Ulterior Motives


Part Twenty-One

Xander looked at the case of the Clavichord. Spike was going to love it. He'd seen it, of course, he'd actually bought it for Xander along with the writing box in which Xander now kept parchment, pens, pencils and other equipment he needed for translations. He didn't know exactly why but he liked it. Now Xander was polishing the newly repaired instrument, he didn't know how to tune it but he knew someone who did. The demon had promised to come this afternoon and see to the job. Xander wanted to get it set up in the music room before his next lesson. He was hoping that Spike would consent to play a duet with him. Giles would go spastic.

He decided another coat of beeswax polish was redundant and put his things away. He smiled happily. The station was a haven to him. He had plenty of room to work on his woodwork. He also had a space where he could just sit in the sun and enjoy his orchids and violets. He sighed. Spike was very kind to him. It made him wonder exactly what Spike wanted, besides his body that was. He kept claiming ulterior motives. It worried him a bit but he decided not to worry over much. He couldn't do much about it so worrying seemed stupid.

Xander called in the two demons who were what Spike called dumb muscle. He instructed them in how to carry the clavichord and told them there'd better not be so much as a ding on it. They nodded respectfully and carefully carried the instrument out the door. Xander thought about following them then decided to go walk in his garden for a while. He hadn't had time for several days and missed it.

As he headed for the gardens, he was careful to stay on the approved route. He didn't want to get into trouble for entering the areas that Spike had declared off bounds. It wasn't worth the trouble and he didn't need another punishment for disobeying. Besides, he didn't want Spike mad at him for such a stupid reason.

He passed slowly through the gateway herb garden. The copy of his grandmothers that was the first bit of garden he'd had. He strolled on past the potted roses and box woods. He weeded a bit and ran his fingers into the dirt in one of the small plots of the formal English garden. He rambled on into the oriental garden and stopped again to feed the koi. They rose to the surface and gaped at him. He smiled and tossed more food. The fish obediently scrambled for the bits, making the surface roil.

Xander wound up in the small sitting area in his orchardarium. He smiled around and then realized that the orchardarium in the station was a half size copy of this one. This one was growing under artificial lights. The one in the station was situated under a sky light.


Xander nearly jumped out of his skin. "Gah! Geeze, wear a bell, why dontcha? Yes, I'd like tea."

The vampire gazed at him in confusion for a moment then put the tray on the table, excused himself and went in search of a bell.

Xander settled back with his tea. He wondered when he'd managed to learn to like the stuff.

After sitting for about an hour, Xander continued his walk through the gardens. He enjoyed the quiet time but a glance at his watch made him hurry his steps. He still had a translation to complete.


Spike stuck his head into the door of Xander's office and announced that Sylvia wasn't at her desk. Xander looked up from the scroll and shrugged. "I think she went down to the stables to get someone to eat. I told her to take the rest of the day off. I'm working on this translation and I won't need her."

"Ok. I'm going to be in my office with my secretary. If you need any thing just call her. And ... what translation?"

Xander handed a copy of the original scroll he was working on to Spike. "It's a part of one of the Dead Sea scrolls. Lesser interest, but in very good condition. It's got a preservation spell on it so I don't have to worry about handling it. It's also not part of the Bible, it's in ancient cuneiform so it's part of something else. That's what the owner wants to find out. Which means the first thing he needs is a translation."

"Xander? You mean to say that some big wig collector sent you a scroll from the private Dead Sea collection?"

Xander glanced up from the note he was making. "Yeah. So?"

Spike started to say something then muttered, "Never mind. I'll just be over here, in my office."

"Ok. See you in a bit. Soon as I'm done with this part." Xander turned back to his scroll again.

The ancient symbolic language posed no problems for Xander and he was soon done with the translation. His head ached but it always ached after prolonged reading. At least the symbols didn't dance in front of his eyes. He eyed his messy notes and decided to wait until tomorrow to transcribe them into something he was willing to send out. Tucking all his notes into a folder he left it on his desk and went to see if the clavichord was set up properly. He had to sneak by Spike's office to keep him from seeing.

Spike noticed Xander sneaking by his office door but didn't say anything. Xander knew better than to do anything Spike wouldn't approve of.


Xander looked at the Clavichord. It looked beautiful, its inlay case shone in the light like a wooden jewel.

"Is it tuned? I want it tuned. Spike will want to play it and I want it right."

The demon who'd tuned it the last time smiled. Xander's efforts had turned an instrument in good shape into one in perfect shape. "Yes, it's tuned properly. I'm sure Master Spike will be pleased."

"Good, good. I want to surprise him with it. He doesn't even know there's a music room. I hope he likes the music. I ordered some sheet music written especially for the clavichord and guitar. I want to play duets with him. You think ... never mind, I'm babbling. Go, send me a bill."

The demon bowed, smiled at a nervously jittering Xander and left. He found it amusing that such a large, strong human would be so nervous. Then he considered why Xander was nervous and changed his mind.

Xander wondered how he was going to get Spike to come to the room. Then he grinned. The straightforward approach seemed a good idea.

"Spike! I need you. Come here." Spike showed up almost at once.

"What is it, pet? What do you need?"

Xander put his arms around Spike. "You, I need you. Close your eyes."

Spike sputtered a bit but when Xander insisted he closed his eyes and allowed Xander to put his hands over them. Xander's heart beat sped up, making Spike wonder what was going on.

"Easy, pet, whatever it is, I'll kill it for you."

"I'll kill my own prey, thank you. Shut it. It's a surprise."

Spike relaxed then and set himself to enjoy his surprise. No matter what it was.

"You can look now." Xander took his hands away from Spikes eyes.

"Bloody hell, pet. Beautiful. Music?"

"I ordered some, I'm not sure if it's good or not. But I got it. So, do you like it. I thought it would go better in a music room than in the living room. Or your office. I took it and polished it up good. And made sure the legs were right. I made myself a good chair and another for Giles. The music is in one of those upright chests with all the drawers. I didn't make that, I bought it. So do you like it."

Spike put his hand firmly over Xander's mouth. "I love it. It's beautiful, I said so didn't I? Now. Let me try it out. Beautiful room by the way."

Spike settled at the keyboard and ran his fingers over it creating a rippling arpeggio. He played a scale to check the tuning, then started to play. Xander didn't recognize most of the pieces Spike played but they were wonderful to him. He settled into one of the over stuffed chairs he'd supplied the room with, content to just listen.

Spike played for over thirty minutes. Xander listened quietly.

When Spike got through, he turned around and smiled at Xander. "Thank you, pet. It's wonderful. You said something about playing duets? That's nice. Giles will have a cow."

"Good, we need the milk." Xander smirked at Spike who laughed heartily.

Spike closed the instrument carefully and walked toward Xander.

"Is that translation done?"

"Not quite. I've gotten all the translation done, but my notes are half in shorthand and the rest in scribbles. I have to transcribe them into something half way legible. I usually have Sylvia do it but she's out. I can't do it because my writing is ... bad is an understatement."

Spike snorted, he'd seen Xander's writing, at its best it was bad. Not terrible, but just the sort of cursive that the American school system turned out on a general basis. It wasn't nice enough for a magical translation.

"Look, pet. I can teach you to write nicely. It'll take some work but you can do it."

"That'd be nice. I always wanted nice hand writing. Sylvia has really nice writing, that's why I have her do the finial transcripts. I'd rather do them myself but, ... I get the e's and b's and d's all mixed up. Don't know why. But it got me plenty of beatings when Pop got letters from the teacher."

Spike made a face at that. Disgust was the main component but fury and sorrow were there too. "Don't worry. I'll help you. You just need a place where you can concentrate. Don't know how anyone can be expected to study in a kitchen with drunks fighting over head."

Xander just shrugged. "Well, maybe that's it. I'm going out. Bud and I are going to the drive in. He's never been and it's Terminator. You're welcome to come too, if you like."

Spike shrugged. "I'm disappointed, pet, but I got a meeting with the Speaker of some demon clan or other. They need my permission to cross the domain. They'll get it, of course, but it's all politics. You go on. I'll see you when you get back."

Xander sort of leaned over Spike who gave him an inquiring look. Xander tipped his head one way, then the other. Spike finally figured out that Xander was trying to figure out how to kiss him without bumping noses. He obligingly tipped his head to give Xander a better angle. The kiss left them both a bit breathless.

Xander smirked at Spike.


"Made ya breathe. Go me."

Xander made it to the door before Spike could think up a rejoinder. The door clicked shut on his indignant, "Oy!"


Xander met Bud at the truck, which an unknown vampire minion brought to Xander without question.

