligent remarks?"

Buffy started to say something but Xander shook his head at her. "Not you. We already agreed that you'd have done something if you could have. Or if your tiny mind had realized that I was really in trouble. Drop it." Buffy wisely kept her mouth shut. She really was very off balance here.

Xander turned his ire on Giles next. "Well, I'm sure you have something to say. Spit it out before you choke on it." He smiled sweetly. "More tea?"

Giles pushed his temper down, hard. He wanted to rage at Xander but knew that it wouldn't get him the results he needed. "No, I thank you." He sighed, took off his glasses and polished them, careful not to knock out the lense again. "What were you thinking? And how did you do it?"

Xander shrugged. "What was I thinking? That the person who is supposed to protect me can't do his job because he can't hit humans? Yeah, I think that sums it up. How? Easy, Willow gave me her old computer without sweeping it. There were all sorts of interesting things in it. Including the schematics of that chip. I'm not stupid, no matter what anyone says, especially about mechanical stuff. And that chip is nothing but a machine. It's a dead one now."

Giles sighed, "Xander, you have no idea how truly ruthless Spike can be. You've ..."

Xander stood up. "Enough. I've had it. You cripple him, cage him, let him starve then have the unmitigated gall to call me ... what? If you've got something useful to say, say it. But don't ever get smart with me again, unless you intend to back it up with more than a nasty look. Which, by the way, just makes you look constipated. Now, anything?"

Giles proved that he was more of a man than the Watcher Council suspected. "Well, I suppose I deserve that. I really am sorry about all this. I got caught up in trying to find the location of a major incursion, but that's no excuse. What I did, I have no excuse for at all. I can't even plead expediency. It wouldn't have taken me an hour to review and nullify that spell. But I looked at the original, not Willow's notes. I am truly sorry about this, but I'm not sure what to do now."

Spike smelled Giles's regret and sorrow. He decided to be the bigger ‘man' and take pity on him.

"And we never even figured out where the incursion was. I'm still worried about that as well."

Xander turned to look at Spike. "Well?" Spike snapped his fingers and Timmins approached with a silver tray covered with a big dome, also silver. He put it in the middle of the table and gave Buffy, Giles and Willow a sharp look each, for Tara, he had a small smile. He removed the dome with a small flourish and stepped back.

Giles took one look at the scraps of glass and bug and exclaimed, "Good lord!"

Buffy eyed the bugs with a disgusted expression while Willow blinked and Tara just looked confused.

"Well, I'm sorry. I don't understand." Tara looked from Spike to Xander to Giles, her puzzled expression making Xander grin at her.

"Don't blame you. That's the incursion, sort of. It's a focus for a trans-dimensional door, portal, whatever. I found it and stepped on it. End of problem."

Buffy nodded once. "Well, that's good. Thanks."

Giles gave Buffy a look full of such loathing that Xander blinked. "Buffy, that was the most luke warm an expression of gratitude that I believe I've ever heard. Thank you, Xander. Thank you very much. Could you tell me more about it?"

Xander shook his head. "I sent you a report. You might try remembering what you did with it and reading it. And stop sending me stinky parchments. Really, I'm going to start confiscating them in the name of The Order of Taraka." Xander turned a small smile on Tara. "You ok? You're kind of quiet."

Tara sipped at her drink nervously then cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, Xander. I know it isn't my fault ... any of it. But I can't help but feel that I should have done something ... somehow. Or something."

Xander stood up and walked around the table to give Tara a hug. Spike managed to refrain from snatching them out of each others arms by main force of will. He even managed a small, stiff smile for Tara. "Oi! Unhand the lady." Xander smirked at Spike. "An' stop smirkin' at me. Doesn't suit." But Spike's fond expression made Xander smile and the Scoobies blink.

Timmins broke the silence with an offer of more tea. Giles accepted, as did Spike. Xander returned to his coffee and battled to keep from screaming. He gave Spike a rather pathetic, pleading look. This caused Spike to announce that there was to be no more ‘sad' talk.

"Just gossip for a while. Boy needs to reconnect with you as best he can. It'll take him time to forgive you but if you work it right, he will. Xander ..." Xander looked at Spike, one eyebrow raised. "Play nice. I mean it."

Spike left the room, announcing that he was going to give them some privacy. He left the room but didn't go far, just to the room across the hall. The doors were situated so that no one would see him slip silently through that door. He settled to listen, ready to intervene at a second's notice. It had been hard enough to stand aside and watch Xander struggle with his feelings. This was going to be torture.

