Ulterior Motives


Part Twenty-Five

Xander got his bath and massage. Spike saw to it that he was totally relaxed, in every way. They slept late the next night and woke just before court was to convene.

Xander ate his breakfast, Spike had toast dipped in blood along with him.

“Ok, that’s just gross. How can you do that?”

Spike dipped the corner of his triangle of toast into his mug. “Just like this, pet.”

“Eeeuuuwww! Soggy toast is just nasty.” Xander waved his hand. “Out of my face with that. It’s all droopy an’ stuff.”

Spike munched on his bite of toast for a second, then what Xander had said clicked. “Soggy toast? Not bloody?”

“Bloody is natural. Soggy is not. Soggy toast is an oxymoron. Bleh!”

Spike had to laugh. “Ok, pet. No more dipping toast. Now... I have to go to court, you’re not allowed.”

Xander made a woeful face. “I know. I’m really sorry I disobeyed you but ... never mind. We went all over this. Master Bruce gave me some stuff to do and I’ve got a project that I’ve been working on. It’s a bench to match the clavichord. And a stool for me. When you get out of court, would you like to see them?”

“Sure. Sounds really nice. You do really good work. I don’t think I’ve seen work like yours for ... twenty years or more. I know a few demons, and some people too, who’d love to get their hands on some of your work. Want me to check it out?”

Xander brightened. “Yeah, that’d be great. I don’t need money, you give me plenty. But I like to earn my own, I’m getting really picky about the translations I do. If it’s not interesting, I’m not interested. And my no-no’s have gotten around, so I don’t get stinky stuff, black arts, or human or demon skin parchments anymore. Except from the Council of Wankers and I just send them back with a nasty note. I wonder if I burned one and sent them back the ashes, would that convince them? It’s an idea at any rate. And I want to take a look at the new tunnel.”

Spike sipped tea. “Not much to see yet. It’s still more or less just a big hole in the ground. And it’s dangerous in some parts. Read the signs.”

“Ok. I’ll be careful. You better get going, you’ll be late.”

Spike snorted, “Not like it makes any difference. They’re not going to do anything until I get there.” He strode out, coat tails swinging.


Xander reported to Master Bruce who set him to doing an exercise routine guaranteed to make him regret not being able to go to court. It worked. “Damn, you really hate me, don’t you?” Xander drank half the bottle of water at one go and then wiped his face with a damp towel.

“No, actually, I don’t. If you’re going to go off fighting vampires, you’ll be trained to survive it. Now, again.”

Xander groaned and picked up his sword again. “Ok, same kata?”

“No, I’m going to teach you the most advanced kata I know. Get ready.”

Xander braced himself for a hard day. His punishment was grueling but fair. He paid attention to Master Bruce’s instruction, Master Bruce was even more strict now than ever. Sharp swords and carelessness do not mix.

And Master Bruce now refrained from corporal punishments, he used extra exercise instead. Xander wound up doing over two hundred pushups and crunches during the hours he spent learning the kata.

At the end of the training session Master Bruce gave one last command. “Forty back flips. Then shower. I’ll send in Naomi to give you a massage. Where are you going after you leave here?”

Xander drank his forth bottle of water and sighed before answering. “I’m going to the station to work on a project for a while, then I’m going to look at the new sewer entrance. Quarters after that to work on a translation. Forty flips?”

Master Bruce put on his sternest look. “Forty. I don’t want you to wind up dizzy from two or three flips. This will prevent that. You’ll probably fall after ten or so, just get up and continue.”

“Ok. Forty it is.”

Xander started flipping. He made it to twenty before he fell. Master Bruce just pulled him to his feet and announced, ‘Twenty, keep going.’ Xander got his feet under him and went on.

By the time he was through with forty back flips he was shaky and dizzy. He just dropped into a cross-legged seat and waited for it to pass. Master Bruce didn’t bother him, he just waited for him to recover. He was very proud of Xander. He’d never seen a human who was so eager to learn and would tolerate his training methods, they were much too rough for most of them. And they broke so damn easily. Xander had now been getting Spike’s blood for nearly a year and it showed.

When Xander stopped shaking, he wiped sweat away again and headed for the shower just off the dojo. He knew that, without a massage, he was going to hurt. He was glad that Spike always made sure that there was a someone to give him a massage, sometimes he even did it himself. Today was not one of those times.

Xander showered quickly, scrubbing the sweat out of his hair, grumbling, “Master Vampire Sensei, evil thing. Ow! I’m gonna be so sore.”

The two masseuses in the outer room had to cover their mouths to keep from giggling out loud. Xander’s remarks, no matter how soft, could be heard by every vampire within twenty feet.

When he was finished showering, Xander just wrapped a towel around his waist and rubbed most of the water out of his hair with a towel. He remembered his war lock just in time. He’d forgotten about it once and given the dangling braid a rather painful pull. He spent a moment looking at it in the mirror. Bud had braided the 4 mm beads into a pencil sized braid, spacing them about two inches apart. He was rather proud of his accomplishment. He’d looked up Bud’s tribe and realized that their requirements for warrior were strict but he’d met them all. He stroked the braid and went out for his massage

The two girls were Chinese, tiny and very old. Xander nodded to them, got on the table and waited.

“You will be wanting us to give you moxibustion?”

Xander considered this for a moment. “No. It kinda creeps me out. Fire and Xander not such a good mix. Just a good massage. I’m going to hurt so bad tomorrow. Master Bruce is not pleased with me.”

“Ah, you should practice better then. He will be pleased with you if you are diligent in your kata.”

“Oh, I’m diligent. It’s just, you know me, I put my foot in it on a regular basis. I messed up and Master Spike is pissed at me, so Master Bruce is too. You didn’t hear?”

The other ‘girl’, Xander couldn’t convince himself to refer to them any other way, announced, “We do not listen to common gossip. We have much better things to do.” She emphasized this with a tiny sniff of disdain.

Xander relaxed as one vampire took one foot and the other one started on a hand. “Feels good.”

“Quiet, you! You are supposed to be relaxing, not chattering.”

“Yes, ma’am. Quiet now.” Xander bent himself to relaxing so he wouldn’t be stiff.

The two women worked on Xander, exchanging looks from time to time. Xander nearly dozed off he got so relaxed.

Finally, they patted him gently and got him off the table, suitably dressed and out the door. It was all they could do to keep from at least licking him.

“Very lickable, yes, sister?”

“Oh, so very, very bite-able. Too bad we’re not allowed.”

“Meh! I have no wish to have my hands severed and reattached on the wrong wrists.”

“Me neither. Master Spike is very possessive.”

“It will lead to bad things.”

“I do hope not. ... We better get this cleaned up.”

So they cleaned up the mess and went back to their quarters.

Xander went to his shop in the old filling station.


Xander ran his hand over the seat of the guitar stool. It wasn’t quite as smooth as he wanted it so he rummaged around in a box until he found the piece of steel wool. He used it, dipped in some linseed oil, to smooth off the last of the slight roughness caused by the joins in the inlay. He wanted this perfect. The pair of bench and stool stood for something special to him.

He spent the next hour working on the finish on both pieces, while the finish on one dried, he worked on the other. He wanted to have at least three coats of old-fashioned lacquer on both pieces today. As he worked, he unconsciously whistled the tune they were working on. He did love making music with Spike and Giles. He thought about what he wanted to make next as he rubbed.

After working for nearly two hours, Xander decided he'd done as much as he could for the time being so he began to clean up his work area. Several vampires, and human servants too, had offered to clean up for him but he liked to do it himself. That way he knew where everything was and he could be sure that his materials were stocked up and ready to be used.

“Looks so nice, pet.” Spike sauntered into the room, coat tails swinging gently.

“Thanks. I've finished for the day.” Xander caught Spike's hand before he could touch the bench. “Please don't. It's not dry yet and you'll leave a finger print. I was going to add another coat but it's not drying like it should.”

Spike drew back his hand. “Sorry. It's not drying right? Why not?”

Xander shrugged. “Don't know. It used to be dry here, but I've been feeling a damp draft. I think that's the problem, in fact, I know it is. I was going to go look for the source of the draft but now that you're here, why don't we both go?”

Spike had to laugh. “Master Vampire here. Huntin' down a draft, not exactly my forte. But we can look into it.”

Xander gave Spike a hug then turned towards the door. “Thanks. That draft is giving me fits. Something about it really bothers me. I'm not sure what.”

Spike shook himself, the hug had affected him more than he expected. Xander's open, easy affection, aimed at him, always caught him by surprise.

“Well, pet, we'll fix it. Do you notice any smell?”

“No, but that doesn't mean much. I don't have a good sense of smell. Not like yours, at any rate. Come on, this way.”

Spike followed Xander who had wet his finger by the simple expedite of sticking it in his mouth. He was holding it up and trying to feel which side was coolest. “This doesn't work as well as the movies seem to think. I don't feel that much difference.”

“I never found that trick to be worth the trouble. Got a candle here somewhere. That usually works.”

Xander looked interested, he loved it that Spike knew so many interesting things. He vowed to get Spike to tell him stories about the 'olden' days.

Spike found the candle and lit it. He held it up and moved it back and forth until the flame flickered. “There, see? When the flame flickers like that it's in a draft. Now ... I'll just move it slowly over the wall until it flickers again and ... Ha! There it is.”

Spike held the candle up and to one side a bit. The flame flickered gently in the small draft. Spike pointed to the area and had Xander poke at the brick until they found the small cracks between the bricks and the mortar that were letting in the draft.

Xander examined the cracks minutely. “Well, I can tuck point it. I think. Or maybe you've got a real brick man somewhere?”

“I'll find out. But what's behind the wall that's making a draft? I think we'd better find out. I'll go get a crew together and see what's what. You go on with whatever you were going to do.” Xander opened his mouth to object to being excluded from the expedition but Spike held up a hand. “No, pet, no argy-bargy. I know you are more than capable of handling the job. That's part of the problem actually. I have a whole group of fledges that need breaking in and you're supposed to take a look at the sewer access point and check to see that the job's going to speck.” Xander frankly gaped at Spike who smirked back. “See? I do too know the lingo. Made sure to find out what needed to be done. Don't trust those wankers to do the job right, no matter what they say. So go check it out for me, please?”

Xander eyed Spike closely for a few seconds but he seemed on the level. Xander didn't put it past him to pull a fast one, but his clear blue return gaze convinced Xander that he meant what he said.

