Ulterior Motives


Part Twenty-Three

Angel contemplated Xander for a few moments while Xander just sat comfortably and smirked back. Angel realized that he found Xander to be as annoying as ever, and a lot more threatening. “Look, I know you don’t like me. But there’s some things you need to know. I’ve dumped California on Spike so the Order of Taraka is going to really have an eye on both of you. So far you’re both doing well. I’d hate to see something go wrong.”

Angel couldn’t believe that Xander could move so fast or be that strong. He was pressed up against the wall with Xander’s thumbs digging into his throat before he could blink

“I know choking you won’t do much but I like it. You don’t threaten me. You don’t threaten Spike. I don’t like you. If you’re not careful, you’ll wake up with a stake in your heart. Got me?”

Xander let Angel go and sat back down in his chair. Angel straightened his tie and sat down too.

“Wow, Master’s blood really makes you aggressive.” Xander just shrugged. Angel cleared his throat and continued. “I’m sorry. I seem to have given you the wrong impression. I don’t want to fight with you. I just want to warn you. You’re Spike’s thrall, constant companion and confidant. As well as bodyguard. And I don’t want Sire’s Privileges. Spike would stake what was left of me after you got done. So thanks, but no thanks. All I want to do is make sure that you don’t fail.”

Xander just shrugged. “I don’t intend to fail. All I have to do is be me. Spike’s happy with that. The real me, not the Zeppo or the Donut Boy. So ... I’m not trying to be impolite but Spike’s promised to fuck me tonight and I’d like to get around to that fairly soon. So ... if that’s all.”

Angel knew he’d be red, if vampires could blush. “That’s ... um ... good. One of the things I really needed to cover with you ... um ... you’re not claimed ... but ... um ...”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Christ, how old are you? Sixteen? Ok. Just to show that I’m a good guy. No, Spike hasn’t bitten me ... yet. And, yes, he’s been giving me his blood for months. You didn’t get a good look at my back. I usually manage to prevent that. My ol’ man nearly killed me. Spike fixed it. And ... Willow has got to stop using mojo. She just messes it up something awful. I’m Spike's thrall because she messed up a friendship spell. Any more questions?

Angel just shook his head. “No, I think that just about covers all of them. Just ... take care of him. He’s more fragile than you’d believe.”

Xander snorted. “Like I don’t know that. He needs love so bad. Soulless monster, I don’t think. And I don’t even want to think about what the hell was in your mind back then. And don’t tell me it was Angelus. You’re still him on some level or other. You’re just as cruel to him in your way as Angelus was in his. Now, I’ve got some primping and fussing to do. Want to look pretty when Spike gets here. So not to put too fine a point on it. Get out.”

Angel cringed at Xander’s words but didn’t even think to argue with him. When Xander pointed to the door and told him to get out, he just stood up and left. It wouldn’t do him any good to make excuses, excuses that even he didn’t believe anymore.

Xander stared at the door for a long while after Angel left. Something about Spike being the Master of California gave him the willies but he couldn’t figure out why. He shook off the mood and rang for Timmins.

The valet came into the room with a slight smile on his face.

“Ok, what?” Xander planted his fists on his hips and gave Timmins a mock glare.

Timmins just grinned. “It’s about time. I thought Master Spike was going to pop before you ... gave in.”

“Oh, gave in, is it? I’d be pissed but you’re right. At least he didn’t try to force the issue. I don’t think I could have stood that. Now ... enough angsting. Make me pretty.”

Timmins just snickered and made Xander ‘pretty’.


Spike finally got away from court and went in search of Xander. He found Angel instead.

“Ok, what? I’ve got something else to do.”

Angel rubbed his face. “And the patience of a gnat. I know. I’m not entirely sure where to start ... I need to explain some things to you. Things I should have told you years ago.”

Spike just snorted and snarked, “Things like ... my blood will keep the boy alive long after he should have been dead, without my having to turn him. Things like, claiming him isn’t necessary to the blood working? Like ... oh, I dunno ... lots of vampires keep their souls, it takes a master like you to get rid of it?”

Angel sighed. “Yeah, things like that. Should I just leave?”

Spike pulled his cigarets out of his pocket. “Yeah, maybe you should. Prat.” He lit a cigaret and watched as Angel walked off, shoulders bowed. “Idiot. Could have loved ya. Would have. Loyal as my boy in my own way. You didn’t earn it. He did. Know which side my bread’s buttered on.” Spike finished his cigaret in a few puffs and stamped the butt into the floor.

He made it to the bedroom just as Timmins shut the door behind him.

“He ready?”

Timmins smiled. “Oh, he’s more than ready. Master Angel managed to make him angry. I never thought a human could move that fast, but then, Master Angel wasn’t expecting anything to happen. I was very proud of him, Xander that is. The rest of the conversation was very calm, to the point, and quick. Then Master Angel left.”

“Yeah, he had a stab at me next. I hope the poof is proud of himself. All soul having and what not. Idiot. You make sure that I’m not disturbed. Got me?”

“Yes, master. I’ll put out the word. Master D’frack decided to stay a day. I put him in the best guest accommodations. Master Angel didn’t want them. And I’m sure he’s left by now. I’ll check, shall I?”

“Please do. I don’t want him near my boy. Xander doesn’t like or trust him enough that they won’t be at each others throats again. Don’t want either of them to off the other. I’ll be mightily pissed either way.”

Timmins left and smirked as he shut the door.

Spike knocked once then opened the door. Xander was in the bed, covered to his waist and smiling.

“Hello, Angel gone?”

Spike walked to the bed, dropping clothing as he went. “Yeah, pet. Gone back to L.A. I hope. He’s a wanker, a prat and a pain in my arse. Glad to see him go. Don’t want to be Master of California as well as the Hellmouth. Dammit!”

Xander just opened his arms and took Spike onto his chest. “Well, you’re stuck with it. The Order won’t let you get out of it or I miss my guess. We’ll just have to deal. Forget about it now. See to me.”

“Give ya a good seein’ to. An’ I’ll forget about the Hellmouth and California until I feel like worrying about it again. Tomorrow ... or the next day.”

Xander pulled Spike down for a heated kiss. “Next day. Or ... well... mmmffff.” Spike shut him up with his tongue.

Xander thrust his tongue back at Spike’s. They tangled on the bed for a few moments. Spike wound up on top, of course, but Xander bucked and rolled, doing his best to throw Spike off. Spike pinned him down with a hand on each shoulder. Xander laughed, tugged Spike down for another kiss and rolled him to the bottom.

“Easy, pet, don’t wanna damage the goods. Gonna have ya. Gonna let me?”

Xander reached down and gently pinched one of Spike’s nipples. “Yeah, gonna let ya.”

Spike moaned softly as his nipple peaked in interest. He returned the favor and smiled as Xander groaned softly and flopped over sideways. “Ok. I give. More of that, please.”

“I will. I want you to enjoy this. A lot. I want you to want to do it again and again. Never wanna hurt ya.”

Xander just groaned louder as Spike leaned over him and sucked one nipple into his mouth. Spike tongued it into a hard point then turned to the other. Xander just whimpered. Spike took his time, sucking and nibbling at Xander’s sensitive nipples until he was limp and moaning.

“Lift your leg, pet. Let me at you.”

Xander obediently put his foot on Spike’s shoulder. Spike coaxed Xander into the position he wanted. Xander cooperated eagerly, making Spike say softly, “Good, Xander, that’s good.”

Spike used plenty of lube and patience, getting Xander relaxed and very ready for more. In fact, by the time Spike was done stretching and playing with Xander, he was nearly screaming with need.

Spike moved Xander carefully to brace against the head of the bed. Xander couldn’t stand the wait. He’d been good long enough.

“Spike, if you don’t do something soon, I swear I’m going to take things in hand myself.”

Spike didn’t say anything, he just took Xander’s hands in his and moved them to grasp his legs across his shins just below the knees. “Hold them just like that. I want ya all spread for me. Make it easier and it’ll feel so good. Promise, pet.”

Xander just panted and moved his hips in a desperate plea for he wasn’t sure what. Spike gave Xander’s prostate one more stroke and moved to line himself up to push against Xander. Xander squirmed a bit to get a better brace against the headboard. Spike pushed against the now loosened ring of muscle guarding Xander’s entrance. Xander moaned and pushed back.

Spike whimpered softly, the boy was so warm and the lube made him slick. His grasping muscle nearly made Spike lose control completely. He took a moment to contain himself then started to move gently in and out. Xander grasped his shins harder and watched Spike’s face, the emotions flitting across it.

Xander watched as joy, ecstasy, wonder, and something unidentifiable flitted across Spike’s face. Then he forgot everything as Spike moved within him, nudging against what Spike referred to as his golden spot. Xander’s vision narrowed to Spike’s eyes then went black.

Spike noticed that Xander’s pupils were blown and gave one more thrust before he came, shuddering and shouting. Xander whimpered then shuddered too as his body started to convulse.

The next thing either one of them knew, Timmins was wiping them down with a warm wash cloth. He pulled the covers up over both of them and turned off the lights. Xander was asleep when Spike kissed his forehead gently then settled down beside him.


Xander woke slowly, something was tickling his nose. He swatted at it and heard a throaty chuckle.

“Don’t want it, pet? If you don’t, I’ll eat it myself.”

