Ulterior Motives


Part Twenty-Nine

Xander finished his tea and sighed. The stuff was noxious; even the Lindt chocolates couldn't kill the taste. Not that he'd turn them down. Never turn down chocolates; that was Xander's opinion. He sighed again and rolled over.

He wondered when he and Spike were going to have their talk. And who was going to do the screaming. He was afraid it would be him, but then again, Spike had promised Mr. and Mrs. Pena that he'd take good care of him. He sighed for the third time. He was beginning to wish Spike would just get it over with.

“Pet? You done with your tea? Lunch will be ready in a little while.” Spike crawled on the bed with Xander and rubbed his arm.

“I'm done. But I really don't like it. It tastes like moldy socks smell. And even chocolate won't cover it. How much longer do I have to drink it and when can I get out of bed? It's been three days.” Xander knew he sounded petulant, but he couldn't help it. He was getting more and more restless as time went on. He wasn't allowed out of bed, except to go to the bathroom, shower, shave, and take one measly walk down the hall. It was making him crazy.

“You can walk in your garden tomorrow. After the healer sees you. Until he gives his permission, you stay in bed. Ya wanna watch a movie or something?”

“No, I don't wanna watch a movie. I want to get up and do something.” Xander's unconscious mimicry made Spike wince.

“Well, you can't. Not until the healer gives his permission. So stuff it. Movie or no?”

Xander sulked, but grumbled, “Movie. Is there anything I haven't seen four times?”

“Yeah. I got Bud to go get you some new ones.” He shuffled through the pile then offered Xander the only ones he was sure Xander hadn't seen. Xander picked one, and Spike stuffed it into the DVD player and pushed play.

Xander settled comfortably against Spike and relaxed. So far Spike hadn't done anything about their talk; he'd made sure Xander didn't either, and that was what had Xander so worried.

“Spike, about our talk....”

“Not now. Not until the healer clears you. Then we'll talk. Now, shush, this is a good part.”

Spike refused to say another word and threatened to turn off the TV if Xander insisted. Xander settled back again, grumbling.

Spike was laughing in his ear. “Good boy. I know you're getting restless; it's a sign that you're healing. But I'm not takin' chances on you havin' a relapse.”

Xander nodded his understanding. “Ok, I'll be good. But once the healer clears me, I'm working out with Master Bruce and walking in my... wait a sec, my garden? Wha’? How, who... I mean. Huh?”

Spike smiled at Xander's confusion. “It's been moved here. Most of it was in containers, and the rest was in planter boxes. I had the containers moved whole, and the rest taken down and moved. Some of the plants didn't survive, and I'm really sorry about that. But the orchids and the African violets are all fine.”

Xander wriggled happily. “Most of the plants that didn't survive are probably annuals; they don't like having their roots fiddled with. It's Ok. I... wow... you moved my gardens? Wow.”

“Yes, I had your gardens moved and expanded. I think you'll like the Zen garden and the enlarged lily pond. All the orchids are in an Orchidarium. That one took some doing, I'll tell you. All the gardeners had no idea what to do. So I hired a human, weird guy, so he built this geodesic dome right in the middle of the gardens, and it's got humidifiers and all kinds of stuff. I like it.”

Xander gave Spike a tender look that lifted his heart. “That's good.” He sighed and rolled over, away from Spike. He was still pissed at him, but it was hard to stay that way, especially when Spike was trying so hard.

“Still mad at me, pet?” Spike sounded so dismal that Xander almost relented. Almost.

“Yeah, I'm still mad. I only asked one thing of you. One. And you wouldn't grant me it. Doesn't seem right somehow. Especially when I gave you everything I could.” He rolled back to pin Spike with a glare. “I don't want to talk about it right now. I thought I did, but I don't. Can I please be alone now?”

Spike eased out of the bed and went to the door. “As soon as the healer comes, I'll send him in. If he says you're up to it, you can walk in your garden. I'll have Master Bruce come to see you after you get back.”

“Maybe you should have him talk to the healer, too.” Xander was going to make sure that he was well and up to it before he took up the Art again. He had some major training to do, and he wasn't about to make himself sick again. He wanted more training in Krav Magaw and more swordsmanship. He hoped he'd be up to the training when Spike got done with him

“I will. You going to sleep now?”

Xander sighed. “No, I'd like to, but I'm all slept out. When's the healer going to be here? Did he give a time?”