Bud looked Xander over. "You carrying?"

Xander just shrugged. "Yeah. Short sword, big knife and a dart. We're just going to the movies. But I've got my tachi behind the seat."

Bud grinned. "Well, ok, then. Let's go."

So Xander climbed into the driver's seat and Bud took shotgun. It didn't take long for them to get to the drive-in.

"So, we just drive into the theater and sit in the truck? That's ... different. I've been to theaters before, of course, but never a drive-in. This is going to be fun."

Xander nodded happily. "Its' really nice because you don't disturb other people, so you can say anything you want. And you don't have to pay the outrageous prices at the snack bar. I've got candy, and sodas, and chips. I don't do popcorn, it's not good without the butter, but it's way too messy to hide. So ..." he turned to the ticket booth and told the girl. "Two please." She told him how much and handed over the torn stubs. "Thank you."

Bud had been careful to stay out of the ticket girls sight, so when they got parked, Xander asked him what was up.

"Don't recognize the kind of demon she is. I'm not sure I like this."

"Don't sweat it. All kinds of demons hang around the Hellmouth. You know that. Why would she be working if she's a bad guy?"

Bud didn't look convinced but he shrugged, "I don't know. Just makes me nervous. Kinda keep an eye out."

Xander nodded. "I will. It'll be dark soon. The movie will start then."

Bud gazed around at the drive-in. He'd never seen anything like it, but he was glad to see that there was no way for anyone to get to them without them seeing.

"Bud? Can you get to my sword and put it on the back of the seat without waving it around?"

Bud looked over the back of the seat. "Yeah, let me ... ok, got it. Just set it on the back of the seat?"

"Yeah, and push the head rest down on it. That'll keep it where I can get to it."

Bud got the sword situated on the back of the seat to Xander's satisfaction and then announced. "Pins and needles! That thing has to be ... five feet long. How much is blade?"

"It's a two handed, battle sword. The only Japanese sword bigger is a zanbato. Or horse killing sword. It's huge. This one only has about a 48" blade." Xander settled back in his seat. "Look! The movie is starting."

Bud eased back in his seat to watch the movie. He found himself enthralled by it and a bit startled when it ended.

"Well, what do you think?"

Bud nodded, silhouetted against the light from the snack bar. "I like it. It was great. We could talk and eat and ... everything."

"You just like it that you can fart and no one smells it. Except me. Man, what crawled up your ass and died."

Bud grinned at Xander, his teeth startlingly white in the gloom. "Mom's stew. Sorry."

Xander turned the key, started the engine and turned to smile at Bud. "Open a window. You're getting to be toxic." They both laughed. Bud opened his window.

Xander drove down the aisle and headed for the exit. Bud worried about the late hour. It was just late enough that hungry types were beginning to stir, but the really vicious ones were still just waking up.

Suddenly Bud saw a Mogroth demon in the shadows. "Back up! Back up!"

Xander saw it too but; "I can't! They've got a no entry strip. I'll just wind up with flat tires." Xander jerked his steering wheel to the left to go around the demon then back to the right. He managed to stay on the gravel drive, but just barely. The car behind him slammed on the brakes and shuddered into reverse. The no entry strip, which was a strip of metal spikes set at an angle into the drive, flattened all four tires and the car slewed sideways on its rims. The occupants bailed and ran, the demon looked at them with interest, drooling slightly. Xander gave up, snarled, "Spike is gonna be so pissed," and grabbed his sword.

Bud sighed and followed him out of the truck. Xander unsheathed his sword and settled into a defensive stance. He waited for the demon to get close.

"Stop! I am Xander, thrall of William the Bloody, Master of this Hellmouth. If you do not attack, I will not. Do you understand me?"

The demon grumbled, flailed its tentacles around and stepped back a step. Xander started to relax. The demon produced another pair of them from somewhere in its back. Xander shook his head. "Oh, no! You did not just double up on me. Fucker."

The demon tried to grab Xander and got its tentacle cut off for its trouble. Bud produced a huge knife from somewhere and taunted the demon until it reached toward him with another tentacle. The limbs didn't seem to have any nerves because the creature only blinked when Xander cut off that tentacle too.

"Does it even notice? It's not getting hurt. Damn!" Xander danced out of the reach of the remaining two tentacles. Bud poked the demon in the back and then ran. Xander cut across the bulge in its back where the tentacles were attached. This time it screeched either in pain or fury, or perhaps both.

"Xander! What the hell do you think you're doing? Run!" Buffy jumped into the fray with both feet, literally. Xander shoved his sword back into the scabbard and tossed it into the back of his truck. Bud dove into the door head first and scrambled across the seat into the passenger side.

"You sure? Buffy, you sure?" Xander wasn't about to abandon Buffy no matter what she said. Unless he was absolutely sure she had things under control. It was a compromise between what he wanted and what Spike would allow.

"I'm sure. You get going, or I'll tell. Shoo." Buffy dove into combat with her usual zeal, blood and ... stuff flew in all directions. The demon gave one strange cry and collapsed into a heap. Xander jumped into his truck and restarted the engine. He accelerated away, keeping an eye in the rearview mirror. Buffy jumped up and took off into the nearby bushes at a dead run. Xander fought off the need to follow her. That wasn't his job anymore.

Instead, he drove quickly toward the garage entrance. It wasn't that far away.

"Um ... Xander, I don't want to be a buzz kill, but why didn't you back up when I told you to? Master Spike will want to know. And I'll be telling him everything. I like my tongue in my mouth, thank you."

Xander concentrated on traffic and didn't turn his head when he replied, "That spike strip is set so that you can only drive over it one way ... out. You try to drive in, or back up, and it'll puncture all your tires. And we ... I had to keep it from getting to the people still in the drive-in. You notice that, the second Buffy showed up, I took off. She said to, and I ... I'm not a Scoobie anymore. I've got ... other things to do. Important things, I think. More important than getting my head squashed by the demon du jour. And you don't have to tell Spike, I will. I know you've got to report too, but, could you just write it up?"

Bud thought about it for a moment then decided, "Sure. If master Spike wants more than that he'll call me. But you tell him tonight. Ok?"

Xander nodded without taking his eyes off the road. "Yes, I don't want a spanking or worse for not coming clean. And tonight was so much fun. I'm sick of this damn Hellmouth shit. I can't even go to the drive-in in peace. Fuck!" Xander slammed his hand down on the steering wheel. Bud wisely kept his mouth shut. Xander's little temper tantrum was understandable. Bud was getting sick of the Hellmouth too. He was seriously thinking it was time for him to go back to his people. This much excitement made his teeth hurt.


Xander took a deep breath and knocked on the bedroom door. He knew that it was his room too, but somehow it seemed appropriate.

"Come in." Spike looked up from his easy chair, took off his glasses and put them and his book on the nearby table. "Pet, what is it? You alright? I'll gut whoever put that look on your face."

Spike made it across the room to Xander in one nearly inevitable bound. Xander just put his arms around Spike and sighed. "I really, truly hate this Hellmouth. I can't even go to the movies with a buddy without something trying to eat me."

Spike quickly checked Xander for any injuries, finding none, he summoned Timmins, ordered hot chocolate and pulled Xander toward the bed. Timmins took one look at Xander's face and got out the ‘big guns'

Spike stripped Xander out of his, amazingly, unspotted jeans and t-shirt. "Hop into the bed, pet. We'll get comfy and you can tell me all about it."

Xander did as he was told, then sat right back up. "Shit! My sword! I forgot to clean it. It'll stick in the sheath if I don't do something about it right now. I sheathed it all ... gunky."

"Gunky? Pet?"

"Well, it had demon ... stuff on it. Gunk. Whatever Mogroth demons bleed."

Spike had a fit. "A Mogroth demon. What the bloody hell is a Mogroth demon doing in Sunnyhell. Fuck. Now I'll have to go out and kill it."

"Don't bother. It's dead. I cut off two of its bits and then Buffy showed up. She told me to git so I did. But still ... I'm sick of it. I would just like to have one time I go out that I don't wind up killing some oogity-boogity, or having it try to kill me. Or just eat me. The only demon I want eating me is you."

Spike laughed at that but sobered when he realized that Xander was really upset. "Sorry, pet. Look, you're not getting out of this bed again tonight. Where's Bud by the way?"

"He's writing up a report. I told him it would be ok if he didn't come talk to you tonight. But I've got to clean my sword."

"No, you don't. Pet, why do you think we have minions? I know Master Bruce told you to clean your own, but I'm High Master and I say, ‘not tonight.' Now settle down. I'll tell Timmins to have someone clean it. Hush."