“Well, ok. I don't like it, but you're right, someone really needs to check up on the work. and I'm the best for the job. Rats! I wanna go with you and kill something.” Xander made a face.

Spike nearly fell down laughing. “Alexander LaVel Harris! Ya sound like me. What's got your knickers in a twist?”

Xander laughed too. “Nothing much, I just ... You know, I think it's your blood. It's making me more ruthless ... or something.”

Spike nodded in understanding. “It'll do that. And it'll keep ya from aging, not completely, but you'll age about three or four months in a year.”

Xander followed Spike as he headed away from the drafty wall and up the stairs. “And it makes me stronger, quicker and I noticed that I heal a lot faster than normal, almost as fast as Buffy. Um ... how long do you think I'll live?”

Spike was tempted to say something like 'until you die.' but he knew that wasn't what Xander needed. “Don't know, pet. Long time. I've heard of some pets that lived ... oh, ninety years or more. You'll probably last longer than that. Don't let's worry about that right now, Ok?”

Xander shrugged, “Sure. Look, you go kill something, you selfish thing, and I'll go take a look at that hole in the ground. Bye.”

Spike waved to Xander as he rounded the corner then went to collect a few fledges that he wanted blooded. He decided to include Bud for good measure, if he forbad Xander to go hunting alone he needed to follow his own orders. As Master of the Hellmouth, he had responsibilities he couldn't avoid and as Master of California even less. So he was taking backup along with the fledges.


Xander ambled down the long hall. He remembered finding the glowing ball of the portal in one of the rooms along this hall. He shuddered a bit, he hated bugs.

He kept moving, he didn't like to think about the bugs, so this hall always kind of gave him the creeps. If he found another glowing ball he was stamping on it quick.

When he reached his gardens he took a short detour into them, walking in them relaxed him so he took a few moments just to look at plants. Narma stopped him with a question, and he took time to answer, which took a bit.

Xander left the gardens by the back side because it was closer to the sewer entrance. He wanted to look the thing over and be done with it, somehow it gave him a feeling of impending doom. “Probably just the chicken salad.” he mumbled when Narma gave him a questioning look.

“As you say, Master. I'll return to the gardens now, some of the orchids need repotting.” Narma bowed deeply and returned to his potting, Xander continued on to the sewer entrance.

Xander nodded to Narma and entered the construction zone. He glanced around, looking for a hard hat, and noticed that there were several signs in the blocky print common to construction zones. He didn't bother to try to read most of them, they looked like common warning signs like the 'Hard Hat Area' sign over the rack of hats. He took one, resized it to fit him and went to look for the foreman.

It didn't take him long to find the man. And man he was, human as they come, but he had a vampire assistant. Xander took in the two and sighed, this was not going to be fun.

“Excuse me. I'm Xander Harris, Master Spike's thrall. He sent me to take a look around. So, could someone just give me the quickie tour. I'll be out of your hair in under an hour.”

The looks he got were sharp and cold. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He waited until the two had a silent staring match, first with each other, then with him. He gave as good as he got, even with the vampire. When he decided they'd had enough time he just slapped them in the face with it.

“Ok, guys, I don't care if you like me or not. I've got a job to do and I'm going to do it. I've had enough construction experience to know if you're doing the job right or not. I don't intend to get involved in the day to day of it, all I want to do is look stuff over and report back to Spike. Got me?”

“Yeah, we got you. Come on then. I'll show you around. Then you can trot back to your master and tattle all you want.”

Xander just got in the vampires face. “Excuse me? Yes, Spike is my master. No, I'm not tattling. I'm doing an oversight on your project. Master Spike doesn't know anything about construction, I do. You got a problem? We can take it to court, if you want.” Xander was nearly nose to nose with the vampire who was looking decidedly nervous now. “Or we can take it to the parking lot, except, I don't think you're a match for me. You're too soft.” Xander poked the vamp in the belly with one finger.

“You ... you ... You're nothing but a pet! You can't talk to me like this.” The vampire sputtered and reached for Xander.

Xander skipped out of his reach, took a defensive stance and waited, nothing much happened except the vamp backed off.

“Better. Now, all I want is a good look at the site and the set up from the entrance. Let's go, get this over and get us out of each other's hair.”

So the human supervisor led Xander to the sewer entrance which was now a huge hole in the floor of the corridor. He showed Xander the shoring, the forms and anything else he asked to see. Xander took his time inspecting the whole site. When he was done, he announced, “Well, everything seems to be in order. The concrete mix ordered is the right stuff. All in all, I'm going to give Spike a very favorable report. Thanks for the tour.”

All he got was grunt in response, that and a nasty look. He started to say something but decided to just leave instead. He stomped off, heading in the general direction of the new opening. He didn't notice Arnold hovering around.

Xander glared at the small side door, who the hell left art work on an access door? He opened it and entered the construction zone. He had noted with pleasure that the whole area was cordoned off and the actual opening covered with a temporary wall of 2x4's and plywood with a big door right in the middle of it and a smaller walk-in door off to one side, it was that door that he'd just stomped through. Arnold scurried over to read the sign, in Master Spike's own handwriting, “No entry without permission of Crew Chief.” Xander had just violated Master Spike's will for the last time, Arnold was going to see to that.

Xander wandered around the site again. This time he saw all the things he didn't get to see the first time around. There wasn't anything wrong with anything, the two site bosses had just had a bad case of testosterone poisoning with a side of pissyness. He made a few notes in a small notebook then left.

He headed for the side door and found it locked from the outside. He kicked it in disgust but refrained from kicking it down, instead he turned around and went into the sewers.

“Wet, slimy, icky, sewer. Why the hell do I do this sort of shit? I should ... Spike is gonna kill me. He's going to be so pissed. Really, really pissed. And why am I talking to myself? ... Oh, that'd be because I know how much trouble I'm in.”

Xander was lost, and in real trouble. He wasn't even sure where he was, everything at the entrance was different, he was pretty sure he'd taken a wrong turn just after he'd entered the sewers. He just wasn't sure how to get back to where he was supposed to be.

“I swear I'll never lose my temper again. This is so not good, not good in a really very bad way. Shit!”

This exclamation came from the sight of a fairly large glowing ball. The ball resembled the one Xander had crushed under foot several months ago so Xander approached it with care, but not trepidation. He circled it like a cat, sniffing suspiciously. Nothing jumped up and bit him nor did it smell bad.

He watched it for a while but nothing came out of it so he just stomped on the basketball sized thing and watched the shards settle to the floor. He didn't think to pick up any pieces, he just hurried on his way. Arnold picked up several shards and collected some of the goo from inside it. Arnold had better sense than to actually touch the stuff, he just scooped it into a discarded butter tub he picked up.

After collecting his condemning evidence, he scurried to follow Xander again.

It took Xander another half hour to find a way to the surface, a door into a basement that he actually recognized. He scrambled up the steps and headed back for the residence.


Spike paced furiously. He'd come back from the blooding looking for Xander and a little cuddling. He'd found Timmins pacing the living room of their quarters swearing softly to himself.

The actual hunt had gone well. Bud had taken point and they'd moved into the area behind the leaking wall and found that a nest of small demons called Hamark had moved in. They were fairly harmless, unless you had a dog, and had moved along at command. but ... and there usually was a but. They'd fallen afoul of a large nest of F'yarl demons on the circuitous rout back home.

The resultant battle had raged for over five minutes. Five minutes might not seem like long, but when you're fighting for your life it's an eternity. During that eternity Spike lost two fledges, Bud was wounded slightly and Spike smelled Xander where he shouldn't be.

Now he was fuming. Bud was in the infirmary being tended for a deep cut in one thigh and the rest of the fledges were partying. He was not best pleased to see Arnold sidling up to him.

“Master Spike, if I may, there's things I must tell you. Your thrall is disobedient and ... and ...” Arnold gulped and stopped talking, his carefully rehearsed speech forgotten. Spike glowered at him until he got himself back together. “Well, just look. He went into the sewers, completely ignoring your sign. He ... he broke this. I don't even know what it is but I'm sure he shouldn't have done anything to it without checking with you. And he's still in the sewers ... I think.”

Spike took one look into the tub and really lost his temper. This was another evidence of disobedience on Xander's part. The memo that had been circulated had specifically said not to destroy the next incursion point. Spike wanted to bring in Willow and a shaman to see if they could find out where the points were coming from which could help them figure out how to stop them.

“So, he entered the sewers, ignoring my sign. He didn't bother to read the memo about destroying the incursion points and he's managed to disappear completely.” He whirled, coat tails flaring. “FIND HIM!! NOW!” Spike's shout sent minions and fledges scattering like quail. Timmins sighed, this was very bad, Spike rarely raised his voice anymore. This was a sure sign that his demon had the upper hand and his temper was lost.

The flurry of activity led to Xander being found, out in the alley. Unfortunately he was still a block away from the residence and headed in the wrong direction. he didn't fight the minions who found him, in fact, he was glad to see them and said so.

“Hey, guys, am I glad to see you. I”m so lost it's ridiculous. Take me to Spike.” Two of the minions grabbed him. “Easy there! I'm coming, no need to drag me.”

One of the minions just snarled. “Shut up! Master Spike is in a temper because of you. He said to find you and bring you to him. Bring means exactly that. Don't struggle.” Xander just gave up and let them lead him home.

When he was finally in front of Spike all Xander could do was blink. Spike was in battle mode, vamp-faced and pacing.

“Where have you been? I've had people looking for you all over. I thought we agreed that you weren't to go off on your own, not with out some backup. I even took backup with me! You had to have read the signs, they're right on the doors. Arnold saw you ... he saw you ignore my written word. You destroyed something I expressly forbad anyone to even touch. What are you thinking? You think because you're my Chosen that I won't punish you as you deserve? Well, you thought wrong!”

Xander could only gulp and stare. He hadn't ever seen Spike this angry, ever. He started to say something but wound up just stuttering a bit. Arnold, standing behind Spike, just sneered at him.

Spike pulled his belt out of the loops and doubled it, Xander struggled against the hands holding him. “No! Spike, No!”