In the other room, suddenly the gloves were off. It was tooth and claw, raw feelings and screaming. Timmins took himself out before he did something he'd regret later.

Willow was sobbing and demanding to know how Xander could just let Spike chain him up. Buffy was holding Giles by the jacket while he struggled to go after Spike, threatening to bash his head in. Tara fluttered back and forth for a moment then went to stand by Xander. Xander just stood with his head bowed slightly and listened to them rage.

He let Giles get it all out, all his guilt and sorrow. All his pain. He listened to Willow whine about how all she wanted to do was make things good. He smiled slightly as Buffy simply told Giles to put a sock in it and get over it. Tara shushed Willow but it didn't do much good, she was on a babble rampage of major proportions.

Her last words nearly finished their friendship forever. "And all I want is for things to go back to normal. You getting donuts and coffee, me and Giles doing research and Buffy with the salyage."

Tara grimaced, she didn't mind being left out, she was the newest member of the group. But Xander stiffened, slashed a hand through the air and roared, "Enough! That's it! Shut up." Everyone shut.

"I've had it. That's more than enough. I am not a damn delivery boy. I'm a man. I do construction work, or I did until you lot screwed me over. You don't respect me. You don't listen to me. You don't ... damn! Listen. I did all the translations that you gave credit to Willow for. I fix things, no one says thank you, or even notices. Now ... I'm Spike's. And guess what? ..." He looked around at all of them. Tara patted his shoulder and he shot her a smile. "I like it. Yeah, I had to make some major adjustments. So did he and he didn't even have to. He let me keep my job, and all my checks. Got me a truck. Which no one was interested in by the way. Too busy. Just my first nice vehicle thankyousomuch. And he's seeing that I have training. He gave me a garden. He's looking for a guitar teacher to teach me to play. Anyone? Or am I just listening to myself yack. Hello?"

Xander gave up in disgust. Buffy was standing with her mouth open. Giles was pale and looked like he either wanted to throw up or punch something. Willow was sniveling at Tara who was trying to comfort her without saying she had been right, which was what she wanted. Xander knew that Willow was on the edge of something bad, he just wasn't sure what.

Giles took a moment to get himself together then told Buffy to, "Gear orff me!" Buffy blinked at the slang but let go. Giles straightened his jacket and his shoulders. "Xander, I'm sorry. I've said that several times but it seems that apologies are necessary for more than one thing. I've neglected you shamefully, in more ways than one. I should have paid better attention to you. Trained you. Protected you. I have failed you more times than I probably know. And I don't know how to make it up to you. I don't blame you if you never want to see me again. I hope that's not the case. Please tell me there's some hope."

Xander looked Giles in the eyes and saw that he was sorry, not just saying it.

"Well, there's some. I just really want the answers to a couple of questions. Like. Why the hell did you send me out for donuts all the time. Why not send Buffy? And where do you think I got money for all that?"

Buffy squinched up her nose. "Why shouldn't you get the donuts? I mean, well, don't get mad, ok? It's just that you're not a fighter and I figured it was good for you to get out of research when you started scrunching up your eyes that way."

"Well, let me see. That nest of Povraka demons on the corner of Fourth and June, that bunch of pimps on Sixth and Carter, that wandering Okolv demon that liked the park ... need I go on?"

Buffy clapped a hand over her mouth. "Well, damn. But you made it every single time."

"Yeah, because I run really fast, and I learned to fight pretty well for a donut boy."

Giles sighed then answered the second question. "We took up collections. Er ... there were collections, weren't there?" He polished his glasses to hide his upset.

"No, no collections, or at least not often. Mostly I collected bottles and stuff, stopped by the recycle center then got the goods. Not that anyone ever thanked me, all I ever got was shit for taking so long. Thanks a bunch."

"Xander, I'm sure I gave you twenty dollars several times."

Xander made a noise that sounded like ‘Ppfftt!' "Twenty dollars won't cover three or four dozen donuts, especially as none of you ever wanted donuts precisely, mostly you wanted buck and a half a pop crullers and jelly filled and stuff like that. So no, do the math yourself, twenty bucks didn't cover it. And fifty bucks is a lot of bottles and cans."

Giles looked horrified. He was well aware where Xander had gone to get that much recycle so quickly. "Xander, I'm ... damn it, sorry just isn't stretching to cover this. I'm appalled at my own stupidity. Really. I don't blame you if you never speak to me again."

Xander gave Giles a tired look. "Oh, I'm sure I'll get over it eventually but right now? Not so much. Just stop sending me stuff that's on my no-no list. Ok?"