“No, just this afternoon. I'll see if I can't call him. Ok?” Spike sighed as Xander just nodded. It seemed like Xander was having trouble remembering he was mad. He'd be warm and loving one second then cold and distant the next. It was driving Spike nuts. He wanted to just grab Xander and give him a good shake, but that was a very bad idea, and he knew it.

Timmins stuck his head in the door to announce the healer then made himself very scarce; he really didn't want to be around when Xander found out whether he could be up or not. If he couldn't the sulking was likely to get loud; if he could; well, all Timmins could think was the farther away the better. Xander was likely to explode either way, if Spike got on his protective kick.

The healer cleared his throat. “Master Spike. I'd really like to see... er... your...” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. It was more than his blood was worth to call Xander by the wrong title.

“Xander, call me Xander. Get your voodoo over with so I can go for a walk. I'm going to...” He stilled under twin glares. “Fine, fine. Just do your thing, will you?”

Healer Azor examined Xander carefully and announced that he was fine for light exercise. “And I do mean light. Not what Master Bruce says is light. I'd like to talk to him before I leave.”

Spike just called Timmins to take Healer Azor to see Master Bruce. He turned to Xander and announced, “Well, come on. I want to show you the gardens and see what you want changed. You can change anything you want, you know.”

Xander just got up and headed for the bathroom. He needed a shower, and his hair stank.

“Where ya goin'?”

“Shower, I stink.” Xander grabbed a towel and tossed it over the top of the shower. He turned on the water and adjusted the temperature. He'd just gaped at the bathroom the first time he'd seen it. It wasn't huge by any stretch of the imagination, as long as you were eight feet tall. The bath tub was a spa bath big enough for three people, and the shower was one of the ones built of glass blocks with an overlapping door instead of a curtain or rolling door. It had six shower heads with enough settings to please any geek. Xander loved it.

He showered, washed his hair, and stepped out. He slipped on the wet floor because he'd forgotten to put down a mat. Spike grabbed him and held on until he got his feet under himself again.

“Thanks. Towel? I think I'll need two, or maybe three.” He took the towels from Spike and wrapped one around his waist, draped another over his shoulders, and started drying his hair with the third. “You think I ought to cut my hair? It's getting really long. I like it, but... it's a bit hard to take care of.”

Spike shook his head. “I like it. If you like it, we'll just have to figure out how to take care of it. What do you need?”

“Well, first I need these war locks out again. I want to change them, maybe have one on each side to keep my hair out of my face. Then I need someone to comb it out right. If I do it, there's always a knot right at the back of my neck.” Xander held the comb in one hand and looked at Spike a bit doubtfully.

“I can do that. Took care of my Dark Princess for years, didn't I? She had hair down to here for over half a century.” Spike gestured with one hand near his waist. “Here, give me that.”

Xander handed over the comb and settled on a small stool Spike pulled out of the towel closet. He pulled the towel around his shoulders tighter and waited. Spike took Xander's hair and parted it down the center and across the back. He told Xander to hold the two top sections out of the way for a moment. He ran the comb through Xander's hair until he had most of the tangles out of it then had Xander let go of the sections he was holding. He combed the tangles out of that. He unbraided the war locks and combed them into the mass of hair, smoothing it carefully. After that he parted out a thick lock of hair on each side of Xander's face right at the temples. He braided this into war locks, threading in beads at random.

“I like the look. What do you think?”

Xander looked in the hand mirror Spike handed him and nodded his head. “Looks good. Thanks. I’ll need a clip. Or a whatever you call it. One of those ponytail tie thingies.

Spike had no idea what Xander was talking about, but he was sure Timmins would, or could find out. He made a mental note to get some for Xander.

“Ok, pet. I'll tell Timmins.”

Xander groaned. “Timmins. He's so gonna ream me a new one.”

Spike didn't bother to ask what Xander meant. “Couldn't tell you. And that's between you and him; I'm stayin' out of it. Don't want scorched blood, or toast. Or starched shorts for that matter.”

Xander snickered. “Starched shorts? What are you talking about?”

Spike's disgruntled expression made Xander laugh harder. “Timmins. 'E starched me boxers. Stiff. Had to wad 'em up in both hands to wear 'em.” The indignation in his voice made Xander laugh even harder.

When he finished laughing, he dried his eyes on a tissue from the box on the counter. “And why didn't you just put them in the basket and make him do them over?”

“Are you completely insane? Don't want to lose him. And he'd go. Nearly went when he realized that you'd gone. I like 'im.”