Xander started to protest but Spike put one finger firmly on his lips and said, ‘hush' again. Xander hushed.


Timmins efficiently told a minion to take Xander's sword to Master Bruce, explain to him what had happened and ask him to clean the sword. The minion shrugged, asked what had happened and listened goggle eyed as Timmins told him. How Timmins knew what had happened already no one knew, or had the nerve to ask. The minion went to get the sword and take it to Master Bruce.

Timmins finished making the hot chocolate. He'd made it with shaved Ghirardelli chocolate bar, cream and cinnamon. He'd left a vanilla bean in the cream while it heated, just to a simmer, never a boil. Just before he took the cups into the room, he dropped homemade marshmallows into them.

"Here you are, hot chocolate. Drink up." Timmins handed one cup to Xander and the other to Spike. "I took care of your sword, Master Xander. Don't worry about it. Just rest." Timmins pulled the door firmly shut behind him and stationed a minion on the door with instructions not to let anyone in. Excepting, him, on pain of skinning alive. The minion nodded vigorously. Timmins went back to the kitchen to brew tea and think.

Spike put his chocolate on the bedside table and turned to Xander. "Ok, pet. More info. What exactly happened."

So Xander told Spike the whole story, ending, "and I was having such a good night. Just me and Bud, a good movie and enough junk food to stagger a mule. And that damn Mogroth had to show up. I can't get away from them. Any of them. I'm sick and tired of it. My life is one demon disaster after another."

Spike rubbed Xander's shoulder, the man had somehow wound up curled against his side. "I'm so sorry, pet. I don't understand it either. I know you've really had a bad time with all that mess. I'll put out the word . . . again. As to the Mogroth, they're barely sentient. I doubt it had anything to do with you being a Scoobie, or mine either. Just sleep. It'll get better." He realized that Xander was nearly asleep. "I hope."


Spike settled at the keyboard and played scales with Xander. Giles had advised it to get Xander used to playing with someone. They worked for about an hour then Xander blew on his stinging fingertips and announced that he was beginning to get blisters. Spike shut the instrument while Xander put his guitar up.

"That was good. You're doing really well. Why don't we go out somewhere? Have some fun. You need it after the other night."

Xander grinned. "That'd be great. Where do you want to go?"

"Demon market?"

Xander gave an excited skip. "I love the demon market. There's all sorts of great stuff there."

Spike laughed, he loved to see Xander like this. This Xander was so much happier than the old one. He knew he was right to do what he was doing.

"Well, then, pet. We better get going. It's a bit of a walk."

Xander grinned and headed for their rooms. "I'll need to change my shoes."

Spike laughed again. "Xander, you're not wearing any shoes."

"Yeah, and I don't want to be wandering around in the sewers with bare feet. Not good. Glass, cans ... um ... other stuff. Not what I want coating my feet. Be right back."

Spike waited, counting, "One ... two .... three, and here it comes."

Timmins voice could be heard floating down the hall, but only if you were a vampire. "Master Xander. You should call me. I'll come to you, I can hear you, you know. Which pair of boots did you want? I'll get them for you. Sit!"

Spike snickered and cruised down the hall to see Xander sitting in the reading chair in the corner. "Spike, tell Timmins to quit picking on me. He's being a ..."

"Young Master, that's quite enough. I'm paid to care for you. How can I do my duty if I don't know you need something? Do I have to follow you around?"

"See? He's picking on me. Make him stop."

Spike held up both hands in a universal gesture of ‘who me?' "Not a chance, pet. He's a good man, leave him alone. He'll get all sulky and burn the toast, or summat. Put on your boots and come on."

Xander sulked a bit but took the boots Timmins gave him and laced them up. They headed for the sewer entrance.


"Yeah, pet."

"Why don't you have a ... like a gate or something to the sewers? Instead of just a drop hole. It's not really comfortable to be climbing up and down ladders like this."

"Don't know. Never bothered to mess with it, I guess. You want something different, draw it up and I'll see what I can do."

"Ok. Just seems like The Master of the Hellmouth ought to have something nicer than a hole in the floor. Know what I mean?"

Spike nodded, thinking. The sewer entrance was just a manhole in the floor and not very dignified. He wasn't used to thinking of himself as master of the Hellmouth. He had always been second to Angelus. Now that he was first, he still had moments when he forgot. He made a mental note to have something done about a nice gate.

But, for now, he had his boy to entertain. They were going shopping.


"Spike, look. Isn't it great? I want it." Xander held up an odd looking tool. Spike had no idea what it was for but if Xander wanted it, he'd have it.

"How much?" The demon who was tending the booth looked from Spike to Xander then made a gobbling sound, not unlike a turkey. "Don't think so. Just because the boy wants it, doesn't mean I'll be cheated. I'll give you half that."

More gobbling sounds.

"That real Damascus? Xander! Pay attention."

Xander looked up from his contemplation of another desirable tool. "Sorry. What did you say?"

"Damascus. Is it?"

Xander shook his head. "No, it's acid etched. It's a good tool and I don't have one. But don't pay Damascus prices just because I want it."

Spike snarled at the demon. The demon shook his head, making his neck flaps wobble. Xander stood up and put the other tool on the small table and said, "I want this one too. Don't pay more than three Grams for both of them." Then he walked off. Spike grimaced at the demon who capitulated at once. No sense in trying to bargain with someone who could tell Damascus from acid etched at a glance. And three Grams was generous. Just not overly so.

Spike pulled the dime sized coins out of a pocket and dropped them on the table. The demon wrapped the tools up in paper and tied the package with a bit of string, efficiently twisting the ends into a loop for carrying. Spike handed the package to Xander and led him deeper into the market.

Xander wandered from booth to booth, looking at everything. He examined rare silks, softly tanned leathers, exquisitely made weapons and tools. He smiled at jugglers and other street entertainers. Spike realized that most of his shopping trips had to have been miserable, going with either his parents or the girls couldn't have been pleasant.

"Here, pet. This is good." Spike handed Xander a shish kabob of vegetables and beef. "Don't worry about the booth. They're clean."

Xander just grinned. He was a bit cautious about eating things from the market. He wasn't about to eat dog or something even worse, nor did he want some form of Montezuma's Revenge. So he was a bit particular about where he ate. Spike was even more particular.

"Is there anywhere I can get something sweet? I'd love an orange, or maybe a mango."

Spike grinned. Xander had broken his urge for sticky sweets and unhealthy treats. He ate a lot of steamed vegetables and fruit now.

"I'll find you something nice, pet. Might even find some pineapple. How's that?"

Xander sat down on the edge of a fountain. "Sounds great. I'll just stay right here and watch the packages. Ok?"

Spike nodded. "Sure thing, pet. I'll be back in a tick."

Xander watched the people walking around, laughing, joking, selling things, buying things and just in general being people. He wondered how the Council could possibly rate the small blue demon who made glass with the big red horned one who ate babies. It didn't make sense.

"You come with me."

Xander yanked his attention back to the general vicinity. "What?"

"You. Come with me."

Xander shook his head. "Don't think so. Spike will be back in a minute. You'd better be not here by then."

"You come with me or you'll ..."

Xander sighed, drew his gladius and stepped back to get the pushy demon outside his reach. "Or I'll what? Gut you like a big ol' smelly fish? Do you know who I belong to?"

"You belong to whoever can keep you, boy."

Xander snorted. "And you think you can? Think again, if you can jump start your brain."

The demon tried to grab Xander. He wound up with a nasty cut on his arm. Xander had been trying to cut it off but the demon's skin was tougher than it looked.

The demon snatched his hand back and was just about to grab again when, "Excuse me. Hands off." The words fell into the air like chips of ice. Spike snarled, "Xander, will you quit foolin' around? This pineapple is gettin' stale."

Xander poked the demon in the back and, when it whirled around, he stabbed it in the lower abdomen, right through the heart. It toppled, slowly at first, then it just collapsed. Xander cut a piece off its shirt and cleaned his sword.

"What was that about? You insult it or somethin'?"

"Not that I know of. I was just sitting there like you told me to. It just walked up and started issuing orders." Xander put his sword away. "You going to give that to me, or what?"

Spike handed over the pineapple and motioned a nearby demon over. "What was that about?"

The demon explained that, since Xander wasn't wearing any sort of collar or other identifying mark, the demon thought he'd found himself an unclaimed human. Spike allowed as how that was stupid, as any human just sitting around in a demon market was either a guest of someone powerful or capable of taking care of himself. He also announced rather loudly that Xander was both.