Giles nodded. "Very well. I will. Unless ... if it's an apocalypse I'd like to send it over just on the off chance?"

Xander offered an olive branch of sorts. "Ok, apocalypse is an exception. Only, be sure. No cheating."

Giles raised an eyebrow at that but didn't say anything. He was realizing now how much he'd really neglected his obligations to Xander. Xander refrained from making him aware of most of the things he'd missed.

Willow was standing with her hands on her hips, Tara tugging on one, trying to get her to be quiet. "Well, I don't know what got into your brain, mister. But you just stop being rude to everyone. Giles has a lot on his mind, what with all the translations he has to do now. Since you, Mr. Selfish Pants, won't help anymore. And I'm having to learn all that symbolic junk, which, I might add, is really hard, and I don't see how you can do that and have trouble reading regular English. So just suck it up, bucko, and be nice."

Xander eyed Willow, well aware of what she was doing. She always got defensive when she knew she was wrong. Well, she was wrong and he didn't have to put up with this. "Willow, you're my bestest bud, but you're wrong here. You worked mojo on me when I told you not. You messed the spell up then didn't tell Giles at all, did you? And then, when he needed your notes, he got ... what... just the bare spell? Then, I know Spike gave him a copy of your real notes. So why didn't he read them? You do a forget spell on him? Or..." Xander turned to Giles. "Did you just forget all on your own."

Willow got indignant and sputtered. "Did not! I wouldn't, not ... well, I would, but I didn't. I swear. Xander you're being a poopy head about this. It's not that bad, you can just ... well, actually you can't but we could. ... only not easily and we'd have to kill Spike which isn't such a good idea as he's the Master of the Hellmouth. And the Order of Taraka isn't real happy with people who go around offing their High Masters either. So ... um ... Tara?"

Tara patted Willow's shoulder and said, "Willow, you're in the wrong, just admit it. If you apologize enough, he'll forgive you, I'm sure. Just ... it's going to take time."

"Nnooooo! I don't want it to take time. I want my Xander back. This is wrong and bad and not good. And..." She looked Xander over in dismay. "When did you get so big? He's way big. And pretty. And dressed so nice. And sexy. He's sexy. Only, gay here, but ... my Xander isn't sexy. My Xander..."

Xander just gave Giles and Buffy a tired look. "Why don't you take her home? I don't want to do this anymore. Tara, call if you like. Giles?" Giles gave Xander a nod, almost a bow. "You could come watch me train, just check with Master Bruce first. Buffy?" Buffy just shrugged. "Yeah, wouldn't look good if you hung around here too much, but maybe we could meet on neutral ground, like a coffee shop, once in a while." Buffy nodded with a rather sad smile. "Ok. Bye." Xander turned around and left the room. Buffy exchanged looks with Giles and Tara. Willow burst into tears.

Xander shut the door on Willow's hiccuping sobs and tapped on the door he knew Spike was behind.

"You heard?"

"Yeah, pet. I'm real sorry. Come on, I'll take ya home."

"Thanks. I think I need a drink."

"Not on your life. When ya think ya need a drink, that's the worst time ta have one."

" ‘Fraid you'd say that."

"Um ... Pet?"

Xander sighed. "What?"

"Poopy head?"

Xander snorted. "Willow doesn't swear."



Spike got Xander out of his clothing and into a hot tub. He slipped in behind him and just held him as he struggled with whether he was going to cry, rage, or just scream until he was hoarse. Spike finally took the decision out of his hands and gave him a draught the healer had left for him when he was sick. Xander willingly took it. He didn't want to deal just yet.

Xander let Spike dry him off and get him into some sweats and a t-shirt. He followed when Spike pulled him by the hand, guiding him into the bedroom and onto the bed. He groaned as he settled in the covers.

"Well, that went well. NOT! Damn, why didn't I let you gag me?"

"Maybe because you had things to say? Things it was more than time were said. Come here." Spike reached over and pulled Xander into his arms and just held him. "Go to sleep. If they're really your friends, they'll come round."

Xander gave one hitching sob. "But do I really want them to?"

"Just sleep. Things will be better in the morning."

Spike gently held Xander until he fell asleep.


Spike woke Xander the next morning by waving a cup of coffee as near his nose as he could get it, snatching it back before he could knock into it and burn himself. "Wake up, sleepy head."

"Nu-un. Gimme!" Xander emerged from the cocoon of blankets he'd created and groaned. "My head's all stuffy and I feel rotten."