Xander sighed. “Oh, well, in that case, it's probably a good thing that you just wore them. I wouldn't want to have to go find him. Now. Garden.”

“Ok, come on, I'll show you where it is.”

Spike led Xander into the bedroom where they found Xander's clothing laid out on the bed. Timmins was standing near the door.

“Master Xander, when you get back, I'd like a small word with you. If you don't mind.”

Xander gave Timmins a rather hunted look, but said, “I do mind, but that's Ok. I'll listen to whatever you have to say. Ok?”

Timmins gave a sniff and a rather stiff nod then left with a straight spine and a firm step.

“Shit! I'm so dead. He'll be all kind and sad and guilt trippy and make me feel like shit. You know he will.” Xander snorted at Spike's skeptical look. “Yeah, right. You sure he's not Jewish?” Spike shook his head. “Or a Jesuit?” Spike shook his head again. “Or... never mind.”

“Why Jewish, pet? I'm sure he's not.”

“Well, Willow's mom was the queen of the guilt trip and Willow always said it was a Jewish thing. Or was it a mom thing?”

Spike nodded his understanding. “I think it's more a mom thing than Jewish and Timmins is really a mother hen.”

“Sure. And you're so not,” Xander scoffed at Spike, a tender expression on his face. Then he stiffened. “Show me this new setup.”

So Spike led Xander into his new garden.

It still had the same entry way, his Granny’s Garden, and the new gates were made of brick with marble finials and tops. Xander eyed them with delight; the mason had been an expert.

“Very nice. How old is the vamp that did that?”

“How did you know it was a vamp?”

“Tuck pointing like that takes years to master, and no one has used that style of coping in seventy years or more. Had to be a vamp.”

“He's about three hundred. Very good, and I'm keepin' him on. Good worker.”

Xander walked through the gates and into the Victorian Rose Garden. All the potted roses were there, all in bloom and smelling sweetly. Xander walked between the pots and the raised beds, smelling the roses and exclaiming over the design.

The Rose Garden was the nexus of the complex and each path led to a different garden room, each with its own design. There were the Asian Gardens with a huge koi pond and a meandering stream that further divided the area into a Zen garden of raked gravel and sand with huge boulders dotted in it. There was a Japanese-style garden with bamboo, ferns, and winding paths that made it seem larger than it really was. The Tea Garden with a small quaint Tea House hid in the far end, backed by the wall which was painted in a huge Sumi-e style landscape. Xander exclaimed happily at that. The Apothecary Garden was the smallest of them and was the transition between the Asian Gardens and the geodesic dome that contained the Orchidarium and a tropical garden. Xander explained to Spike that the dome was called a Climatron and was exactly like the one in St. Louis. He admired the banana tree and its attendant vanilla orchid then went on to laugh at the antics of the koi who had access from the small stream between the tiny pond in the Climatron and the main stream. The wandering main path cut between raised planting beds and huge pots full of nasturtiums and into the Victorian Garden with a reflecting pond and on to the Italianate Garden. Xander was nearly delirious with happiness.

He turned to Spike and smiled. “Thank you for the gardens. They're lovely, and I saw the gardeners hovering. I need to meet them all soon. But not just now. I think I'm tired. I'll explore more, tomorrow maybe?”

Spike nodded suppressing a shiver at Xander's rather chilly attitude. “Sure, pet. You wanna see your workshop?”

Xander's warm smile gave Spike a spark of hope, but when Xander quashed it, he sighed again. Spike turned to lead Xander out of the garden and through a short hall. The hall opened into a large room with every wood working device available and every tool; it looked like Spike had walked into a wood working store and bought one of everything.

Xander blurted this out as a flabbergasted question. “Yeah, I did. Why? Somethin' missin'? If there is all you have to do is ask for it.”

“There's no wood. I need wood too, you know.”

“Through here.” Spike led Xander into a side room filled with racks of every size, each one full of blocks, panels, and billets of every kind of wood in existence.

Xander looked around in wonder. He knew this was Spike's way of trying to show his love. Xander didn't doubt Spike's love for a moment, but he wasn't taking Spike off the hook until after his punishment and maybe not for a while after that. It was just really hard to crush that hopeful look time after time. He knew he was being wishy-washy, but he also knew that, if he didn't get through to Spike, his life would be miserable. He couldn't, wouldn't, put up with being afraid every second that one wrong word would start Spike up again. He didn't mind being Spike's Companion, but he wasn't going to be a slave or a pet, spell or no spell. So he had to stick to his guns, as hard as that was.