“How dare you tell me 'no'. I'll show you no.” Spike motioned to the two minions holding Xander. They threw him to the floor and each minion grabbed a hand then rolled away from Xander. He was pinned on his stomach, cruciform, helpless. He struggled fiercely and almost won then Spike commanded him, “Do not move! Stop struggling!” Two simple commands, issued in Masters Voice and Xander was incapacitated. All he could do was lie on the floor and wait.

Spike whipped the belt down with a sharp whistling sound, the crack as it slashed across Xander's back made several minions flinch. Xander clenched his teeth, he wouldn't cry out. He wouldn't give his enemies the satisfaction. He endured fifteen lashes that made him feel as if his back was on fire, not that he wasn't used to that, but he hadn't expected such treatment from Spike. Spike knew how he felt about belts.

Spike returned his belt to his pants, panting slightly. “Go to quarters! I'll talk to you later.”

Xander dragged himself up from the floor. “My rooms or ours? I just need to know.”

Spike thought for a second. “Yours. Don't expect me tonight. I'm too angry.”

“Fine.” Xander walked to the door to the interior of the residence, making it to the door before he stumbled for the first time. Spike ignored him. Xander went through the door and Timmins met him. The servant waited for a moment then eased one arm around Xander and helped him to the private quarters, Xander stopped him before he could pass the door to Xander's bedroom. “Spike said in here, not his room.”

“I'm so sorry, Young Master, I'm sure he'll come around very soon. He was just so angry that ..”

Xander cut him off before he could say more. “Not now, Timmins, I'm hurting too much to listen to that bullshit just now. Go get me some of that cream that what's-his-name left. I'm sorry, it's clear up at the service station. Take your time, I'll be right here.”

Timmins hurried off for the service station, he didn't realize until much later that Xander knew he'd be held up forever. Spike caught sight of him at once and demanded that he get the court room ready for an emergency high court. Timmins coped as best he could and, unfortunately, forgot all about Xander's cream. Just as Xander had expected him to.


Xander levered himself off the bed and rummaged in his closet. All his clothing was in there as there wasn't room in Spike's closet for Xander's things as well as his. So Xander packed a small backpack with two pair of jeans, a few t-shirts and all the underwear and socks he could cram into it. He also rummaged his desk, Spikes desk and both dressers in search of money. He managed to scrape together two hundred. He counted it and snarled, he knew Spike kept a huge amount of cash in the residence but he'd never paid attention to where it was and he didn't have time to search for it now.

He shouldered the backpack with a hiss of pain, he didn't have time to assess the damage now, he'd check for blood later. Right now he had to take advantage of the confusion Spike's temper tantrum was causing and make his getaway.

He made it to the garage by leaning one shoulder against the wall and just putting one foot in front of the other until he was there. He opened the key-box with a crowbar and found the keys to his truck. He made sure to check the gas tank before he used the remote to open the door so he could drive out. He snarled, “I begged you no belts,” threw the remote against the brick wall beside the door and drove off into the night.

Xander drove for an hour, what direction he didn't care. He stopped once at a quick stop to buy some pain relievers, soda and chocolate. At the last minute he decided to buy a map. He knew he was making inroads on his cash that he really couldn't afford but it felt good. His head was buzzing with pain and the need to return, the curse was urging him back already.

He got back in the truck and studied the map as he scarfed pain killers, chocolate and soda. He leaned back in his seat and thought hard, made his plans then drove off.

He drove most of the night and made it to San Jose at 8 am. It should have taken him about fifteen minutes in good traffic but the hour he'd driven had been in the wrong direction and the traffic had been murder, he'd also had to stop twice just to rest, his back hurt like blazes and the over-the-counter pills didn't last very long. So between one thing and another, the drive had taken over three hours. Then it took him almost another hour to find the bus station.

He locked his truck, leaned against it for a moment, patted it like a faithful dog left behind and walked away. He wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands, wiped his hands on his jeans and went to the window.

“Hello. I'd like a ticket to Denver. How much?”

The clerk glanced at a book, said, “Through Las Vegas?” Xander just nodded. “Ok, one bus leaves at 9:15, takes about 32 hours with one transfer, in Vegas another. ..”

Xander just shook his head. “That one's fine. How much?”

“Non-refundable is 186. That do ya?”

“Yeah. Leaves me about thirty dollars. Thanks.” Xander accepted his ticket and shouldered his pack, the bus was leaving in ten minutes. He just handed the already waiting driver his ticket, accepted the stub, transfer ticket and folder and found a seat.

He tossed his backpack into the aisle seat and took the window seat. He leaned the seat back and went to sleep, at least asleep he didn't hurt so much. Mentally or physically.


Spike rampaged over the court like a steamroller, every fledge and minion that could escaped. Timmins didn't bother to even go, he knew that there was nothing he could do until Spike calmed down. He decided to just get himself some tea and go to his quarters. He drank his tea and went to bed.

Xander was somewhere in a quick stop parking lot, sleeping.

Spike returned to his bedroom and tossed his clothing into a corner, flopped onto the bed on top of the coverlet and tried to sleep.

Xander was pulled over in San Jose, trying to find the bus stop on the map.

Spike finally fell asleep, missing the feel of Xander in his arms. Timmins was asleep too, feeling something was off, but his sleeping mind couldn't figure out what.

Neither vampire woke until late afternoon the next day.

Xander was in Las Vegas.


Spike rubbed his face and realized that he'd made a bad mistake. Xander had been trying to tell him something, he was sure of that. The expression on his face had been enough to make Spike sure of that. And he was sure Xander had some sort of prohibition about belts, he just didn't remember what.

“Well, I better see what's what. And call Timmins.” So Spike levered himself out of bed and went in search of Xander and/or Timmins.

He didn't find either until he tapped on the door of Timmins' room. Timmins opened the door in his shirtsleeves.

“I'm sorry Master, I didn't realize it was so late. I'm nearly dressed, just let me button my sleeves and slip on my coat.”

Spike leaned on the door jamb and watched as Timmins made himself presentable.

“Ready?” Timmins nodded. “Good, go make some brekkie for my boy. I'll get him up and we'll see what the damage is.”

Timmins bowed. “Very well, sir. I'll see if I can fix some of his favorites.” Timmins paused by Xander's door. “Um ... Sir? I don't hear him breathing. Nor any other sound.” Spike didn't give Timmins time to say more. He tried the door but Xander had set the lock on his way out. The door was no match for Spike's vampiric strength, a quick twist convinced the door that it wanted to open. Spike pushed it open and hurried into the room.

Xander hadn't made a mess when he packed but a few clues were evident, open, empty drawers, a closet with things tossed on the floor and the dead silence made Spike painfully aware that he'd made a mistake that he was going to pay for.

“Timmins, look for my boy.”

Timmins just sighed and shook his head. “He's not here. He ran. Dammit! I should have kept a better eye on him. I should have found that cream and returned here instead of ... Well, fuck.”

Spike turned to look squarely at Timmins the vampire was a 'gentleman's gentleman' and never swore.

“Ok. What?”

“He wanted some of that special cream for his back. I never even looked at it, I just went for the cream. You demanded that I get the court assembled, so I did that instead. Then I completely forgot about anything else. I left him unattended. I'm so sorry. I'll accept my punishment.”

Spike snarled to himself. It wasn't Timmins' fault that Xander didn't get tended, it was his. “Never mind all that rot. Go look for my boy. I'll search here in case he left a clue. Go!”

Timmins went.

He searched the entire residence, asking anyone he met if they'd seen Xander. Arnold was the only one who said anything out of line. Timmins put him in a head lock and took him to Spike.

“Well? What do you know about my boy? And you'd better 'fess up. I'm in the mood for a spot of torture.”

Arnold hung himself with his tongue. “I'm glad he's gone. I spent enough time following him around. All I had to do was wait until the idiot messed up on reading something. That guy never could read worth shit. Then I just gave you the proof you needed to get rid of him. Now I can step up to your side and take the place I was meant to have.” He gave a self-satisfied nod.

Spike froze in place for just a second, then he let out a roar of fury that rattled the teeth of everyone near. “YOU WHAT!! I'll ... you ...” Spike found himself reduced to sputtering. He took a deep breath and demanded an explanation.

Arnold just announced that he was ready to take his place beside Spike since Xander had taken himself off to parts unknown. Spike nodded. He had a suspicion and sent Timmins to look in the garage.

“First things first. You knew Xander is my thrall, do you have any idea what a thrall really is?”

“It's just a fancy name for a pet, a slave. Forget him, I'm right here and I'm willing.” Arnold stuck his nose in the air. “And I'm much better than he is. I can take anything you can dish out.”

“Don't think so, but maybe we'll see. See, a thrall is much more than just a slave. A thrall is ... bonded to his master. A thrall is loyal, brave, my Xander is more than just a slave, he's a companion for the ages. He's smart, he's tough, he's everything I want ... that you are not. You just want the prestige of being my companion, but if something was to put us in the shit, you'd be gone in a second. Xander will be there for me, no matter what. So what the hell did you do with him?” Spike reached out and grabbed Arnold by the front of his shirt and yanked him close.

“I ... I didn't do anything with him. I just waited for him to fuckup and then came to you. As any loyal minion should. He can't read. He's a fuckup, always just one step from tripping on his own feet. You deserve someone better than that loose screw.”

“I deserve someone who loves me for myself. Despite the fact that I'm a right bastard when I want to be. As to Xander can't read? Are you insane? He reads at least six languages, demon languages and at least four human ones. All dead, grant you, but still. So what the hell do you mean, he can't read?”

“He can't. I saw him walk right by that sign you wrote. He even called it art. He said, 'Why anyone would put art on that door is beyond me.' Then he walked right through the door. He's an idiot.”

Spike eyed Arnold and fumed. “And you just let him go? You didn't try to stop him? Even though you knew he was breaking my rules?”

“Sure, I'm not his baby sitter. I got my own agenda an' it don't include watchin' out for that ...” Arnold finally realized that the grinding noise he was hearing was Spike growling, and it was getting worse with every word.

Spike was about to do something regrettable to Arnold when Timmins came back from the garage.

“Master Spike, Xander's truck is gone. The boy who's night watch was at court then went to bed, so he didn't notice that the key-box had been broken into until I asked him where Xander's truck was. I'm going to go back to Xander's rooms and check his closet, but, for now, I'd say he'd actually managed to run away.”

