Ulterior Motives


Part Twenty-Seven

It wasn’t a full week before the thrall spell dug its claws into Xander. The spells and charms on his beads and torc helped, but it was still there in the back of his mind, like a tick he couldn't reach. It made him nervous and restless, something that Angelina noticed quite quickly.

“Xander, come into the office. I need to speak to you.”

Xander sighed; there went his job. “Yes, ma'am.”

“Sit.” Xander did as he was told, taking the uncomfortable straight-backed chair in front of the desk. “Now, are you on drugs?”

Xander blinked then started shaking his head. “No! No drugs for me. Don't like them, make me crazy more like. And they're too expensive anyway.”

“I see. Then... may I touch you?”

Xander nearly jumped out of his skin. “Touch me? Um... not sure that's a good...” At Angelina's look he reconsidered what he was going to say and just nodded his head.

Mamacita ran her hands over Xander's shoulders. His bruises were healing well, but that wasn't what she was looking for. She concentrated all her powers, weak as they were, and finally found what she was looking for. She wasn't sure what it was exactly, but she didn't like it one bit.

“Who cursed you? And why?”

Xander nearly jumped out of his skin again. “Cursed? What are you... I'm not... why would...”

She gave Xander her 'mother look’ and announced. “I'm a bruja, a witch. I'm not very powerful, but I can sense things. You smell of demons and magic. Now, what have you gotten yourself into? If you don't tell me, I can't help you.”

Xander sighed and rubbed his face. “You can't help me anyway. Not unless you're really powerful and not real bright. I smell of demon because of the curse, and the witch who cursed me is really powerful. I don't know why the curse hasn't kicked in, but it's just an itch. Like one somewhere I can't quite reach. Can I go now?”

“No. I want to look at your warlocks for a second. I won't change anything, just look. I promise.” Xander gazed at her for a moment then nodded.

Mrs. Pena fingered each bead then touched Xander's torc. “You have some very powerful protections there. The stones themselves are protections, and they all have spells on them. The torc has more of the same, but the spells are wearing, thinning, and losing their power. I can... recharge them, if you like.”

Xander looked skeptical for a moment, but Mrs. Pena assured Xander that her work wouldn't damage the spells, only fail to give them more power if it didn’t help. He nodded then and waited while she gathered her bag, and a box of small containers.

“Come with me, then. We'll go to the basement. It won't take long.”

It really didn't take very long. There was a permanent pentacle painted on the floor so all Angelina had to do was put out her candles and set up her brazier. She had Xander sit in the middle of the pentacle. When the charcoal was hot, she tossed in some herbs and Xander muttered, “Stinky herbs, always stinky herbs.” She hushed him and started chanting; as she chanted she lit the candles. When she was done lighting all the candles, she clapped her hands. The candles flared up into pillars of flame, and then melted into puddles of steaming wax. Xander didn't even flinch, although Angelina did.

“Is that all? Can I go back to work now?” Xander clambered to his feet and stood in the pentacle, waiting for her to decide.

“Yes, I recharged the crystals, for lack of a better explanation. You can go back to work.”

“Good, thanks. I do feel better. How long do you think it will last?”

“I have no idea, but I know I can only do it once. If I try to do it again, I might crack them all, and that would be a very bad thing.”

Xander contemplated that for a moment then decided to just be happy with what he had. He'd worry about things when it was time to and not before. He went back to work.

Angelina, on the other hand, had a lot to think about. She'd never seen anyone like Xander before. He'd accepted the statement that she was a witch without turning a hair. And when the candles had flared up, he had acted like it was nothing new. She wondered where he was from, that such things didn't make him ask hundreds of questions or take off running.


Giles sighed; he was not happy, and Ripper was very near the surface. He'd been cooped up in the SUV with Spike for over six hours since they'd left Sunnydale. Six hours in which he'd managed not to stake him by main force of will. Tara had been lucky, choosing to go back to Sunnydale when Spike changed his mind and ordered Bud and Timmins and the driver back there. Giles was glad Xander's truck was an extended cab.

Spike jittered, squirmed, and sighed. He wanted to be in Denver now. He was sure someone would have noticed Xander and could at least tell them where to start looking. If they'd only get there. He started jittering his leg again.

“Spike, if you don't sit still, I swear I'll stake you. Stop that!” Giles grabbed Spike's knee and pressed down on it, stopping its insistent bobbing.

Spike snarled at Giles, but didn't object further. Giles nodded and settled back in his seat. “If you don't relax, you'll be no use whatsoever when you're needed. Sleep if you can.”

Spike just gave one jerky nod and settled back to try to sleep a little. Giles watched him for a moment. He wondered if anyone else knew how upset Spike truly was. It was significant that Spike actually obeyed him, Giles, at all. Giles sighed; he really didn't want to babysit a vampire, much less Spike, but he knew that Spike needed a good adviser and the Order of Taraka had asked the Watcher's Council for him, by name. The Order and the Council politely ignored each other most of the time, but when both of them wanted the same thing, it happened. Or else. And he didn't want to find out what the “or else” was.

The fifteen-odd hours it was going to take to get to Denver were going to be absolute torture. And that time was only if they didn't stop for anything. At all. Giles rubbed his face. They'd only been on the road for a little less than four hours. He was looking at at least another eleven hours in the presence of a Master Vampire with no patience and a need for something he couldn't get.

Tom glanced at Giles, in the seat next to him and remarked, “If you need to stop, let me know. I'll be good for at least another four hours or so, then I'll need to stop. You could drive a bit, too. Take the edge off. Should I offer Master Spike the wheel?”

Giles shook his head. “No! He's too distracted to drive, and his driving is, at best, atrocious.”

Spike announced, “Oi! I heard that.”

“So? You're not driving, and that's that. I refuse to ride in any vehicle in which you're behind the wheel.”

Spike started to grumble then realized that Giles was right. There was no way he was going to be able to drive; he really was too distracted to manage not to wreck them. Where was Xander? Was he hungry? Was he cold? (Never mind that it was summer in a desert state.) Spike dropped his head into his hands and worried.

When they pulled over about four hours later he protested vigorously. “Why are we pulling over? What are you doing? Where are you going?”

Tom turned around. “Mister Giles is going to the Men's room. Then he's going to get some coffee and food, for both of us. Coffee at least. Then Mister Giles is going to drive for a while. Relax.”

Spike went into game face and snarled at Tom, who just started purring. Spike tried to be offended, but gave it up; he was exhausted by worry and grief. He was asleep in a tangle of blankets, duster, and limbs when Giles got back.

“He asleep again?”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, I purred until he couldn't resist anymore. Drusilla really made some odd ones, didn't she?”

“You know Drusilla?” Giles sipped at his coffee.

“Not real well. She was really good at messing up a Siring, though.”

Giles started the SUV, stuck his coffee into a cup holder, and backed out. “How? I heard she never sired more than Spike. At least that's the info the Watcher's Council has.”

“Pfft! That bunch of old ladies. They don't know squat. She's sired at least three childer. Spike was the only one that stayed with them. The other's are around, here and there. Mostly, they're smart enough to stay hidden. Angelus was... jealous of her ability to sire a childe who retained some humanity.”

Giles rubbed his face with one hand, keeping the other on the wheel. “I see. And why doesn't the Council know this?”

“Because they're too set on staking, beheading, even defenestrating anything not human. They don't ask questions. They just set the slayer on, and that's it. The Order of Taraka, on the other hand, they want to know everything. They keep good records, too. If you ask Master Spike, maybe he'll get you copies of their public records. Be really interesting.”

Giles spared a glance from the road to Tom. “You speak very well. What did you do before you became a vampire, if you don't mind me asking?”

“Special Ed teacher. Got snatched up in '94 on my way home from a parent/teacher meeting. Never thought I'd be glad to say, 'I was a bachelor.', but I am. Would have hated to have left a wife and children behind.”

Giles nodded. “I see. I'd like to ask you some questions.” Tom shrugged. “What do you know about learning disabilities? Exactly. I need information. Spike mentioned that Xander has trouble reading. I need to try to figure out what his problem is.”

Tom pulled at his lip. “Hummm. Well, I have kind of kept up. I'm not a minion, nor even a fledge. Not sure what I am, except that I'm masterless. Nice that Master Spike took me on like that. So... can you give me a list of symptoms?”

Giles shook his head wearily. “No. Spike?” Giles never took his eyes off the road. “What can you tell us about Xander?”

Spike woke at the sound of his name. He told Tom everything he could think of that might have any bearing on Xander's problem. Tom listened, asked a few questions, and then settled back to think. He was fairly sure he knew what was wrong with Xander, but he wasn't taking any chances of being wrong. He'd never made a diagnosis without as much information as possible in his breathing life; he wasn't going to start now.

After a while, he straightened and said, “I think I know what the problem is. I have to actually talk to Master Xander before I make my diagnosis. And, remember that I'm not a specialist, only a teacher, with specialized training true. I'd like for him to see someone who... ”

Spike stirred and snarled, “No, no one from outside. I don't trust them. You read up and what not.”

Neither Giles nor Tom argued with Spike, but they exchanged looks. Giles just announced, “Fine. Tom and I will do our best, but he might need spectacles or some other special equipment.”

“Then he'll have it. If we have to get a prescription for something, that's different.”

They settled back to travel in strained silence. The SUV continued on its way, tires thrumming.


Xander swiped at the table top and sighed. He needed to get clean water to wash the tables with, but he was so tired. He'd been keeping up his jogging and kata, but it was getting harder and harder. The thrall spell pulled at him constantly now. He got no rest when he slept, either. He dreamed of Spike.

He dreamed of his smell, the feel of his cool hands on warm flesh. Xander wondered if he was really crazy, or was the spell making him mad. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out. It had only been a few days, but he felt like it had been years.

Xander pushed the stainless steel bus cart into the back, took the wash bucket out of its holder, and dumped the dirty water into the sink. He refilled it with clean water, added a dash of dish soap, and put it back in its place. His hands were shaking slightly. He returned to work, shoulders slumped.

Angelina watched him and turned to her husband. “The 'fix' is already wearing off. The spell is much more powerful than I expected. This is not good. I worry for him; he is so sad. When I get my hands on the one who put such sadness in him...” She crossed her arms over her bosom and nodded her head sharply. Then she uncrossed them and went into the back, muttering in Spanish. Mr. Pena sighed; he hated it when she got on the 'war path'.