Xander smelled toast, and butter, and jelly, he sat up abruptly and announced. “No! Mine! Gimme! Get your own.”

Spike laughed. “There’s enough for both of us. Timmins comes through again. Here, it’s strawberry jam.”

Xander snatched the toast from Spike and crammed it into his mouth. “Mmmm. Goo’ ‘ie ‘a ‘all I’ ‘am?”

Spike wrinkled his brow as he tried to translate Xander’s mouth full of toast mumble. “Why do they call it jam? Donno, just that it’s not jelly, I guess. Ask Timmins. Look, hate to be a buzz kill, but I’ve got a lot of mess to catch up with from Angel not doing anything in for ... well, ever. Bastard. Master Bruce is expecting you in about an hour and a half. And don’t forget that Giles is coming this afternoon for a lesson. You’re going to start learning how to play in ensemble.” Spike pronounced the word on-samble. Xander gave him a blank look. “With other people. I’ll be playing keyboard and Giles will play his guitar ... you did practice, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did. I swear. I’ll be in the gardens after my workout. I haven’t had time to go down for a bit. I miss them.”

“Ok. I’ll send for you if I need you for something. Ok?”

Xander looked up from pouring his coffee. “Fine. If I have a change, I’ll let you know. Send to tell me?”

They’d started to make a point of keeping each other notified of where they were. Timmins thought it was cute and made sure that both Spike and Xander knew where the other was.

Spike made his way to the door, adjusting his ‘set’ as he went. He grinned to himself.

Xander finished his coffee and attacked his eggs. After finishing his breakfast he showered and headed for the dojo. Master Bruce was waiting.


Master Bruce put Xander through his paces, despite the fact that Xander should have been sore. Xander was secretly very pleased that Spike had been careful enough that he actually wasn’t sore at all.

Xander went through his kata for sword, pole arm, small weapons, and weaponless, quickly. He took only about an hour. Then he settled to meditate for a bit. Master Bruce nodded his pleasure at Xander’s improvement.

“I’m very pleased with you. That was excellent. Your new gladius has been delivered and I’m going to start you on exercises with it during your next lesson. How are you doing with your guitar?”

“Good, really good. I’ve been practicing an hour every day. Then I spend some time on wood working. I’ve been neglecting my gardens a bit but, since I’ve got help, it’s not that big a deal. If there’s a problem, one of the gardeners comes to me and we work it out. But I’m needing more time to relax, I’m getting a bit burnt out. All this angsting and what not is a pain. You heard?”

Master Bruce nodded. “Yes. I was at the back of the court. You were beautiful. Powerful, graceful, everything I look for in a student. I was very proud of you. As to Master Spike being Master of California? Interesting. He’ll be able to hold his court together, I’m sure. But he’s going to be very busy for a while. That big an area left to its own devices for so long isn’t a good thing. There’s going to be so many beings wanting judgement that he’s going to be up to his eyebrows in complaints for weeks.”

“Yeah, too bad someone can’t help him out a bit. Lower court sort of thing. Take your complaint to them, if they can’t settle it, bump it up a step. But it’d never work. None of the complainants would put up with it. Sucks, but there you are.”

Master Bruce nodded. “It’s too bad, but he’s going to have to do it all himself, at least for now.”

“Bleh! Well, I’m going to shower again then head for my gardens. The orchids are in full flower and I want to admire them. And the African Violets are coming on too. So ... that’s where I’ll be if you need me for anything. Bye.”

After he got out of the shower, Xander picked up an escort at the door, ignored him and headed for the gardens. His first present from Spike, gardens he still cared for deeply, even if he didn’t have as much time for them as he wished. He made a vow to change his schedule so he had more time for them. He decided that the woodworking could wait once in a while. His translations, however, had to be kept up. It was one way Spike knew who was planning what.

Narma met him at the gate with a list of things that needed doing. He was a bit amused to see that it was in hieratic. He went over it with Narma and approved most of it. He refused Narma’s request to build a shadoof, asking, “What the hell is that and why do we need it?”

“Oh, master, it’s a way to lift water from one level to another, my people use them all the time.”

Xander shook his head, this was one of the disadvantages of having a man this old as Chief Gardener, some of his antiquated ideas were difficult to dislodge.

“We’ll use an electric pump. A waterfall here and there can do more than look pretty. I’ll design it myself. Don’t argue. Please. I don’t feel like being all logic boy. Ok?”

Narma bowed slightly. “As the young master pleases. Shall I make tea for you?”

Xander settled at the table in the middle of the orchid garden, by the koi pond. “Please. Jasmine, if there is any. And send to let Timmins know that I’m here. I just want to sit and listen to the water and smell the flowers. The orchids are in great shape. How are the violets?”

Narma stood beside the table, Xander had never been able to get him to sit, sometimes he’d squat, but that was about it. They discussed the wandering stream and waterfalls that Xander wanted to install with Xander drawing designs in a small sketch book. After finalizing the design, Xander worked up a materials list, and enjoyed every second. Then they went on to the violet collection. Xander had ordered several leaves which had taken quite well and the plants needed repotting. Xander insisted on doing that himself so Narma just took the plants that needed it to the potting shed and kept them until Xander could get around to them. He made sure to get around to them within two days of Narma telling him about them.

“Well, that’s about that. I’ll head for the shed and repot the violets. Then I’m going to the filling station and see the rest of the plants. After that, music lesson, so don’t let me stay too long. Ok?”

Narma executed one of his graceful bows. “As the young master wishes.”

Xander made it to the shed with only three distractions, all of them important.

He spent an enjoyable time repotting the violets and messing around in the dirt. He straightened away his mess over the protests of two gardeners, who wanted to do it for him. He told them that he’d made the mess, he’d clean it up. They settled against the wall to watch him with awe in their eyes.

Xander checked the potting shed to make sure that he hadn’t left anything undone then made his way to the old filling station to check on his other violets. He examined them happily, they were beautiful, well cared for and their setting in the old-fashioned display cases interesting. Xander had replaced the lights with grow lamps so the plants would get plenty of good light and they were blooming enthusiastically because of it. He settled at the small table under the skylight to enjoy the sun and his flowers.

Narma spoke from the door. “Master? Would you like some tea or some other refreshment? I could bring it to the edge of the sun.” Narma had brought Xander tea right after the station had been finished and nearly dusted himself trying to dart in and set it down before he caught on fire. Xander had doused him with a nearby pot of water and bawled him out, telling him never to do such a thing again. Narma had been astonished to find out that both Xander and Spike valued him more as a gardener than as a slave.

“Thanks. I’d love a cup of coffee. Tell Timmins to make it and put it in a thermal cup. Tell him where I am too.”

“Yes, master.”

Xander mumbled, “Not a master. Just a guy.”

Narma snorted, he knew a master when he saw one. It was just that Xander was a very good one.


Xander eased into the music room, he’d stayed a bit too long in the station and was late, by his watch.

“Sorry I’m late. I got distracted by doing nothing for once. Sorry.”

Giles looked up from the music he was examining. “That’s ok. You’re not really late. I’m early and Spike said to tell you that he’s running a bit late. Here. This is the music I intend to cover this session. Go ahead and try to play it over. After we do this piece, we’ll go over the piece you’ve been practicing.”

“Oh? And why this order instead of the one I’ve been practicing so hard on?” Xander felt a little resentful. He’d been looking forward to showing off a bit. He’d practiced really hard, with Spike on the clavichord, and he’d been wanting to show Giles how hard he’d worked.

“Because I know you’ve worked hard and I want to save the easy bit for later. You’ll be tired and it’ll be good for us to end on a high note. Um ...”

Xander laughed. “Yeah, high note. Ok, I get it. Fine.” Xander glanced at his watch. “Spike should be here soon. He usually doesn’t let business go much after quitting time.”

Just as Xander finished speaking, Spike walked in, grumbling about ‘gits’ not taking a hint worth shit.

Xander struggled hard not to laugh and just barely succeeded. Giles didn’t bother. His laughter rang out, rich and clear. Spike just snarled at him half-heartedly.

They settled after a few snarky remarks flew back and forth. Giles tapped his foot on the floor to mark the time and they started. Xander struggled a bit but managed to play fairly well. He wondered what the point of the exercise was but stuck with it anyway. They played the piece through several times getting better with each one.

Finally, Giles tapped a fingernail on his guitar and announced, “Very good. Thank you so much, Master Spike, for being so patient with this. Xander, you’re doing so well. I don’t believe you got it perfect in so few repetitions. Now we’ll play the piece you’ve been practicing.”

Xander nodded, Spike just put his fingers to the keyboard again. When Giles counted the time they all managed to start together on the first try. It only took them two tries to get completely through the piece without a mistake. Spike smiled at Xander in approval and Giles was surprised to see Xander grin back in easy familiarity.

Spike noticed Giles watching them and nodded. “My boy is smart. Don’t know where ya got the idea he’s stupid. Don’t know where he got it either.”

Giles took off his glasses and polished them. “Well, I read his records. They’re fairly pointed as to the fact that every test he’s ever taken has put him in the bottom 10. It’s also noted that he took aptitude tests in grade school that place him in the ... er ... slow category. I’m beginning to wonder what those testers were smoking.”

Xander flushed heavily. “I don’t test well. I get ... nervous so I get stupid. I can’t remember stuff. And numbers just ... never mind. It’s not important anyway. Can we play that first piece again?”