Spike put his hand on Xander's forehead, he'd finally figured out how to tell if he had a fever. "Don't feel warm. What's up?"

Xander gulped boiling coffee. "Think I cried in my sleep. I feel like a fool."

"Why? Because ya feel that all your friends betrayed you? Like ya've been dumped on my doorstep like a puppy? Sorry, pet. Know it's cruel but it's true. If ya want ‘em, my advice is ta give ‘em a bit then start making up gradual like. Master Bruce is expecting ya in ..." Spike glanced at his watch. "Fifteen minutes."

Xander bolted the rest of his coffee and scrambled into his gi. He was right on time only because he ran all the way. Spike looked after him with affection and smiled. "Ulterior Motives, pet."

Spike thought about who he could get to teach Xander to play guitar, he'd promised almost a month ago but hadn't found anyone suitable. They were either human and refused right away or demons that Spike didn't trust. If he could find a demon that he could trust, that would be perfect.

He sighed and shook his head. Then he realized that Master Bruce had said that he had no objections to Spike sitting in on Xander's workout. He decided to follow Xander and check out any new moves he might have learned.

Xander was a bit distracted that morning and earned himself three lashes. He appealed to Spike, in a fit of stupidity, to get him out of it. Spike glanced at Master Bruce who just shrugged. "Up to you, Master Spike. I won't interfere between you and Xander. I feel he's just out of sorts from yesterday, but that doesn't excuse him. Only you can."

Xander sighed, realizing that he had put his foot in it big time. He'd disrespected his Sensei and put Spike in a bad spot. "Never mind. Color me stupid today. How do you want me?"

Spike sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Pet, I don't know but what I should add a few. You can't do that. You mind either me or Master Bruce, or both." He turned to Master Bruce and said. "Add another two to make it five and don't cut him."

Xander grimaced. "Damn, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut."

Spike over saw the punishment to make sure that Bruce was as careful as Xander claimed he was. Master Bruce gave Xander five lashes across the meaty part of the buttocks and over his gi pants. Xander grunted once but otherwise was silent.

"Done. And there's still time for you to meditate. Perhaps upon the wisdom of playing one master against the other?"

Xander sighed. "I'm really sorry and not because you smacked my ass. My old man beat me harder for forgetting to take out the trash. I'm sorry I put you and Spike on the spot like that. And, Spike, I'd like to apologize to you too. Sorry."

Spike patted Xander on the shoulder and then pulled him around until they were forehead to forehead. "Apology accepted, pet. An' when you're done meditatin' come to the filling station. The work's done. I want you to check it out before I sign off on it."

Xander's face lit up and he gave Spike a completely unselfconscious hug. "Great. I'll just use this zafu and it'll be thirty minutes. If I can concentrate."

He settled on the cushion and Spike left him to his meditations.


Xander took a quick shower and toweled his hair roughly. "Timmins! I'm going to the station. Spike's already there, so don't worry. Ok?"

Timmins stuck his head around the bathroom door, saying with considerable amusement. "Yes, remember I'm a vampire. I can hear you fart from a thousand feet."

Xander flushed, grinned and moaned, "Crude much. And eewww, for you. That's just .... ick."

Timmins laughed too. He worried sometimes that Xander was getting too solemn, but all he had to do was tell a crude joke and Xander was giggling and blushing. He decided that Xander was just beginning to really grow up. "That's not the worst part. I can smell almost as well as I can hear . . . Think about it the next time you sneak a bean burrito with extra green sauce and jalapenos. Please!"

Xander's blush went into overdrive and he grabbed up his cargo pants and t-shirt, zipped his boots and scurried out the door, grumbling, "Vamps! I swear, I'm never eating anything gassy again. That ..." Timmins picked up the bathroom, laughing at Xander as his grumbles faded into the distance.

Xander took a tour of his gardens before heading for the station. He smiled as he realized that he wasn't going to have to weed, someone had already done most of it. He assumed it was Narma and made a mental note to thank him. He examined the back part of the floor, decided that there was more than enough room for the small pond and waterfall he wanted and hurried to the stairs.

Spike met him there. "What ‘re ya doin'? Waitin' on ya, ain't I?"

"Sorry. Just took a quick run through my gardens. I haven't had time for a bit and I wanted to make sure everything is doing well. I have to talk to Narma later, tell him he's doing a good job. Besides, what's the hurry? I'm sure it's right. You had it done, didn't you? Bet you were a real pain about it. Right?" Xander turned a twinkling eye on Spike and all Spike could do was fall into the dark chocolate orb like a rock into deep water.