He turned to watch Xander for a moment. If it wasn't drugs, or some illness, he wondered what the curse was. He knew that if it had been a curse that made Xander do drugs or mimicked a disease, Angelina would have broken it. That left only a few things he could think of that it might be. He decided to petition the new Master of California to see what he could do about helping. The old master hadn't been worth anything, running off to Los Angeles and not doing his duty. He hoped the new Master was better. He'd see.

Xander clocked out and headed for home. He had to stop by the store on the way to get groceries, but he wandered up and down the aisles, picking up only a few items. He didn't have much appetite anymore. He wondered how much longer he could hold out against the spell. He finished shopping and carried the two small bags back home.

He was met at his door by Mr. Jones. “Damn, Xander, I'm glad you finally showed up. I've got a major break in a water main.”

Xander unlocked his door and started putting his groceries away. “Ok, I'm not a plumber, what am I supposed to do?”

“No plumbing. But there's a mess of other things that have come up. I can't take care of them and supervise the plumbing repairs, too. So, I'm dumping everything else on you. I'll call Mr. Pena and see if I can't get you tomorrow off. I need you that bad. Ok?”

Xander sighed, rubbed the back of his neck and said, “As long as it doesn't lose my job, I don't care. I can't afford to lose it.”

“It won't. He's a good guy. When he finds out how bad I need you, he'll say it's ok. If he doesn't, well, I'll just have to manage. You done?” Xander nodded. “Ok, here's a list of stuff that has to be done today. And I'm paying double. The owner said to pay what it takes.”

Xander smiled a little, at this rate he'd be paid through the end of the year. “Ok. I'm on it in a minute. I'll just get my belt and start right on this. Is it in any particular order?”

“Yeah, start at the top and work your way down, I arranged it by need. Mrs. Jemenez needs her AC fixed right away. She's got asthma and a heart condition; she can't take the heat.”

“Gotcha, on my way.” Xander snagged his tool belt from the peg by the door and headed out. Mr. Jones gazed after him for a moment, concern on his face. He left, too, headed for the back parking lot and the mess of a broken water main that had left twenty units without water.


Spike nearly tore the door off getting out of the SUV. They'd been driving all day and most of the evening. They'd just pulled up in front of the bus depot, and both Tom and Giles were glad to see Spike's coat tails. He'd done nothing but whine for the last three hours. Giles was ready to stake him. Tom was both amazed and surprised that a 'soulless' being could care so much for anyone.

Spike managed to be polite to the lady at the desk. When he asked her about anyone getting off a bus, she just told him that there was no way anyone would remember a specific person. But when Spike showed her a picture of Xander she admitted that she would have noticed him.

Giles and Tom walked up just in time to see Spike show the clerk Xander's picture. Her answer made them both brace themselves for some sort of explosion. It never happened.

“Ok, luv, ya tried. I really need to find him; he's sick and doesn't know it. We had a fight and Xander took off. How the hell am I gonna find him here?”

The woman ticked her fingernails on the counter for a moment. “I'm sorry to hear that. But... well, are you sure he's even here? I mean, the bus stopped three times, did you check in the stops? He might have gotten off at one of them, especially Vegas. Lots of people get a ticket to Denver or some other destination, but the second they see Vegas, they just get off right there. And there's a lot of opportunities there. People come in and leave by droves.”

Spike nodded. “I see. And you're sure you didn't see him?”

“Honey, I'm as sure as I can be. I wasn't that busy that night so I was watching debarkation just for something to do. I'm sure I would have noticed him because he'd be just right for my niece. Here, let me... ” She fished around for a second. “Got it. I'll enter the route number and date. I can print you out a list of stops. You'll have to do the rest for yourself. Hope you find him.” She waited for a moment then handed Spike a single sheet of paper. “There you go.”

Spike tried to give her some money, but she refused it. He gave her one of his sweetest smiles, thanked her, and slipped into the shadows near the entrance. He came back a while later with a satisfied look. “I had a little talk with the lurkers. She’ll never be bothered by demons or vamps, or even common thugs. Come on.”

Giles groaned. They were going to be back in the SUV, which he'd been silently referring to as the Hell-mobile, and headed for-- somewhere. Tom patted him on the shoulder and murmured softly, “He'll be better now that he has a solid lead. You can drive for a while more, can't you?”

Giles nodded. “Yes, and thank you.” Tom suddenly veered off, heading for a store in the nearby mall.

Spike turned and started to say something, but Tom interrupted him. “Master, I need some books. Will you pay for them, please? They're research materials. I'm behind in my reading by more than a year. They moved the library, and I couldn't get inside anymore. Sunshine, you know.”

Spike just followed Tom into the store and watched, torn between impatience and amusement, as Tom gathered books on dyslexia, and several other 'obstacles to learning', as he called them. Spike handed over his credit card without a blink at the cost. Tom had his nose in a book before they reached the door. Giles took him by the arm and guided him to keep him from knocking down an unsuspecting pedestrian.

Tom settled himself in the back seat and surrounded himself with a barricade of books. Spike laughed softly and settled in the passenger seat. Giles had braced himself for Spike's demand to be allowed to drive, but it never came, which was a relief as Spike's driving was – terrifying, to say the least.

“I'll backtrack until we get to the first stop on the list, going backwards from here. Are you sure the woman was telling the truth?”

Spike nodded. “Yes, smelled her. And I'm pretty sure she would have noticed Xander if he'd gotten off the bus there. He's not what you'd call inconspicuous. What with his shoulders and long hair, and what not all.”

Giles just grumbled, “I've noticed him myself. He's turned into an amazingly handsome young man. And when did that happen, I'd like to know?”

Spike nodded, “That he has. Bulked up and got all graceful... and deadly. He's no pushover, that's for sure.” Spike turned and pinned Giles with a rather nasty look. “And what the hell were you thinkin', lettin' that boy go out on patrol without trainin'. You got your head up your ass so far you're lookin' out your nose.”

“I know. But, I'm supposed to be a Watcher, not a martial arts teacher. Although, I’ll admit that I should have trained him. I was trying to keep him out of it at first, and then I was so busy trying to keep Buffy from doing any number of really stupid things. And I'm just making excuses. I sound idiotic, even to myself.”

Giles drove in silence, Spike smoked like a chimney, and Tom read. They drove through the darkness wrapped in their own thoughts.


Xander sighed heavily and pushed his door shut. It was nearly midnight, and he felt like he'd been dragged over ten miles of rough road. He'd fixed two AC's, a dryer, cleared out a toilet (the teddy bear didn’t survive), and mended a long stretch of loose railing. Now all he wanted was to go to sleep.

He gave himself a quick wash and tumbled into bed. He was asleep in seconds.

He was awake again with barely enough time to check with Mr. Jones, who told him he had to go to work at the restaurant. He jogged there, arriving just in time to clock in.

“Xander! We have a big problem. The counter in the other location is broken. The man that was supposed to fix it hasn't shown up, and lunch is in two hours.”

Xander just hunched his shoulders. “I can fix it... maybe. I'll need tools and stuff.”

Mr. Pena just told Mr. Garcia to take Xander wherever he wanted to go and buy whatever he said to. Xander asked to be taken back to his apartment to get his tools. After that, they went to the other restaurant so Xander could look at the damage. Someone had somehow jammed the counter off its anchors. Xander made a list of what he'd need to do the repairs and handed it to Mr. Garcia. “I don't need to go with you to get this stuff. Just hand it to a floor clerk and tell him, or her, that this is what I need. Nothing there is special, it's all off the counter, and I wrote down exactly what size I need. Don't let them substitute. While you're gone, I'll do the preliminary work.”

Mr. Garcia nodded and left. Xander started removing the bent L-brackets and the splintered base board. It didn't take long so Xander took the opportunity to sit down and have a drink.

He'd only been sitting for about five minutes when he found some assistant manager in his face.

“Look, you don't sit on the job, you work. If you don't have anything to do, find something. I'm not paying you to sit and drink soda.”

Xander stood up, looming over the smaller man ominously. “Fine! You got two choices; I go back to my job at Mamacita's, or I wait for the parts to fix your counter. Your choice, but frankly, I'm in favor of me leaving you in the lurch. Smart ass!”

“Now see here. Who do you think you're speaking to?”

“Don't know, don't care.” Xander looked down at the 'piss ant' and shrugged. “I was asked to fix this. It's a thousand dollar job, and you're getting it done for minimum wage. I don't have to do it at all. So, your choice, like I said. Get off my back, or I'm off the job.”

Xander sat back down to finish his soda while his nemesis went back to the back to inform the manager that someone needed to have 'words' with Xander. The manager went out to the front to see what was going on. He nearly had a heart attack when he saw Xander. The manager was a full demon who looked human, thanks to genetics and a bit of glamour. He knew a Master Vampire's property when he saw it, or him.

“Hello. My name is Daniel, I'm the day manager. Would you mind telling me what is going on?” Daniel noticed Xander's torc and nodded to himself. This was a much prized individual.

“Mr. Pena sent me to fix the counter. Your assistant seems to be... a bit on the slow side. I'm waiting on parts that I need, so I decided to get a soda and sit for a while. He objected. I don't have to do this. I could just as easily go back to Mamacita's and bus tables. So, make up your mind. I go back, or you keep your assistant away from me and I do the job.'

Daniel just nodded. “Sure thing. You hungry? I'll have cook whip you up something, on the house. I'm just going to call Mr. Pena and tell him what's going on. I'm not looking to cause you any trouble. In fact, I have a different target in my sights. If you don't mind?”

Xander gave Daniel a rather evil grin. “I think we're on the same page. Sorry if I came off a little... grumpy. I'm tired. There was a lot to do at the apartment complex. That's how I'm paying my rent. Odd jobs actually have me paid up to the end of next month.”

“I'll have you something out in a few minutes.” Daniel nodded to Xander and went back into the back

A few minutes later Piss Ant was on his way out the door. He stopped, started to say something to Xander, but Xander's weary glare sent him on his way in frustrated silence.

Xander was just finishing his soda when a waitress came over with a hot plate. The smells made Xander's nose twitch; for some reason he was hungry this morning. “Smells good.”