Spike gave Giles a speaking look and turned the page back to the beginning of the piece. “Sure, pet, wanna set it while it’s fresh?”

Xander cleared his throat. “Yeah, that’s the idea.”

Giles just struck the first cord, but he made a note to himself to look into this further, soon.


Xander looked up from his latte, Bud rather pointedly ignored the redheaded woman.

“Xander, I just stopped by to give you this. Please? Take it. You can have Spike have someone check it out. It’s just to protect you from ... bad magic. Even magic with good intention that would hurt you somehow. And psychic attack.” Xander smiled at Willow tentatively but wouldn’t touch the stones she was holding out to him. They were beads of stones braided into a leather string. Xander wasn’t sure what to call the thing, but it had red jasper, chrysoberyl, carnelian, garnet, black onyx, labradorite, and some others Xander didn’t recognize, as well as a bead of copper, brass and silver.

Bud reached over and took it. “If it checks out ok, I’ll braid them into his hair in a war lock. Ok?”

Willow smiled hesitantly. “Yes. That’d be good. Really good. Thanks.” She turned to Xander with tears trickling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry. Really. I’m going to Oxford in a few days. Write me?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, I can do that. You write me back. Only ... write nice, Ok? I still can’t read your handwriting.”

Willow smiled a bit sadly. “I’ll ... write nice. Bye. See you soon.” She waved over her shoulder with one hand, wiping at her eyes with the other.

Xander leaned back against the back of his chair. “Well, that went well ... not. I just ... I can’t quite trust her. I forgive her, but if I said so, she’d be all ... oh, Xander forgives me, everything can go back to normal now. Only, it ... her idea of normal is what used to be. And I’m not her ... I’m not the same. I’ve got ... something. Never mind. Just see that that thing is ok.” Xander swallowed the last of his coffee and got up. “Let’s get out of here. I’m all jittery now.” Bud snorted. “And it’s not the coffee. The stuff they serve here is weak.”

Bud didn’t argue. He just followed Xander out to the parking lot. He was well aware that Xander was so good natured that he seemed spineless, but he knew that was an illusion that most people, and demons, didn’t want to shatter. He’d seen how good Xander was in battle, no one that good at fighting was a pushover. No one.

“Master Xander, we should go to the Magic Shop and see Mr. Giles. He’ll know if it’s safe or not. If she didn’t have him help her with it, he’ll at least know how to test it for ... problems.”

Xander thought for a moment, Giles had seemed happy with him that afternoon. “Ok, but if he gets all ‘I know what’s best’ I’m out of there. I don’t need to be patronized by anyone. And Giles gets that way, way too often for my taste. Come on.”

Xander drove to the Magic Box, even though it was only two or three blocks away, Spike had forbidden him to wander the town after dark. He was too easy a target on foot, not that Spike thought Xander an easy target anymore. After all, he fought Spike himself to a standstill, once in a while. He just didn’t want to have to go hunt down some idiot who thought Xander was easy. It was just more trouble than it was worth. Xander didn’t argue with Spike. One, it pissed him off and two, he was right, so Xander drove.

Bud was pleased to see a spot right in front of the shop. Xander parked quickly and headed for the shop, Bud right behind him.

The merry jingle of the bell over the door made Giles pop his head out of the office. He leaned back in his chair enough that he could see around the door jamb.

“Xander! And ... Bud? Hello, what’s wrong?”

Xander had Bud hand the string of gemstone beads to Giles, still refusing to touch it.

“This. I don’t know if it’s dangerous or not. Willow gave it to me. Said it was to protect me. Is it ok? Do you know anything about it?”

Giles accepted the amulet from Bud. “Yes, I helped Willow make it for you. I’d have told you about it but she wanted it to be a surprise. It’s fine. All the stones were cleansed. I blessed most of them myself. Willow blessed some of the rest and Tara blessed one or two. You really should take this to Tara instead of me. It is safe. I swear.”

Xander took the amulet from Giles and shoved it into his pocket. “I haven’t seen Tara since court two days ago. She moved into her own place. I think Spike is helping her a little. Is she talking to Willow yet?”

Giles rubbed his face. “Not really. Willow ... she just doesn’t get it. She’ll be addicted to magic soon if she doesn’t get things under control. That’s one of the reasons I encouraged her so strongly to go to Oxford. There is a very strong coven there. I’ve written to the High Priestess who will contact Willow with some excuse or other. I’m leaving it all in her capable hands. I don’t have the time or resources to deal with a Wicca as powerful as Willow. Or Tara either. But Tara can be trusted implicitly. She’s got her head on straight. Now... I hate to throw you out, but if I don’t close now, I’ll have a shop full of late night wanna be’s and I don’t feel like dealing with it. Shoo. Go see Tara, if you think you need to.”

Xander shook his head. “Don’t need to, G-man. If you say it’s ok, I’ll quit worrying. Bud said he’d braid the beads into a war lock. That’s not like a male witch, right?”

Giles laughed on his way to lock the door. “No, what he’s talking about is a braid of hair. If Bud...” Giles made a clicking sound with his tongue that Xander knew was an honorific in Bud’s language. “says you’re entitled to a war lock then you are. I’m very pleased that he feels you’re worthy. Now, again I say, shoo. I want my tea.” But Giles smiled in a fatherly way that took the sting out of his words.

Xander headed for his truck again with Bud at his heels. “A war lock, huh? How’s that work?”

Bud settled in the passenger seat and leaned against the door. “Well, first you have to prove that you’re a warrior. You’ve done that. You have to prove that you can obey your lord, no matter what, you’ve done that in spades. You have to be able to take and give orders with dignity. Done that. And you have to not only be good with weapons but able to actually kill something. You’ve done that and more. So, you’re a warrior and worthy of a war lock. I’ll braid you one myself and teach Timmins how to help you take care of it. If I need to. Knowing him, he already knows how.”

Xander kept his eyes on the road. “And what is Spike going to say about this?”

“Not much. Probably be really proud of you. It’s not easy to be accepted into the ranks of warriors in my tribe. But I say you’re good enough.”

“Oh, well, thanks. You want some fries?”

“Could be persuaded.”

Xander pulled through the drive through at a fast food joint and they ordered fries and sodas.

Xander parked on a side street so they could eat in peace. The night was fine and the moon was nearly full. A perfect night to snack and gossip.

Xander had just finished the last of his fries when it happened. The first thing they noticed was a shadow, darker than the rest, that flitted across the street a half a block ahead of them. Xander nudged Bud.

“I see it.”

“Yeah, but what is it?”

“Not sure.”

“I hate that. I don’t know how to kill ‘not sure’. That sucks.”

Bud didn’t bother to suppress his grin. “But it’s a lot more fun.”

Xander pouted. “Don’t like ‘not sure’. Think I’ll just go kill it now.”

“Right behind you.”

Xander bailed out his side of the truck and rolled underneath it. Bud jumped into the bed. He liked a high point, and it also attracted all the attention.

They both waited until the shadows resolved themselves into three vampires. Xander crawled back out from under the truck, shaking his head as he did so.

“Damn! Where did not sure come from?”

Bud just shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t sure. I never thought that three fledges this young would have the guts to come after both of us. This is just annoying. And where the hell do they come from?”

Xander eyed the fledges as he thought. “I don’t know. You know Spike forbade making fledges and leaving them to themselves. But someone is doing it anyway. Let’s keep one.”

“Ok. You’re the boss. Which one do you want to keep?” Bud eyed the three vampires doubtfully. He wasn’t sure the fledges even knew who’d made them. Many of the youngest ones on the Hellmouth didn’t. It pissed Spike off to no end too. Xander said so to Bud.

One of the fledges spoke up. “I know who Sired me. I’m not stupid like the rest of these yokels.”

Xander nodded at him. “We keep that one. Dust the other two. Or ...” Xander sidestepped the charge of the one who looked like a football player. “Just let them manage on their own.” The vampire ran right onto the stake Xander was holding and went, as Buffy said, ‘poof! All dusty.’ Xander grabbed the one they wanted to keep and wrestled with him. He was stronger than a normal man his size but Xander had been getting Spike’s blood long enough that they were just about equally matched. Except that Xander had a lot more training than the vampire. He put the idiot in a head lock and just waited for Bud to come help him.

Bud dusted his opponent quickly and just went to the truck, opened a tool box and pulled out a tow chain. It didn’t take them long to chain the fledge firmly. Xander gagged him too, remarking, “Geeze, language.” They tossed him into the back of the truck and headed for home.


Spike was waiting in the garage. A call on Xander’s shiny new cell phone had alerted him to the capture.

“Where is he, pet?”

Xander stalked up to Spike. “Kiss! No pressie without a kiss.”

Spike obliged Xander, realizing that he was high on adrenalin and probably coffee and sweets. Xander wasn’t supposed to eat too many sweets and he knew it but Spike turned a blind eye to an occasional binge.

“Ok, pet.” Spike gave Xander a long, lingering kiss then eased him away. “Now, where’s the fledge?”

While Xander had been checking the condition of Spike’s tonsils, Bud had been dragging the fledge out of the back of the truck and chaining him to a pillar. Now both Spike and Xander went to see what they could find out.

It didn’t take long for Spike to get the young vampire to talk. He was, after all was said and done, a very junior executive type. He was used to taking orders, not giving them. Spike promised him a place in the court if he’d tell what he knew.