"Yeah, well, come on."

Xander just followed Spike to the station. He really wanted to see what had been done. He'd done the plans and overseen the beginnings of the work. Then he'd had a ‘thing' with one of the workers and Spike had taken over. Xander had been disappointed that he wasn't going to be the crew chief but he couldn't deal with demons like he could with humans. He just wasn't threatening enough, especially when the demon in question had been almost eight feet tall with a build to match. He'd reluctantly turned the job over to Spike.

Now he couldn't wait for Spike to show him the changes that had been made in the old filling station. He just hoped that the hoist was fixed. He hadn't had a chance to drive anywhere for a while but that was no excuse to let his truck go down.

Spike followed Xander smiling at his half run. He finally called out, "Oi, pet. It's not gonna diaper on ya. Slow down before ya slip."

Xander just laughed and slowed. "What's the matter, old man? Can't keep up?"

Spike grabbed Xander and tickled him until he was gasping, laughing and begging him to stop.

"Please, I'll be good. Stop, stop. Please."

"More like it, that is. Now, come on and no runnin' in the halls."

Xander gave Spike a wide-eyed look which Spike returned. "Never tell anyone."

Xander crossed his heart with an index finger. "Never. Pinky swear."

They both laughed then continued to the station.

When Xander stepped through the back door the first thing he saw was the two repair bays. One was now a complete machine shop/hoist bay with everything he'd ever need to work on his truck or any other gasoline engine. The nearer bay had been turned into a wood working shop, complete with table saw, router, band saw and hand tools. Xander smiled to see that Spike had even had the two inlaid boxes brought in from where he'd stored them in one of the lower levels. He was stunned when Spike pointed out the shelves and racks on the wall. They contained every kind of wood you could think of. From A for acanthous to Z for zebra.

"God, Spike, I think I'm gonna cry. This is great. Just ... wonderful doesn't cover it."

Spike shifted self-consciously from one foot to the other. "It's ok pet. Glad ta do it. Like ta see ya smile like that. Come in the front now. Here." Spike handed Xander a handkerchief and led the way into the front.

In the front, the changes were even more dramatic. The deep circular front window had been removed and replaced with an extension of the cinder block wall. The front door was also completely gone, now the only way into the station was from the back entry way. The domed skylight was still in place but covered, for now, with a canvas tent like covering on a heavy hook. Its lower edge set into a metal track it could be opened and closed by a small remote. The entire perimeter of the room was lined with tropical plants and small trees. Including a ylang-ylang, a Brugmansia and a very fine Jasmin bush. They made a perfect backdrop for the pots and slabs of orchids.

Xander gazed in wonder at the beauty then turned to see the long glass case that used to be the sales counter. It was now filled with African violets and gloxinia, the neon bulbs replaced with grow lights. He sighed in happiness.

"This is so wonderful. I ... thanks. And I'm gonna cry. Again. Excuse me." Xander went into the repaired gentlemen's room and leaned against the sink. He couldn't believe it. It was everything he'd put on the prints. Everything he'd ever dreamed of. And Spike had just given it to him without a blink.

He sniffled himself back together and went back out to hug Spike and thank him again. Spike just shrugged. "Don't mention it, pet. Like ta see ya happy. That light in your eyes is worth it. Come on now, show me what ya can do in that wood shop. I sent Bud to get your truck."

Xander grinned, he really liked Bud. They'd become fast friends over the days. Xander still wasn't allowed out without him. Spike knew that he was a target for anyone who wanted to get at him. "Ok, thanks. Tell him, one scratch."

Xander grinned at Spike and turned to the small inlayed box. He picked it up and took it to the wooden work table. He set it down and examined it carefully. The inlay was beautiful, geometric and complicated. The woods had been combined with lines of brass and some of the pieces were some kind of shell. He sighed, one day he hoped to be able to do such work.


"It's just that it's so beautiful. Look how tight the joins are. How did he do that? And what's this? ... and that?" Xander pointed to a piece of greenish shell and a bit of pink wood.

Spike looked over xander's sholder at the box. "Well, don't know much but that shell is abalone and ... I've never seen wood that's that particular shade of pink. Dyed box wood?"

Xander squinted at the bit and fingered it. "I think you're right. It's really tight grained, might be Osage orange, that dyes easy. I wonder what it is. There's a key hole here. But there was no key. Maybe I can ..."