Xander sighed. He had been thinking about this for more than a month. He heard mutters from minions and grumbles from all over. He didn't wear a collar. He wasn't marked in anyway, in fact. Spike knew he didn't like the idea so he wasn't going to force the issue. But it was causing all sorts of problems.

"Spike, while we're here, we ought to get me a collar."

Spike started to say something, looked Xander in the eye and gave one short nod. The raise of Xander's chin told Spike that Xander had gotten his ‘stubborns' up.

"Ok, pet. I was actually thinking more like a torc, come on. We'll go to the jewelers and see what he can come up with."

Xander picked up his pineapple and started to nibble on a piece. He had hung all the packages from his arm by their string handles. "Coming." Xander ambled along after Spike, eating his pineapple and gazing around at this part of the market. He'd never been here before.

The booths were smaller and they all had counters in the front of them. The streets were very broad and had guards waking around in them. Xander smiled at some of the jewelry, now he knew where Spike got some of the more creative things he had him wear. He stopped once to look at some amber but Spike called him to heel, he hurried to catch up.

"Don't get too far away from me. I don't want you to have to kill again. Not that you didn't do a beautiful job of it, but that's my prerogative. We'll get you something nice. Promise."

"That's good. I want something ... extravagant. Something that'll make their eyes pop. If I have to wear it, I want it to make a statement."

"Gotcha, pet."

Xander settled at Spike's feet, kneeling on the cushion provided for him. Spike took the empty bowl from him and handed it off to someone.

The master smith came in himself. He asked Spike a few questions then sent for a tray of Torc's.
Most of them were bronze, a few silver. Spike shook his head. "No. Not good enough."

The smith shrugged. "I don't have anything else. Could you look at them and tell me if you like any of the designs? If you do, I can duplicate it in any metal you like."

Xander looked over the edge of the table and examined the jewelry. He realized that they were made from many slender rods of metal twisted together. Three rods twisted into one, then three of those twisted together, then another three. The finished rod was then bent into a circle with a gap. The ends were capped with different finials. Dragons, horses, eagles, knobs of various sizes and designs, but one stood out. The ends were flattened with a hole in the middle. Xander tugged at Spike's sleeve.


Xander fished his sketch out of his pocket. Spike unfolded the paper and smiled. He handed it to the smith. "Want that as the tag. See?" The sketch was rather simplistic, an X and an S intertwined, they were formed from what was obviously railroad spikes.

Xander examined the torc's. "Master Spike. I like that one. Please?" Xander poured on the ‘eyes', Spike looked at the one Xander wanted and thought Xander was nuts. It was made of steel, square stainless steel rods, the end caps milled into oval shapes. The holes in the end caps were just the right size for a ring.

"If you're sure. I like it. The smith will have to take careful measurements or it won't fit."

"I know. That's ok. And look ... if you make the fastening ring oval, you can bend it down and hand the tag right off it. See?" Xander held up the torc and the ring to demonstrate what he meant.

"I see, pet. But that's a hunk of steel. It's going to be heavy."

"Not really. Stainless is fairly light and he doesn't have to use rods as thick as that. But it's really up to you. You're the boss."

Spike ran his fingers through Xander's hair. "An' don't you forget it. But if that's what you want, that's what you'll have." Spike turned golden eyes on the smith, who shuddered. "Right? An' if he gets so much as a pink spot, I'll play with your guts before your dying eyes. Got me?"

The smith nodded, Xander just muttered, ‘Eeeeuuwww! With the guts again. What is it with you and playing with guts?' Spike smacked him on the back of the head, making the smith snicker.

Spike dickered with the smith for a while until they were both satisfied that they'd gotten the best of the deal. Xander listened idly, wishing for ice cream. Spike got up and called him to come along. Xander got up and followed.

"Pet, that was something special. Very special. But why? I know you don't want that collar."

"I don't. But neither one of us can spend all our time messing around with that kind of shit. Sooner or later one of those idiots has to get lucky. Master Bruce says to pick your fights. This one wasn't worth the air wasted on an argument. I'll save it for something more important."

Spike just shook his head. "Who decided you were the stupid one again?"

Xander shrugged. " ‘M not smart, just ... practical"

Spike shook his head. "Oh, pet."

Part Twenty-Two

Xander spent the next two days working on a translation. Spike couldn’t figure out how the boy ... man, could translate some of the more complex demon languages but had trouble with plain English. He also had trouble with Latin, Germanic languages, and some others. But he didn’t have any problems with Greek, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or any of the Arabic languages. And how the hell had he learned all those languages. He didn’t speak them, but he could read and write them. But every single note he wrote for himself was in shorthand. Spike rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. The boy just didn’t seem to get it.

Spike gave up on the mystery that was Xander’s comprehension of the written word and called Sylvia to his office.

When she entered he got right down to business. “You’re doin’ a lot of hangin’ around in the stables. Not tastin’ the goods, are ya?”

Sylvia gave him an indignant look and shook her head. “No, sir. I wouldn’t presume. It’s just that ... well, most of the lower level minions are stupid. I’ve had my share of master’s blood so I’m smarter than your average Sunnyhell minion. I can’t find anyone much to talk to. So I go down to the stables and watch soaps with a couple of the junkies. Nice girls. They’re recovering and I’m teaching one of them word processing and the other one wants to learn how to cook. If you’d rather I not, I’d like to at least tell them why I can’t come around anymore.”

Spike eyed the female for a moment. “No, that won’t be necessary. If you’re visitin’ that’s ok. And while you’re down there, go over to the dorms and visit around there too. Talk to some of the smarter minions, try to find out who made ‘em. There’s way too many of their sort around for it to be accidental. I’m gettin’ tired ‘a Buffy complaining.”

“As you wish. I don’t think ... it’s just really weird that a simple bite will turn someone. Doesn’t it take an exchange? I remember ... I think ... never mind. I don’t really remember.”

Spike shook his head. “See? Doesn’t make sense. I remember every second of my turning. So does Angel. Somethin’s up. I wanna know what it is.”

Spike turned back to his papers and sylvia went about her business too.


Xander frowned at the paper he was holding. He knew the demon that had sent it so he couldn’t understand why the fool had sent him this. It was, as Willow would have said, ookey. It was in very bad Latin and it was a very bad spell. Very dark stuff. He glanced at it again and sighed. He liked the demon but he wasn’t going to do this.

He contacted the demon by the very simple expedite of calling him on the phone.

“I think you’ve made a mistake. This text is on my banned list. I don’t do dark magic, you know that.”

Xander listened to the screeching sounds that were the demon's language. “I’m so sorry, young master. I sent it as a favor to a friend. One who, I thought, wouldn’t have anything to do with dark magic. Please just send it back to me, I’ll return it to her.”

“Most humans can translate Latin for themselves. At least the most powerful of them. Why in the world would someone send something like this to me? I’m expensive enough that ... look. I need to know the name of the human. Now.”

“That young red headed human girl. Rose ... borg. sometning like that.”


“Yes, that’s it. Why?”

Xander just mumbled some excuse and hung up. This was bad. Very, very bad. Xander wondered if Willow had been stupid enough to do what he thought she’d done. If she had, their friendship was totally over. Xander headed for Spike's office with the scroll in his hand.


“Spike, I need someone who can read common Latin to read this.”

Spike held out his hand. “I can read it, pet. What’s the problem?”

Xander clutched the parchment to his chest. “No, not you! Something weird is going on. Someone else.”

Spike looked at Xander’s face and went gameface. “Wot’s up? Summat ‘as ya cringin’ like a pup.”

“I just ... it smells wrong. Not in a smelly smell, just a bad mojo vibe sort of smell. Don’t be mad.” Xander put the roll down on Spike’s desk and eyed it like it was going to jump up and bite him.

Spike eased between Xander and the thing. “Ok, pet, if ya don’t want me ta read it, I won’t. I’ll get ... Call Timmins and tell him ta come here. Who sent that too ya?”

Xander told him on his way to the door. Spike picked up his phone, when he was done with his call, Xander was back with Timmins.

“Timmins, I need someone to read this. It’s common Latin, but Xander says there’s sommat crazy about it.”

Timmins held out his hand. “I’ll read it, sir. My Latin is really rusty, but if it isn’t one of those nasty hybrid things I can manage”

Spike looked at Xander. “Pet?”

Xander bit his lip until it bled. “No, I don’t ... what if it dusts him or something? Someone else. Someone we don’t care too much about.” Spike paused to blink at that bit of ruthlessness.

“Ok, pet. Timmins? Any ideas?”

Timmins nodded and used the intercom to call someone. Spike ignored him in favor of comforting Xander. Xander couldn’t hear him.