Spike snarled, then threw his head back and howled. He wailed like a soul in agony. He was in agony, his boy was gone. He turned on Arnold with a snarl, game-faced and raving. “He's gone ... he's gone and it's your fault. You ... you pillock. You wanker. You unmentionable piece of trash.” His language went down the sewer from there. He ranted and raved, blamed it all on Arnold, fate, the weather, anything, anyone but himself.

Arnold, by now, was crouched at Spike's feet hoping like hell that Spike forgot about him. Spike didn't, he ended his rant with, “And, as for you, Timmins!” Timmins approached Spike, literally crawling on his knees.

“Yes, Master. How may I serve?”

“Take this piece of shit and make it regret betraying my boy.” Timmins grimaced at the floor, he wasn't that fond of torture. “That's your punishment for letting my boy get away. Before you go, what did you figure out?”

Timmins breathed a sigh of relief, he'd really expected to be dusted for his mistake. “I rechecked the closet. Everything is there, except for some jeans, t-shirts and all his underpants and socks. And a backpack. The money in your desk drawer is gone, as well as all the cash Xander had. That's about two hundred or so. He was wearing his work boots, the old ones. Oh, please Master Spike, forgive me my negligence and let me make it up. I'm so sorry, so very sorry.”

Spike glared at Timmins for a moment, then snarled, “Oi, ya stupid wanker, get up. Take this piece of shit away and question it. Find out everything it's done to hurt Xander. Report to me when you're done. An' if 'e dusts, tough.”

Timmins just grabbed a blubbering Arnold, snarled in his face and dragged him off. Spike never saw him again, nor even thought too much about him.


Xander trudged wearily along the street. Las Vegas was huge, he ought to be able to find a job somewhere. He felt awful, his bond kept pushing him to return to Spike, something he wasn't about to do. He knew it should be much worse, the force of the curse should be stronger. He fingered the collar around his neck and mourned his fate. He'd had it so good, until this.

He spotted a sign in a window, it was in Spanish but he could read it well enough to know that they wanted a dishwasher. This he could do. He'd much rather work construction but, if Spike ever figured out where he was, construction jobs were the first places he'd look.

“Excuse me? You need a dishwasher? I'd like the job please.”

The man glanced at him then looked closer. “We don't want no junkies or drunks. You drink?” Xander shook his head. “Do drugs?” Xander shook his head again. “Speak any Spanish?”

“Un poquito. But I'm willing to learn. I can read it better than I speak it.”

The man looked him over once more. “You'll have to wear a hair net.”

“Fine. I'll need an advance or a place to stay. I've only got about twenty dollars to my name.”

“This way. I'll put you right to work and you can come home with me tonight. My wife will put you up but if you cause any trouble I'll kill you, got me?”

Xander didn't even blink. “I do. Thanks.”

So Xander, the Thrall of the Master of California got a job washing dishes in a tourist trap restaurant in Las Vegas.


Spike went to the garage and searched every inch of it. He found where Xander's truck had been parked, he smelled Xander's scent until he entered the truck. Spike continued to sniff, but all he could smell was oil and gasoline. The truck just smelled like a truck.

“Ok, that's a wash. So ... what next? How to track this. Where would he go? Not to the witch, Red's in England anyway. Buffy? No. Giles? ... Yeah, that's where he went. Call ... no, I'll go myself and drag the idiot back. How can he stay away this long? Stubborn idiot, he's got to be hurtin'. I've got to find him.”

Spike paced a bit, sensing out the sun. It was still up but near sunset. He would wait it out then go see Giles, he had to at least know where Xander was.

Spike paced furiously, impatient to be gone, to find his ... love. Yes, Spike finally realized that he loved Xander. Soulless or not, he could and did love. He wanted his lover back ... now.

“Master Spike?”

Spike turned to glance at Timmins. “What?”

“I have a report to make. I questioned the ... er ... Arnold. I've kept him alive, in case you should have more questions. This is what I learned. Arnold went to school with Young Master Xander and they didn't get along. Arnold has always envied Xander his friends, his opportunities, anything he had, Arnold wanted. Including you. So he schemed and planned, he followed him around and got him into as much trouble as he could. He's a snitch of the worst kind, only reporting part of what he heard and saw, just enough to get the young master into as much trouble as he could. He doesn't know where he went, has no idea what he's done and I'd just as soon dust him as not.”

Spike sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. “Fine, I don't care. I just want to find Xander before the curse floors him. He'll be hurting bad soon. It's all his fault. I should ... dammit!” Spike kicked a nearby wrench and watched as it flew across the room to punch a hole in the roll up door.

Timmins just took his unlife in both hands and announced. “Master Spike! Don't dust me until I'm done, please.”

Spike glared at him. “I'm not gonna dust ya. I said already. So speak up.”

“It's your fault Xander's gone and no one else's. He's got a thing, I believe you call it, against being beaten with a belt. If you remember, he even told you once that, if you belted him, he'd run. You did and he ran.”

Spike froze, remembering the conversation. He'd completely misunderstood what Xander was saying. He'd said one thing and Spike had heard another. He let out a soft whimper and collapsed to his knees, keening softly. “My Xander ... My boy ... My love. Find him. Find him.”

Timmins glowered around but found that all the faces looking at them only showed upset and concern. He lifted his master to his unsteady feet and led him into his quarters, whispering soft words of comfort as they went. He managed to get Spike into bed and turned out the lights.

“Go to sleep for a while. I'll see what I can find out. I'll call the Watcher and ask him if Xander's there. I'll try everything I know how to find him. Sleep awhile.”

Spike just pulled the covers over his head and moaned. He was devastated by the realization that he was the one responsible for Xander running off.

Timmins made a call to Tara, who agreed to come at once. The next call he was dreading a great deal, he wished he could put off the call to Giles but he knew better. This call was the unmitigated disaster he was expecting, Xander wasn't there and Timmins had to tell Giles that he'd run off. Giles did not take the news at all well but he just said he'd be over as soon as he could. The tone of his voice was calm, overlaying a fury that even frightened Timmins.

Giles hung up the phone and calmly packed a small bag. He made arrangements with The Order of Taraka to pack up the rest of his things. They'd asked him to become one of Spike's advisers and he'd been considering it, now he was sure. He'd take the job. Buffy really didn't need or want him anymore and he could do much more good working for Spike. After he kicked his ass, that is.

Part Twenty-Six

Giles stomped into Spike's bedroom and yanked the covers off him. “Get up, you wanker! Out of that bed! Now!”

Spike tumbled to the floor and glowered up at Giles, without much effect. It didn't help that Spike was naked and hung over, as opposed to Giles who was wide awake and dressed in jeans, motorcycle boots, t-shirt, and an unbuttoned flannel over shirt. Ripper was firmly in control.

“Oi, got a hangover here. Boy's gone. I fucked up, an' he's gone. Can't find him.”

“Oh, for the lord's sake, sober up and think. Come on. Get up off the floor.”

Giles grabbed Spike by one arm and dragged him to his feet. The vampire could only moan as his hangover kicked into high gear. Giles pushed Spike into the bathroom and straight into the shower. He turned it on full blast, and ice cold.

Spike screeched like a scalded cat and tried to get out, Giles shoved him back in. Spike spluttered and swore. Giles swore right back, ending, “And I will most assuredly kick your bloody arse, if you don't sober up, dry off and get your head out of self same arse. Come on.” Giles dragged Spike out of the shower, tossed a towel in his general direction and stomped out.

Spike dried off, got dressed ... in black everything and went to find Giles. He found him in the kitchen with Timmins. When he walked in the door he was met with twin laser-sharp glares.

“Don't look at me like that.”

Timmins just made a sound that was suspiciously like a snort. Giles just snarled, “I'll look at you any way I like. Here.” He shoved the scroll from the Order of Taraka across the table to Spike and took a cup of tea from Timmins. Spike picked up the scroll and started to read it. He groped for his expected cup of tea, but found nothing. He peered around the scroll then asked Timmins politely if he might have a cup of tea.

Timmins didn't say anything to Spike; he just slapped a mug on the table. Giles snickered rather obviously into his delicate china cup. Spike just picked up the mug and took a gulp. He nearly spit it back into the mug. It was over-brewed and much too sweet, as well as, as close to boiling as Timmins could manage. He swallowed a bit thickly, wishing he could turn time back by twenty-four hours.

“I've sent out flyers, and I have a team of human-looking demons tacking up posters on telephone poles and asking shop owners to put them in their windows. I don't think it's going to do much good though. I get the unhappy feeling that Xander's left town.”

Spike threw back his head and howled. Giles gave him a disgusted look, slapped him and snarled, “Oh, shut it. You fucked up and now I have to mop up the mess. In case you don't understand that scroll, let me make this very clear, I'm your new adviser. Courtesy of The Order of Taraka.” Spike rubbed his cheek, started to say something and was cut off by his new adviser. “For Xander's sake, don't start on me. You're so out of control, it' shameful.”

Spike got up, paced the kitchen for a few moments then sat back down. “Ok, I made a right mull of this. I'll have some extreme groveling to do when we find Xander ... an' I will, believe me. No matter how worried or scared I was, or how mad, I knew better. I really did, but my demon wants to claim Xander so badly that ... well, that's neither here nor there.” Giles blinked at Spike, for a moment he sounded more like a young lord than a scruffy street thug. In other words, he sounded like the Oxford educated man he was. “What? I'm Master of California, I can't sound educated?”

Giles rubbed his face. “No, I'm just surprised that you're ...” Spike raised a haughty eyebrow. “Never mind. We have to figure out how to find Xander.”

“I'm thinking that we should contact Glinda. She'll know how to go about it if anyone will.”

Giles held up his cup for more tea with a puzzled expression on his face. “Glinda? Who? ... Oh, you mean Tara Maclay? She's disappeared.”

“No, she's just gone to ground until she's sure that Red has decided to leave her alone. Red was messin' with her memories and charmin' her, and not in the good way. I'll send Bud for her. She likes him and if I tell her it's about Xander she'll come right away.”

Giles smiled his relief. “That's wonderful. I was worried about her. I wish she would have contacted me. I saw her at court once, but I haven't heard from her since. I was aware that Willow was out of control, but I never expected her to do something like that. Will you get in touch with her now? The quicker we start the less head start Xander has.”

Timmins handed Giles a phone. “Miss Maclay is on the line.”