Spike just took the box from xander's hands and put it down on the work bench. He fished in his duster pockets until he found an small leather zip folder. He unzipped the well worn case and fingered through the tools for a moment. He finally picked one and bent to the lock. It didn't take him more than a few seconds to pick it.

When they opened it, it turned out to be a writing desk. It had several cubbies that still held a few envelopes, some paper and pens and nibs. There was even a cut glass ink bottle with a silver cap. Xander ran his fingers through some chips of something and eyed another small bottle. It almost matched the ink bottle but the cap was a bit different. There were also three seals and an odd spoon in their own fitted pockets.

Xander stroked the felt on the unfolded interior of the thing with gentle fingers. "What is it? It's very nice...but I've never seen anyting like it."

Spike tucked his tools away and grinned at Xander, he was really cute when he looked confused like that. "It's a writing box. Used ta be, people wrote letters, lots of ‘em. I used to write ta my grandmum every week. And several cousins, two aunts and several people I went to uni with. Must have written at least ten, twelve letter a week easy. Had a little desk in my bedchamber and a writing box. Took it with me when I traveled, not that I did much of that until after I was turned. But I'd take it into the park an' write there."

Xander touched the felt again, wondering at Spike's revelation. "Never thought about you being a letter writer person." He stired the red chips with a finger. "What's this stuff?"

"Sealing wax. Envelopes didn't used to be gummed, had ta seal ‘em with hot wax. And this ..." Spike picked up on of the seals. "This is a seal, you pressed it into the wax before it cooled. Just for pretty mostly, but also to help identify the sender."

Xander picked out one of the pen shafts. "At least I know a pen when I see it. Nice. And these nibs are really special. You can't get ‘em like this very easily anymore."

"You gonna chop it up for knick-knacks?" Spike fingered the desk gently.

"Hell no! It's much too nice. I'm not about to ruin it. I'll clean it, replace the felt with something a little nicer. Maybe a piece of lamb skin, or something like it. A little buffing, a little wood oil and some polish and it'll be good as new. We'll probably fight over who gets to use it."

Spike nodded. "That' nice, pet. Hate ta see something like this ruined. Won't fight over it. It's yours."

Xander gave Spike a skeptical look but refrained from comment. Instead he went to look at the other box. It wasn't in as good a shape being scratched along one side.

"Spike, bring your pick kit again. This thing is locked too. What is it with locking everything?"

Spike stuck a cigaret in his mouth but didn't light it. "Well, mostly it kept them from flying open. See ... ok. ...um....nice." Spike mumbled to himself as he picked the lock on the bigger box. He turned it over on one flat side and started to open it. Xander stopped him with a soft exclamation.

"Wait! What if it's upside down and you wreck something?"

Spike pointed to the lock. "Not upside down. See? It's a tulip ... sort of. And lots of boxes used to have them over the lock. You check to see if the stem is down, that's how you know you've got it right side to. Ok?"

Xander smiled at Spike then ducked his head. "Sorry. Should have known better. And I'll remember that. So ... open it."

Spike opened the cover and laughed softly. "It's a clavichord. And a very nice one at that."

Xander peered over Spike's shoulder. "A keyboard? Ok, you play it?"

Spike touched the keys gently. "Yeah, if it was in tune, I could. Had lessons and everything."

Xander gently tapped a key. The sound was soft and more like a hammered dulcimer than anything else. He glanced at Spike then back at the instrument. He ran a hand over the case, seemingly searching for something. He paused a moment over the harp then shrugged.

"Got a spell on it. Bet it's in tune, permanently. Try it?"

Spike pulled the legs from their pocket and unfolded them. He set the case on the legs and made sure that they were firm. Xander brought him a chair and he settled down to play.

He played several tunes that Xander assumed were clasical he even thought it might be Bach. When he finished he turned around and smiled. "I want it. I'll buy it from you."

Xander blinked at Spike for a second. "Well, you bought it in the first place, so technically it's yours to start with." He held up a hand to forstall Spike's snarl. "But, I get the writing box and you get that. Works out good for me. And .. I don't want to sound like a whiner or anything ... but when do my guitar lessons start? I bet we could play together... once I get good."

Spike grimaced at the poor grammar but had given up on correcting Xander. Xander had simply said, ‘When you talk good, I'll talk better.'

"I'm tryin', pet, I just can't find anyone I trust. The humans find out I'm the Master of the Hellmouth and practically run. An' I don't like the look of most of th' demons. I'm sorry."

Xander shrugged. "That's ok. As long as you haven't forgotten."