What they found out was; there was a master vampire who was more or less, probably more, insane. He wanted to take over the Hellmouth and thoughtthe way to do that was flood it with fledges. He didn’t care that they had no idea how to take care of themselves, or how to feed without killing. They just woke up, climbed out of their coffins and started looking for food. Sometimes, as in his case, the master would keep the body nearby until it woke, just to see if it would.

Spike just shook his head. “I got to find that wanker and take care of him. I’m gonna dust ‘im good. That’s just ... not right. Angelus didn’t do right by me, but at least he taught me ta hunt and feed. This pillock ... he just needs a good staking. I’m goin’ out.”

Xander didn’t argue with Spike, he could tell it wouldn’t do any good. Instead he just kissed Spike good-bye and told him good hunting. Spike left the garage, telling Timmins to take the ‘new guy’ down to the dormitory and turn him over to one of the older vampires for training.

Xander went to their quarters, followed by Bud.

Timmins met them at the door, having just finished settling their newest resident. “You took your time.”

Xander shrugged. “Knew you’d be busy for a while. We stopped to get beer. You get that guy settled?”

Timmins nodded, saying absently, “Yes, but he’s not going to last long. He’s untutored and unwilling to learn. It seems that one thing that master passes along is terminal stupidity.”

Xander pulled the braid of gemstones out of his pocket. “Look. It’s safe. Giles said so. Willow gave it to me. She said it was to protect me from all sorts of magic. Bud said he’d braid them into a war lock. You know how to take care of one? I sure don’t.”

Timmins bowed slightly. “Yes, I know how to care for one. This is quite the accomplishment. Congratulations. I’ll bring more beer.”

Xander turned to Bud who explained. “Braiding a war lock is an occasion for much celebration among my people. Too bad we’re not in my home. There’d be a big party, lots of food, drink, dancing girls and boys. But just the two of us can have some beer and music. Small celebration.”

Xander just grinned. “I don’t drink a lot anyway. My dad cured me of that a long time ago. Now, what do we do first?”

Bud took the braid and started undoing it. “First we get the beads out of this braid. Then we start your war lock.”

Xander settled on the floor at Bud’s feet. Bud ran his hands through Xander’s hair, long enough to make a braid by now. The braid was short, granted, but it was thick and soft. Bud decided that Spike was the luckiest male he knew.

“You’ve got great hair. Let me finish unbraiding it. Then we’ll decide where to put the war lock.”

Xander thought about it for a moment. “If it doesn’t make any difference, I know where I want it.”

“Doesn’t make much difference. Most tribes have one place that everyone in the tribe puts theirs. But, since you don’t have a tribe, it doesn’t matter. Where do you want it?”

Xander pointed to his temple. “Just about here. Where it’ll hang in front of my ear. Wanna show it off.”

“Very well. Now, beer, much beer.” Bud opened the first can and took a healthy swallow, he handed the beer can to Xander, who took a swallow then handed it back. “Well, much beer for me, not so much for you. Ok?”

Xander laughed and nodded. “You wouldn’t like me drunk anyway. I’m a pouter. So, what do we do next?”

Bud picked up the first stone. “We put this in. This stone likes to be next to the skin, so it goes first. We need some fine string to pull the hair through it.” Bud produced a piece of butchers’ twine and used it to pull a strand of Xander’s hair through the hole in the bead. He braided a few turns then added another bead on a different strand of hair. Then he drank some more beer.

They did this again and again until Bud was thoroughly drunk, Xander was tipsy and all the beads were braided into his hair. They had to do two locks, which Bud announced was a good thing. Xander examined himself in a mirror and decided that it was a good look for him.

“Look great, pet. Like it”

Xander yelped.


“Don’t do that! You nearly gave me a heart attack. And, I’d like to know ... why doesn’t the mirror show you but a digital camera will? Very freak worthy.”

Spike sighed. “Vampires are cursed. Silver repels curses. Thus, it refuses to show an image. A digital camera is electronic. See?”

Xander nodded then turned his head so Spike could see his locks. “Like? Bud decided I had too many stones to do just one braid. He said my hair isn’t long enough yet. Right Bud?”

Bud just stood up, staggered a bit, bowed to Spike and wandered out, singing some sort of war like sounding song. Xander just snickered.

“What’s with him?”

“He drank most of my share of the beer. Do you like my war locks?”

“Yeah, pet, I do. Sexy looking.”

Xander grinned. Then he blinked and asked, “Oh, and did you find the Funky Master?”

Spike gritted his teeth. “No, I didn’t. He’s moved again. I’ll find him, sooner or later. And when I do, I’m gonna dust him good.”

Xander just offered coffee.


Rupert Giles was sick and tired of being The Watcher. Buffy didn’t really need a watcher anymore but the Council insisted that she needed him. She needed keeping track of, he was writing the last in a long series of reports on exactly what Buffy was doing. The last because he was quitting. He’d had it.

His report read: “She’s killing demons.” And that was all. It was attached to his resignation. His 401k was in very good shape, the Magic Box was doing well and he had an ace in the hole as the saying was. He’d found a rather large cache of jewels during one of their forays into the demon world. He’d kept it instead of turning it over to the Council. Why should they have it? He’d found it. It was his. He’d sold them carefully over the last year.

He was going to work with Buffy still, but on his own terms. Buffy was mature enough now that he felt that she should learn to plan for herself. But he intended to be right there to approve the plans for some time yet. However, he was going to wean her away from her need for him. He was getting older and, frankly, he wanted a life of his own again. He’d never wanted to be a Watcher when he was young, now that he’d done his duty, he wanted a life beyond the Watchers Council.

He’d decided to keep the Magic Box. He enjoyed the interaction with his customers. And he was going to set up as a music teacher. A very exclusive one. He wasn’t going to take just anyone. He would only take older students with several years of lessons behind them. He was a very good musician and a good teacher. He enjoyed watching and listening to a good student.

After finishing his book keeping, Giles opened his weapons chest. He needed to sharpen his battle ax and one of the swords had a nick in the blade. He grumbled a bit but set to work after making a note to start teaching Buffy to maintain her own weapons. If Xander could do it, Buffy could too.

While he was taking care of the weapons, Giles tried to figure out how to get a translation without contravening Xander’s prohibitions. The real problem with the prophecy was that it seemed to be on human skin, stinky human skin. Giles poked at the problem from every angle. He couldn’t find any way around it.


Then next day saw Xander up, through the gym and in his office early. He had several translations that he’d promised, and he’d have to hurry to get them done in time.

He settled on the easiest one first and started in. It was in one of the oldest of the Egyptian hieroglyphic hands, but all it was was a love spell. One that wouldn’t work without a certain plant that Xander was fairly sure had been extinct for about a thousand years. He wrote it out in his neat shorthand and set the scroll aside for Sylvia to type up.

The next scroll wasn’t a scroll at all. It was a clay tablet. He sighed. It stank of old magic and blood. He tipped it carefully to examine the text. It was cuneiform, crudely impressed and half of it was backward. “This guy writes as bad as I do. What ... hmmmm.” Xander mumbled his way through the translation of the tablet, adding the note that he was sure that it was a fake. He also advised great caution if the owner decided to try the spell. He set that one aside also.

The next scroll was rejected as being on his ‘no-no’ list. He wasn’t going to bend on this unless Spike ordered him to. He was fairly sure Spike wouldn’t go to that extreme unless it was really important. Spike knew he, Xander, would pout for at least two days. And no nookie! Xander wrote for Sylvia to send his standard refusal.

He was just getting ready to pick up the last item he’d earmarked for today when someone knocked on the door. “Come in.” Xander gazed at Giles for a moment then sighed. “I know that look. What do you want me to do that I don’t want to? And don’t try puppy-dog eyes on me. They don’t work for Spike, or Willow, so you’re completely out of luck.”

Giles sighed, polished his glasses and said, “Well,you can’t blame me for trying. I really need that translated and I can’t even begin. Someone said that you can read that like English.”

Xander didn’t even touch the scroll. “I can read it better than English. And from what little I’ve already seen, you really need it. Tell the Council that they’ll be getting a huge bill. Huge? Enormous. Stinky human skin? Not on my list at all. I’m going to charge you by the word. Now, scat.”

Giles didn’t scat, he settled into the visitor’s chair and watched. Timmins brought him tea and set another cup on Xander’s desk. Giles was a bit amused to see that Xander drank Jasmine. He preferred Margaret’s Hope himself, which the valet seemed to know.

Xander ignored Giles, if he wanted to sit and watch him scribble, that was fine.

It took him half an hour to do the translation, cross checking two different dictionaries in the process. He squinched his face up when he had to read English and used a line minder. Never mind that Giles snorted at it. It helped.

“Well, here you are. The translation is in shorthand. If you can’t read it, I’ll have my secretary type it up for you.”

Giles finished his second cup of tea in a swift gulp. “I can’t, but if you give it to me, I’ll take it to her myself and wait.”

Xander nodded, scribbling on a half sheet of paper. “And here’s the bill. Don’t faint. But don’t let the Council short me either. I don’t do stinky, human skin for just anybody, you know.”

Giles nodded, accepting the papers and the objectionable scroll. “I do realize that, and I’m very grateful. Apocalypse, you know. And I’ll make sure the Council pays you every shilling.”