“I found the perfect person. He’ll be here in ten minutes. Thank goodness he was just down the block a bit. At that diner on the corner.”


Giles walked into the office and glanced at Spike. “You needed me, Xander? What is your problem? I’ll do all I can to help.” Xander noticed that Giles looked really tired and more upset than he should.

“This parchment scroll. Willow sent it to me through one of my contacts. She didn’t put her name on it though, she let me assume it was from my contact himself. I don’t like it. It’s the kind of common Latin that any school boy could translate. I glanced at it and it’s even printed in a way that’s easy for me to read. Something doesn’t smell right.”

Giles took the scroll from Spike and unrolled it. He glanced at it from the corner of his eye. That would keep any spell on it from affecting him. Unless it was aimed at him specifically. He closed his eyes and reached out with his, admittedly minimal, magical senses. He shuddered, there was, as Xander had said, something very off about it. “I’ll read it now. If I start acting oddly, or ... um ... attack either of you, you have my permission to take whatever steps necessary to negate the threat.”

Xander just cleared his throat. Spike nodded, one short, sharp jerk of his head.

Giles read. The spell was simple, it was designed to sever any tie between Xander and Spike. It would also kill both of them. Giles rubbed his forehead. Willow was so completely out of hand it was frightening.

“Well, I’m very glad neither of you read it. It would have killed you. Willow is so out of hand I don’t know what to do with her. I’ll call the Council again. Not that it’ll do any good, but I’ll try.”

Spike managed not to go gameface or growl. “I’ll call them. I’m not havin’ Red work mojo on Xander or me. I’ll ...” Spike sputtered a bit then just shut up.

“No, Spike, you call the Council and back up Giles. I’ll go talk to Willow. I need Bud, and ... um ... someone big and resistant to magic. Ok?”

Spike automatically said ‘No.’ Xander frostily informed him that his question was about the backup not the talking to. Spike snarled at Xander who snarled right back. Giles polished his glasses for a minute then bellowed, “BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP!” they turned to glare at him.

“Spike, I think Xander is right. He needs to go speak to Willow. I’ve told her that messing around with Xander now is not only dangerous but foolish. The bond between you is unbreakable by anything but death. To try is to kill one or both of you. Probably both. She just doesn’t want to believe. She thinks you’re holding him in durance vile. Or some such poetic rubbish.” he turned to Xander. “Go. Talk. Good luck.”

Spike snarled one more time then gave up. He knew Giles understood Willow more than anyone. He shrugged. “Alright. Go. I don’t understand that woman, I always really liked her. What’s wrong with her?”

Giles looked weary. “Absolute power, yada, yada, yada. Good lord, I’m sounding more and more like Buffy. Tea, please?”

Spike nodded, rang Timmins and sent for tea and a couple of demons.


It was near dusk when Xander knocked on the door of Willow and Tara’s small apartment. Tara answered the door.

“Hello, Xander. Um ... would you like to come in? And your friends too. of course.”

Xander nodded gently at Tara. She didn’t look too good. Sad, red-eyed and sort of drooping where she stood.

“Thanks, Tara. Anything wrong?”

Tara stepped back to allow Xander, Bud and the big, blue demon into the apartment. Bud kept near Xander but the big blue guy stayed in front of the door.

Tara looked at Bud for a moment then turned her gaze on Xander. “Willow’s been trying to mess with my memories, again. I want to leave but every time I try, something comes up. But it turns out not to be anything later. I’m sick of it. Will you take me with you when you go? I don’t have anywhere else safe to go to.”

Xander just nodded. “Sure, Tara, you’re welcome to come with me. Um ... you do realize that I live in the middle of a vampire court, right?”

Tara just nodded. “I’ll call Willow. I’ll pack while you’re talking to Willow. I don’t want to know what she’s done now. I can’t bear it.”

Xander frowned at Tara’s retreating back. “Bud, you think you ought to go with her? Help her?”

Bud cocked his head at Tara then shook his head. “No, she’s got her head on straight now. She’ll be fine. I’ll go see if she needs help with her stuff when you’re done here.”

When she got to her room Tara called into the back bedroom. “Willow! Xander found you out. He’s here. Come out!” Then entered the bedroom and slammed the door. Xander winced.

Willow rushed out of the back room and went straight to Xander, completely ignoring both Bud and the blue demon, whose name Xander didn’t know.

“Xander! I’m so glad you came back to me. That scroll, I knew it would work. All it took was a bit of Latin, a simple spell and poof! Free Xander. Yay!”

Xander peeled Willow off his chest and literally dropped her on her butt.

“I don’t believe you. Willow, I know Giles told you, but I’m going to repeat it. If you break the bond, you’ll kill either Spike, which I know you don’t care a fuck for, or me. Or both of us. I asked you, I begged you, now I’m telling you. No more mojo. You do it again and I’ll ... I’ll ... call the Order of Taraka. You’re so out of hand you’re in orbit around ... some planet not Earth. Get your head out of your ass. What part of kill me and no mojo don’t you get?”

By now Xander was pacing back and forth in front of the coffee table, Willow still big-eyed and sitting on the floor.

“But Xander, how can you like being a slave to ... to ... him?”

Xander ran a hand through his immaculate haircut. “You should have thought of that before you ... did whatever it was you did.” He tugged on his now shoulder length long pony tail. “And I’m not a slave. I’m a much valued thrall and companion. And ...”

Willow interruptedwith rather more snark that was strictly necessary. “Oh, and he’s so nice. Evil vampire Hellmouth Master wannabe. You’d be so much better off without him.”

Xander turned from his pacing and glowered down at Willow, arms crossed over his chest. “Well, what the hell do you know about it anyway? He gets me stuff. And makes me eat right. He worries about my health and stuff. He got me good clothing, not that salvation army castoff, Hawaiian shirt nightmare crap you got me. Nearly got me killed a couple of times. The football team took an exception to the papaya-surfer thing. He ... he... he sees me. He values me.”

Willow opened her mouth, then closed it. She did this a few more times, looking remarkably like one of Xander’s koi. He thought that, at this moment, the fish was more his friend. “I value you. That’s why I want everything back the way it was. Like it ought to be.”

“It ought to be that I get beaten daily? I have to risk my life just so you can have a jelly in the mix? I have to pick up bottles and cans to pay for donuts that I can’t really afford? You’re crazy. I had a job, I lost it. Several times. Why? Because no one cared enough to find out that I was supposed to be at work instead of running after you all like some kind of pet. And when it really counts? Xander gets to stay home because it’s too dangerous. Fuck that! Spike is making sure that I’m ready to defend myself, and him. I can take care of things for myself now. Why should I give up someone who cares for me, for a bunch of ungrateful ... people. People who don’t want me, they just want a warm body gofer. Forget it.” Xander pointed his finger at Willow. “No more mojo! None. Got me?”

Willow blinked once then nodded before bursting into tears. “I’m sorry. Really I am. All I want is things to be like they used to be. When we were all friends and ... and ... I’m sorry.”

“Don’t cry. Don’t say you’re sorry. You don’t really mean it. All you want is something selfish. You want your life to be like you think it ought to be. Never mind what's better for anyone else. I’m going to go to a medicine man and have a curse put on myself. One that’ll turn magic back on the user.” Xander turned to Bud. “Go see if Tara’s ready yet. If she is, bring her stuff. We’re going. Now.”

Bud just nodded. “Sure thing, boss. Um ... you got a blade?”

Xander nodded. “Of course I do. Why?”

“Draw it and hold its edge to her. It’ll cut the mojo before she can cast it. Cold steel and hot magic don’t mix. It won’t work against a planned spell, but it’ll keep her from cursing you with wild magic.”

Xander pulled a knife from a concealed sheath in the thigh of his cargos. He held it edge toward Willow, who just cried harder.


Bud tapped at the door Tara had gone through. “You ready, miss?”

Tara opened the door, dried her eyes and murmured,“I’m ready. I heard what Xander had to say. I’m so sorry I didn’t notice what was going on either. I didn’t think. I was so wrapped up in Willow and ... I’m going to have to do such a cleansingspell. Who knows what nasty things she’s dumped on me. Sorry, I’m babbling a bit. That trunk, that box. And I’ll get the two suitcases. Let’s go.”

Bud picked up the trunk and box without comment, looked around the room for anything Tara might have forgotten. There was a small collection of crystals on a small table. “You missed the crystals. Shall I get them?”

“No. I didn’t miss them. They were all given to me by Willow. I’m leaving anything she gave me. I’m afraid something might be an anchor for ... something. And I’m going to go over everything I own for negative influences and ... spells. So. We leaving or what?”