“Is good. Breakfast Burrito. Eat up, you're too skinny.”

Xander dug in, eating with real appetite for the first time since he'd left Spike.

He was done with his food and just taking the plate to the bus wagon when Mr. Garcia came back with his materials.

It took Xander until nearly lunch to get the counter fixed and bolted back to the floor. He was sweating freely by the time he finished.

Daniel put his head together with Mr. Garcia, and they decided he should take Xander back home to shower before he went back to work. Xander was more than happy to get a shower before spending the rest of the work day busing tables and moping floors.


Giles parked at the large Truck-stop Restaurant complex and looked at Spike. “It's dark enough that you could go do this. You want me to come with you?”

Spike shook his head. “No, you go get something to eat and drag Tom out of those books. He's going to drive next. Then I am. I feel... better... in control again. Sorry I've been such a prat.”

“You're not a prat.” Spike grinned at Giles, waiting for the rest. “You're a wanker. We'll find Xander, but I'm not letting you near him if he doesn't want you. Got me?”

Spike just glared at Ripper; he finally capitulated and nodded. “Yeah, I got you. We'll worry about the pissing contest later. First we have to find him. I'm off.”

Giles muttered, “In more ways than one.”

Spike called, “Oi! I heard that,” over his shoulder.

He walked into the checkout area and asked where the bus unloaded. He was told that it parked right in front of the restaurant and everyone came inside to get something to eat. He showed his picture to the man and asked if he recognized Xander. The checker shook his head, saying he didn't; he called the hostess over and asked her. She looked at the picture and shook her head, too.

“Honey, he never came in here. Everyone has to get off the bus here. And believe me, if that hunk had gotten off the bus, I'd know it.” Spike thanked her and went to sit by Giles.

Tom was just walking in the door.

“Xander wasn't here. What's our next stop?”

Giles tapped the list. “Vegas. He's probably there. But we had to check. Besides, I needed the loo.”

Spike ordered french fries and managed to confuse the waitress by calling them 'chips.' She walked away, muttering to herself, but soon returned with the fries.

Spike nibbled on them while Giles finished his blue plate special, and Tom drank coffee and read.

When they finished eating, Spike paid the bill and led the way back to the SUV.

“Tom, get your nose out of that book. It's your turn to drive.” Tom stuck a bookmark in the book he was reading and climbed into the driver's seat. Giles instructed him to head for Vegas and settled back, announcing that he was going to sleep.

Spike had all he could do to keep from howling his impatience to anyone and everyone within ear shot. He settled in the passenger's seat, letting a weary Giles have the entire back seat to sleep in.

“You figure out anything more about my boy?” Spike didn't bother to try to seem casual. He wanted to know, he asked.

“Not yet. What I'm doing now is looking up all his symptoms and trying to decide what tests I need to give him.”

Spike nodded wearily. “I see. Is there any cure?”

Tom shook his head. “No. But there are dozens of tricks he can use, from a simple line minder to special reading glasses. And other equipment. You both said he can read, it's just really difficult for him.”

“Yeah, he used to use a 3 x 5 card; I think you called it a line minder? Giles was a right git about it so he stopped, I think. But he can read. I've seen him read Chinese and Japanese, cuneiform, and all three Egyptian scripts, as well as several demon languages. All without any trouble. Doesn't make sense.”

So Tom explained that dyslexia presented itself in different ways in different people. People who couldn't read English could read music without trouble. Other people could read any symbol-based language, such as hieroglyphics or cuneiform, katakana, hiragana, and kanji, but had trouble with any alphabet based language like French, English, Spanish and so on.

“And that doesn't include the non-Roman alphabets like Cyrillic and Greek, et. al. So, we have to wait until I can test him to see what we can do.”

Spike nodded. “I see, and that explains why he keeps all his private notes in shorthand. And, is that why he can't write very well?”

Tom nodded, never taking his eyes off the road. “Sure is. I bet if you look at his other writings, they're quite neat, probably even beautiful. He writes what he sees, and he sees differently than we do. There's no help for that, but there's always ways around any difficulty. Calligraphy lessons helped a few of my old clients. Again, we'll just have to wait and see.”

“Yeah. And with my resources... well, just say, I'll eat anyone who makes fun.” Spike clicked his teeth together viciously and turned to stare out the window.


Xander made his way home in a near daze. He felt bad, tired, sore, and muzzy-headed. He stopped on the way home to get some bottled tea and nearly left the nice supper Angelina had made for him. The shop girl had chased him half way down the block.

He had settled at his kitchen table to eat his supper and drink his tea, and he'd awakened, head on the table two hours later. He'd barely finished his food before he'd dozed off. He decided that he'd better get out and walk around a bit, or he'd never sleep the night through.

So Xander left his apartment, knocking on the door of Mr. Jones's apartment and calling to him that he was going for a walk. He heard a shout from the back of the apartment and went on his way.

It didn't take him long to find a strip mall. He wandered down the sidewalk, looking in the windows. He saw a wood carving set in one that made him nearly cry; it was Cherry brand, one of the best, with its own soft canvas roll. He sighed, maybe when he was better situated; right now, he needed weapons.

He continued on his way, looking in windows and wishing. There was a nice lambskin jacket that he knew he would need. Desert weather being what it was, the nights were colder than he'd expected. He shuddered, thinking about Las Vegas' nominal winter. He knew it would be cold.

He finally found what he was looking for, he hoped. There was a martial arts store hidden in a side alley of the L-shaped mall. The long leg wasn't joined to the short leg; instead there was a covered walkway between them with more shops lining it. It was in this alley that he found the store.

The bell over the door jingled softly as Xander opened it. He wandered down the middle aisle sadly. There wasn't a thing there worth taking home, at least, not for him. He continued on toward the back, examining weapons as he went.

Some of the weapons were just for display--very pretty, but not useful. Others were practice dummies, in loud-colored plastic or finely finished woods. The wooden ones, bokken, were dangerous. They could break bones or bruise someone badly, but they were useless to him.

Xander finally made his way to the back of the store, and his eyes lit up. There were only four or five swords hanging on the back wall, but they were all excellent examples of their type. He drooled over the tachi, but knew he couldn't afford it nor could he hide it. Moving on down the stand he lightly touched a wakazashi, but it was too long as well. Next came a long straight sword, again too long. He really wanted a gladius, or some other short sword, but this didn't look like the place to find such a thing.

He examined the daisho again. The long short swords, or katana and wakazashi, were so nice he wished he could buy them, but he didn't have enough money and he really didn't need them. So he dragged himself away to look for something more concealable.

He looked farther along the wall and found a gladiator sword that might work. If the steel was good enough. He also looked at a huge bowie knife in a display case that seemed worthwhile.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice from behind him asked, “May I help you?”

Xander whirled around and stopped himself from punching the man by a thousandth of a second. “Sorry, sorry. A little jumpy.”

“Ah! I'm sorry, too. My name is Takahashi. My apologies, I didn't mean to startle you. Is there something special that you're looking for?”

Xander glanced around. “Well, yeah. Um... I really need something that I can... um... hide.”

Mr. Takahashi just looked at Xander for a moment. “You seem like a very nice young man. Why would you need to hide a weapon?”

“I'm not that nice, and there's things out there that would like to eat me. And you, but I'll never convince you of that.”

Mr. Takahashi raised one eye brow then reached over the counter and pulled out a sliver stick. Xander looked at it for a moment then grinned when Mr. Takahashi took hold of both ends and twisted; when he pulled, the stick separated into two blades. Each one was about 26” long, evenly divided between handle and blade. He liked it. It looked enough like a pimp stick that he could carry it with a minimum of fuss.

“This is good. Is there some place that I can try it out?”

“I've got a dojo in the back. I'm very particular about my students, but if all you want is a bit of room, you're welcome to go in.”

Xander bowed slightly and followed as the man led him into the back. The dojo was nice, clean, but a bit smaller than what Xander was used to.

After removing his boots he stepped to the center of the room and twisted the grips to separate the swords; they slid apart easily leaving him with one sword in each hand. He started the Double Dragons kata and, after completing it, announced, “Nice, I like them, how much?”

The owner just sighed, rubbed his neck and said, “You're really good. Do you teach? I really need a helper, a junior Sensei, with the title of tesshi. You look like you could do it. If you do, the swords are free. If you don't feel you can, the swords are... $20.”

Xander smiled a little, he felt very complimented by the offer. “I'm so sorry. It's a great compliment to me, that you feel I would be a good teacher. But I don't feel that it's the right time for me to do something like that. The swords are worth a great deal more than $20. Please let me pay what they are worth.”

Mr. Takahashi thought for a moment. “No, I said $20, and that's what I'll take. If you change your mind, let me know. And, if there's anything else you need, keep me in mind. I can get almost anything you can think of. Now, I'll ring you up. Come on.”

Xander just thanked the man and didn't insult his generosity by arguing with him. He did ask to buy sharpening stones to maintain the blades. He paid, bowed, and left. He really wished he could join the dojo, but he felt too ill to do so. It made him even sadder.


Spike had spent much of his time on the drive thinking. Finally he came to the best decision he could.

“When we get to Vegas, go to the Luxor, take the last underground garage entrance, and we'll see from there. I'll have to have a look around; all I've got are directions.”

Tom just grunted; he was tired and didn't feel like talking. Giles did.

“Please explain to me, just for my personal information, why we're going to the Luxor?”

Spike grinned over his shoulder at Giles. “It's my headquarters. Got huge basement levels, really huge. I've got the two lowest levels now, and an option on a third. I set it up back in Sunnydale, before we left. I was planning to move here anyway. More convenient to the eastern part of my domain. I got directions on how to get in, but they really don't make sense. Here. Read 'em for yourself.”

Giles accepted the printed out email and grumbled at the vagueness of the directions. “I see. We really will just have to... er... wing it.”

Spike grumbled back, “Yeah, and my wings are a bit scorched by now. I'm going to have to do this a bit differently. I can't spend time rampagin' all over, tryin' to find that idiot. It's not going to do any good. I'm gonna have to find someone who knows... a detective, or bounty hunter, or something like that.”

Giles nodded. “That's a good idea. I might... I'll have to check, but I think I know someone. Tara can find a general direction or area, and we can go from there.”