Xander nodded, watched Giles leave then called Spike. “I need you. Come now.”

It didn’t take Spike long to show up.

“What’s wrong, pet? Ya sound peeved.”

“Giles brought me a stinky scroll. But I translated it anyway. There’s an apocalypse coming.”

Spike groaned. “Damn, not another. I’m sick of it. Who’s going to end the world now? And who do I kill?”

Xander settled behind his desk and consulted his notes. “Ok, open the Hellmouth by sacrificing ... something. I don’t recognize this stuff. I know the name and I can translate it. But I don’t know what it actually is. The word translates as harpaks, that’s Syrian, ancient, not modern. Very near Babylonian. But that’s as far as I can go. I’ve looked it up in several books but they just say amber. I don’t get it.” Spike nearly snorted his tea. “Ok, so I’m stupid.”

Spike gave Xander a filthy glare. “What did I say about that?” Xander just shrugged irritably. “You’re not stupid, just lookin at the word from the wrong perspective. Amber, the stone, not the color.”

Xander just smacked himself in the forehead. “And it says right there.” He pointed at a passage in his neat shorthand. “A ... um ... pound of it. That’s a lot, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that much semiprecious stone? Kinda. What are they going to do with it?”

“Toss it into the Hellmouth, along with stinky herbs, incense and ... um ...” He consulted his notes again. “That’s all. No blood sacrifice or chanting or anything. Don’t think it’ll work, but there’s no sense in taking chances. I’m not sure when, though. I’ll have to get out a calendar and work it out.”

“You do that. I’ll be preparing for battle.”

“Ok, kiss, then go.” Spike did as Xander requested and Xander turned to his translation to try to figure out when the ‘confluence of water and earth’ was.

Authors Note: African Violets are propagated by cutting off a leaf and part of it’s stem and sticking the cut leaf into a pot of rooting mix. The stem will start rooting and putting out new leaves. I’ve seen leaves for sale for up to 6.00 a piece. (Way too rich for my blood)

Part Twenty-Four

Xander rubbed his forehead in frustration. ‘Confluence of Water and Earth.’ “What the hell is this?” He’d checked all the references he had and come up blank. He sighed, he was going to have to call in favors from all over. Hopefully someone would know something.

Spike responded to Xander’s request by sending out letters to several of his contacts asking about the confluence. He knew that they’d have to wait a while for answers so he continued his preparations for he knew not what.

“Pet, I hate this. Are you sure you can’t figure it out on your own?”

“Sorry, tried until my head hurts... nothing. I’ve searched all my books until I’ve nearly worn off the print. Spike, I’m tired. I’ve researched until I just can’t any more. I’m not doing myself or you any good by wearing myself out. I’m going to bed. Coming?”

Spike took a really good look at Xander for the first time in three days. He looked terrible, dark circles under his eyes and unshaven for the first time Spike could remember.

“In a few, pet. You go on. Take a bath, a long, hot one. Relax. When’s the last time you ate?”

Xander thought for a moment. “I don’t remember. Maybe I’ll have Timmins bring me something.”

Xander left his office, headed for his quarters.

Timmins met him at the door. “Young Master. You look exhausted. I’ll prepare a bath and turn down your bed. Anything else?”

“Food, I don’t remember when I ate last. My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. And get a message to Master Bruce. I want to step up my training. And I need to tell Sylvia to get in touch with Giles. Music lessons, I forgot about them. I need to apologize to him.”

Timmins just nodded. “Very well. Bath. You sit right there and rest. Your bath will be ready in just a few minutes.” Timmins went to run a bath, set out pajamas and prepare a tray for Xander, to be ready when he was done with his bath.

Xander settled into the scented water. Timmins always put a few drops of something in the bath. Xander breathed deeply and scooted down in the tub until he was submerged up to his chin. He stayed there until he heard the door open.

“Pet? You asleep?”

“No, just thinking.I’m really worried about this. Buffy’s good and she’ll probably do this without breaking a sweat, but it’s not like Giles to not know something like this. What’s going on?”

“Giles is setting Buffy up to be on her own. I think he really doesn’t know what this confluence is, but he’s making Buffy work on it herself. Which leaves us with the dirty end of the stick ... again.”

“Well, I’m all for letting them take care of business themselves. We’ve done all we can. Apocalypse and what not, not our business anymore. Besides, when have you ever known her to fail?”

Spike gave Xander a worried look. “Pet? Not like you to be so calm about something like this. What’s up?”

Xander shrugged. “Somehow my fear button got broke. We either survive this or we don’t. I refuse to spend my time worrying about something I can’t fix. Buffy’s good. Really good. We should trust her to do the job. Help her all we can and just relax.”

Spike sighed, sometimes Xander’s ability to just accept scared him. “Ok, pet. But I have to admit that I ... it’s against my nature, feels like giving up somehow.”

“Not giving up. Just ... like I said, not worrying about something we can’t do anything about. Now,I’m going to get out before I turn into a prune.”

Spike handed Xander a towel and watched as he dried himself. Then Timmins came in with a shaving kit and started making preparations to shave Xander. Spike waited until he was done then held out his hand for the razor. Xander settled in the barber chair in the corner wrapped in a big towel. Spike whipped a few drops of water and the soap into a foam and started brushing it on Xander’s face.

“You like being shaved, don’t you?”

“Yeah, feels so good. You any good at this?”

Spike laughed softly. “Shaved Angelus often enough. Lazy prat.”

“Too bad cutting his throat didn’t work.”

“True, true, but it annoyed the hell out of him.” Xander snickered. “Hold still.”

“Ok, but stop telling me stuff like that then.” Xander stretched his chin up, baring his neck.

Spike gazed at Xander for a moment then began to shave him. The trust Xander showed, allowing himself to be shaved with a straight razor made Spike’s hand shake for a moment.

Xander opened one eye. “Spike?”

“Nothing, pet. Turn your head.” Xander obeyed without question, allowing Spike to finish shaving him. When Spike was done wiping the last of the soap off Xander’s face, Xander leaned up and kissed him.

“I’m hungry. Timmins promised food. Is there food?” Xander’s hopeful look made Spike laugh.

“Of course there’s food. Timmins promised, didn’t he? Come on. He’s got it set up in the bedroom.”

Xander sighed happily. “Can I have it in bed? I’ve never had anything in bed before. Not even when I was sick.”

Spike sighed softly, hearing such things made him want to go eat Xander’s parents, but he’d promised not to so he wouldn’t. “Sure you can, pet. Timmins will bring a bed tray. I’ll tell him.”

Spike went on through to tell Timmins to bring the promised tray while Xander got his pajamas on.

Xander came out of the bathroom just as Timmins set the tray. Spike held the covers open, Xander slid between the sheets and Timmins set the tray across his lap. Spike settled on his side of the bed and snitched a piece of cheese.

“Hey! Mine! Get your own.”

Spike just grinned, he knew Xander would give him anything he asked for, stealing a bit was just fun. And Xander didn’t really mind, he knew that there was plenty of everything available on request.

“Just a bite. I’m going to go out tomorrow night. I’ve still got to find the Freaky Master, as you’ve been calling him. He’s breaking every rule I made. He’s making fledges just because he can, and trying to wrest my court away from me. Not that he’d ever be able to run it. I’m tired of cleaning up his messes, or Buffy having to do it. I’m going to concentrate on finding him.” Spike stretched. “Now, finish your supper and go to sleep. You look like shit.”

“And thank you so much. My ego also thanks you. Ass.”

Spike just laughed at Xander who snorted his amusement around a mouthful of cheese and crackers.

Xander soon finished with the food and Spike put the tray on the floor.

“Ready, pet? I think I’ll stay up a while but you go on to sleep, I’ll just read a bit. Ok?”

Xander grumbled, “Sleepy now. Read if you like. Night.”

Spike tucked the covers over his shoulder and settled with a report. He was ‘lumbered’ with a pile of reports and requests for audience that he had to read. Some of them were over twenty years old. He growled.


Giles finally managed to trace down the reference he’d been looking for, with a great deal of help from one of Xander’s contacts. A contact he’d made through Spike. Giles growled in a definitely unlibrarian manner and thumped the prophecy with a fist. The Confluence of Water and Earth was simply a good rainy night on the full moon. “Blast! What a bunch of idiots. Wait until Spike and Xander find this out. Spike will go insane. Now what?”

Buffy just shrugged. “Well, we check the weather report and an almanac. You write down all the dates of the full moons for the next... six or seven, months?Then we keep checking around. Amber isn’t that common a thing to ship in large amountsis it?” Giles shook his head. “Who do you know that could find out if someone ships that much amber into Sunnydale? See, easy. Not simple,” Buffy held up her hand to forestall Giles’s remark. “Easy. So, what needs killing tonight?”

Giles had to shake his head at this. He’d been worried that Buffy wouldn’t be able to manage on her own, now he was wondering if she needed him at all.

“Just a general patrol, I think. Nothing much seems to be happening just now. Spike has taken care of a great deal of the trouble. Now all we’re getting are mindless monsters and plotting idiots. However, they can cause real trouble if they aren’t taken care of quickly.”

Buffy hopped off the table she’d been sitting on and brushed the seat of her pants. “Ok. Why don’t you come with? You look really pissed. You need to work off some aggression. What’s with that, by the way?”