Giles took the phone with a soft 'thank you'. “Tara. Young lady, you've had me very worried. No, no, don't apologize. I should be apologizing to you. I should have been more aware of what Willow was up to.” Tara's murmur was unintelligible. “It doesn't matter, she was my charge, too. Buffy was using her talents. Listen, please. Xander's missing. I'll tell you everything when you get here. If you'll agree to come, that is. Yes, Spike will send ... Bud, was it?” Spike nodded. “Bud. If that meets with your approval.”

It seemed that Tara was well aware of who Bud was. She agreed to come with him as soon as he could get there. She asked several questions so that she could decide what equipment she might need, and Spike told Giles to tell her that she could have anything she wanted including his left nut, if it would help find Xander. Giles relayed the message and chuckled at Tara's 'Eeeeuuuwww!!'.

After closing the phone and handing it to Timmins, Giles turned to Spike. “She'll be here as soon as she can. I get the feeling she's packing up her belongings and moving in here. You'll have appropriate quarters, correct?” Timmins just nodded, without even looking at Spike. Spike nodded too. “And, as Master of California, you have obligations to carry out. Have you been seeing to them?”

Spike thought, blinking slowly. “Yeah, gits from all over have been coming here. I'm gonna have to relocate soon. Was just putting it off 'cause I'm comfy here. I haven't really even decided where to move to. You got any ideas, Mr Adviser?”

Giles shrugged, glared at his again empty cup, and said rather snidely. “Somewhere in the middle of your domain would be nice. Other than that, no.”

Spike sighed. “Gonna make me work for it, yeah?”

“Yes, I'm going to make you struggle for every millimeter. You deserve it. You can't go around exploding like cheap fireworks every time something doesn't suit you. You'll lose more than a play toy if you don't get a handle on your impatience.”

Spike started to say something indignant, changed his mind and buried his nose in his mug instead. He mumbled, “My boy's not a play toy. Wanker.”

Giles just looked grim, accepted a refill of tea from Timmins, sipped at it and thought. This Xander was a mystery to him. Gone was the babbling boy, insecure and shy. In his place was a man. A man who was not going to back down, no matter the cost. They had to find Xander before the thrall spell could do too much damage. Giles wasn't even sure how Xander had managed to run away at all. He'd have to think about this, maybe even do some serious research.


Tara packed her clothing, not that she really had much, stuffing it and her bedding into her trunk. She packed what wouldn't fit the trunk into her big suitcase and put her books and some trinkets into a box. She was ready to go in less than fifteen minutes. She smiled a bit sadly; her life, it seemed, could be packed in less than four cubic feet of space.

The knock on her door pulled her from her thoughts, and she hurried to answer it.

“Ma'am, ready to go?” Bud smiled at Tara. He liked the human girl, her kindness showed in every expression.

“Yes, thank you. Can you tell me what is going on, exactly? Giles outlined it, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do.”

Bud picked up the trunk and hefted it to his shoulder. He grabbed the suitcase and walked out the door, calling over his shoulder, “I'll tell you everything I know on the way to the residence. Got your box?”

“Got it. I'll just lock the door and hand my keys to the super.”

“You going to be ok? Leaving like this isn't going to ... violate your lease contract?”

“No, I'm renting week to week. I didn't like the apartment as much as I thought I would. It's ... lonely. I found a different job and stuff ... to keep away from Willow, and I really miss my friends more than I thought I would. I'll be glad to move into the residence. It's all right, isn't it?”

Bud tossed Tara's trunk into the back of the truck, causing her to wince slightly. She put her suitcase in herself as well as her box. She gave Bud a slight glare and he returned an apologetic grimace.

As he drove, Bud filled Tara in on as much as he knew, ending, “And so, Xander took off. Master Spike is beside himself, as is most of the court.”

“What happened to ... um ... Arnold?”

“You really, really don't want to know. Believe me.”

“OH, he's dead. That's too bad.”

Bud shook his head. “Not dead, but he wishes he was. The Ladies have him right now.”

“Ok, I'm not asking.”

“I'll just say ... a pissed off Chinese masseuse, four hundred years old or so mind you, is not someone I want mad at me.”

Tara shuddered and settled into her seat to brood for the rest of the ride.


Xander spent the night with his boss and family. It was nice, a bit rowdy, and loving. The lady of the Pena house was fondly called Mamacita by every one. She greeted Xander's addition to the table with a smile and the offer of coffee and a sweet roll. He accepted and sighed at the jolt of caffeine, she made her coffee in a Chemex, spooning the hot water in a quarter cup at a time. He eyed the hourglass-shaped Chemex with glee-- good coffee in the morning.

“You don't sit there and look at food, you eat it. Eat, eat.” Mamacita patted Xander on the shoulder, making him flinch. “What is it? Are you hurt? Where? Show me!”

Xander started to argue, but gave it up as a bad job when Mamacita just tugged his shirt off over his head. Dealing with her own sons had taught her that taking charge right away was the only way to get anything done with recalcitrant males. She glared at Xander's bruised back and announced, “I won't ask questions, it's none of my business. I've got a salve.” She bustled off the get the salve, and Xander just put his head on the table and sighed.

Mamacita came back and laughed at his dejected posture. “You look like you lost your best friend.”

“I did. Senora Pena, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I'd really rather not talk about it.”

“That's fine. I'll help you find a place to stay tomorrow. You don't have to be treated that way by anyone. Remember that.”

“I know, that's why I'm here instead of there. If he shows up, which I doubt, he's got a lot of making up to do. I'm not putting up with this sort of stuff, no matter who he thinks he is.”

“Good for you. And, if you can't see calling me Mamacita, call me Angelina. Yes?”

Xander sighed in relief as Angelina smoothed the salve across his bruised back. “Thank you, ma'am. That feels a lot better. Um ... if you don't mind, I'd like to take a nap before supper.”

“Sure, you go, take a nap, I'll have Estrella show you your bed.”

Estrella turned out to be the youngest daughter of the family, at thirteen she thought she was grown up. Her flirting just made Xander grit his teeth.

“Here you go. The room's small, but it's clean and quiet. Have a nice nap.” Her expression said that naps were for wimps. Xander just hit the bed and was asleep before she could get the door closed.


Senora Pena called her husband into the kitchen and glared at him. “Why you bring that one to us? He smells of demon, he's got a double warlock, and ...”

“But he's so sad. I feel it. His soul is crying. We have to help him.”

Senora Pena threw her hands in the air. “Fine, fine. We help him. But how?”

Senor Pena shrugged. “For now, we give him a job, find him an apartment nearby, and watch him.”

So, when Xander woke, he was treated to a meal then sent back to bed to sleep the night through.

The next day saw him learning how to wash dishes.


Spike paced and snarled. Tara read her books, took notes, examined Willow's notes and worried. She couldn't decide who she was angrier at, Spike, for making Xander run, Xander, for running, Willow, for starting this whole thing, or herself, for not realizing what Willow was up to. She tossed the book she was reading at the wall and flopped back in her chair, huffing her agitation.

“Tara? What's wrong?” Giles entered the room, carrying a small tray with two cups of tea and some cookies on it. “Here, chamomile. Would you like to talk about it?”

“No, but I need to. I can't believe that I managed to miss what Willow was really up to. But ... do you suppose one of the spells she used on me was so that I wouldn't realize what she was doing with her magic?”

Giles sipped at his tea for a moment. “Quite possibly. What I'm wondering is how Xander has managed to resist the compulsion to return to Spike imposed on him by his thralldom. It has me quite concerned.”

Tara sighed and took a rather inelegant swallow of her tea. “Well, he is still wearing his collar, it has protections cast on it, and the beads in his warlock are all imbued with protections as well as being protections themselves. Do you remember all the spells we cast on them? I don't, there were so many.”

Giles nibbled absently at a cookie while he thought about Tara's question. “Hmmmm... not really. I have notes somewhere in my apartment. I'll send someone ... or go myself. Depends on Spike. He's about mental.”

Tara nodded. “I know. But can you blame him? He drove Xander away. Now he can't understand why or how Xander's managing to stay away. He's a vampire and his demon wants it's ... um ... well, you know.”

Giles just sat thinking and eating cookies.


Xander washed dishes, cleaned tables and swept up. He wore a hair net rather than cut his hair, but he wasn't the only one in the restaurant that wore one. Some of the waiters from Mexico and further south had braids down to their waist. Xander didn't stand out at all.

When he was done with his first day's work, Mr. Garcia, the maitre d' came back to the kitchen and called him. He walked wearily over to see what he wanted.

“Senor Pena told me you needed an apartment. My building has three open. Senor Pena knows the owner, and he can get you in without a deposit. That's because he'll stand good for it, so don't let him down.”

Xander just shook his head. “I won't. I'm a pretty reliable person, usually. I just got socked in the face with a bit of ... never mind. I'll be ready in a sec. Ok?”

“Sure. I'll be right here.” Mr. Garcia wondered what fool had put that tragic, sad look in the young man's eyes.

It didn't take Xander long to shed his paper hair net and wash his hands. He returned to Mr. Garcia and followed him out to his car for the trip to the apartment complex.

The super met them with a smile that revealed several gold teeth. “I got keys right here. Come on. First one's on the ground floor. Nice, $800 a month. No guests, if you know what I mean.”

Xander paled at the price and didn't even glance at the elegant, furnished apartment. “Can't afford that much. I'm just a dish washer. What have you got in something a lot cheaper?”

“Got one in the basement next to mine; it's a bit damp, but a dehumidifier will fix that. It's about, well, I'll let you have it for $500 a month, less if you fix it up and help me around the complex. You any good at fixin' things?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, I know my way around a hammer. But $500 a month is still a bit pricy for me.”

“I know. But that's just what I'll show on the books. I'll pay you the going rate per hour for construction work. And I keep fair track. I won't short you. Okay?”

Xander shrugged. “Let me see it before I decide.”

So the super led Xander to a small basement apartment: one bedroom, galley kitchen, the bathroom was tiny, but spotless. He glanced around at the furniture and nodded. “Ok, I'll take it. Senor Pena will make arrangements for you to get first, last and damage. I work for him.”

“I know. Mr Garcia called me from the restaurant. You got personal stuff? Heard you was on the run from someone. You don't bring trouble here, you understand?”

Xander nodded. “My lover turned out not to be who I thought he was. I'm ... um...”

The super held out a hand. “Mr. Jones. I don't care who you fuck as long as it isn't my wife.” He grinned, and Xander shook his hand.