Tom broke in with, “We're going to be there in about an hour. Mr. Giles, you might get Master Spike's phone, make a few calls now and have people waiting when we get there. Or schedule meetings for tomorrow. I'd think it would be a better idea to be fresh for such a thing.”

Spike agreed and settled back to 'rest his eyes'. He was going to call the Order and call in a marker. They owed him several by now.

When they arrived at the Luxor, Tom drove into the parking garage and followed the directions until they ran out. That was when they found out why. They were facing a blank wall. Spike didn't throw the temper fit Giles was expecting. Instead he just got out, approached the wall and said, “High Master William the Bloody.” The wall just wavered then disappeared. Tom drove up a bit, Spike got back in and they started down the ramp. There was only one way to go so they were sure they wouldn't get lost.

It wasn't long before they came to the end of the line. The ramp dead-ended in a large parking area. Tom pulled up to the door on the right side of the area and parked right in front. Several minions and fledges hurried out to greet them. One opened the back passenger door and another opened the front one.

The vampire who opened the rear door stepped back then lunged at Giles. He was met by a stake and a snarl. The sight of the stake stopped him long enough for the snarl to register. He stepped back, whimpering softly. The Castellan, or Master of the Castle, smacked him across the face with the back of his hand.

He turned to Spike and said, “I'm so sorry, High Master. Shall I have your snack taken to your rooms, or should I send him somewhere else?”

Spike eyed the vampire for a moment. His speech and mannerisms said that he was a highly placed person, possibly even a minor Master. Spike didn't care much. He punched the vampire hard.

“Not a snack. He's one of my advisors, and you'll treat him with respect. Tom is under my protection as well. Now, where's my quarters? Also, there's going to be my stable coming here soon. Hands off. And no more feeding willy-nilly. I'll deal with other stuff soon, but things are going to change drastically. Get used to it.”

The Castellan just nodded; he'd managed to survive two masters by being flexible. He didn't intend for Spike to find fault with him over a human or two; there were many ways to feed besides the obvious. He turned and led Spike and his two companions into the residence.

“I beg your pardon, Master. It's been a very long time since I served a master who thought of humans as more than lunch. And you keep a stable? Will you be adding to it?”

Spike thought for a moment. “Probably. Jenny and Adriana are due to retire soon. I'll send Timmins out later. Timmins is my personal servant. I'll pass all my orders for the residence through him. In matters of the house, he is my voice. If you have questions, ask him, concerns, tell him. I don't deal with housekeeping.”

The Castellan bowed slightly and pointed to a door. “That is the door to the lower of the two levels. That ..” He pointed to another. “This is the door to the private part of the residence. I'll leave you to find your own rooms. I don't think I have the authority to tell you which rooms you should take. If you need anything, there are bell pulls all over the mansion. They’re electronic, and they will summon either me, or one of two other servants. Will that be all?”

Spike nodded, “Yeah, for now.”

The Castellan bowed and left. Spike turned to Giles.

“You ok?”

Giles just nodded. “Fine, that one missed dust by about an inch.”

“If that. I saw. You're still fast, that's good. Come on, we need to pick our rooms.”

Tom started to leave. “Oi! Where 'd ya think you're goin'?”

“To find rooms. Or at least a bed.” Tom looked a bit puzzled.

“You're stayin' right here. You got a lot of research to do. You’ll do it here, where you can share it with Giles.”

Tom bowed. “Yes, Master. As you wish.” Tom was delighted. This was going to make his work much easier.

Giles touched Tom on the arm. “Come, let's pick our rooms. I'll help you decide.”

Giles put Tom in a small suite at the very back of the residence, servants quarters, but nice. He thought Timmins would like to have the strange vampire where he could keep an eye on him for a while.

Giles picked a larger suite for himself. It had a bedroom, bathroom, and a very nice, fairly large sitting room/office, but its best feature was a tiny kitchenette. It was truly tiny, but quite adequate for making tea, coffee, and the occasional quick meal. He smiled when Bud showed up with his luggage.

Just then Tara stuck her head in the door. “Nice, my quarters had better be as nice.”

Giles nodded to her. “Is Timmins here?”

Bud spoke up with, “He's getting the stable settled... and everyone else from Sunnydale that wanted to come. He'll be with you in a few minutes. I'm headed for my quarters, see you.” The obviously tired and hungry demon left.

It didn't take them long to get themselves sorted out and settled. Timmins showed up with his usual efficiency and announced that he was bringing more servants into the house. Spike announced that he didn't care, Timmins was in charge of all that “cobber' and demanded tea.

Tara wanted to know where her things were. Timmins told her that all the luggage was on the loading dock and would be brought up and put away by the new servants.

It didn't take Timmins long to get Giles and Spike some tea, Tara a fruity drink, and meet Tom. Shortly after that, everything was as back to 'normal' as anything in Spike's presence ever was.


The next morning, or evening, if you're human, Spike placed several calls and spent three hours closeted with 'hunters', both human and demon. He handed out pictures of Xander and a jacket listing things he thought might be helpful in the search. It mentioned his skills, and the fact that he was good at construction and wood carving. It also listed all the languages he spoke and could read.

One of the demons remarked, “Well, I can see why you want this particular piece of property back.”

Spike just pointed to the door. “Get out! He's not property, he's my boy. Anyone that harms so much as a hair on his body will regret it to their dying day. Got me?”

Nods all around the table let him know that they did.

Spike handed out small envelopes to each one with a retainer in them, and dismissed the group with another warning about hurting Xander in any way. Then he went in search of Tom.

He found the newest member of his inner circle in the library with his nose in a book. Spike took a moment to look around. It was a very large room with several conversation groups and three desks. One, centrally located, was obviously the 'master' desk; the other two were smaller. One was a lady's desk, and the other a general writing desk. The lady's desk was of the sort usually reserved for a woman, tiny, full of drawers and pigeon holes, best used for casual writing. In this case Spike decided it was for the use of guests wishing to write a letter, or something of that nature. The general use desk was nearly as large as the master desk and seemed to be meant for the use of the High Master's partner, or his second-in-command. Spike knew who was going to be using it. He smiled when he realized that Tom had taken over one of the two large library tables for his research.

“Find out anything?”

Tom looked up with a slight smile. “A bit. I found some more information on testing that I think will be useful. Other than that, my original plan is still looking like the best. I'll test Xander and go from there. Have you had any word?”

Spike sighed and shrugged. “No time yet. I just put the hounds on the scent. They've barely started.” He sighed again and ran a hand over his face. “Damn! I just hope he's alright. I keep seeing him... hungry... doing without. And it's all my fault. If I'd listened to him right, this wouldn't have happened.”

Tom watched Spike as he paced. After a few rounds of the room Tom got up and pulled Spike to the table. “Here. Start reading these. I need to find a good testing agency here in Las Vegas. I'll need their resources for the tests. I'm not competent to administer them myself. I can do all the prescribed training, but I’d really rather have the testing done by a disinterested third party.” He had to smile at Spike's gob-smacked expression. “Yes, I was a very good teacher, before I got vamped. And I got enough master's blood that I didn't lose my mind. I think my old master was lonely. He talked to me quite a bit... at first. Then he got bored with me and just disappeared. I felt that, badly. I still wonder what it was that I did. If I did anything.”

“Probably didn't do anything. Some masters do that, make a fledge, then never do much more than that. You'll get master's blood here. I'll give you enough that you'll be well into a true masterhood. I'm setting up a court to last my lifetime. I'll need advisors I can trust and believe me when I say, I know who I can trust and who I can't. My nose is very sensitive.”

Tom just nodded, gave Spike a brilliant smile, and returned to his books.


A week went by, Spike settled his court, and Timmins got the residence into something resembling order. Xander's garden was moved from Sunnydale to Las Vegas with less trouble than expected. But Xander was still missing. Spike's temper was shorter, and Giles had all he could do to keep him from falling apart completely.

Timmins kept Spike appeased as best he could, and the court crept around in terror of William the Bloody. The hunters came and went, their reports sending Spike into towering rages or abject depressions. Every time they came with a report that someone had seen Xander, they found out that it was just someone who looked like him. Or they found that the person had moved on. The first sent him into a rage, the second into depression.

No matter how he felt though, he didn't take his rage or depression out on his court without good reason, something they couldn't quite convince themselves of.

The other thing that put Spike in a depression was that Tara, despite her best efforts, couldn't get a fix on Xander. She hadn't had too much trouble with the truck because it was not sentient and wasn't moving around. Xander was alive and was moving around. She was sure that the protections spelled into his warlocks and torc also had something to do with it. She had thought that they would be fading, but they seemed to have been re-energized. She kept trying, but she had to rest between tries and could only try about once every three days. Bud kept insisting that she take care of herself.

Giles continued his efforts to comfort Spike, feeling a bit odd, and finally managed to get him a bit more settled. The week-end seemed to be the breaking point somehow.

Spike came into the library and plopped into his chair. Tom was on the phone, talking to the testing group they'd decided on. He was trying to explain that Xander would be coming in at night, but the receptionist didn't seem to understand that. Finally, Tom just snarled into the phone, “No! I've told you four times that he can't come during the day. He's an adult. A grown-up.”

Spike snapped his fingers for the phone. Tom obediently handed it to him, and Spike snarled, “Listen, for what I'm paying you, you should just be glad. He'll come in when we say, or we'll find someone else to do the testing. Get over it,” and hung up. “Tom, dial back in about a half hour, and I'll bet you anything you like, the attitude will be much different. If worst comes to worst, I'll turn someone.”

Giles snorted. “You will not. I'll just contact the Order or the Council and have them arrange something, when we find Xander. Which will be soon, I think. If my research is correct... ” Spike interjected, “And it usually is” Giles nodded, “Thank you. As I was saying, if my research is correct, Xander's protections should have faded by now. Someone refreshed them. But they can only be refreshed once. They'll fade again soon. Then we'll have him.”

Spike sighed. “I'm torn between chaining him to a bed and chaining him to me. I'll never lay a rough hand on him again. My demon be damned.”

“I think you've fallen into the trap that many rulers fall into. Tradition is nice, a way of passing information from one generation to another. But if you let tradition rule you, instead of ruling it, bad things can happen. Vampire Court Ritual is exactly that, ritual. If you don't like some facet of court life, change it. It's your court after all is said and done. If anyone argues with you, punish them.”