“I’m just very tired of the Council of Watchers and their attitude. I’ve turned in my resignation. I have money now. Between that cache of jewels I found and the 401K I invested in, I’m very well off. The Magic Shop is making money too. So I just told them to take a hike, I believe the phrase is. The wear on my nerves has taken its toll. But I have high hopes of feeling better soon.”

Buffy smiled happily at Giles. “That’s great. You don’t need them telling you how to do things. You tell them. You’re smarter than most of them put together and this just proves it. Now, we’ll go kill something, have pizza, stop by that new club and listen to some music and check the place for demon influences. Then home, shower, bed. What do you think?”

“Sounds like a winner to me, I’ll get my axe.”

Buffy smiled proudly at her watcher. It was about time he had a life of his own again. She knew she would need him for years yet, but he needed to let her do the job and just relax a bit more. Dumping the Council of Wankers was the first step. And if they thought they were going to inflict another Wesley on her, they had another think coming.


They took the time to stop by Tara’s new apartment to see how she was doing. It was late but a light in one window showed that she was still up. She was doing fine, and was glad to see them. She invited them in for tea.

Buffy grinned, “Ok, as long as it’s not one of those things that’s all pink. I hate those, they all taste the same.”

Tara nodded. “Passion fruit. Manufacturers put in it lots of herbals because it’s sweet. Then add sugar and ... bleh!”

Buffy nodded back at Tara. “I know what you mean. It’s just too much.”

Tara fix the pot and when it was done, handed round cups of PG Tips, saying, “So ... tell me what’s going on.”

Despite the lateness of the hour Giles and Buffy filled her in on everything. She kept tea made and listened, making soft comments from time to time.

Finally, Giles asked Tara what she was planning to do now. He wasn’t much surprisedby her answer.

“I’m not really sure. Willow seems to have ... cut me off from so many friends. I don’t remember the last time I went to a Wicca meeting, or Latin Club, or ... I used to belong to four clubs, now, I’m not sure. I’ll just have to start rebuilding my life.” she sighed softly and gazed into her cup.

“Will you come to work for me? I need more help in the shop. I’m being asked to stay open later and open earlier. I could give you about twenty hours a week. And you’d meet people with the same interests as you. In a safe environment. And I could check them out for...”

“Freakiness. And I’ll give them the shovel talk. If they’re ... um ... your type. If you know what I mean.” Buffy grinned at Tara who blushed and ducked her head.

“Thanks. I’d like that. When should I start?”

Giles finished his tea and stood up. “Come in tomorrow morning about ten and we’ll fill out the paper work. Buffy’s helping too. Between us I can come up with a schedule that covers the store, keeping two people on when we’re busiest. If we start getting enough business, I’ll put on another person. Too bad Dawn doesn’t want a job. But, Joyce doesn’t want her working just yet. Her grades are ...” he just shook his head and smiled, Buffy grimaced. The less said about Dawn and her grades the better. Joyce had grounded her the minute she’d seen the grades from the last semester.

“Well, see you tomorrow, Tara. Giles, we need to get going, you look beat.”

Giles just nodded and followed Buffy out the door.


Spike snarled softly.He was still reading briefs, but now the worst were only ten years old. He’d had his secretary organize them by importance rather than chronologically. He rubbed his face in disgust. The Master hadn’t cared for things like this before he’d gone completely insane, the moment he’d been trapped in the mission under Sunnydale, he’d completely quit doing anything except try to escape. Not that Spike blamed him for that, but still, he could have done something once in a while, if only to stave off boredom.

Xander appeared in the open door. “Knock, knock.”

“Better not be one of those damn jokes of yours. ‘M not in the mood.”

Xander pouted a bit. “Just wanted to ask a question and make a comment. But I can always go away and let you stew in peace.”

Spike was around the desk with his hands grasping Xander’s wrists in a split second. “No! Sorry, pet, it’s just that you should see all the ... idiocy I’m dealing with. Comment first, then question. Ok?”

Xander grinned at Spike. “Ok. I really like this collar, didn’t think I would but I do. And question. I thought it was supposed to be steel.”

Spike looked inordinately pleased with himself. “It is. It was treated with some ... process I don’t understand to make it look like gold. Why?”

Xander grinned. “Just curious. Now, why don’t you let me see some of this idiocy?”

Spike just tossed a pile of folders at Xander and announced. “You can deal with these, they’re all in languages I don’t speak. If you don’t know them either, put them on the floor. Otherwise, make a decision, or hand it to me if you think it’s too important for you. Ok?”

Xander just nodded absently, nose already buried in a folder. “Hmmm. ‘S ok.”

They worked most of the ‘day’ and consulted each other on some of the cases. It didn’t take Spike long to realize that Xander really had a good mind when it came to making a decision about certain things. Others, he didn’t seem to have a clue, since they played to each others weaknesses, it was a good thing.

Xander finally stretched and yawned. “I’m hungry. You want something?”

Spike rubbed his face and sighed. “No, I’m good. I’ll just finish up here. You go on and have something. I shouldn’t be more than...” Spike counted the files still on his desk. “Half an hour or so. Then I’m going out to hunt the Freaky Master again. Bastard keeps slipping through my net. Fucker.”

Xander sighed, this was getting a bit out of hand. Spike spent several nights a week just looking for the vampire they’d taken to calling The Freaky Master, for the lack of any other name. He always just missed somehow. And it was beginning to really rankle.

“Excuse me, Master Spike. I need to talk to you for a moment, if it’s convenient.”

Spike nearly snarled at the man but realized that he was one of the people working on the gate to the sewers that Xander and he had talked about.

“Yes, what is it?”

“I need to put part of the sewer level off limits for several days. We’re going to cut the entrance and the whole area will be dangerous until we get it rebraced and sealed. Then we need to get all the remaining debris removed and do the safety checks. It shouldn’t take more than ... a week. We could do it faster but I’d rather not cut the corners necessary.”

Spike thought for a second. “Ok. A week it is. I’ll write the signs myself and post a notice on the bulletin boards that I’ll belt anyone who disobeys me.”

The man nodded. “I’ll need the signs tomorrow. I’ll set up a place just inside the construction area for you. Magic marker?”

Spike nodded. “That’ll be fine. I’ll see you then.”

Spike turned his back on the bowing man and returned to his reading.


Xander got up at a reasonable hour the next day and was sad to realize that Spike wasn’t in bed with him. Spike hadn’t come in at all last night. He rolled out of bed calling for Timmins.

Timmins stuck his head in the door, asking Xander what he needed.

“Just need to know where Spike is. Did he come in at all last night? I don’t remember.”

“Yes, just before dawn. He went directly down to the new sewer entrance that’s being cut. I’m not sure why, but he said to tell you that he’d be late to breakfast.”

Xander grumbled softly. “He doesn’t have to stay up to eat breakfast with me. I’m ok with his hours.”

“Yes, but his consideration for you is a mark of his regard. He’s adjusting his hours a bit and you’ve adjusted yours. It works out well in court also, as the hours cross the line between day walkers and night.”

Xander thought about that for a moment. “I see. I didn’t think of it that way. It makes sense though. This way we’re not dealing with ... um ... people who are either sleep deprived or up way too early. Smart.”

“Yes, Master Spike is very smart. He went to ... Yale? Or was it Harvard? Very intellectual at any rate. Now, what do you want for breakfast? I’d recommend something light as you’re due in the gym for training. Master Bruce sent to remind you.”

Xander decided on fruit, cereal and juice. Timmins had it ready in seconds.

“Thanks. Coffee?”

“Certainly.” Timmins poured coffee for Xander and returned to his preparations. Xander hoped he was working on lunch.

“That lunch?”

“Yes, I’m making Shepard’s Pie. You like it, it’s healthy the way I make it and it’ll keep over if you’re late. Now, better hurry or you’ll be late.”

Xander gulped the last of his coffee and hurried out the door. It wasn’t a good idea to be late, especially when Master Bruce was going to start a new phase of his training.


Spike settled at the small table and waited for Master Bruce to speak, it didn’t take long.

“I’d like to begin Xander’s next level of training. It’s going to be very hard but it’ll be well worth it. But I feel it necessary ... and prudent to ask your permission first.”

“Prudent, yeah, that’s a good way to put it. No one harms Xander, no one.” Spike held up a hand to keep Master Bruce from protesting. “I know you’re not going to harm him. Just. Well, you know.” Master Bruce nodded.

Master Bruce trained in the old way and that could be extremely harsh at times. Xander responded so well to this type of training that both Bruce and Spike saw no reason to use other methods. They were never cruel but Xander would carry bruises for days.

Xander didn’t seem to mind much. Oh, he complained about it, but, if he’d ever refused they’d back off, he never did. The boy was much tougher than anyone had ever suspected. He made Spike very proud.

“The boy is good. If he wants to be trained, I'm all for it. Just make sure that you don't do him any harm.”

“I'll be very careful of him. You know that. And he's more than ready to move up a level. If you try to coddle him, you'll lose him.”

Spike made a face. “I know that. And I want him to have all the training he wants. I just ... hate to see him hurting.”

“I'm not too thrilled with it myself, but it's training. He won't thank either one of us for 'saving him. I'll try not to be too hard on him.”

Spike just nodded. “I know you're right, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I'm a harsh master when I have to be, but I learned Xander responds so much better to kindness. It's hard, I'm not a kind man. I'm rude and bad and short tempered.”