Bud grimaced at the underlying sharpness in Tara’s words. “Sure thing, miss. Let’s get out of here. I think Master Xander has had all he can take. I know I have. The vibes in here are ... unpleasant.”

Just then Xander called them from the living room. Bud let Tara go first then followed her out. He knew Tara was crying, he could smell the tears, but he wasn’t sure what to do for her. Or if she even would let him do anything.

Xander sighed when Tara came into the room. “Come on, hun. We need to get out of here before Miss-use-of-magic here decides to do something else stupid. You got all your stuff?”

Tara sniffled and nodded. Xander took the suitcases from her and handed them to the blue demon. Bud started to object then decide he’d better not. Xander was actually more equipped to protect them than the blue demon was.

They traipsed down the hall and out of the building. Xander hadn’t brought his truck because of the big demon. Instead they were using one of Spike's limos. Xander opened the trunk and dumped the two suitcases into it. He pushed them to one side and took the trunk from Bud then the box. All Tara’s worldly possessions just filled the trunk of the limo.


Willow sniffled and sobbed. Xander’s angry tirade had really hurt her. But she finally admitted that she’d brought it all on herself. She wondered if Xander would ever forgive her. She also knew that she was going to have to wait until he contacted her if there was to be any hope. She wondered if Tara would ever come back.

Finally she got herself together enough to go into Tara’s room. She gasped when she saw that Tara had left behind anything that she had given to her. This was not good at all. Some of the crystals had protective spells on them, others, Willow had to admit, had mild controlling spells. They weren’t anything bad, just spells to make Tara happy. To keep things like they should be.

Willow shook her head suddenly, there she went again. The spells didn’t take into account what Tara wanted only what she, Willow, wanted. She started picking up all the crystals. They’d have to be cleansed and purified before she could ... do what with them? She shook her head again and decided to call Giles.


Giles greeted Tara at the door of The Master’s Quarters. Tara just sniffled and walked into his fatherly embrace.

“Tara, my dear, I’m so sorry it has come to this. Shall I make the arrangements we discussed a few weeks ago?”

Tara nodded. “Yes, please. Do you think it would be ok if I stayed here until then?”

Spike grinned from behind Giles. Xander nodded to him and motioned for minions to get Tara’s things from the car. They scurried to obey. Spike ambled around Giles and put one arm around Xander. “What happened, Pet? You look powerful put out.”

Xander gave Spike a quick run down of what had happened. Leaving out nothing. Spike replied with, “Well good for you pet. No reason you shouldn’t give her a piece of your mind. What about Glinda?”

“She’s going to need a place to stay until Giles can make whatever arrangements they agreed to. I’d like to make it here. She’s had enough to put up with from Willow without having to find temporary housing too. Ok?”

“Sure. I’ll tell Timmins to fix her up a place.”

But Timmins was way ahead of them as usual.

“Young Miss, you just come along with me. I’ll fix you a nice cup of tea and you can tell me where you want all your things. If there’s anything you want for your quarters please feel free to ask me.” Tara stuttered a bit and Timmins gave her a kindly smile. “For all that I’m a vampire, and proud to be so, please remember that I was a servant for all my living life. And my unlife. So, don’t worry that you’ll be a bother. Now, come along.”

Tara followed the vampire valet toward the back of the residence, followed by Giles. Spike looked after them with a slight frown.

“What? Should I have waited to invite her? I’m sorry if I did wrong.”

Spike turned his head to smile at Xander. “No, pet. It’s fine, how could I refuse to have her after your generous heart reached out? No, that’s not the problem. Angel is coming. And your collar is here.”

Xander made a face. “Angel, I’m not so happy about. What does he want and how bad can I be to him? But my collar? Gimmie.” Xander made grabby hands at Spike.

Spike brought the box to Xander. He settled down in a chair and put the box on the coffee table. Xander slowly removed his shirt and knelt before Spike. He looked up at Spike and the vampire had to gasp at the look of open affection from Xander.

“Don’t look at me like that, pet. It’s all I can do to keep from throwing ya down on the floor and havin’ my wicked way with ya as it is.”

Xander smiled in open joy. “Don’t know as how I’d mind that so much. Now. I like kissing you. Can you put it on for me? Or ... just put it on, please.”

Spike took the collar out of the box and carefully worked it around Xander’sthroat. The gap between the pierced ends was a bit too small to slip around his neck easily. Spike worked carefully so that he wouldn’t bruise Xander. Xander knelt patiently, waiting. Spike finished getting the torc around Xander’s neck and stopped to look at it. It looked so fine there.

“Beautiful, pet. And it’s got a couple of spells on it. One is a protection spell, the other is a rebound spell. If anyone tries to put a spell on you, at least a bad one, it’ll go back to them. Almost done. All I have to do is put the ring through the ends and put the tag on it. I’ll bend it into shape and that’s it.”

Xander reached up to touch the cold metal. It felt funny. He could feel the weight but he didn’t feel any pressure. It seemed to be comfortable.

Spike slid the tag onto the ring and worked the ring through the holes. He carefully closed the ring then bent the outside down so that it didn’t stick out enough to catch on anything. This put the tag hanging right at the hollow of Xander’s warm muscular throat. Spike admired it for a moment then had a lap full of laughing Xander.

“Come on. I want to see it. Where’s a mirror?”

Xander jumped off Spike’s lap and dragged him into their quarters. He went directly to the bathroom and the huge mirror behind the sink there. He touched the dangling intertwined X and S. Then he smiled.

"Beautiful. Spike, do you like it?"

Spike wrapped his arms around Xander’s waist. "It’s on you, pet. How could I not?"

Xander threw his arms around Spike and hugged him hard. Spike breathed in the smell of his soon to be lover. He smelled wonderful.

"Thought you’d be upset. Glad you’re not."

"I had a talk with Willow and told myself some home truths as well. You’ve been so kind to me. Patient, waiting. You’ve given me something no one else bothered with. You’ve given me a self image, a real one. Not the donut boy. The Zeppo. You made me see that I can do stuff. I’m good at martial arts and swordsmanship. I’m learning languages faster than ... I’m not sure what. But I can learn. I need to do it differently but I can learn. I’m not stupid. And all the tools. And you’ve never asked for anything much. Just that ... I keep myself safe. No one ever even wanted that before. So ... yeah, not really thrilled in one way. But ... it’s beautiful. And it means that you won’t ... give me away or send me off. Or ... I’m getting stupid. Kiss me."

So Spike kissed Xander until he didn’t have the breath to say anything. Stupid or otherwise.

"Tonight, after court, I want it all. Gimme?"

Xander sighed. "Yeah, give you. I’m not scared anymore."


Xander looked up and immediately turned bright red. Tara was standing in the doorway looking at him with a very odd look on her face.

"Um ... like it? ... Of course you don’t, gay, I forgot. But ... um ..."

Tara walked over and put one finger on his lips. "I like it. I’m gay, not blind. You’re beautiful. Going to court? Can I come? I’d like to, please."

Xander checked himself in the mirror. "Sure, you can come, if you want. I’ll check with Spike in a minute. He’s got last approval. Um ... can you ... I can’t reach that last chain." Tara reached out to touch a dangling chain. "Yeah, it fastens to my collar. Thanks. I don’t know where Timmins is. He usually helps me on with my gear."

Just then Timmins hurried in. "I’m sorry I’m late, young master. I had to see to the comfort of Master Spike’s Sire. Very obliging, he is. Very charming."

Xander snorted. "Angel? Charming? Not that I remember. Broody boy was always a real pain in my ass."

Timmins shrugged. "I remember rumors of Angelus. Then he got a soul and disappeared. He’s come to see his Childe. Don’t be disrespectful. Master Spike would not be pleased."

Tara squeaked in fear at the thought of Spike’s displeasure but Xander just snorted. "Ok, ok. I’ll be good. But Brood boy better not get smart with Spike or I’ll ... well, I’m not sure exactly what but he won’t like it."

Timmins decided to have a quick talk with Spike before court convened. When he did, Spike just laughed. He knew that Xander and Angel had a history, in fact, he knew that Xander was the only one to make Angelus back down in over a hundred and fifty years. He felt a glow of pride at that.


Angel walked forward, into Spike’s court. He’d expected a disorganized, shoddy mess. Instead, Spike’s court was organized, neat, clean and well run. The vampire that had waited on him had announced that he was Timmins and, should Angel want anything, he would wait on him. Angel decided he liked Timmins.