“Okay, I'm off the market anyway. I just want to do my job, keep a low profile, and be left alone.”

Mr. Jones just shrugged and handed Xander the keys. “Here. We got a pool, closes at 9pm, no exceptions. No loud music, no pets, no moving in your 'cousin' Pete. Not that that's going to be problem with your attitude. No offense.”

“None taken. I've got to get some sheets and stuff. I ... I've got about six dollars in my pocket right now. Got any ideas?”

Mr. Jones smirked at Xander. “Fully furnished means exactly that. This apartment has linens. But you're responsible for replacing anything you wear out or whatever. Good night.”

Xander said good night to both Mr. Jones and Mr. Garcia. He closed and locked the door then went into the bathroom with his pack. He'd been a bit embarrassed when he'd had to ask Mr. Garcia to stop off at the Pena place to get it, but he'd just shrugged and said it wasn't a problem.

Xander opened the pack and dug out his things. He put everything away and realized that he was going to have to spend the major part of his check on clothing and sundries. He had enough shampoo and body wash to last a while, but he was almost out of deodorant and toothpaste. He sighed; he missed Spike with a hollow feeling in the middle of his chest. It hurt, and he knew it was only going to get worse. He wasn't sure how long he could hold out, but he was going to give it the best he had.

Xander settled into the clean, dry bed and meditated himself into sleeping.


Giles worried about Spike; the vampire was beside himself with grief and fury. He paced a lot, demanded hourly updates on the search for Xander and had dusted or killed every 'person' who'd suggested that he wouldn't find Xander. Giles didn't blame him for that particularly, but it showed his state of mind.

Giles finally sat him down for a talking to. It went down fairly well, once Spike finished snarling at him. The remark about the Order helping find Xander was the clincher.

“Don't need no help from them. I'll find him meself. Dammit, where the hell did he go?”

“I don't know. I would have thought that the thrall spell would have forced him to come back by now, but Tara thinks the protections spelled into his collar and the gem beads in his warlock are helping him, to some extent at least. My opinion is that he'll be forced to return sooner or later, probably later, but it would be better for everyone concerned if he came back sooner.”

Spike nodded rather absently; he was trying to figure out where Xander might have gone. Suddenly he announced, “Construction! That's the ticket, construction jobs. He'll go somewhere he can get a construction job. Where's there a lot of construction within ... oh, two days drive? And that truck of his is distinctive, and I've got the plate number. I'll put out an APB to everyone in my domain to look for that truck. What else? Something ... just off the edge of my mind. Giles?”

Giles sighed, polished his glasses and thought carefully. “I think the key is Xander's truck. He loves that truck. Find it and we'll find him. And APB? Where did you learn that term?”

“Cops. Xander loves Cops, and any other cop show on. I've spent hours watching with him.” Giles watched Spike as he forced himself to be calm. “So ... APB on the truck, I've even got a picture of Xander leaning on the damn thing. His hair's longer now, but it's a good picture. I'll have it copied and a flier made out. Can you think of anything else?”

“No. Don't forget that you're supposed to meet with the Master of Louisiana. Do you have a present for him? You should give him something nice.”

Spike snarled. “No, I don't, I completely forgot about him. What the hell should I give him?”

Giles shook his head. “No idea. What would a vampire like him want?”

Spike just sighed and called for Timmins.

The valet showed up quickly. “Sir called?”

“Yeah, Master of Louisiana. I need a gift for him, but what?”

Timmins grinned, a very evil one. “Well, there's always Arnold. I could clean him up and give him his heart's desire.”

Spike looked like he was going to explode, calmed himself and asked, “And why would you want to do that ... oh, and also, why the hell isn't that wanker dust?”

“We were going to dust him after we all had some fun with him. But his heart's desire has been to be someone's pet. The Master of Louisiana has just lost his last one. Went mad, I believe. Of course it took Master Robinson seventy years to do it.”

Spike just grinned. “There's lots of harness that I thought was a bit rough for Xander laying around. Help yourself to whatever you want.” Timmins bowed and left to prepare Master Robinson's present.

Giles gave Spike a feral grin and announced, “It's time I made my debut at court. I'll go change.”

Spike just shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He attended court in whatever he happened to be wearing when court convened, unless he had a point to make. In this case the point was, he didn't give a damn who this vampire thought he was, Spike was more important, more powerful and much more impatient.

He headed for court just as he was and plopped down in his chair; Giles joined him very shortly after. Spike grimaced, Giles was wearing what Spike referred to has his “Garage Punk” outfit. Spike checked twice to make sure that he saw what he thought he saw. He did, Giles was carrying a gun.

“My, my, Watcher, getting' a bit on the violent side, are we?”

Giles gave Spike a bland look. “Please don't get the idea that I like you very much. The Order offered me a job, I took it. That's all. Part of my job is seeing that you don't get assassinated.”

“Bullets won't stop a vampire.”

“They'll stop quite a few demons though.”

“True. Well, let's get this show on the road.”

Spike signaled and the doors were opened. The Master of Louisiana was a small man when he was turned and even smaller by today's standards. Spike wondered how he'd managed to survive in a Southern state, black as he was.

The Master obviously had been faced with this question before. “I was born in the bayou, way back in a swamp. I was vamped when I went to New Orleans. Madame LeBeau sheltered me for years.” He chuckled a bit. “My blood kept her young way beyond her years, so she took very good care of me. Yes?”

Spike was grinning at Master Robinson. “So, you clairvoyant, or just had the same stupid question asked over and over.”

“Same question over and over for a hundred years and more. We going to talk business, or stand around and chatter.”

Spike laughed. “Bring Master Robinson a chair. We got business to go over.”

Timmins brought a chair, bowed slightly and set it down. He motioned to another vampire who stepped forward to place a small table at his elbow and put a glass of warm blood on it. Master Robinson nodded his thanks and took up the glass. He sipped smiled slightly and settled back in his chair.

They discussed matters until Spike was ready to tear his hair out. He didn't care about any of the things that other masters worried about. Giles finally took pity on him, summarized the requests of the Master of Louisiana and asked Spike if there was anything that he objected to. Spike listened carefully to Giles, shook his head and announced, “I don't think that Master Robinson asking permission to travel through my territory is unreasonable as long as he offers me the same courtesy. I don't deal in drugs or arms. I won't give him permission to move large quantities of either through my domain. Any other requests will be decided on case by case.” Spike glanced at Giles, who nodded slightly.

The Master of Louisiana just sighed his relief, nodded his head, and requested their agreement be written up and sent to him; he would sign it and send it back. He was glad that Spike was willing to be reasonable. The last active master had charged a toll, a rather exorbitant one at that.

“Thank you for your kind attention. I'll take my leave.” He stood and bowed slightly. As he was in Spike's territory, he bowed. If Spike had been in his territory, he would be the one bowing.

Spike stood, dipped his head, and motioned to Timmins. “If you will follow my servant, I have a small token of my esteem. I understand that your pet became ... unsuitable. I have a new one for you. He is untrained, treacherous and a bit stupid, but I think you'll find him eager to avoid punishment.” Spike gave his fellow Master a sly smile. “And I'm sure you'll enjoy breaking him to hand. Good evening.”

Master Robinson followed Timmins out of the room and into the foyer where his present was waiting for him.

Arnold had schemed and plotted to be Spike's pet, his consort, anything at all. Now he was going to be the pet of the second most powerful and influential Master in North America. But he wasn't very pleased about it. The plug in his ass was huge, and the gag made him drool. The other straps, chains, and locks added to his discomfort and dismay.

“I see that he is very unruly. Good, I like them ... fresh. Is he tough or tender?”

Timmins bowed carefully. “I'm sorry, Master Robinson, I'm sure I couldn't say. Master Spike found him annoying, so he's being given to you. He seemed to want to be someone's pet. Master Spike felt that it would be good for all of us if you took him. Please, don't feel that you need to be cautious; he is a true present. Enjoy.”

Master Robinson smiled, not a good one, and took the offered leash. He tugged on it and Arnold squealed behind his gag, which earned him a firm swat on his naked backside with the loop of the leash. “Did I ask for sound?” Arnold took one look at his new master, shook his head, and scrambled to follow without pulling on the leash.


Xander sighed. He felt bad, not really ill, but not well either. He knew it was the thrall spell trying to force him back to Spike, and he resigned himself to feeling like this for quite some time. He went back to work.

He was washing up after the breakfast rush. He'd never really thought that there would be a breakfast rush in a Mexican restaurant, but there was. The resultant dishes needed washing before lunch. So he washed piles of plates, cups, bowls, and cutlery, by hand. It seemed that the Pena family didn't believe in dish washing machines.

Xander turned at the sound of a throat clearing. “You ready for a break?”

Xander pealed off his black rubber gloves, wiped sweat off his forehead with a paper towel, and nodded. “Past ready, into begging.” Jose laughed, and handed him a glass of ice tea. “Thanks. What's next?”

“Mop the floors and then prep. Chop onions and what not. I'll show you.” Jose showed Xander where the mop and bucket were and disappeared into the depths of the freezers.

Xander sighed and started filling the bucket with water. He was already tired, and it was only 11am. He'd take a quick break as soon as it was full.


Spike walked through Xander's gardens, smelling flowers and mourning. He missed Xander more than Angel even. He wanted Xander back. All he could think of was how to find him. He wasn't having much luck; demons of all sorts were coming forward with information. This information put him everywhere; as far north as Milpitas or Fremont and as far south as San Jose. He had people looking in both places and everywhere in between.

Narma approached Spike and bowed. “Please Master Spike, I don't know what to do. Young Master Xander told me he'd pot all the plants himself, he enjoyed it so. But things need potting, so should I pot them, or wait for him to come back?”

Spike ran a hand through his hair, completely disarranging it. “Repot whatever needs it. There's no telling when Xander will be back. Stubborn, hard ... never mind.” Narma just gave Spike a hard look, bowed and went to repot the plants.

Spike walked farther and entered the Japanese garden with its waterfall and koi pond. The fish were glad to see him. They swam up to the feeding spot and gaped at him, waiting to be fed. Spike did so, dipping feed from a large bowl on a pedestal nearby. The fish gobbled the food and after begging for more, swam away again when it wasn't offered. Spike would have fed them more, but Xander had fussed at him for spoiling them the last time he'd overfed them.