Master Bruce just snorted. “You coddle the man outrageously, and he responds so well. I'd hate to see what happens if you forget yourself.”

Spike rubbed his face. “Me too. Well, enough of this. He'll be here soon and I have work. Keep me posted.”

Master Bruce just stood and bowed. “I will. You'll see, he's a quick study. Good-bye, sire.”


Xander realized that his training was going to be hard but he didn't care. He was getting better and better. His weapon work was flawless, Master Bruce said so. Now he was going to be taught hand-to-hand. He was so proud that he'd managed to learn what he had. And he was more than ready to learn more.

“Master Bruce, I'm ready. What first?” Xander bowed with dignity and waited for Master Bruce to explain what they were going to do.

“First, I want you to show me what you know about martial arts. Just do every move you know.”

So Xander stood in the middle of the mat, bowed and started going through every move he'd ever seen. Giles had taught Buffy right under his nose for years, he'd learned more than he'd thought. He used quite a few of them in his sword kata, but he hadn't done them without a sword in his hand.

Master Bruce watched critically, cataloging which moves Xander knew well and which ones they needed to work on. He was very surprised by how much Xander knew. Then he wondered why he was surprised, Xander was a very quick study.

Xander waited as Master Bruce stared at him. He didn't feel self conscious about his scrutiny, he'd gotten used to being stared at by now. So he just stood and waited.

“Well, that's very good. I didn't realize that you knew so many forms. But can you do anything with them?”

Xander sighed. “A few. But most, no. I'm ready to learn though.”

“I know. You're a very good student.” Xander bowed his thanks. “I'm going to show you a kata. I don't think you'll have much trouble with it. Now, we begin.”

Xander watched as Master Bruce worked his way through a kata that included all the moves Xander was comfortable with. Xander started out slowly but moved through the kata with some confidence. He had a very good memory, due to having to memorize so much trying to hide his reading problems.

Master Bruce had to compliment him when he was done. “Excellent, you got it right the first time. Very good work. Do it again.”

Xander did the kata a total of ten times. By the time he was done with number ten, he was sweating and very tired. But he also felt very good. He'd managed to please Master Bruce and avoid getting even one punishment. Not that he was overly worried about that. Master Bruce knew better than to use a belt. Xander could cope with any punishment but that.


Giles checked his phone messages and was a bit startled to hear Buffy telling him she needed him. She'd been doing very well on her own and he'd been contemplating his retirement with glee. But he'd agreed to stay with her for another six months so he opened his weapons chest and took out his favorite ax. He wondered if he should notify Spike that they thought they'd cornered the Freaky Master, after a bit of thought he decided he should. His call was answered by Xander’s secretary who said she'd pass the message on.

Giles met Buffy at the address she'd given, which he'd passed on in his message, she smiled at the sight of his ax. “Well, you still swing a bad ax.” She snickered at her own joke and missed the flare in Giles's eye. Ripper was getting closer and closer to the surface all the time.

“Come on, Buffy. Let's get in there and take care of this ass so I can go home and have my tea. I'm sick of cleaning up after the prat. And he makes you way too much work.”

Buffy just nodded and headed out. Neither one of them saw Xander standing at the end of the street.

He’d gotten the message from Sylvia instead of Spike. Sylvia had said she couldn’t find Spike so she’d passed the message on to him. Xander had decided to come see what was going on for himself. He’d stay out of the fight unless it got away from Buffy and Giles. He never thought about notifying Spike himself, he’d told Sylvia to do that, when Spike came in.

Xander gripped his dochi, a walking stick that separated into two short swords, and waited. He never noticed Arnold hovering in the nearby alley.

It didn’t take long. He heard fighting, then the sound of running feet. He watched for a moment to make sure that it wasn’t an innocent bystander.

No innocent bystander looked like this. The runner was thin, filthy, hollow-eyed and ragged. His eyes glowed yellow and he hadn’t bothered to try to hide his demon face.

Xander stepped in between him and his escape.

“I think Buffy wants a word or two with you. Better stay around, it’ll make things easier.” Xander unsheathed his swords, the vampire sneered.

“Those are steel. You can’t hurt a vampire with steel. I’ll make you a minion, instead of a fledge.”

“Don’t think so. I’m already a thrall. Master Spike’s thrall, to be exact. So ... come and get it, Fangface.”

The vampire charged and Xander just stood and waited for him to come close. The fight was short but hard. Xander dodged the charge, and realized that he really should have brought a stake. He stabbed at the vampire’s back, hoping to sever his spine. It didn’t work but it put the vampire off his stride. He hadn’t thought the human would be strong enough or quick enough to dodge his charge. He took a second to regroup. A second that Xander used to his advantage.

He swept the vampire off his feet with a drop spin kick and slashed at his legs as he flailed for a second, trying to get back to his feet. The vampire managed to kick him in the thigh and get to his feet but with a nasty slash across his calf. Xander had to skip to the side to keep him from grabbing a handful of shirt. That would have been disastrous.

The vampire was more cautious now and Xander knew he had to finish it quickly or he was dead.

With this in mind Xander backpedaled, drawing the vampire into making a mistake. He followed in a rush, instead of being cautious enough to figure out what Xander was doing. “That’s right. Run, pretty boy, I’ll catch you no matter what.”

Xander just faked one way, getting the vampire to follow, then spun quickly, pivoting on one foot. This brought him into position to hamstring his opponent in one leg. The vampire screamed in fury and tried to attack, hopping on one leg. Xander dodged a third time, the vampire was obviously so used to his victims just giving up that he was confused by Xander’s continued resistance.

The vampire tried one last ploy. “Look into my eyes. I’ll show you all the rewards of submitting.”

Xander laughed. “I know all the rewards of submitting ... to Spike. That’s how you do it, isn’t it? You use that trick and make them come to you. Well, it won’t work on me. I’m already enthralled.”

“Idiot! You’ll never succeed in killing me. You don’t have a stake. And ...”

Xander moved quickly, while the vampire was still trying to enthrall him. He charged, whipping one sword at the vampire’s face and the slashing at his groin with the other. The charge confused him and the slash distracted him from the back cut of Xander’s right hand sword. As the vampire dusted Xander snarled, “Decapitation works too, idiot.” He brushed the dust away from his shoulder and sheathed his swords. He slipped into the shadows and went back to his truck.

Bud was there, making Xander start. Neither one of them saw Arnold sprint to a manhole cover and drop through it.

“Where did you come from?”

“Where the hell do you think? I’d really appreciate you not doing this again. I really like my guts inside me. Master Spike finds out that you took off on your own, especially to back up the Slayer, and he’ll have fits. Big ones. You wanna wind up chained in the basement again?”

Xander sighed, rubbed his face and admitted. “I don’t. I really, really don’t. I didn’t even think. I’m such a Scoobie still. Buffy snaps her fingers and I come running. But I was really more worried about Giles than Buffy. But you’re right. I’ll have to tell Spike myself. Shit!”

Xander banged his fist on the steering wheel. Bud just gave him a sympathetic glance then stared out the windshield. Xander drove home in a bit more of a hurry than the law allowed.

He made it just in time to have Spike yank him out of the truck. “What the bloody hell are you thinking? Where have you been?”

Xander just stood and looked at Spike. He decided that Xander-babble was not going to do the job.

Spike ran a hand through his hair. He was furious, he always got mad when he was scared. Xander had just disappeared from the residence without any explanation. Bud had come to Spike and asked where Xander was, Spike hadn’t known and neither had Timmins. They’d asked around and Sylvia had told them where Xander was. She’d said that Xander didn’t say it was urgent that Spike be given the message. Spike had snarled at her, sending her scurrying away.

“Buffy needed me. I mean, she thought ... she called ... and the Freaky Master nearly got away. Only he didn’t.”

Spike rubbed his face with both hands. “Dammit! Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

Arnold interrupted, saying, “He dusted your prey. The Slayer drove him out of his lair and Xander beheaded him.”

Spike blinked at Xander for a second. “Well, why didn’t you say so? Good on you, pet. But the next time you take off without telling me, I’ll make you regret it. Understand?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah. ... Spike?” Spike raised his eyebrow. “I’m really sorry. I told Sylvia to get the message to you. I guess she didn’t realize how important you would think it was. I’ll do better next time.”

Spike put one arm around Xander’s shoulders. “You better. I don’t like being scared like that.” At Xander’s skeptical look Spike barked. “What? I don’t. I get mad when I get scared. And who knows what I might do when I get mad enough. Come on, I’ll get us some coffee. And Timmins is going to rip you a new one.”

Xander made a face, he hated Timmins’ lectures with a passion. Timmins could reduce him almost to tears without breaking a sweat. Instead of cutting remarks or calling him names or whatever he just calmly explained exactly what Xander had done wrong and said he was disappointed. Xander hated that, he’d almost rather take a whipping.

“Man, I just hope he leaves some skin, last time, he left me really raw. Coffee sounds good.”


Giles beheaded the last of the fledges and chased the ragged vampire toward the door. Buffy was busy in the back of the warehouse, dealing with several minions. Giles charged the door and managed to get through it just in time to see Xander dust the Freaky Master. Giles started to go out to congratulate Xander, but Xander was already on his way back to his truck. Giles blinked when he realized that the demon named Bud was just sitting in the passenger seat. He also saw the shadow that was Arnold slip out of the alley and run into the darkness.