He was also worried about his punishment; he was sure Spike had it perfectly planned. He knew exactly how he was going to do it, Xander was sure of that. He was also quite sure he wasn't going to like it one bit. He'd spent some time worrying about it while he was lying in his bed.

Spike realized that Xander was brooding about the same time as Xander did. “What 'cha thinkin', pet?”

Xander sighed. “That all this is really nice, but it still doesn't make me happy. I... I was going to wait on this, but...” Xander waved a hand in a vague all-encompassing gesture. “All this has changed my mind.” Xander led an unresisting Spike back into the gardens where he settled in one of the small, intimate seating areas. “Sit.”

Spike sat unhappily; he knew what was coming, and he wasn't sure he was ready for it yet. But avoiding it would only make the problem worse. “Ok, pet. Have your say. Then it's my turn.”

“Ok. That's fair enough.” Xander took a deep breath as he composed his thoughts. “I won't be hit with a belt. I can't. It...” He sighed softly.

Spike sighed too and reached out to take Xander's hand. “I understand. I should have known better without Timmins raking me over hot coals about it. I'm truly sorry. Go on.”

“Memories, you know? I can't stand them. And I'm not going to be a pet or a thrall. I... I deserve to be a Companion. Don't I?”

Spike blinked at Xander for a moment. “I thought you were strictly no biting?”

“No, not no biting, more like no dying. And I'm really feeling the lack of your blood. Doesn’t seem fair. I get blood, you don't. So... what am I getting myself into?”

Spike took a deep breath and tried to contain himself. It worked, but just barely. “Ok. Being a Companion is the next step in being Claimed. You give me a few drops of your blood every day, I do the same. We have sex. Not much different from what we were doing Before. But it's more commitment on both sides. I... I want this, pet.”

“Ok, I see. I think I'd like to wait on this for after we get this punishment over with.”

Spike sighed. “Ok, the healer said you'll be completely well in about a week. Or as soon as you put on the weight you lost. Whichever comes first.”

Xander nodded his understanding. “I like the shop; it's really nice. Do I have an office?”

“Yes, and we're sharing a secretary; there's no reason for both of us to have our own. I'm delegating like mad or I'd be mad. Sylvia said she could handle both of us. That Ok?”

Xander grimaced slightly. “Depends on the work load. But, as long as she thinks she can handle it, I'm fine.”

“Good, good. We go through here up a flight of stairs. They're spiral, I'm afraid. We couldn't fit anything else in that couldn't be seen from the gardens.”

Xander looked the cast iron circular staircase over with a builder's eye. “Nice. Great work. Repro or original?”

“Original. Came from a burnt out home in Czechoslovakia I actually remember the house. From my Scourge of Europe days.”

“Oh, was it a nice house?” Xander started up the stairs, looking back over his shoulder at Spike.

“No, nasty place. Dark and gloomy. Too dark and gloomy even for Brood Boy. And that's sayin' something.”

Xander laughed at Spike over his shoulder. “You're right. But I like it. The railing is brass.” Xander picked at the paint. “Why is it painted?”

Spike used one fingernail to scratch off a bit more of the paint; it was beautiful golden brass underneath the flat black paint. “No idea. I think it came in that way. I'll have some of the minions polish it off, shall I?”

“Please. And what about the fledges and minions? Seems I haven't seen any around. They're usually hovering, groveling, and generally getting in my way.”

“That's 'cause they're not sure where you stand yet. They don't want to curry favor with you if you're on the outs with me. Wouldn't do to be caught in another power struggle. But we'll talk about all that later.” Spike followed Xander down the short, beautifully appointed hall and reached around him to open the door at the end. “Here. This door leads directly into your office.” Spike let Xander go first. “And that door leads into your private loo, that one to the shared waiting room where Sylvia will keep all the riff-raff waiting.” He led Xander through into the waiting room, waved at Sylvia, and pointed to another door. “That leads into my office, and the last one, right across from Sylvia's desk lets into the other entrance to the offices. It's just down the hall from the entrance to the Manse. Like it?”

Xander just gulped and nodded. “It's huge; it's beautiful. I love Art Deco It's so... so...” Xander waved a hand.

“Twenties? I like it, too. It was like this when I moved in. And, I think it's all original. Don't have any idea where it came from.”