"Never. But I get the feeling that lots a people conveniently forget their promises to ya. Don't they, pet?"

Xander fiddled with a tool. "Yeah. Gets kinda old too."

Spike rubbed xander's back. "I'll never break a promise. I swear."

Xander winced slightly. Promises like that had a habit of being broken.

"Ok, so you want it? You got it. I'll polish it up nice and pretty, fix the legs. One of them is split a bit and they all need new ends. And I'll fix up the writing desk. Want to stay and watch?"

Spike nodded, "Yeah pet, I'll stay. Interested."

So Spike sat on a stool and watched as xander's big hands moved over the delicate inlay with consummate skill, buffing and polishing, repairing the tiny nicks and blemishes.

When he started to repair the legs, Spike literally got down on his knees and watched him cut a peg.

"Pet, that saw's backward or I'm ... well, I'm not. But don't saws cut on the push?"

Xander raised and eyebrow at the question but answered with a smile. "American saws do. But this one is a special fine cut hand saw from Japan. It cuts on the pull because it's easier to cut small pieces and fine cuts. I really like this one because I don't have to finish the ends. I'm going to glue this and I need it a little rough to catch the glue."

Spike examined the leg, turning it in long elegant, nicotine stained fingers. "It's split along the grain, how ya gonna fix that?"

"I'm going to drill several small holes along the side opposite of the split and put in pegs. They'll show but I'll document it and it'll be ok."

Spike looked a little blank. "Huh?"

Xander gave him a slightly exasperated look. "It's an antique. There's only so much you can do without destroying it's worth. If it splits and you glue it wrong it's almost as bad as chopping it up. See, if I try to hide the damage it looks like I'm trying to cheat the next buyer. But if I just peg it, stain them over and then document it, it keep its value. Ok?"

Spike nodded. "I see. Well, thanks for that, pet. But I'll never sell it."

"I'd like to hear you play it some more."

Spike shrugged a little self consciously. "Ok. Finish up with that. I'll tell a minion to bring it up when you're done. An' heaven or hell help ‘im if ‘e scratches it."

Xander just grinned. "Ok. And then I'm gonna work on my truck. Bud gonna stay here? I think I'll go out to that quick stop on 5th. I want some of that special peach slurpy. And don't make that face. I don't get a lot of sugar anymore, but this is special. Real peach, not some chemical syrup."

Spike just laughed and went out the door, calling over his shoulder, "All ri' go get your drink. But if you sneak off without Bud I'm gonna be pissed."


Xander didn't sneak out without Bud, he liked the demon too much to put him in that sort of spot. Instead, he conned the poor guy into helping him change oil, grease everything imaginable and check the hydraulic fluid, radiator and transmission. Then they headed for the quick stop.

"You up for this?"

Bud just grinned. "Yeah, I like peach. But it better be real peach. That chemical stuff is just nasty."

Xander nodded. "You're right. Ever since Spike started feeding me his blood, I can really smell and taste stuff. And ... while some chemical stuff isn't that bad, artificial flavoring just ... well, the ick factor is pretty high."

Bud laughed. "Ick factor. I like that. Where did you pick that up?"

"Buffy. She's full of LA stuff like that."

"You really know the Slayer? Man, that's ... like..suicidal."

Xander deftly guided the truck through a crowded intersection. "You don't know the half of it. I'm one of the Scoobie gang."

Bud turned in his seat. "You? Wow. I thought ... well ... shit. Can I take my foot out of my mouth now?"

"Sure. But I really am. I helped with the Judge and with the Mayor. Really would like an apocalypse free life. You know, it gets really tiresome after a while. All that saving the world shit. And no recognition. I'm the comic relief."

Bud gave a snort. "My ass."

"No really."

"No, I've seen you fight. I saw you before you started getting blood. You're good. Not slayer good, no one is. But ... I wouldn't want to get into a real knock down drag out with you. Especially with a sword in your fist."

Xander parked his truck in the quick stop parking lot and turned to grin at Bud. "From a body guard that's high praise. Thanks."

"Welcome. Rock, Paper, Scissors?" Xander nodded. "Ok, One! Two! Three!" Xander held out paper while Bud held out rock. "Damn!" Bud sighed. He had to pay.

They went in and got their treats without incident. Xander settled on the tailgate and sucked on his straw. Bud did the same and they drank their drinks while they watched the traffic go by.


Bud took both their cups and the rest of the trash and tossed it. He came back and they sat for a while longer.

"Wanna play a game?" Bud turned his head to look a Xander.