“Hmmm, wonder what that’s about. Xander better be careful, court politics can be a bitch.” Deciding that Xander was capable of taking care of himself, especially with a demon beside him, Giles went back into the warehouse to see if Buffy was done yet.

She was, so they headed back for the Magic Box, discussing the kill on the way. Giles was startled and pleased to see that Xander was very, very good. He started to discuss this with Buffy but she held up a hand.

“I don’t want to know. It scares me how good he’s gotten. I think I know how Spike is doing it and I don’t like it. That’s not my Xander, letting himself be ... whatever he is. He’s changing in ways I don’t like.”

Giles snarled to himself. Buffy was going to lose all contact with Xander if she couldn’t get her head around his status. “Buffy, Xander is thrall to the most powerful Master Vampire on this side of the Mississippi. He’s a power in himself. Please consider how helpful he could be to us. If you don’t alienate him. He has Spike’s ear, as the saying is, and he can ask for things. Things, favors we need that Spike might not be inclined to give. Think, please.”

Buffy shrugged. “Well, if it’s that important, maybe you better suck up to Spike. I’m sure I’m not going to, doesn’t suit the title of Slayer. Now, I’m tired, I want a shower then a bunchof z’s. Night.”

Giles just stared after Buffy. She was becoming independent, which he wanted. She was also getting more stubborn, which he didn’t. He decided to let fate take care of itself and went into the back of the Magic Box to get some incense, then on home to sleep.


Spike fought with himself. His first instinct was to punish Xander until he fell unconscious. He knew this wasn’t going to get him where he wanted to go so he pushed the impulse aside. But Xander did have to be punished. He’d broken one of Spike’s firmest rules. No going out without Bud by his side. And the other rule, always let Spike know where he was going. But that one, Spike was going to let slide a bit. Xander had told Sylvia where he was going. Sylvia was going to bear the punishment for that, in fact she was being whipped as he struggled with his fury.

Xander just stood and waited with a quiet dignity, unexpected in the over exuberant ex-Scoobie.

“Sylvia didn’t tell anyone where you’d gone for nearly two hours, I was already searching for you. She told Bud, he called me but managed to get to you before me because he was out looking, while I was waiting here for word. He called when he saw you stake the Freaky Master. That’s the only reason I’m here instead of there. I’m not sure what I’m gonna do yet.”

Xander just nodded. Spike gazed at him for a moment then turned to Bud.

“Talk. Where was he?”

So Bud told Spike everything. How he’d come across Xander’s truck exactly where Sylvia had said it would be. And watching Xander take off the vampire’s head. He gave the opinion that Xander would have stayed right there in the street as backup unless he was really needed. The mad vampire had come to him, not the other way around.

Spike now had a real problem. Xander had actually done what was right, but he’d disobeyed Spike doing it.

Arnold interrupted Spike’s musings with more of his annoying prattle. “I told him not to go. I told him he’d be in trouble. I told...”

Spike just snarled at him. He shut up with a rebellious glower at Xander. Xander just raised an eyebrow at him then turned to Spike again. Arnold was really beginning to get on his nerves. He knew that the only reason he was still around was he was such a good mechanic.

Spike rubbed his face then pronounced Xander’s punishment. “Six lashes. No court for one month, I’ll assign you chores instead. You’re also grounded, no going outside for any reason. You’ll have lessons still, but double the practice. Go to quarters. Now.”

Xander walked away, head high, shoulders straight. He’d wait for Spike in their quarters.

Spike turned to Arnold and announced, “The next time he takes his truck you’re to come to me at once, not fuck around trying to decide how much trouble he’ll be in. Got me? And watch yourself, you’re really beginning to get on my nerves.” Arnold nodded, quickly slinking into the crowd of demons standing around watching. “And you lot, take off. Nothing to see here. Git!” They all scrambled to get out of Spike’s angry sight. Spike snarled again and stomped off, headed for his quarters and Xander.


Xander greeted him at the door with a sad eyed look that nearly broke his resolve. But he stood firm, Xander would obey him, for his own safety, if for no other reason.

“I’m sorry. Really. And I don’t expect my apology to mitigate my punishment in the least. But ... um ... could we get the punishment over with so we can go on to the cuddly making up part?”

Spike hugged Xander for a moment. “Yeah, pet, let’s get it over with. I’ll be back in a second. I got to get my crop.” Xander winced. “Rather have a cane instead?”

Xander just shook his head. “Doesn’t make much difference. They all hurt. But, if I have a real choice, I’d rather take the cane.”

“Not gonna cane ya, or anything like it. You’re takin’ it calmly, though.”

“Not really, but screaming and crying? Not real dignified and won’t do me any good, will it?” Spike just shook his head. “Didn’t think so.”

Spike just told Xander, in no uncertain terms, exactly how stupid he’d been. He lectured him on proper behavior and explained how much damage this could have done to Spike’s authority. When he was finished, Xander was nearly in tears.

“I’m sorry pet, but you gotta do better. I can’t have ya ignoring rules like that. I’m a Master Vampire and, if my demon decides that you’re too far out of line, he’ll take over and I won’t be able to control ‘im, no matter how much I want to. Now, ya got a nasty bruise on your shoulder here.”

Spike pushed Xander’s shirt completely off his shoulder to look at it.

“I’m fine. Hurts some, but Master Bruce has let me get worse from messing up a form. Stop fussing, come cuddle me and tell me how brave I was.”

Spike just sighed, pulled Xander into the bedroom and onto the bed. He carefully held Xander, hugging him.

“You are brave, and loyal and all the things I need in a lover. Understand?”

Xander smiled into the darkness. “Yeah, I understand.”


Xander woke the next morning and watched Spike sleep for a few moments before he eased his way out of bed and into the shower. His pride still stung a bit but Spike had taken it very easy on him, for which he was appropriately grateful.

He finished his shower quickly and dressed as quietly as he could. Spike watched from under lowered lids. Xander had seemed to want privacy so Spike had granted him his wish.

When Xander was gone Spike rolled over and sighed. It was hard to hold his temper when Xander did such stupidly brave things. He wanted to wrap him up in silk and save him from himself. But that was something that would destroy exactly the things that he so loved about Xander. He wanted all of Xander, not some shell that looked like Xander but wasn’t. So he held his temper in iron control. He wasn’t about to lose everything along with his notorious temper.

Spike finally got out of bed and ready for his day. He had to check on the sewer entrance today, one of the reasons he was up so early. He was glad that his sleep cycles had always been odd, he didn’t need much sleep and he could manage quite well on two or three hours caught whenever he could.

He headed for his office after asking Timmins to bring him some bagged blood, he didn’t have time today to go visit the stables, nor the inclination. So he stuck his nose in paperwork until Timmins brought his blood.

“Talk to the boy?”

Timmins just sighed and nodded. “Yes, sir. I did.”

“What’d he say?”

“That he was sorry he’d disappointed me and worried you. But that he’d do it again if he had to. Although he did say he’d make sure Sylvia, or whoever, knew to find you and tell you right away. Also, sir, he cried. Poor boy was very upset that he’d worried you. He’s in the dojo with Master Bruce right now. Master Bruce was extremely worried. He’s working the young master extra hard today, making sure that he can defend himself properly. I think he’s going to need a massage tonight. You might want to do it yourself, to prove that you’ve forgiven him.”

Spike nodded. “You’re right. I’ll do that. And ... treats. He needs a proper treat. Another sign that we’ve forgiven him. See to it.”

Timmins just nodded, said ‘Yes, sire.’ and left to make his preparations.


Xander groaned softly. Master Bruce was really taking a chunk out of him today. He’d set Xander to learn a new kata and it was very hard. Xander knew exactly what Master Bruce was doing but he didn’t say anything. He knew he deserved it. He’d worried all the Masters under Spike’s rule. He’d never realized how much they all liked him until he’d gotten a dressing down from almost all of them.

“Master? May I speak?”

Master Bruce just sighed and nodded. “Very well. But I’m not accepting any excuses.”

“Not offering any. Just want to say that I’m sorry I worried you all. It was stupid and inconsiderate of me. I’ll do better. And ... um ... there’s that one move about two thirds of the way through the kata. I need to see it done again. Please?”

“Yes. I’ll demonstrate it until you get it right. And ... you’re forgiven. That doesn’t mean that I’m done punishing you ... yet.”

Xander just growled and stood up. Master Bruce demonstrated the form and Xander copied him until he got it right. Then he managed his repetitions without an excessive amount of difficulty. Master Bruce only punished him twice and a bit half heartedly at that.

He worked hard and by the time he was done, he was sweating and weary.

“Man, I’m done in. You’re a hard master, Sensai.”

“I’ll be harder on you than ever now. You’re moving into a new phase of your training and I’m not about to take chances that you don’t learn. Get used to it.”

Xander laughed. “I know, I know. I’m just a great big whiner. I’m going to hurt like mad tonight. And Spike is going to want...” Xander flushed a bit. “Well, you know what he’s going to want. Wonder if I could get a massage before he shows up.”

“Don’t bother, pet. I’ll do it myself. And ... yes, I’m going to want sex, not that you object.”

Xander just grinned and shook his head. “I like it. You’re a great lover. Come on. I need a bath and that massage sounds great.”

Spike just pulled Xander along by one hand, laughing softly.

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