Now he was in the actual court. He was pleasantly surprised at that too. There were no disturbances in the fringes, no pets being abused. Actually, no pets at all. No fucking in the shadows either. It wasn’t like any court he’d ever been in. He was soothed by the order and quiet here. He approached the throne and had to snicker a bit. He knew Spike’s opinion of thrones and had to bite his lip to get the smile off his face. Then he frowned, he’d been told that Spike had a thrall but he didn’t see the poor human anywhere. This was something he’d have to speak to Spike about.

Spike lounged on his throne and watched as Angel examined his court. He was surprised to see approval in his sire’s eyes. Things were starting out well. "Hello, Angel. Welcome to my court."

Angel walked to the foot of the dais and nodded his head. "Hello, Spike. Thank you for your welcome."

Spike raised his scared eyebrow. This was interesting. What did the poofy wanker want? Spike with his usual disrespect for convention just announced, "Ok, formalities over. What do you want?"

Angel winced, his childe had no patience at all. "Is that any way to talk to your sire?"

"No. But then, I’m Master of the Hellmouth. So, again, what do you want?"

"To talk to you. To see if you’re doing well. I’d also like to see your pet, if that’s permissible."

Spike ran his tongue over his teeth, eyed Angel then shrugged. "He’ll be along presently. Always puts on a little show. After you tell me what you want, we’ll see him. Not a pet, though."

Angel realized that one of the reasons he and Spike had never really gotten along was his, Angel’s, inability to give in. Now that he wanted something from Spike he was going to have to. "Very well, I want to give you something."

Spike eyed Angel with obvious suspicion, Angel’s presents usually turned out to be nasty surprises.

"You can keep it. I’m not too keen on your pressies. Usually nasty. Thank you so much."

Angel sighed, he’d been afraid of this. "This one isn’t nasty. It’s just that my calling is in LA. I can’t afford to be distracted by another responsibility. I want you to take it over."

"See, some present. More responsibility isn’t a good present. Don’t know where your head is."

"Not into being Master of California, that’s for sure."

Spike goggled at Angel for a moment. "Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Please tell me you’re not." But Angel was shaking his head slowly from side to side. "Fuck! Fuckityfuckfuckfuck!"

"Of course, I could let the domain fall into other hands, but I don’t think the Order of Taraka would like that much. In fact, here’s a representative of the order to speak on my behalf."

Spike gave Angel a very sour look. "Give me a mo’. I’m gonna send for my Thrall. I’m sure you’ll be interested in him."

The order member just nodded, Angel looked surprised. He was sure the Order wasn’t interested in a pet. Seemed he was wrong.

Spike eyed the demon for a moment. "Seems ya forgot your manners. Who the hell are you?"

"Ah! I do apologize. My name is D’frak. How is your thrall?"

Angel’s brain finally caught up. "Thrall? You have a thrall? Have you lost your mind?"

"No, Three words, Willow...did...it. Ya wanna see him?"

Tara, hidden behind Bud, let out a tiny squeak. D’frak glanced at her, dismissed her as of no importance and turned back to business.

Angel sighed. "Yes, please."

D’frak nodded, eyes bright with interest.

Spike signaled and everyone in the court got quiet. This was the best part of court for many of them. The revelation of the new outfit Spike had procured for Xander.

The hooded figure approached from the side of the dais. They’d had to quit having Xander enter from the back of the room. Too many individuals, demon, vampire and human, had tried to touch Xander. Spike was tired of killing them. It depressed Xander too much too.

"I present my Thrall, Alexander Harris." Spike gestured to Xander. Xander stepped forward on silent, bare feet. His hooded cloak brushed the floor around his feet. Angel waited for Xander to reveal himself. He was sure he was going to be faced with a cringing broken boy.

Xander pinned Angel with a fierce, feral look as he dropped his cloak. He was wearing a mass of chains. Angel blinked, Xander gave him a look he remembered well. That ‘I dare you to open your mouth’ look that had always made him want to say something rude. He’d always managed to control himself, well almost always.

The torc around Xander’s muscled neck was as thick as Angel's finger, gold and obviously demon work. A chain dropped from the torc to a heavy belt of flattened links around his waist. Another chain dropped from the back. Chains encircled his torso from every link of the drop chain, making it a glittering, shifting sheath. From the belt a short chain followed his treasure trail down to his sex. Angel realized that the athletic cup like groin guard was locked on and blinked. Spike had always been bad at sharing. More chains dropped from the sides of the belt from Xander’s waist to his ankles and from some hidden attachment near his groin down the inside of his legs. The same arrangement of chains looped around his legs from the top of his thighs to his ankles. His legs were chained together at the knees and the ankles. The heavy cuffs around his upper arms were engraved with slashing lines, making them glitter. The cuffs around his wrists and ankles were also cut. Angel realized that Xander was smirking at what he knew had to be a stunned expression. Xander winked then turned around. His buttocks were bare but a chain from the belt slid between them. Angel’s eyes widened, Xander was wearing a butt plug. Angel couldn’t see how big it was the flared base prevented that but the base of the plug was decorated with a raised impression of a lion with a ring in its mouth. The chain went through the ring and on between Xander’s legs. Xander straightened up and turned back around. He raised his chained hands over his head, shimmied, making all the chains jingle and flash, then he bowed and went to sit at Spike’s feet. Angel wondered how the hell Spike had managed to tame Alexander Harris.

D’frak didn’t worry about that. All he was supposed to do was see Xander. Make sure that he wasn’t being abused too much and placate Spike. The Order had found out some things that made the Fathers very nervous.

Spike was an inherently powerful Master, having a thrall made him even more so. Access to blood, freely given added to that power. Being the High Master who was Master of the Hellmouth increased it even more. He was becoming more and more powerful all the time. The Order had to assess his threat quickly. The condition of his thrall was a good indicator of his temperament. Xander’s condition and obvious pride in his position proved that Spike took care of his possessions. Things were looking good.

Spike patted Xander’s shoulder and bent down to whisper in his ear. "Great show, pet. You look all yummy and hot. I’ll give ya a good seein’ too later, yeah?"

Xander grinned up at him and settled comfortably on his kneeling pad. He didn’t kneel much anymore, more like lounged elegantly. He talked openly to Spike now and no one dared make any objection, unless they liked fried tongue, theirs mostly.

"Thanks. Who’s the new guy? And, can I annoy Angel?"

"New guy is from the Order of Taraka. And no you cannot annoy Angel in front of him. After D’frak is gone, all bets are off. Hush now."

Spike straightened up and glanced at D’frak who just nodded slightly to Angel and stepped back a step.

Spike turned his bright blue gaze to Angel and raised his eyebrow slightly. "Well, talk. Whatever you want, I’ll at least listen. But if this turns out to be something gross, I’ll be very disappointed." Spike’s tone of voice made Angel wince.

Much to Spike’s surprise Angel knelt on the first step of the dais and bowed his head. "I abdicate my position as Master of California to you, my Childe, Spike, also known as William the Bloody. I cannot fulfill my duties as I am called to protect the city of Los Angeles." Angel stood up bowed slightly then waited.

Spike jumped to his feet. "Oh, you bloody wanker. I don’t want it. What the hell am ... I don’t ..." Spike yielded to the insistent tugging on the thigh of his jeans. "What!?" He flopped down on his throne and bent his head to listen to what Xander had to say.

"Spike! You can’t! If you turn him down, the idiot will probably just walk off. He hasn’t been doing anything recently ... er ... or at all. Things are getting bad, from the rumors I heard before ... Giles has been all worry face for months."

Spike snarled a bit then gave up. "All right, I accept. Bloody bastard. Ya knew I was all comfortable here. I’m not goin’ anywhere, not yet, maybe not ever. Whoever wants to talk to me will have to come here. That good enough?"

Angel just shrugged. "It’s your domain now. Run it any way you want to. The Order will give you advisors and guards if you need them."

Spike shrugged. "Don’t really need a body guard. Got Xander, haven’t I?"

Angel’s face gave him away. Spike just grinned.

Xander stood up, the chains somehow fell away and Xander produced a sword from behind the throne. He smiled at Angel in a way that was decidedly feral and stepped down from the dais. The entire court scrambled happily out of the way. Bud pulled Tara with him, making sure she had a good view. Xander’s shows were enjoyed by almost all of the court. The one’s who didn’t enjoy them were smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

Xander smirked at Angel once more then began to move. Angel felt like he’d been hit in the head with a battle axe.

Xander moved like water flowing. His sword glittered and flashed. Angel recognized most of the Kata, and he’d had just enough training to know that Xander was exceptional. This was the Droopy Scoobie?

Xander moved through the complicated combinations as easily as walking across the room. Angel watched critically and couldn’t find a fault. As Xander continued his demonstration, Angel realized that he was using a tachi, he’d been too busy watching Xander to pay much attention to his sword. Now all he wanted was a better look at that sword.