Sylvia cleared her throat. “Movie sets. The old master, not Angelus, the one before him, liked the style and bought a lot of this from that props auction that one of the major studios had about fifteen years ago. That,” she pointed to a black bust of a hawk, “is The Falcon.”

Xander reached out to touch it with a reverent hand. “I thought some Japanese guy bought it. Or something.”

“No, the one we have is the one that Bogie himself held. The one that the Japanese man has is the studio publicity one. It's the one that traveled all over with the movie display. It's documented.”

Xander jerked his hand back like the statuette was hot. “Oh! Oh, wow. And it's... ours?”

Spike just smiled and nodded. “Wanna move it into your office?”

Xander shook his head. “No, I'll just forget to dust it then it'll be buried under parchments and... stuff. On that note. Is there anything for me to do?”

Sylvia shook her head. “No. No one has asked since Master Spike threatened to bite the next person who sent in anything on your No-no List.”

Spike smirked at Xander then nodded to Sylvia. “Is there a list?”

“No, sir. I think everyone has finally gotten the idea that both of you mean business. It doesn't hurt that I fanged up at the last one and asked him if he'd eaten garlic in the last two days.”

Spike blinked then snickered. Xander whooped with laughter. The idea of Sylvia threatening to bite someone was funny. She was the quintessential secretary, very prim and proper. Xander wiped his eyes and went back into his office to explore it.

“The other thing I need is a work room. Someplace to store the things I'm translating until I can get around to them. Climate controlled to protect the more fragile ones. And a long table with a light box for detecting forgeries, and... well, I'm not sure.”

Spike just shrugged. “Why don't you make it your first project to design your workroom. You know exactly what you want in it. Do a floor plan and such. I'll get a crew on it as soon as you know what you want. Ok?”

“Sure. Thanks. You want me to do anything for a while?” Xander already had his nose buried in his work.

Spike just said, “No, but don't over do. You'll get back home in exactly two hours, and you'll be havin' a snack and a nap. No argument.”

“Ok. I won't.” Xander looked up from what he was doing. “I promise. I want to get better and get everything over with so we can get back to what passes for normal with us.” He smiled a bit then turned back to his work.

Spike went back to their quarters which he'd started thinking of as home. It felt good to actually have a place he wanted to call home. As long as Xander was there. Now all he had to do was get Xander to forgive him which didn't look like happening any time soon. He sighed and rubbed his face. He was going to have to have his talk with Xander soon.

He was still trying to decide when to speak to Xander -- when he was well, or now -- when Timmins came in with tea.

“Here. Stop pacing; you'll wear out the carpet. I want a small word with the Young Master before you talk to him. Take your time with him. I know he's making you sweat, but he's sweating, too. Not good for either one of you. I'll have a word with the healer. I really think he's being over-cautious. Relax.”

Spike didn't remember Timmins ever being so firm with him, but he found that he didn't mind. He accepted the tea and told Timmins that if Xander wasn't back home in two hours, he was to go get him. And that he could have his talk as soon as Xander came in. Timmins replied that he'd have his talk as he was helping Xander change for bed. “He will be taking a nap, right?” Spike's grin told it all.

Xander returned to the quarters a few minutes before he was expected and told Spike that he'd finished his list and a blue print for his workroom. He handed the folder to Spike and went into their bedroom.

“Spike, I'm hungry again. Is Timmins in the kitchen?”

Spike laughed softly at the yelp that followed this. Timmins had been somewhere in the suite.

Timmins had stepped out of the closet when Xander called him. He explained that he was doing an inventory of the clothing that Xander had brought back with him, just now having time to unpack the backpack.

“Oh, Ok. You just scared the bejeezus out of me, looming out of the dark like that.”

“I meant to loom. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Do you have so little trust? Has your life been so bad here? Did I fail to protect you when I could?”

Xander gave Timmins a horrified look. “Oh, shit. Spike didn't punish you did he? I didn't think...”

Timmins interrupted, “No, you didn't think. And that's exactly the problem. You don't think before you do stupid things. You could have died. Then where would we be? Master Spike would grieve himself sick. I wouldn't be worth anything, either. You don't just go off like that. Shame on you. We could have fixed it, if you'd stayed. I know you were angry and afraid, but Master Spike so rarely loses his temper that it was more than my existence was worth to do anything too soon, and I'll admit that things got very complicated for a while. And then, you were just gone. We hunted and hunted; Miss Tara made herself sick with tracking spells. And Master Spike. I've never seen a master vampire in such a state. Deplorable, simply awful.”