Spike leaned back in his chair, nodding absently. Tom gave Giles a secret smile, and Giles settled back to watch the fur fly. It was going to be interesting.

Part Twenty-Eight

Spike glared at the vampire in front of him, “An' you're standin' there mouthin' off, because?”

The young-looking, ancient vampire stuttered a bit. “Be-because it's tradition. That's the way we've done it for... several decades. Why should we change now?”

Spike folded his arms over his chest, raised one hand to his chin, tapped it with his forefinger then shrugged. “Because I say so, you git. And I'm High Master of California. If I say jump, you jump and hope it's high enough. Got me?”

The vamp gave up. “Yes, High Master, I understand.”

“An' the next idiot who questions my authority will wind up chained in a small dark cell for a month... with no food.” Spike glared around then amended, “Unless they'll starve to death; then, they'll be on their species' equivalent of bread and water.” He looked directly at Giles, who was taking notes on the proceedings. Giles finished writing, glanced at Spike, and wondered if he should signal the end of this session. He decided not to.

“Now, I'm sick of this. You all listen up good. I don't intend to spend my valuable time arguin' with you. You're like a bunch of old ladies. This is my court. I don't care how you used to do things. This is the way you'll do them now. If I say a thing, I don't expect a bunch of argument that starts with, “But Master, that's not how we do things.” If you don't have a good reason not to change something, shut up.”

Giles grinned behind one hand. Things were really looking up. Spike was taking firm control of his court. He'd managed to convince everybeing that he wasn't going to just kill someone for the fun of it. There would be a reason behind it. Some reasons, Giles wasn't sure he understood, but they would be in line with demon logic. Spike's violence always had a purpose; he had known that for years. Just sometimes his purposes were so obscure that they seemed random.

Spike glared around the court again. “I have human advisors, and that's that. We're going to be dealing a lot more with the humans than you're used to. Deal with it. Now, if none of you idiots have anything useful to say, court is over.” He waited exactly fifty human heart beats, the traditional amount of time to wait for an objection; no one said anything so Spike headed for the door. Everyone bowed as he passed, and he nodded to a few beings here or there. He walked out the door, slammed it, and left everyone in the room trembling slightly. The force of his fury was mind boggling. A few of the smarter individuals hoped that finding the human named Xander might calm him; otherwise, no one knew what he was capable of doing in his displeasure. He was Master, and his pleasure was their life, or death.

Giles packed up his notes and pen and headed for the door, too. He was stopped by the Castellan. “I'm sorry to be impertinent, but do you have a moment?”

Giles nodded. “Certainly. How can I help you?”

“We've borne his... ire for more than a week now. How vicious is he liable to get?”

“Spike? Very, if he's pushed hard enough. Everyone has heard him say that he won't just kill or punish for the fun of it. I've never heard of him giving his word and breaking it. But... he's very much on edge just now. So... who knows what he might take exception to? He despises being argued with. And when he says something, well… I’d just take it as law and be done with it. He has his ideas of how court is to be run and, as it is his court, I'd be very careful of contravening his word. I know of two, maybe three, beings who can get away with arguing with him. I'm one, Xander's another, then Timmins, and...that's about it. Tara won't, nor will Bud. So, now you have it.”

The Castellan nodded. “I see. So... he'll ignore my advice?”

“No, he won't ignore it, if it's properly offered. He'll consider nearly everything he's told. He just may not take your advice. He'll make up his own mind. Anything else?”

“No. Thank you. I have much to consider. Excuse me.” The Castellan walked away. Giles watched him for a moment hoping the vampire had decided to be a help instead of a hindrance.


Xander woke with a pounding head and a vague all over body ache. He managed to drag himself out of bed, into the shower, and in the general direction of the kitchen. The coffee maker was on auto so he poured himself a cup with a trembling hand and stuffed some bread into the toaster. When it popped, he slathered it with peanut butter and scarfed it down in three bites. He had to gulp coffee to keep from choking on the sticky mass.

His jog to work left him much more breathless than it should have, and he sat down in the back room for a moment. He knew the protections in both his torc and his beads were wearing thin. He was feeling the urge to return to Spike more and more strongly. He was having trouble keeping food down, and he was thirsty all the time. He ached, and his hands were starting to palsy. He wondered if he could find Spike then decided to just give up. Spike would find him sooner or later.

He limped his way through an unexpected double-shift that day and hoped that no one would notice. His hope was in vain. Mamacita noticed his lethargy and called him on it.

“Xander, come here. You are not well. What is it?” She pressed her palm to his forehead.

“I'm not sick. I think the spells are wearing out. I just feel... I'm not sure how to describe it. Like I've got the flu, only not really. I ache all over. I can't eat; my stomach keeps turning. My endurance is way down. I'm just, in general, a mess.”

“Papa has said that he will put a pre-petition in with the Master of the City for your protection. If he comes through, your... lover will not be able to bother you. We're not powerful people, but we might be able to help you.”

Xander turned pale. “You know the Master of the City? Please tell me Papa hasn't sent in that petition yet.”

Angelina shook her head. “He's still trying to compose it. Why?”

Xander took a deep breath and sighed. “If he sends that petition in, then I'm sunk. He'll tell Spike and then he'll find me and then he'll ...” Xander took another breath, staving off a spate of babble that was sure to either frighten or confuse Angelina, or both. “Just don't. Ok?”

“I'll talk to him right away. You go have something nice to eat. Get some of that caramella. Shoo!”

Xander went into the kitchen and settled at the tiny table near the back door. It was cooler there, and all the employees used it for their breaks. One of the kitchen helpers brought Xander a bowl of the caramel-flavored custard and a cup of coffee. All the help knew that Xander was ill in some way; they couldn't help from it. They all brought him treats or made him special foods, trying to tempt him to eat. It worked most of the time. This time, Xander just poked at the custard and worried.

What was going to happen to him when Spike finally caught up to him? He would, Xander was sure of that, he just wasn't sure when. With a shake of his head, he cast off his worries and ate his treat. He didn't really want it, but it was a shame to waste it, and he did need the nourishment.


Mr. and Mrs. Pena had a little discussion about what to do about Xander. They decided that sending in the petition to the Master of Las Vegas to approve and forward to the Master of California was still a good idea. Little did they know how good an idea it really was. Xander was nearing the end of his endurance; the spell was working on him, and he was near a real breakdown. Spike was frantic and rapidly reaching the breaking point. Giles and Timmins were worrying more and more. Tara was exhausting herself. Bud was just disgusted.

Spike was pacing his office when Bud came in. Spike looked up then his shoulders slumped.

“No word?”

Bud shook his head. “No, Las Vegas is huge. Searching the Strip alone is such a huge task that it would take literally years. The outlying areas... it's just going to be luck. Pure and simple.”

Spike started to say something, changed his mind, and asked carefully, “Glinda-witch come up with anything?”

“No, she's tired out. Magic is like... um... not sure what. It's just that, well, the best analogy I can come up with is money. You spend until it's gone; then, you have to save up before you can spend again. She's broke. She has tried every finder spell she knows... nada. Except that he's in Vegas. The bounty hunters are all stumped, too. I was thinking, maybe the Master of Las Vegas could come up with some help. And, just so you know, I'd like to know how the hell I wound up in charge of this dog and pony show.”

“Cause I trust ya not to pull something stupid. Like tryin' ta hold 'im hostage, or for ransom. An' ya like Glinda; you'll see that she doesn't hurt herself tryin' ta find 'im. Wish... but...” Spike trailed off.

Bud just sighed and remarked, “Yeah, wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first. I'll talk to the Master of Vegas. See ya.”

Spike watched the demon walk out the door.

It didn't take Bud long to speak to the Master of Vegas. He wasn't very well pleased with the results. The vampire wasn't interested in helping; in fact, he announced that if Master Spike couldn't keep his hands on his property, he deserved to lose it. Bud just shrugged, remarked mildly that Spike was in a 'mood', and went back to report to Spike.

Spike listened to Bud's report and snarled, “An' why do we keep him around? Giles?”

Giles checked a small book he extracted from his pocket. “Well, according to my notes, he's the one who keeps the casinos in line, organizes the demonic entertainments and, in general, keeps the human tourists and the 'other' tourists from killing each other. We don't really need him at all. I think ...” His sarcastic tone said more than his expression, which was bland.

“I think that would be a perfect job to keep Xander occupied, with your help.” Spike rode over Giles firmly. “You advise him, he provides the muscle, backed by my authority. Yeah?”

Giles just sighed and nodded; it wasn't like he'd thought of it first. Spike was proving that he respected Xander more than any of the Scooby Gang ever had. It shamed him more than he wanted to admit.

“I know that Xander is capable of handling a job like that, with proper training. Which, I'm sure, you'll provide. Convincing Xander of it is another thing entirely.”

Spike snorted. “Don't have to convince him of anything. I'll just tell him he's to do it, and he will. Simple. As soon as we find the prat.”

Giles rubbed his face at that. “I know. I'm truly worried about him. What if... well, what ifing isn't going to get us anywhere. Is there any news at all?” Giles turned a hopeful look at Bud.

The demon sighed and shook his head. “Not a squeak. I've got a couple of ideas, but I need to sort of work on them. Give me a day or two.” He held up a hand. “I know! But it's all I got.”


Bud's 'day or two' turned out to be a week. By now Xander had been missing for just under three weeks. Spike was turning from frantic to hysterical, in a calmly homicidal fashion. The Master of Vegas was no help at all. Spike had a feeling that something was going on with him, and he intended to find out what.

He sent Giles to talk to the master vampire.


“Master Spike has sent me to see if you have any further information on Xander Harris. Would it be alright with you if I talked to your secretary?” Giles kept his voice carefully neutral. He didn't like this vampire and could feel that all he really wanted to do was cause trouble. Why, he wasn't sure, but he was sure it was true.

“Help yourself, human, if my secretary doesn't eat you first.” The High Master waved his hand in dismissal. Giles turned and left the court, finding the secretary waiting right outside the door.

“Are you going to try to eat me?”

“No, I value my skin a lot more than I value a meal. Come with me. And I hope you will tell Master Spike that I was cooperative.”

Giles smirked to himself. “I'll be sure to do exactly that. It would be even more to your advantage if you have something that is actually helpful.