Then Xander stopped, his sword at high guard. Spike snapped his fingers and Xander went to his side.

"Very good, pet. New routine?"

"Yeah, did I do well?"

Spike glanced at the court. "Yeah, you did well." The court exploded in applause.

Angel realized that Spike had such control over his court that they wouldn’t even clap until he signaled that it was all right.


D’frak filed Xander’s expertise away in his mind. That Spike had a thrall in good physical and mental condition was a huge plus on his side. That the thrall obviously liked and trusted him was an even bigger cachet. He realized that his mind was slightly boggled by the fact that Spike trusted him with weapons, with which he was alarmingly good. This was even bigger on the 'Makes Spike a High Master’ scale.

His job here was to assess how well Spike was doing the job the Order of Taraka had set him. It seemed that he was doing quite well. The Order would be pleased. This pleased D’frak. He wouldn’t have to figure out how to dust a master vampire, getting around his thrall didn’t look like it would be very easy. As well as having to kill the, now, Master of California. The mess would be unmanageable to say the least. He settled back to enjoy the court.


Xander smiled at Angel, then at D’frak and winked at Tara. He was happy to see that the senior demon seemed pleased with something. The poor thing hadn’t looked very happy at first. Xander leaned against Spike’s leg and contemplated the demon. Something was up, but he wasn’t sure what. He decided and tugged at Spike’s pants leg.


"What’s going on with D’freak?"

"What freak?" Spike leaned closer. Xander took the chance to smile at Spike.

"The demon from Taraka. D’ something that sounds like freak. He doesn’t look happy. Or maybe he does? Anyway, he’s got a funny look on his face."

Spike glanced at the being in question and shrugged. "Probably happy he doesn’t have to figure out how to kill me. And it’s D’frak."

"Oh, ok." Xander glared at D’frak as if daring him to do something. The demon gave him back a bland stare and a wink. Xander settled against Spike’s leg again. "Who else is going to show up?"

Spike sighed. "Don’t tempt the power of worst. I don’t care who shows up next. We’ll deal."

Xander ignored the rest of the proceedings, it was just the usual, arguments about who owned what and who owed who. Spike handled them all without trouble.


When court ended, Angel asked Spike if he could talk to Xander alone. Spike didn’t see any reason to deny his Sire the request so he just nodded, got up and left.

"Is there somewhere we can talk alone?" Angel eyed Xander, wondering when he’d gotten so comfortable with nakedness.

"Sure. We can visit in my quarters. With Timmins in attendance."

Angel gave Xander a startled look. "We need a chaperone? Why?"

"Because I’m a thrall, not a pet, and Spike doesn’t share well. Besides, Timmins will keep me from messing you up. Remember that I don’t like you. I don’t trust you either."

Angel grimaced. "Ok. Can I get a cup of coffee?"

Xander nodded. "I’ll even make it myself."

He led Angel to the coffee bar and started to make the coffee, completely ignoring the fact that he was dressed in what amounted to chains. Chains which jingled as he moved. Angel sighed and wished he’d put on something a little less revealing ... or noisy.

"You want some vanilla or something in it?"

"No, thank you. But ... um ... could you ... um ..." Angel looked at the floor then the ceiling.

Xander gave him a puzzled look then laughed. "Cover up? Ok. Never thought you’d be shy. Not from what I’ve heard from Spike. But I’ll ring Timmins and have him put out something ... more covered. Ok?"

Angel would have flushed at Xander’s amusement, if he could. "Thank you."

Xander finished with the coffee and handed Angel his cup. "Come on, then. My quarters are this way."

Angel looked around as he was led to Xander’s quarters. Spike had chosen good furniture, in an American modern style that was comfortable and inviting. Angel thanked his lucky stars that he hadn’t gone with the Victorian monstrosities he’d grown up with, or the even older style that Angel had. He peeked into doors as they passed them, two offices, a library, and another lounge/living room. This one with a surround sound television system. There were several video game controllers scattered on the top of the TV.

"This looks really nice. Where are we going?"

"My living room. It’s a bit more private than the public rooms and I don’t want you in the TV room. It’s messy. Timmins has given up on keeping it neat. He just cleans around the mess and grumbles."

Angel counted in his head. He’d already seen a living room and the, what he’d heard called, rec room. That meant that there had to be at least ten rooms, not counting bathrooms. Spike was living well indeed.

Xander opened a door and entered the room. It was Swedish Modern in style and quite comfortable. Xander motioned to a chair with a glass side table. "Make yourself comfortable. I’ll call Timmins and tell him to bring me something a little less comfortable." At Angels disbelieving snort Xander demanded indignantly. "You think Spike would make me uncomfortable? He’s not you."

Angel winced, obviously Spike had been telling tales. "I know. I did my best to beat the heart out of him. I just managed to submerge it." Angel sipped at the coffee, surprised at how good it was. "I have some questions I’d like to ask you. If you don’t mind."

"You can ask. I don’t promise to answer." Xander wandered around the room a bit, giving Angel more of a look at his bare buttocks than he really wanted. He finally went to the small table near the door and spoke into an intercom there. Angel didn’t bother trying to listen. Xander wasn’t talking softly enough to make whatever he was saying a big secret. Angel didn’t listen anyway, this was going to be hard enough without the accusation of eavesdropping.

"Ok. You can quit not eavesdropping now." Angel sighed, "Oh, don’t give me that. You’re so sensitive that you’re practically vibrating. What’s up? And just spit it out. My freak-o-meter is broken."

"Very well. Once you’re dressed, we’ll talk, not until. I find it totally distracting, that outfit, I mean. If I was Angelus, I’d jump you in a second. You’ve turned into a very attractive young man. And very ... powerful, in your own way. I understand you do translations?"

"Yeah, and before you ask. I just learn certain languages very easily. Don’t know how. Anything with a symbol based alphabet, piece of cake. Anything with a roman alphabet? I’m in trouble. Change the subject. What else do you want to know?"

Angel forbore to press the subject and asked, "How the hell did you wind up a thrall to Spike of all people?"

"Two words, Willow... mojo... bad... um ... that’s three, sorry."

Angel sipped at his coffee while he digested that one. "I see. Giles better get that young lady under control before something really bad happens. She has no idea how to actually work a proper spell. She substitutes too many ingredients and combines spells that she shouldn’t even know."

"See? Exactly what I’ve been telling her for months. Giles does what he can, but he’s a Watcher, with an active Slayer to take care of. I’ll admit that he could have done better with me. But ... if you look at it from the right perspective, he’s really got his hands full. He shouldn’t have to mess with a bunch of hangers on too. On the other hand, since we’re all helping the slayer, he could do better."

Angel rubbed his face. "You want Wesley back?"

Xander shuddered. "Lord, no. Giles has it under control, for now. I think this mess with me has taught Willow a lesson, especially since Tara left her over it. Tara’s still around but not with her. Next question."

Angel started to say something but was silenced by a tap on the door. Xander called, ‘Come in.’ and went to the middle of the room.

Timmins entered, bowed to Angel and went to Xander. Xander held his arms out to the sides and allowed Timmins to remove his decorations. When they got down to just the belt with the rest of the chain a puddle at Xander’s feet, Xander suddenly grinned at Angel.

"Ok, not going to manage this." Angel gave Xander an enquiring look. "I wanted to be all cool and ‘look at the thrall, all relaxed’ and stuff." Xander flushed a bit. "But, it’s not working. Could you turn around for a minute?"

Angel realized what was embarrassing Xander and just turned his back. Timmins murmured softly, Xander grunted once then sighed. "Ok you can turn back around now."

Angel turned to see that Xander was now dressed in simple trousers and a neat shirt. Both linen. He padded on still bare feet to the chair across from Angel and settled in it.

"Thanks, Timmins, that was quick. I’ve never gotten dressed quite that fast before. That’s a neat trick with the shorts. Oh, and could you bring some snacks, I’m starved. Thanks."

Timmins smiled, bowed and left. Angel rubbed his forehead and asked, "You do know that Timmins is nearly ... umm..." Angel figured in his head. "Six hundred years old? Or there abouts."

Xander shrugged. "He’s told me how old he is. But I really don’t remember. Doesn’t make any difference. He’s decided to serve Spike, which means he takes care of me. Now, something is eating at you. Why don’t you just spit it out and get it over with. And if you’re going to tell me that I need Sire's recognition, forget it. You’re not biting me. Spike hasn’t yet and you don’t get to be first."

Angel grimaced, this was not going to go well at all.

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