Xander listened to this sad litany with a distressed look. “I... I just... please, Timmins.” Timmins clicked his tongue and started to say something else, but a soft sob silenced him. “I'm not good a guilt trips. I'm sorry.” Xander sniffled pitifully and went into the bathroom.

Timmins followed, wondering if he'd been too harsh. He'd only meant to give Xander a talking to, as he understood it was called. He didn't understand how sensitive Xander was to everything just now and how ill he still was.

“Timmins, I really won't put up with being beaten. My dad, he just about broke me, and... well, I deserve better, don't I?”

“You do, sir. I'm sorry, too. I look at everything from a vampire's point of view. My master is the most important thing to me. And then everything else. You're next in line, though. And I hate to see you and Master Spike like this.” He sighed and turned to start Xander's bath.

Xander wandered around the bathroom while the tub filled. He started stripping off his clothing and just dropping it on the floor, something he'd never done before. Timmins didn't remark on it; he just started picking it up.

“Leave it; I'll pick it up later. I'm not trying to be vindictive; I just... I've been alone and got into the habit.”

Timmins continued to pick up Xander's mess. “You get into that tub before it cools. I've got this.”

Xander wiped his face on a washcloth then got into the tub. He was having enough trouble staying mad at Spike without Timmins guilt tripping him, too. He wished Spike would just get it over with so they could make up or stay mad, or whatever they were going to do. He thought, if the punishment was bad enough, that he might stay mad for quite a while.

“Now, wash quickly then I'll get you a nice snack and you can get some rest. Alright?”

“Yeah. I need a nap. I feel all cranky, grumpy, like I did when I was little, and I had to stay in the car while Mom went into Danny's Bar. I couldn't sleep; I was too scared. And why I'm telling you this is totally beyond me.”

Timmins gritted his teeth to keep from snarling. “I don't know, either, but I appreciate it. When you’re done put on your pajamas and get in bed. I'll bring your snack on a tray.”

Xander just obeyed, well aware that it was easier to do what Timmins asked instead of arguing; he invariably wound up doing what Timmins wanted.

Timmins came back quickly with a tray full of food. Xander's snack consisted of two tacos, an apple fritter, a salad, and a large glass of milk. There was also his medicinal tea. He drank that first hoping the food would kill the taste. It did; in fact, the tacos were so good that Xander forgot all about the tea.

Xander licked the last of the sauce off his fingers and eased back in bed. Suddenly he sat back up. “Oh, shit! Master Bruce. I forgot all about seeing him. Damn it! Timmins, I've got to get dressed.”

Timmins just shook his head. “Master Spike said you were to rest. I'll go tell Master Bruce that you'll come see him a bit later. I'm sure he won't mind. He was as worried about you as the rest of us were. Rest.”

Xander leaned back again. “Ok, I'll admit that I really wasn't looking forward to his tongue lashing. And he's really going to give it to me, too.”

Timmins just shook his head as he closed the door, turning off the light as he went. Xander snuggled down and slept. Timmins went in search of Master Bruce.


“Timmins. How's Xander?” Master Bruce had talked with Spike and Healer Azor and wanted confirmation from Timmins that Xander was on his way to health.

“He'll be ready for a mild workout in two or three days. The healer already said.” Timmins smiled a bit. “Eavesdropping is a wonderful thing. And Healer Azor also said that he was to be allowed to do anything he thought he was up to so don't push him any at all. He'll find his stride better that way. We have to keep Master Spike from coddling him too much or he'll never get better. You'll have to feel your way.” Timmins thought for a moment. “And don't rake him over the coals, I already did that. Too much fussing and he'll just get resentful. This way he'll think about what he did, instead of getting angry that we're all getting on him.”

Master Bruce nodded. “You're right. I've never met anyone with a better developed sense of guilt. I'll just let it slide?”

“I believe that will be best. I've got to go now. I have to make Xander's supper. I think you should see him tomorrow morning. Do an assessment?”

“You're right. An assessment would be good. I can see how much he's lost and figure out how to bring him back up to full strength.”

They sat drinking tea in silence for a bit then Master Bruce sighed. Timmins shook his head. They were both worried about how the punishment was going to affect both Xander and Spike.

Timmins got up, saying, “I really have to go now. I want to make Xander that casserole he likes, and it has to bake for forty-five minutes.” He walked out leaving Master Bruce to finish his tea alone.


Xander woke to the smell of beef stroganoff casserole. “Mmmm, smells good. Where's Spike?”