“I think I do. Here. It's a pre petition. The actual petition hasn't been submitted yet. I like to have these if possible; it saves a lot of trouble. Some submissions just aren't to the Master’s taste. So there are pre-petitions; reviewing them saves my master from receiving something he knows that he won't approve and send on... just read it.”

Giles read the short document. It was a request for help with some bruja’s friend. But the symptoms were exactly what Xander would be suffering from by now. He raised one eyebrow and reread the paper. It had to be Xander; thankfully, he wasn't in dire straits, yet.

“I'd like to take this with me, and if there's an address, I'd like that, too.”

The secretary wrote the address on the bottom of the page and handed it back to Giles. “Since this is a pre-petition, you can have it. Here, please?”

“I'll be sure to tell him that you were as helpful as you could be. I think he'll probably be here soon. How long have you had this?”

“A couple of days. The Pena's are good people. They don't want anything much to do with the court. The lady is not very strong and of no use to the court, but she knows people. If you know what I mean.”

“And why wasn't it handed on?” Giles tucked the information the nervously babbling vampire gave him away for further consideration at another time.

“I wanted to give it to you at once, the boy sounds exactly like the description, but he wouldn't let me. He said that Master Spike would do just like the other, Angelus, did and disappear soon. We didn't need to fawn on him. But... I've heard things. Master Spike is really William the Bloody, right?” Giles just nodded. “He... he. I...” The vampire gulped and trembled. “I just hope that he realizes that I did my best. I'm between a rock and a hard place.”

“I'll tell him that you did your best. You managed to get this into my hands. Thank you. If you're really worried, why don't you just make yourself scarce for a few days? Take a sabbatical.”

“I believe I'll do just that. I might take a few files home with me to study in detail. If you know what I mean.” The vampire started tucking files into a huge briefcase. He squeezed it shut and just walked out, leaving a hastily scribbled note in the middle of his desk.

Giles took his information to Spike and waited for the blow up. It didn't come, and Giles trembled in his shoes. Spike was so angry that he just stood there for a moment.

“I need Ripper. Come, get Bud and Timmins. We'll go and have a bit of a talk with the ex-Master of Las Vegas. Before we go find Xander. I don' wanna be distracted from 'im by dealing with that git later”

Giles gave Spike a truly feral grin, rolled his tongue across his lower lip, and turned for the door. He turned back, remarked, “I'll just change clothing, shall I?”, and he left.

It didn't take him long to gather Bud and Timmins, tell Tara what they were going to do, and get to the garage. He nearly howled his approval when he saw the motorcycles: Harleys, mint-condition, 1979 Fat Bobs to be exact. Huge, black, menacing and elegant.

Spike nodded. “Who can drive, and who needs to ride?”

Bud mounted one bike and grinned before donning his full face helmet. Timmins got on behind him. Giles mounted another of the bikes. Spike blinked for a moment. The Watcher was in full Ripper mode. He was wearing well-worn jeans, square-toed biker boots, a flannel shirt over a t-shirt, and a scuffed and worn leather jacket. Spike raised an eyebrow then nodded his approval.

They mounted and roared way.

They rode the two miles from the Luxor underground garage to the Palms, turning heads all the way.

They pulled up to the door of the underground entrance to the residence of the Master of Las Vegas. It was more a palace, but was called, as all city masters' homes were, the Residence. Spike looked around with interest, decided the place was common, and demanded to see the master.

The first rank of minions knew better than to argue with someone who felt as powerful as Spike did, so they let the group through. Timmins just sniffed in disgust. Spike had to take another look at his usually very well-dressed valet. Timmins didn't look anything like himself. He was dressed in canvas trousers with a double fly, like a sailor's, heavy boots, a dark brown denim shirt, and a canvas duster. He and Bud seemed to have put their heads together to decide what they wanted to wear.

The second rank of fledges and minions started to argue, took a good look at Spike, and caved in, too, waving them through to the next rank.

The third rank of interference was made up of mostly upper rank fledges, most of them nearing minor master status.

This group did try to keep Spike from violating the conventions of the court, but a feral snarl and two vampires in game face, and a demon and human with fierce glares, backed them off after a short confrontation.

Spike stomped up to the fourth and final group of guards. This group was all minor masters, but they didn't hold up the group for long. Giles was the first one to demand entrance; he was refused with every evidence of contempt.

“Fine then. I'll just open the way.” Giles pulled a stake out of his sleeve and staked the door guard. Spike followed up with a stake of his own. Bud danced back from a sword thrust, and Timmins just ripped the head right off the last guard.

“Careful. There's only three of them. That's not enough for a person like him.” No one needed to question who 'he' was. Nor was Spike wrong. The group that emerged from the double doors behind the first three of the inner circle was made up of low level masters, or high level fledges, depending on how you wanted to look at it.

They surrounded Spike and the other three interlopers and stood, waiting.

“I'm High Master William the Bloody. I want to talk to the Master of Las Vegas. And what the hell is the prat's name?”

“Grover Goodness.”

Spike blinked, Bud snickered, and Giles frankly laughed. Poor Timmins just sighed. The vampire door guard glared, but not for long. Spike poked him in the chest with one finger. “I want to see Grover. Now! Lead off.”

The leader of the group glowered at Spike who glowered back. It seemed that Spike's glower outweighed the other vampire's, as he turned and stalked away. They followed.

They entered a large ornate room. Spike looked around, turned to Giles, and remarked, “Bad taste. I ought to dust him just for this.” He gestured around the gaudy room in contempt.

Giles shrugged. “Give him a chance.”

Bud just backed them up, keeping an eye on 'the locals'.

Master Goodness didn't have the sense God gave a goose, as Timmins would say later. He started out on the wrong foot.

“I am the Master here. Who did you say you were supposed to be?”

Spike sauntered towards him, smirking. “Actually, I'm the master here. William the Bloody, aka Spike. High Master of the Domain of California. If you want all my titles, you'll have to ask Timmins.” Timmins wisely kept his mouth shut.

Spike watched his subordinate to see what he would do now. How he managed to dig his grave even deeper was beyond stupid.

“You're no one here. You don't have any authority over me. I don't care what you say.” He puffed himself up to look larger and more important. He thought, since Spike was smaller than he, that he could overawe him this way. Unfortunately for him, Spike was a childe of Angelus; all the act did was annoy Spike even more.

“Cute. Blow up like a fugu, see if I care. Now, get to the point. You got something I want; hand it over.”

Master Goodness got a cunning look in his eye. “And what do I get if I do?”

Spike figuratively threw his hands in the air. “Your life. If I'm feelin' charitable after I see it.”

Giles touched Spike on the shoulder. “It's a petition. We're looking for the name Xander Harris. If you like, I'll go find it myself.”

The sneer he got made him boil. Spike just sneered back.

“No, Watcher, he'll produce it like a good little minion. Or I'll stake him myself.”

Bud grinned at Timmins; that had probably done the trick. If the Master of Las Vegas didn't lose his temper now, he'd probably survive; if he lost it, he’d lose his life, too.

He lost it. His roar of rage hadn't quit echoing when he charged Spike. Spike danced out of the way like a bull fighter from a bull. Spike gave him a simple push from behind; this propelled him right toward the stake Bud was holding. Giles helpfully tripped him.

Timmins shook his head sadly. “Master Spike? I am not cleaning that mess up.”

Spike just shrugged. “Isn't that what he had minions for? Find me my papers. And round up all the newbies, I want 'em brought up proper. Timmins, see to that. All fledges and minions are to pledge fealty to me at my next court... or else.”

No one bothered to ask what 'or else' meant; no one really wanted to know. Spike's orders were obeyed at once. He smirked as he watched the minions scramble around.

“This court is closed. I'm master here and don't you forget it. Giles, you said the clerk or whatever had taken off?” Giles nodded. “You got the address he gave you, right?” Giles nodded again. “Then what's the hold up? Now that we got things under control here.”

“Nothing. I'm just following you. Xander's address better check out though, or I'll be seriously annoyed.”

Giles thought for a second then shrugged, a very Ripperish shrug. “Don't think the man lied to me; he was too anxious for me to tell you that he'd done his best. Let's go, I want to find Xander.”


Xander was leaning against the alley wall when he heard the cycles roar up. He felt so bad, weak and trembling, head aching, that he didn't even look up.

He heard the talking in the kitchen, but the voices were so soft that he didn't understand them. He felt something let loose inside him. He sighed sadly. Spike was very near.

“Pet? Xander?” Xander turned to see Spike standing in the door of the kitchen. He started slightly; he'd hoped for a bit more time, but it was what it was. He dropped to his knees in the dirty alleyway and waited.

Spike was shocked at Xander's appearance. He looked like he hadn't eaten in weeks, but he worked in a restaurant so he knew that wasn't true. He started to go to Xander and found that he was prevented by several men who inserted themselves between him and 'his'.

“Sorry, hesse, you don't get to bother him. You messed up when you came here.”

Spike looked from one man to another. They were all human and had no idea what they were messing with. “Giles, talk to them.” Spike stepped back, even though everything in him said to fight. He wasn't going to gain any points with Xander by hurting people who were only trying to protect him.

Giles stepped forward and nodded to the men. “Do you want this in Spanish or English?” There were some snarls but they all said 'English' and went back to glowering. “Very well, down and dirty. This is Master Spike; if you don't know what I mean by that then we're all in trouble.” But it seemed that all of them did know; they looked at each other uncomfortably, but stood their ground. “Good. Xander is his thrall, and before you all get your ire up, Master Spike didn't do it. But that doesn't make any difference; the fact remains. Xander ran away because Spike did something extremely stupid. Now he has to make amends and get Xander back home. Go on about your business!”

Mr. Pena joined the group, looking extremely fierce. “We'll do no such thing. I saw. No one should treat another so. You can remove the curse! Do so and leave him in peace.”

Giles looked over his shoulder at Spike. “No go, now what?”

Spike stepped forward and sighed. “Ok. I did wrong. And Xander took off, no matter the cost... to either of us. I got ta take him home, or he'll just keep getting worse and worse. I can't take the curse off; I didn't put it on. The witch who put it on him is extremely powerful and... stupid. She made a mistake, and we're stuck with the results. Let me talk to Xander. Ok?”