"Sure. Why not? ... er... it's not something that'll piss Spike off, is it?"

"No. ... I'll start. I would like to ... learn to play an instrument. Any one. I just want to make music of some kind or other. You?"

Xander thought for a moment. "I got possessed ... sorta .. By a snake eater." Bud reared up and stared at Xander. "Oh! Not the demon sort. Human soldier sort. Real hard core black ops sort. Kinda still have a lot of his memories an' stuff. I'd really like to find out how much I really remember and ... stuff. Silly, right?"

Bud thought for a second. "Not really. How good are you with a rifle?"

"Not a clue." Xander shrugged. "But I'm pretty sure I can crack any electronic lock made, with the right tools. And I can field strip a Glock in ten seconds. I think. So, got any good ideas."

"Yeah. I know a guy, has a firing range. We can sneak you in the back door and give it a try. Whaddya say?"

I say it sounds like fun. I just hope the range is outdoors. I'm tired of being inside all the time."

Bud grinned. "Outdoors it is. Let's go."

Xander drove at Bud's direction and they were soon at the firing range. It was a small range with only two long distance lanes and a short range that would only accommodate four, but it was clean and neat, in good repair and the club house was a converted residence. Xander liked the place immediatly.

"Ok, now what?"

Bud looked around. "Well, we find the owner. Then we ask if we can shoot. I'll have to see what's here for rent too."

Xander sighed and nodded. "Swell." His tone of voice said that it was anything but. "Rent? What can he possibly have to rent?"

Bud grinned. "You'd be surprised. Just let me find the owner and see."

Xander settled on the nearby couch to wait for Bud. He didn't have long to wait, Bud came back with a short, stocky man with a scar across his face. He greeted them with a gravely voice and an Israeli accent.

"Name's Yakov. So, you want to shoot? I've got the goods. Come in the back and see what you want."

Xander stood up and offered his hand. The hand that shook his was hard and calloused, the grip firm with out being challenging.

"Thanks. Um ..."

Xander glanced at Bud who nodded and said, "He knows enough not to be shocked by much."

"Ok. See, the thing is. I sorta got possessed by a snake eater and I know stuff I don't know I know. I want to find out what I do."

Yakov blinked at Xander for a moment while he unraveled that. "So, ok. I'll just hand you stuff then. See what you know."

Xander grinned. "Great. I'd like to start with an AK-47. I won't insult your intelligence by asking if you've got one. Then an AR-15. Glock semi-auto. I know I know how to use a rocket launcher. But grenade launcher. Not so much."

"You know any hand to hand?"

Xander explained about his training. Yakov just snorted. "If you don't know Krav Magaw, you don't know shit. I'll teach you if you like. Master Spike needs a human body guard. And I think you're just ruthless enough to do the job."

Bud made a rude noise and got a stern look for his troubles. Xander poked him in the ribs and announced that he was going to learn. Bud gave up.

"So ok. I take you now to see the arms, then we see what you got there. Then we see what you really know about fighting."

Xander just shrugged and followed the man.

What came next made both Yakov and Bud stare. Xander went through the weapons and exhibited his skills with every long arm and hand gun in the inventory. He was sharp shooter level with every long gun Yakov had and very near it with most of the handguns under .50mm.

"I'm impressed. Very good. You're not really up to snuff with the big hand guns but I don't think you need to be. You need to be good with a knife or something for close work."

"How ‘bout a gladius?"

"How you gonna hide somethin' like that, boy?"

Xander shrugged. "Ok. So let's say you show me."

Bud winced, Yakov wasn't going to cut Xander any slack because of who or what he was. Xander was in for a nasty surprise. Or so Bud thought.

Yakov settled most of xander's questions easily. They fought. Xander held his own for a long fight but the minute Yakov got behind him, he was sunk. Yakov dumped him on his ass.

"Well, shit."

"No, good. You do very good. I like you. I'll teach you. You got good instincts and I think ... your teacher has been taking it easy on you. You learn a lot of formal stuff, not enough dirty fighting. So ... I talk to him. Ok?"

Xander just nodded. "Yeah, you better talk to Spike first though."


Spike answered the phone again. He'd just hung up from talking to Xander's new guitar teacher. He couldn't help smirking a bit, he'd convinced the only human in Sunnydale not afraid of vampires or demons to teach the boy. Now he'd had a call from Yakov Ptomkin asking to be allowed to teach Xander. The man said that Xander had ‘real promise.'

He grinned. Xander was finally beginning to live up to his potential.

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