Timmins dumped the tray on Xander's lap and snorted. “He's in his office. He's got a ton of paperwork that he has avoided taking care of, and now his chickens have come to roost so to speak.”

“How bad is it?” Xander scooped up a forkful of the stroganoff and moaned when the taste hit his tongue.

“Not that bad, it's the sorting that he hates. I think he's a bit afraid to put something in the wrong pile. Like he can't move things once he's put them somewhere.”

Xander mumbled around a mouthful. “He's always been that way. Kinda hidebound, you know?”

“Exactly.” Timmins waited silently as Xander finished eating then took the tray. “I'll bring you your tea when it's time. Would you like to watch something on TV, or go back to sleep?”

Xander plucked at the duvet for a moment. “There's a book in my office that I'd really like to read. I'll go get it.” Timmins glared at him. “Or not. It's Murphy's Compendium of Demon Tribes and Their Languages. And there's also... um... oh! The little green-covered book with a Sanskrit title. Ask Sylvia for that one. Please?” Timmins couldn't turn down Xander's puppy dog eyes any more than Spike could. He agreed to fetch the books if Xander promised to stay in bed, or at least just go from the bed to the couch. Xander promised, feeling too full to fuss any.

Timmins brought the books back for Xander, fully expecting him to be asleep, but Xander was on the couch propped up on pillows waiting for him. Timmins brought the books to Xander and made sure that the afghan over his legs was adjusted to cover him properly, but not trip him if he needed to get up.

“Thanks. I'm good for now.” Xander glanced up from the book he'd already buried his nose in. “Bell?” Timmins gave him a blank look. “I ought to have a bell or something, in case I need you.”

Timmins nodded. “Ah, yes, I'll see to that at once. But I am a vampire; I'll hear you if you so much as breathe heavily.”

“Oh, Ok. Um... you're not sitting in the hall or something, are you?”

“Of course not. I'm sitting in the room across the hall.” Timmins left before Xander registered that.

Spike came back to the rooms near Xander's bed time which was about dawn. Spike was carefully shifting Xander's 'day' to his which meant that Xander slept most of the day and was up all night.

“Hello, pet. Whatcha reading?” Xander showed Spike the book making him raise an eyebrow. “Ok, can't read it.” Spike settled on the end of the couch at Xander's feet.

“Spike? You still need to decide which accent you're going to use. It's confusing. Half the time I keep expecting to see Giles, then I look up and it's you.”

Spike knew there was more to this complaint than his accent shifting around so he let it alone. “Ok. I need you in your office for about an hour tomorrow. You up to it?”

“Sure, what do you need?”

“I've got a few things that I have no idea what they are. I need you to see if you can translate them. Then Master Bruce wants to assess you to see what you've forgotten and how weak you are.”

“Ok. Master Bruce first, then office. Ok?”

“Fine. Are you tired yet?”

Xander sighed. “Yeah, a bit. But I'd like to stay up a bit longer. If I sleep too much I'll just be awake forever tomorrow night. Or day. Or whatever.”

“Just call it day and night. Day is when we're awake and night is when we're not. I'm not staying up half the daylight hours, trying to please the Scooby Gang anymore. And my court, my rules. Come to bed soon, will you? I'm worn out with paperwork.”

“Night. I'll be in in about half an hour. I'll wait until Timmins brings my tea. The smell will linger in the bedroom for a while, and it would gag a maggot off a gut wagon.”

Spike made a disgusted face at that imagery. “Nice.” He wandered into the bedroom, dumped his clothing in the hamper, and went to bed in his shorts.

Xander kept his word and came in about half an hour later, brushed his teeth, used mouthwash, and crawled into the bed. The mouthwash didn't help the smell much, but Spike didn't say anything.


Xander woke confused and muzzy. “Wa', mmm, oh. Timmins?”

“Yes. Here's your tea. Drink it quickly so it doesn't taste so bad. Chocolate muffins after.”

Xander gulped the tea, looked for Spike, and drooped a bit when he wasn't there. “Spike?”

“In his office. Eat your breakfast then go see Master Bruce. Don't worry; he's not going to lecture you. I've already done that. Now eat your breakfast and get going.” Timmins left Xander to eat his breakfast of muffins, eggs, bacon, and coffee.

He dressed in a comfortable Tai Chi uniform and headed out to see Master Bruce.


Master Bruce looked up when Xander knocked on the door frame. “Come in. Sit here.” He pushed a zafu over to Xander.