While all this had been going on, Xander had just stayed kneeling. He was too tired and ill to do more. When he heard Giles say that Spike admitted he'd made a mistake, he felt a rush of warmth; maybe things could be put right. Maybe.

The whole group looked at each other, but before anyone could say much Senora Pena showed up. Angelina pointed to two of the nearby men. “You two get him into the kitchen, and no arguments. The alley is too dirty for all this. Go! Shoo!” She turned on Spike with what Xander had called 'The Deadly Glare of Offended Motherhood'. She shook a finger in Spike's face. “And what were you thinking; I'd like to know, Mr. Temper!”

Spike just gave her a rather shamefaced look. “Wasn't thinkin', now was I? Now I got ta make it up ta 'im, don't I?”

“And how are you going to do that?” She folded her arms across her chest and pinned him with a stern look. Spike actually remembered that look from his own, long ago, childhood.

“Don't know yet. First, I'm gonna take him back to the mansion under the Luxor and get him well. Then, we'll see. I'm gonna take the advice of Giles and Timmins on that. They're two of my advisors. Bud is Xander's bodyguard.” Spike pointed to Bud, who grinned hesitantly and gave her a vague wave.

The woman frowned at Bud for a moment then, obviously recognizing something about him, nodded once. She turned back to Spike. “Bodyguard? Humpf! I'm gonna take a good look at you. You stand still.”

Spike just raised an eyebrow and obeyed. Angelina looked him up and down then stared into his eyes for a moment. She stepped back. “OK, you love him. You were bad to him, though. What's to keep you from doing it again?”

“Me. I want him. Not some scared thrall. I... he's... damn it!” Spike ran a hand through his hair, glaring.

“Good, good. You take him. But remember, he has a place here. Now, the Master of California don't know me, but I know the Master of the City. He owes me. Not much, but maybe enough. Remember that.”

Spike just smiled at her. “I'll remember. If you petition the Master of California... that's me. I'll grant you anything within my power. Now... I've got to see to my boy. I'll be taking him home.”

“I think you must. I just hope you realize what a treasure you have. If he needs me, call me. And you be good to him, or you'll answer to me. Understand?”

Spike could have been insulted; instead, he chose to be amused. “Yes, I understand. I'll let him keep in touch. I promise. Now... can I take him back to my mansion and have him tended?”

Angelina gave him a look, glanced around at the men behind her, then nodded. Spike endured the looks from them all for a moment then turned and entered the kitchen.

He went to Xander immediately. He looked like hell and was just standing in the middle of a rather busy kitchen. Giles was standing near him, trying to persuade him to come into the banquet room for some privacy. Spike just took Xander by the hand and led him into the room.

“Now, Xander?” Xander raised his head, blinked a bit owlishly then just waited. “Pet, it’s hurting you to stay here, but I don't want to force you to do something. Will you come home with me?”

Xander sighed. “Yeah. I'm tired, I hurt all over. I can't eat, or sleep. Can I say good-bye to people?”

Spike smiled sadly. Trust Xander to think of others before himself. “Yeah, pet, we'll go by your digs and pick up your stuff. Say good-bye to who ever ya need to. When ya feel better we'll come back for a visit. Ok?”

Xander smiled a little hesitantly then said, softly, “That'd be nice. Can I say good-bye to the Pena's now?” Spike just nodded.

Xander went to the door, walking like a tired old man. He hadn't opened it when there was a soft knock. Xander just opened the door to see Senora Pena standing outside with a small bag in her hand.

“Xander, good. Here, take this. There's a medicinal tea and some candy. You going with him?”

“You knew I would, or you wouldn't have packed this. Thanks. I think... I really think things are going to be ok. I'll call you in a day or two. Ok?”

“Sure, pequino, you call. You going by your place?”

Spike wrapped an arm around Xander, who was swaying dangerously. “Yeah, we'll drop by his digs and get his stuff. Say bye to whomever, all that. Thanks for the tea. I've got a healer on call, just waiting for me to find him. His name's Santo Azor. Know him?”

Senora Pena nodded, a happy expression blooming on her face. “Oh, yes, I know Santo. He's the best in Vegas. Glad to see that you'll let humans work for you. He's always had trouble before because he's not a demon.”

Spike waved his hand. “Don't care. Human, demon, hybrid. I'll have the best, or I'll know the reason why. We better get going. We're on bikes, and I need to get Xander to his digs and on to the mansion before he falls over.”

Mamacita kissed Xander on the forehead, just like he'd seen her do with her own children. It made him feel better about leaving. He knew that Spike would let him keep in contact with the kindly couple; he'd promised, and Xander was going to trust that promise. He sighed, hugged her, and turned to see Mr. Pena waiting for his turn. He held out his hand; Xander took it, pressed it gently, and said another soft 'Good-bye'. Spike guided him to the door before he broke down.

Giles had spoken to the couple and several of the busboys and servers then followed, tucking a small book back into his pocket.

“I have all the names and addresses, phone numbers, anything Xander might need to keep in contact. I'm ready.” Giles eyed Xander with concern; he was drooping visibly already. “He going to make it, or should we head for home?”

Xander shook his head, pushing himself up from where he was practically lying on Spike. “No! I need to go by my place first. I... I'll be ok. Just... let's not take too long.”

Spike nodded to Giles, who just shrugged and mounted his bike. Bud let Timmins get settled then they were off again.

This time it didn't take more than four or five minutes to get where they were going. Giles seemed to know exactly where to go from just the address Xander gave him; shows what you can do with a map and a good memory.


Xander leaned against Spike's back and just relaxed. He felt a great deal better just being near Spike. And he was starving. He was so hungry, his stomach grumbled loudly.

He realized Spike had heard it when he stiffened. Xander muttered, “Don't even, Spike, I haven't been hungry since I left. Except for once or twice. I'll get something nice to eat once I'm done getting my stuff and saying good-bye.” He knew Spike had heard him, even over the rumbling of the Harleys.

That same rumble warned Mr. Jones that something was up. It was very unusual for motorcycles to park at the apartment complex so he went out to see what was happening.

The sight that met his eyes was unusual in the extreme. He knew gangs, and this one was dangerous, no matter the size. He was just getting ready to call the cops when he realized that Xander was one of the bikers.

Xander glanced around then relaxed; they were standing under the stairs to the second level. He gazed out into the darkness for a moment then turned to Mr. Jones.

“Hey. Some friends found me. I... um... came to get my stuff. I'm going to live with them now.” Xander kicked at a small stone on the breezeway. “So... um... guess I'll go pack. See ya?”

Mr. Jones just nodded and watched Xander descend the stairs. When he was out of sight, Mr. Jones turned to Giles, who looked more like the leader than Spike did, at least to Mr. Jones.

“Ok, what's really going on here? When that boy came here, he was obviously running. Now he's just going with you?”

Giles nodded. It didn't take him long to explain everything to Mr. Jones in a way he could understand. He put it all down to a lover's quarrel, and Xander being ill. “So, you see, Xander's not well. As if you couldn't tell already. But he doesn't want to admit it. We'll take him home with us and take care of him. He'll give you a call in a few days. Here's my card. If you want to talk to him before he calls you, call that number. I'll see what I can do.” Mr. Jones took the card, turning it in work-calloused fingers.

“You see that he calls me no later than Wednesday next week. If you don't, I'll come lookin'. That boy has a good heart, an' I won't see him hurt. Got me?”

Giles nodded. “Indeed I do. Believe me, I'll see that he's taken care of.”

Mr. Jones looked Giles up then down. “I believe you. No one lies with that look in their eye.” Mr. Jones settled to lean against the wall until Xander came back up the stairs. “Don't know what to do with you, boy. I just get used to havin' you around an' off you go. And the big boss owes you a bunch of money. I'll see what I can do towards getting' it for you.”

Xander fidgeted for a moment. “Don't bother. Someone's going to show up, needing a hand; give it to them. I'm taken care of. I don't really need the money now.... um... sorry about taking off like this, but... see,..” Xander gave Mr. Jones a pleading look.

“Don't fret. It'll be fine. I'll do what you say. I know a guy, someone I trust to help me. I'll see if he won't come. You go on now. Go with them. I can see that they all care about you. You're a lucky guy.” Mr. Jones swept the group with a look that said he'd better be right. Giles just raised an eyebrow, Spike sniffed, and both Timmins and Bud nodded.

Xander shook hands with Mr. Jones, promised to keep in touch, and handed over his key to the tool room. Then he gave his small bag and his weapon to a waiting Timmins. Timmins took the bag and weapon, mounted behind Bud and settled. He was going to give Young Master Xander a large piece of his mind the minute he had a chance.

Spike gently tugged Xander back to the bike, got him settled, and headed for home.


When they got to the mansion they were greeted by the door guards who wanted to smell Xander. Xander eyed them for a second then just submitted. Spike kept a close eye on them, but none of them tried anything.

“All right, pet?” Spike slipped an arm around Xander's waist and helped him in the door.

“Fine, fine. Just really tired. Can I sleep before we fight?” Xander gave Spike ‘The Puppy Dog Eyes of Doom’. Spike crumbled at once, not that he hadn't planned it that way anyway.

“Sure, pet. We'll get you into a nice bed and let you sleep until you wake up. You'll be hungry by then, for sure.”

Xander sighed. “I'm starved now. Maybe I should eat first? I don't know. I'm too tired to make up my mind.” He sagged slightly and swerved towards a chair.

“Nu-uh, no chair. Just a few more steps, and we'll be in your quarters. Not that you'll need them for long. Just until you're feelin' more the thing.”

Xander patted Spike's hand. “I love it when you get all Victorian.”

Spike just picked Xander up and carried him into the bedroom. It was a rather strange sight as Xander was at least five inches taller than he.

Timmins had nipped in behind Spike and turned down the bed for them. Spike settled Xander on the sheets in an instant. Timmins started unbuttoning Xander's jeans while Spike got his boots off. Then they switched places, and Spike pulled Xander's jeans and shorts off while Timmins worked on his t-shirt. Xander just lay quiescent while they worked, lifting his legs for Spike then sitting up for Timmins.

He sighed in relief when they finished. He still ached, and all he really wanted was sleep if he couldn't have food, and it didn't look like any was in his immediate future.