Giles found him just as he was going into what Xander called the Monet garden, shook his head and left again. Spike had asked Xander why he called it that, and Xander had led him to the huge shallow water feature filled with lilies. “Like that garden he was so fond of painting. I'd really like to have a good copy of that one painting that's all green lily pads and pink flowers.” Spike could hear Xander's voice as clearly as if he was standing right there.

He rambled on, looking at the peaceful place Xander had created. He sighed again, and went back to the gate, climbing the stairs he headed for the old gas station. Xander's wood working was another thing Spike hadn't paid enough attention to. Maybe there would be a clue there.

He wandered rather than walked, looking around at things that Xander saw every day. He entered the station and really looked at all the arrangements Xander had made to see that he, Spike, was comfortable there. The sliding shade over the skylight, the chair in his work area, the small fridge with snacks he liked. It was all too much. He sat down in the chair and wept, no howling now, no raging, just slow miserable tears that tracked down his face and dripped off his chin.

He cried for a while, but finally calmed himself. All this whinging wasn't getting him anywhere. He stood, dried his eyes, and started searching. The sight of the matched stool and bench nearly set him off again, but he took a deep breath and searched on.

He found a handful of brochures from Disneyland, Las Vegas, The Redwoods, and a few other tourist spots. He eyed them for a while, examined them for any markings then tossed them aside. He rifled through Xander's workbench and found some notes on future projects, but nothing really useful. He searched again and came up empty. After rubbing his face roughly, he headed back to his cold empty quarters.

Timmins met him at the door and helped him off with his boots. He thanked Timmins softly and flopped into a chair. He ignored everything as he applied his intelligence to the problem of finding Xander. Obviously, he wasn't being forced to return, Tara had suggested that the spells and charms on his collar and the gemstone beads in his warlock would protect him from the majority of the effects of the thrall spell.

Spike paced and thought for hours until finally Giles, summoned by Timmins, just grabbed him, forced him into a chair and gave him a mug of blood.

“Here, you idiot, eat. You're not going to accomplish anything by starving yourself insane. And even the cows in your stable are worried about you. Strange as that seems.”

Spike took his nose out of the mug and snarled, “Don't call them that. They're not cows, they're people. People who have agreed to feed me. They're free to leave anytime they want. I take care of them in return.”

Giles snorted. “Take care of them? How?”

“I pay them, get them clean of drugs or alcohol, help them get an education. When the agreed span of service is over, I find them jobs and homes. That's how. Xander doesn't object, so who are you to turn up your nose at it?”

“No one. I'm surprised.”

Spike snorted. “Surprised that the Big Bad isn't so bad? I'm just getting smarter in my old age. I don't want a lot of attention attracted to me; leaving a trail of bloodless bodies is not a good way to keep a low profile. So, I keep a stable. Live with it.”

Giles could only agree. “I'll have to. My only attempt to free all your cattle led to me being laughed out of the room. Rather irritating actually. Here I was all protective hero, as Buffy would say, and they're giggling their fool heads off.” Giles smiled a bit and shrugged. “Oh well. I'll live. Now ...” He stood up, slapped his hands on his thighs and announced. “Come on. We're going to brain storm and find that idiot boy.”

So Spike, Timmins, and Giles settled at the kitchen table to try to figure out what the hell Xander was thinking.

Giles ran a hand over his hair, smoothing down the rumpled locks. “Well, he went north, but wound up in San Jose? Either he tried to throw us off track by going north then doubling back or he got lost. Either way, we now have no idea where he headed.”

Timmins tapped his finger on the table. “Master Spike, you and he watched hours of cop shows, what are the odds that he used anything from those shows to hide himself?”

“Good, I'd say. Boy's nowhere near as stupid as he acts. He gets nervous, he gets stupid. He gets mad ... we'll just say all bets are off.” Spike turned to Giles. “And what's up with the reading? I don't understand that at all. He needs all sorts of helpers to read simple English, an' when he's tired or pissed or not paying proper attention ...” Spike trailed off with a sick expression on his face. “Damn! Me an' my fucking temper. He never read that sign, probably thought it was some sort of doodle or something. And I know he never got word about the portal balls. Arnold was supposed to spread the word. He didn't tell Timmins either. That ape! I ought ... well, Master Robinson will take care of his shit. Idiot is probably in heavy bondage right now. Learnin' ta serve.” Spike's expression said that he hoped the learning process was painful in the extreme.”

Giles finally got his head out of his ass. “What reading problem? I never noticed anything except a permanent determination to be as disruptive as possible, or asleep. Tell me exactly what you're talking about. He reads several demon languages and several ancient ones perfectly.”

“I don't know what I'm thinkin'. Something isn't right, and I can't even put it into words. Maybe he got cursed? All I know is, we need to figure this out ... now. Research it or summat.”

Giles nodded. “Very well, you say something is wrong with Xander's reading skills. I've noticed something myself, but I never ... I'm not a trained teacher, I'm a research librarian and an antiquarian. I specialize in old books, parchments and Watching. Not learning disabilities. I'll do some research, which I'm very good at, and see what I can come up with. Excuse me.” He got up from his chair and left the room, headed for Xander's office, which Spike had said he could use.


Xander left the restaurant, headed for his new apartment. It wasn't that far to walk, the only reason that Mr Pena had driven yesterday was that there had been several apartments to see and walking to all of them wasn't possible. Xander was glad he'd taken the apartment he had. The super had actually needed help, and the landlord might take some off the rent for Xander's help with repairs. It meant that Xander would still be in construction, a job he loved. And one he knew better than to do, Spike would have someone searching every site in the States trying to find him.

As he walked, he looked around. His Sunnydale reflexes made him eye every alley for demons, muggers, or who knew what. Not to mention the training Master Bruce had put him through. He really missed his swords and knives; he would have to get something soon. He couldn't stand the feeling of being unarmed. It made his skin crawl.

He made it home in good time and realized that it would be a nice jog from the apartment complex to the restaurant, and it didn't matter if he got there sweating, he'd be sweaty in no time anyway. And when he got home he could do tai-chi in the inner courtyard. He wondered if he'd ever have enough extra money to join a gym, or a dojo.

He also worried about the effects of Spike's blood wearing off. What might happen then? Would he have withdrawal symptoms? If so, what would they be? He sighed, opened the door to his apartment, and started stripping off his stinking clothing.

He tossed his clothing onto the bathroom floor and turned on the shower; while the water was heating he shaved. He hated shaving with cold water, but it was either that or wait until the shower heated up and shave in there, which he hated even more. After his shower, he went into the kitchen and scrounged for something to eat. He'd had lunch at the restaurant and stuffed himself, with the blessing of Mrs. Pena. So, he wasn't very hungry, but he knew he was going to be hungry in the morning. He knew he had to pay off some debts already, but he hoped to have enough money left from his first paycheck to get groceries. He didn't want to go back to his old diet of heavy starchy, fatty foods; he'd gotten too used to steamed, broiled and baked, not to mention stir fry. He rubbed his face and sighed.


The next morning found Xander with a better outlook on life. The super had knocked on Xander's door at about 9pm and handed him a list of things that needed fixing, telling him that every job was worth between $50 and $75 off his already low rent. He had settled at his kitchen table and made a schedule. If he could stick to it, his rent would be free.

He paused to knock on Mr. Jones's door after his sparse breakfast of dry toast and tea bag tea.

“Morning, come in. Coffee?” Mr. Jones turned back to his kitchen with Xander nearly treading on his heels.

“Coffee would be great. I haven't had a chance, nor the money, to go to the grocery store yet.”

Mr. Jones motioned for Xander to sit at the table. “Here, black, or ruined.”

“Black, unless it's cappuccino, then I like stuff in it.” Xander accepted the black coffee with a smile.

“Ok, boy, out with it. Something's on your mind.”

“Yeah, well, I looked over the list you gave me. I can do all of it easily, except, I need tools. I don't have any. Can you help me out?”

“Sure, glad to. For a second there I thought you were going to crap out on me. I'll give you a key to the super’s room. I've got all kinds of tools in there. And ... there's only two keys to that room. You'll have one, and I'll have the other. We understand each other?”

Xander just nodded. “Sure do. I'll be careful with them. Thanks. I better get going. I'll be late if I don't leave right now.” Xander glanced at his watch, never realizing that Mr. Jones recognized it as expensive, exclusive and very traceable. All of which made him wonder what an obviously rich young man was doing in this particular place, working in a small, family restaurant.


Xander jogged to work and settled into his daily routine. He washed dishes all morning then he needed to mop the floors. When he went into the main room to mop, he noticed that there were still two customers left. He glanced at the waitress to see if he should go ahead and mop, she nodded at him, so he started at the area the farthest away from the customers. He decided to take his time so as not to crowd the men, making them think he was trying to get them out.

Maria, the waitress on duty, wanted the men out; they made her uncomfortable, so she wished Xander would mop closer to them. She decided to take matters into her own hands so she called to Xander, “There's a sticky spot right there in the middle of the left side aisle, mop it now, will you?”

Xander looked where she was vaguely pointing, didn't see a spot and started to say something, but one look at her face decided different. He just nodded, moved his bucket and started to mop. It didn't take long for Maria's hunch to be proven correct, both men got up, pulled knives and headed for the cash-register. Xander sighed, unscrewed the mop handle from the head with quick flicks of his wrists and stood between them and Maria. He wasn't concerned with the money, but these two men were local hoods. They'd stabbed someone in the last three places they'd robbed.

“Ok, guys, this is it. Give up now, and you won't get the shit kicked out of you.”

The one on his left flicked a knife at him and the one on the right tried to flank him. It didn't work. Xander flicked the makeshift bo toward the one he'd decide to think of as Ape, Ape backed up, nearly bumping into Knife. Xander stepped back to give himself enough room to work, this made Knife sneer and step forward, swinging his knife from side to side.

“Thanks, ass hole. I really needed that.” Xander brought his bo down on Knife's wrist with a sharp crack then reversed and swatted Ape across the temple. Ape dropped, out cold, Knife screamed like a girl.

“You broke my arm, Cabron.”

Xander eyed him with disgust. “No, I didn't, you big girl. You'll be fine before the cops get here.”