“I'll be right back with something for the Young Master to eat. I don't want to feed him anything too heavy just yet. If he sleeps on a heavy meal, he's sure to have nightmares.”

Spike just nodded, stripped off his clothing, and climbed into bed with Xander. Xander unconsciously snuggled up to him and started to drift off. His growling stomach woke him up again.

Timmins came in the door just as Xander was going to complain. “Here you go. Chicken and dumplings , with carrots and peas. A bit of apple crumble and some herbal tea. Eat slowly, or you'll be sick.”

Xander just swallowed, his mouth suddenly full of saliva. “Looks so good. Thanks.” He settled in to eat his food, savoring every bit. Mamacita was a good cook, and the food at the restaurant was excellent, too. But there was nothing like 'home' cooking.

Spike watched him, smiling gently. “That's it, pet. Eat up. Get better quick.”

Xander eyed Spike over a spoonful of apples. “Why are you suddenly calling me 'pet'? You never did before. What are you up to? Or do I really want to know?”

Spike gently guided the spoon to Xander's lips. “Eat. I'm callin' ya pet now because I want to. Always did, but I was afraid of scarin' ya off. Now, we both know you're not goin' anywhere.”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Ok, I get it. And, you know? I kinda like it. I'm sorry I ran, but...”

Spike just pressed one finger to Xander's lips. “Hush, pet. We'll argue this all out when you're feeling better. The Healer will be here in a while. Sleep until he gets here. I'll have him check out that tea that Mrs. Pena gave you. I don't want you takin' anything until we're sure what it is.”

“Ok, I don't think she'd give me anything that'd hurt me, but better safe than sorry.”

Spike agreed, whispering softly. “Yeah, should have thought of that earlier.”


Xander slept, woke, bathed and shaved, then slept some more. When he woke again, it was evening, or Vampire morning, he wasn't sure which. He didn't much care, either; he was hungry.

“Timmins!” Timmins stuck his head in the door. “I'm hungry. Where's Spike? Is he really, really mad, or just sort of mad, or somewhere in between? And where am I? Or should I even ask?”

Timmins just smiled. “I'm glad to see that you're feeling better. I'll get you something to eat in a moment. And I'll tell Master Spike that you're awake.”

Spike was actually waiting in the kitchen area for Timmins to tell him Xander was up. He was determined to make sure that Xander rested and ate before they had any sort of confrontation. He was going to do this right.

Timmins finished making up Xander's tray and handed it to Spike. Spike headed for Xander's room with Timmins trailing behind. Timmins opened the door for Spike and shut it behind him; going back to the kitchen seemed like the best idea. He'd keep an ear out, just in case.

Spike took the tray to Xander, helped him sit up, and settled on the bed beside him. “Here ya go, pet. Bacon, eggs, toast, jelly, juice, coffee, ya want anything else, ask for it.”

Xander gazed sadly at Spike. “Your accent's gone all bad boy again. Why?”

Spike blinked, shrugged and grumbled, “Have no idea how worried I've been. Accent goes all weird on me when I'm not thinking.”

“Well, I like both, but I really think you need to make up your mind, or use your Oxford accent at court and the pseudo-Cockney one for casual. And can I please have my food?”

Spike laughed and settled the tray more comfortably over Xander's legs. Xander picked up a fork and started eating. He moaned in pleasure and mumbled around a mouthful of eggs. “Nothin' like Timmins' cooking. His eggs are... mmmmmm”

Spike watched as Xander hungrily devoured the food on his tray and settled back with his coffee. He'd used the orange juice to wash down the toast.

“How do you feel now?”

Xander sighed. “Better. Not good, but lots better. I'll be good in a couple of days.”

Spike rubbed his face. “Pet, we need to have a real talk.”

Xander made a face. “Later, ok? I just want to enjoy feeling decent for a bit. Please?” He kept his eyes on his coffee.

“Alright, pet. Later. I'll be havin' the healer to ya soon. He was supposed to be here by now, but a... I forget, but some female is havin' trouble delivering a litter. He'll be here as soon as he's able. And you'll do what he says, yeah?”

“I promise.” Xander finished his coffee and settled back, leaning against the pillows with a sigh. “I... Spike, I know we have to talk, and I know what about, but could we just ignore it for a bit?”

Spike took Xander's hand in his; it felt frail somehow so he just stroked the talented fingers gently. “Sure. I got some stuff ta say, and I know you'll be upset so we'll just hold it until you feel like dealing. Sleepy again?”

Xander shifted restlessly. “Not really. And I'm comfortable, just not really sleepy.”

Timmins just walked in with a small TV/DVD set and put it down on the side table, then moved the table to the foot of the bed. “There. I have the new Indiana Jones movie. I'm sure you'd like to see that.”

Timmins inserted the DVD and turned on the unit. Xander gave him a grin and settled back to watch; Spike just sighed and resigned himself.


Spike breathed a sigh of relief. Xander had fallen asleep during the final credits of the movie. Spike ran a hand through Xander's soft hair; it was really getting long, and his warlocks were ragged. Spike decided to take them out; removing the beads wouldn't do Xander any harm now.

As he worked, Spike admired Xander. He'd thinned down a bit, losing more weight than he could really afford, but they'd make up for that quickly. Timmins was already planning the menu for the next few weeks.

Xander sighed softly, asleep.

Spike murmured, more to himself than Xander, “Good. Rest, pet. I'll redo your locks when I'm done brushing out your hair. It's a bit tangled here and there.” He started to run his fingers through Xander's hair more purposefully. When he was sure Xander wasn't going to wake up, he brushed the long chocolate locks until they were silky and smooth. He re-braided the warlocks, putting the beads back in. He smiled at the effect. Xander had earned his warlocks ten times over.

Xander slept on, and on. Timmins had to reassure Spike several times that the healer was on his way, and that Xander was just recovering from the effects of their separation. Spike still paced the kitchen restlessly until the healer arrived.

When he met the man a short while later, Spike was in a bit of a state.

“Healer Azor. Glad you're finally here. Xander's asleep. Do ya wanna wake 'im? Or do ya wanna ask me questions first?”

“Call me Santo. Healer Azor is my mother. I'll just take a look at... Xander?” Spike nodded. “If he's suffering from what I think he is; there's not much to worry about. He'll be fine in a few days.”

Spike led the way to Xander.

All Xander had done was roll over onto his back. Healer Azor looked at him, waved a bundle of herbs over him, changed the herbs for a hazel twig, with which he touched him on the forehead. “Hmmmm, not in bad shape at all. The spell kicked in with a vengeance, but his protections worked fairly well. He's a bit dehydrated, too thin, and his nerves are a mess. I'll give you a prescription for some tea, and I want him to eat a well-balanced diet, heavy on protein. Lots of fresh stuff. And, ice cream. Tempt him with his favorite dishes. And no punishment until he's better.” He scribbled on a small pad, tore off the sheet of paper and handed it to Spike. “Here is the prescription; you can get it made up at any herbalists shop. Or have someone in your court make it up, if you trust them better.”

Spike took the paper and handed it to Timmins. “Giles? Or someone else.”

Timmins didn't even glance at it. “Mr. Giles, definitely. He'll be terribly insulted if you hand it off to someone else. He'll probably have Miss Tara help him, just so she'll feel useful. She's feeling like she let you down.”

Spike shook his head. “I'll have a talk with her later. Get this made up now. I'll be wanting it as soon as I'm done here.”

He turned back to talk to Healer Azor. It didn't take the healer long to get Spike's measure. He finally left, sure that Spike was going to take proper care of Xander.

Spike had shaken hands with the healer and gone in search of Timmins and Giles. He found Giles and Tara instead.

Giles was smelling a bottle of something green with a doubtful look on his face. Tara was laughing at him.

“It's fine, Mr. Giles, I bought it two weeks ago.” She turned at the slight scuffing noise of Spike's boot against the floor. “Oh, hi, we're working on Xander's tea. Is he going to be Ok?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, he's just worn out from resisting the curse. He's a stubborn one. Is that his tea? Or are you working on something else?” His expression told them that he was teasing.

Tara gave him a swat on the shoulder. “You! Of course it's his tea. Smell.” She stuck the bottle under his nose. “Fresh?”

Spike snorted, trying to get the alfalfa smell out of his sinuses. “Fresh? Bloody hell. Smells like new mown hay.”

Giles took the unstoppered bottle and poured some of the contents into the pan of a scale. He checked the weight and dumped it into a large bowl. “I'm almost done. He's to have a cup of this, exactly six ounces of fresh, boiling water poured over one table spoon of herbs in a ceramic brewer. I believe you have one?” Spike just nodded. “Every four hours until the physician orders otherwise.”

Spike sighed. “Oh, and that's going to be so much fun. Bet it tastes as foul as it smells.”

Giles just nodded. “You know it. But Xander is fairly good about taking medicine.”

“Doesn't make any difference. Hate ta tell him he has to have it. I know he hates it.”

Tara smiled, handed Spike a brown paper bag and told him, “Here, give him one of these if he takes it without complaining. He likes Lindt chocolates.”

Spike opened the bag and eyed the candy. “You sure?”

She snickered. “He snitched Willow's once. She wasn't really happy.”


Spike took Xander's first cup of tea to him. He shook Xander gently by the shoulder, waking him. “Oi! Up, pet. Got a goodie for ya.”

Xander rubbed his eyes and sat up. Spike felt his heart lighten, Xander looked so much better. The dark circles under his eyes had faded and his pallor was receding into his usual tan. “I'm up.” He perked up even more as Spike's words penetrated his weary brain. “Goodie? Twinkies?”

“No, but I'll send out for some. After you drink your tea.” Spike handed Xander the cup.

Xander smelled the tea a bit doubtfully. After a good whiff, he made a face. “Spike, this stinks. I suppose it's good for me.” He took an experimental sip. “Oh, bleh! That's awful. It tastes like it smells. Please, don't make me drink it.” He gave Spike a pitiful look.

“Don't give me that look. You have to drink it. The doctor said.”

Xander sighed and gulped the tea in several distasteful swallows. “Is this part of my punishment?”

Spike settled beside Xander before saying, “Oh, there's a punishment coming up. You can bet on it. We'll talk about it later, yeah?”

Xander just sighed, accepted the chocolates Spike handed him, and leaned against him. “Yeah. I know.”

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