Maria had nearly fainted when Xander took on both men, now she was wondering if she was seeing things. She finally decided to just go with it. She stuck her head into the back hall way situated behind the register desk and yelled for Mr. Pena, then she called the police.

Mr. Pena hurried to the front to find Xander leaning on his mop stick, watching the thugs with a disgruntled expression on his face. “Well, that's done it. If the cops ask me any questions, I'm sunk.”

“Xander, are you in trouble with the law?”

“No, but I'll bet a week’s pay Spike has an 'in' with them. He'll find out where I am, sure as I'm standing here.”

Mr. Pena just shook his head. “Cops here are honest. They won't tell. Relax.”

So Xander tried to relax while he waited for the cops to come and take his information. When they arrived it was more or less as Mr. Pena had said, the cops took his information, assured him that no one outside the precinct would find out and left, taking their prisoners with them. He was now a POI, person of interest. He spent the rest of the day worrying about it while he completed his work.

He left the restaurant with a carry-out and instructions that he was to take something home with him until payday. He thanked the Pena's gravely and headed for home.

After eating his supper while listening to the news on the small tv in the kitchen, the only one in the apartment, he went out to find the tool room so he could start on his list of repairs.

As he opened the door, he sent up a small prayer to whoever was listening. “Oh, man, great! This is just great.” The room was a construction worker’s dream, most supers had a few tools and made do; this room was full of all sorts of things. He saw a table saw in one corner and an industrial drill in another. The work benches were backed by peg board covered in wrenches, screwdrivers and other tools, including a small, but nice, set of wood working chisels. He picked out the tools he needed for two jobs, put them in a plastic bucket, and left for his first job.

It didn't take him long to stop the leak in 341, or re-hang the door in 212 and he was offered the perks of coffee, cake and tuna salad. He went back to his room, satisfied with his work. He didn't sleep very well.


Tara sighed. She'd been welcomed into the residence, given a very nice room, and told that she could have anything she wanted. She knew Spike expected her to find Xander, but she wasn't really sure that she should. The reason that Xander had run disturbed her.

After much thought and a few tears, she decided to consult the tarot cards and see what they had to say about it. The cards came up with a few answers and more questions. They said that Xander definitely needed to be found, that Spike was a 'good' person, and that there were still difficulties ahead, but they refused to tell her what the difficulties were. She rewrapped them in the silk cloth she kept them in and tucked them back into her bag.

She paced her rooms for a while then decided to help Spike. He'd asked so nicely and looked so sad that she really didn't have the heart to say no. So she went in search of Timmins.

She found him in the play room packing up Xander's Playstation, Nintendo, and Wii. He turned when she made a sound.

“Oh, can I help you, Miss?”

“Yes, please. I've decided to help find Xander, but I need some things.”

Timmins tucked the controller into the box he was packing and turned to her. “I'll be happy to supply you with anything you need. If I can't get it I'll tell Master Spike. He'll get it for you, if it exists.”

Tara smiled a bit at that. “I don't need much. Just something of his, something he uses a lot. And maps. Paper maps. I'm not good enough to do it on computer.”

“I'll get right on it. I'll tell Master Spike as well. We'll meet in the ... um ... some place with a large table?”

Tara nodded. She'd need a place to lay out the maps and put her incense burner and a few other things.

She just hoped the spells on Xander's beads didn't interfere with this, but she was afraid it would.


It turned out that she was right. After praying and burning incense to appease Gaia, she started her search. She spread out a map of California on the table and held her crystal pendant over it. It swung back and forth for a few moments then began to circle randomly. She sighed and put it down.

Giles, who had been with Spike when he was summoned, grumbled. “Well this is the first time I've ever been sorry I did a good job. We spelled those beads to intensify their natural properties and Spike had spells put on Xander's collar to protect him from ... I'm not sure what.” He rubbed his face in frustration. “So ... now what?”

Spike just sat and stared at the map. He wondered dismally if he'd ever find Xander. He shook himself physically and mentally. He eyed the map then applied himself to figuring out how to find at least a clue.

“His truck! Tara, luv, can you find his truck? If we find that ... maybe we can find someone who at least saw him.”

Tara's eyes widened. “Yes, I can find the truck. I can find lost things really easily. Let me ...” Tara picked up her pendulum again and held it over the map. It obligingly pointed to San Jose. Tara tapped the map. “Somewhere there. If you have a map of San Jose, I can try to narrow the search some more.”

Timmins produced a city map and Tara tried again and again, the pendulum hovered over a specific area. Spike looked closer and grimaced. “A bus station? Damn.”

“But maybe someone will know something. And at least we'll have his truck back.”

Giles nodded. “And perhaps there's a clue in the truck.”

Spike hopped to his feet, re-energized. “Let's go.”

It didn't take them long to get a vampire friendly SUV, driver, and Bud. Bud had simply said that he was going, no asking permission; he just got in the SUV and settled back. Spike, Giles, Tara and Timmins got in the two back seats and they were off.

The drive to San Jose didn't take that long, just long enough for Spike and Giles to get into an argument about, of all things, poetry. Tara didn't understand most of it and really wasn't listening anyway. She was busy thinking and watching the sun set.

“Spike?” Spike grunted to let Tara know he'd heard her. “What are you going to do when you find Xander?”

“Not sure yet, little witch. I'll figure it out when I see him. Why?”

Tara shrugged. “I'd hate to bring him back to you ... for the wrong reasons.”

Spike flinched slightly. “I said I made a big mistake with him, you think I'd compound it? Run him off for good? I may have a bad temper, but I'm not really stupid.”

“Oh, ok. I was thinking. You're the master, but you act more like the slave. Who tells you, you have to treat Xander a certain way? Your demon? Or ... tradition?”

Spike thought before he answered, watching Giles out of the corner of his eye. “Well, a bit of both. The demon is a jealous asshole, tradition evolved to try to keep the demon from attacking everything or one who got too near a claimant. I want to claim Xander. Very badly. It's makin' me nuts.”

“Why don't you claim him then?” Spike rubbed his face, trust the Watcher to ask that one.

“Don't want to yet. I want him to want it, not just submit because it's easier. Want him to want me for me, not because the damn thrall spell forces him into it. See?”

Giles smiled in a satisfied way. “I do. Congratulations, Spike, you're well on your way to winning Xander over.”

Spike just sighed and leaned against the door.

Finally the driver announced that they were at the San Jose bus station. He started to park, but Giles told him to drive up and down the aisles instead. It didn't take them long to find Xander's truck parked near the back of the lot, near some large bushes.

“Boss, this it? It looks like it.”

Spike glanced out the window. He'd been glaring at the bushes; something was making one of them shake. “What? Oh, bloody hell, that is it.” Spike climbed out of the SUV and hurried over to the truck.

He was waylaid by a thin, hungry looking vampire. “Stop right there. That truck doesn't belong to you. It belongs to ... to.”

Spike's glower made the vampire stumble to silence. “It belongs to me. My thrall was driving it when he disappeared. Do you know anything about it?”

The vampire dropped to one knee, bowing with his hand to his heart. “Yes, the one driving the truck smelled like you, like all people in your domain. I was given it by your representative. I wasn't sure who he was, and by the time I decided what to do, he was already on the bus. I guarded the truck, knowing that you'd find it sooner or later. Did I do well?”

Spike nodded. “Yes, you did a very good job.” The vampire staggered a bit. “You okay?”

“Yes, Master, just a bit hungry. I'm young yet, and it's been a while since I ate. I passed up a meal because I ... I'm not good at not killing my ... donors yet, so I was afraid to attract too much attention and I'm feeling it.”

Spike motioned to Timmins. “Bring something from my stock.” Timmins gave the vampire an assessing look then went to the SUV. “What's your name?”

The vampire startled everyone but Spike and Timmins by saying, “Anything you like, Master. Will you take me on?”

“Yes, I'll take you on. And I really don't like trying to think up names.”

“I was named Thomas Dalton. I like Tom, if it's alright.” Tom glanced up at Spike then down at the ground.

“Tom is good. Here,” Spike bit into his wrist, making a shallow gash. He held it out to Tom who took Spike's hand reverently and licked the blood off, getting a good half teaspoon full and sealing the cut. Timmins came back with a warm bag of blood and handed it to Spike.

Spike passed it on to Tom and waited while he bit into the plastic and sucked the blood right out of the bag.


“Yes, Master. You have questions, I'm sure. I'll do my best to answer them.”

Spike tapped his chin with one finger. “Giles?”

Giles just shook his head. “You ask first. I'll follow.”

Spike glanced at Bud then Tara. “Either one of you have questions?”

Bud answered for both of them. “You go first. Then we'll see.”

Spike nodded then turned to Tom. “Ok, tell me everything you saw. Don't leave out any detail, no matter how small.”

So Tom told them about Xander arriving, buying a ticket, and getting on the bus. He related what he'd heard very carefully, including the fact that he'd smelled tears when Xander had patted his truck before walking away.

Spike sighed. “I want that truck back at the residence, not leavin' it here. Someone'd have it stripped out in a second.”

Tom nodded. “I had to drive at least half a dozen gang bangers away. Wish I could have eaten one or two of them.”

Spike made a face. “You'd think they'd taste nice. All that good food they eat, tacos, nachoes, tamales...” Spike licked his lips, thinking of all the good food. “But most of 'em are junkies or at least casual users, that makes 'em taste off. Really nasty. You wouldn't have liked it much. Now, back to my boy. Anything else you can think of?”

“No, except I think I heard him ask for a ticket to Denver. I was afraid to get too close for fear he'd see me and know I'm a vampire. He'd have run off for sure. The lady at the desk is the same one he bought his ticket from. You could ask her. She might remember, especially if you have a picture.”

Spike did. and showed it to the woman, who announced that she wasn't telling Spike anything. Spike just offered her $50 for the info telling her he was just trying to catch up with his ex-brother-in-law who wouldn't pay child support. She folded in a rush and confirmed that Xander had bought a ticket to Denver. He thanked her with appropriate gravity and walked back to the group.

“He's gone to Denver, we better get on the road. Tom, you come with us, Bud you drive Xander's truck and follow. Giles, give Bud your cell so we can keep in contact.” Giles didn't even protest, he just tossed his phone to Bud. The small dose of Master's Blood that Spike had given Tom had initiated him into the inner court, ensuring his trustworthiness “Let's get going.”

They clambered into their assigned vehicles, pulled out and headed for Denver.

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