Xander knelt and settled on it easily. “What's first?”

Master Bruce smiled. “That. How do you feel?”

“Stupid, tired, sad, a bit feverish and stupid.”

“I see. The fever is just your body fighting off the last lingering effects of the curse. So is the tiredness. The stupid and sad, you'll have to explain for yourself. The rest you'll get over in a few days. Now, I want you to do your first kata for me.”

Xander stood up, took off the soft slippers he was wearing and stepped to the center of the mat. He started the kata a bit shakily, but soon got his stride. He finished it easily and started the next without being told. He got about three-quarters of the way through before he had to quit.

“That's about all I can do for now. But I'm getting stronger every hour. I think it's because I couldn't eat. I'm hungry almost all the time now, though. But that tea. Yuck! It spoils my appetite.”

“You need it. But I'm very pleased with you. You're not as weak as I'd thought you'd be, especially doing without Master Spike's blood like you have been. You go now. Master Spike told me not to keep you too long; he needs you in the office.”

Xander knelt in front of Master Bruce. He kow-towed gracefully. “I'm so sorry I worried you, Master. I won't do it again.” He straightened up a rueful grimace on his face. “Didn't work anyway. I had to come back when he found me. All I've got left is a bit of dignity, and I'm going to lose that soon.”

“No, he'll never humiliate you. Don't worry about that. He actually does love you, even if he doesn't want to admit it yet. Now you better go, or he'll give you a lecture.”

“Gone.” Xander rose, put his shoes back on, and headed for the office.


When Xander entered Spike's office, he just snarled and handed him a handful of papers. “Which of these can you read?”

Xander flipped through them, “This one, and... this one. Um... most of them. I'll hand you back the ones I can't when I'm done, Ok?”

“Sure. And there's a guy I want you to meet. Maybe next week. He's doing some research into your reading problem.” Xander caught his breath. “And I'm not taking any argument. None.”

Xander deflated. When Spike spoke in that tone of voice he could argue until he went mute; it wouldn't do any good. “Ok, Ok. But, you know? It's a bit embarrassing that I can read all sorts of really difficult stuff, and I have real trouble with plain English. Sucks that I'm so stupid.”

“Shut it!” Spike stood up and slammed the book he'd been holding down on the desk, making Sylvia jump then run in. “You’re not stupid. If it's what we think it is, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci had it. And lots of famous people have it. So stop that. No one who is stupid could read and write as many languages as you can, or learn new ones so quickly. Now take those papers an' get busy. Scat.”

Xander blinked once then just left. He wondered, not for the first time, what was wrong with him and how to fix it. He decided to give this one a pass; it wasn't worth the argument.

Sylvia followed Xander into the office and let him get settled. “I'm glad you're back. Do you need anything?”

Xander had already started shuffling through his desk. “I... let me look here a sec.” Xander rummaged some more. “Ok, I need a steno pad and a pencil. And... coffee. You know what I need.”

Sylvia did, but it was so nice just to hear his voice. “Yes, I do. I'll be back in a few with all the stuff you need. Just start sorting that mess.”

“Mmm, ’k. Got it. Oh, and file folders.”

“Right on it.”

Sylvia retreated to the outer office and on into the supplies closet. She found the things that Xander had requested including coffee, ready to be freshly made from the gleaming brass espresso maker. She smiled; the damn thing had been hard to find and exorbitantly expensive, but it was just like the one Spike had gotten Xander in Sunnydale, the one that Master Timmins kept in the house kitchen.

She re-entered the office to see Xander, nose firmly in some papers, leaning back in his chair. She was so happy to see Xander in such a familiar pose that she nearly wept. “Boss, here's your stuff and the coffee. You wouldn't believe how much trouble Master Spike and I had finding the machine. Enjoy.” She put the steno book on the desk with a mechanical pencil on top of it. “I'll bring you in several more books as soon as we get in the kind you like, and that pencil is one of the side-click ones that you asked for. Don't work too hard.”

Xander just grunted, grabbed the pad and pencil, then stuck his nose back in the paper. Sylvia sighed; it looked like Sanskrit, but she was never sure. It might be some sort of Arabic instead.

Xander drank coffee, worked on translating the various petitions and requests, and grumbled. One of the petitions was written by someone who it looked like had copied the script from some book of letters, only he couldn't read the language. He finally tossed the pencil down on his desk and announced, “I give up on this one. I can't make heads or tails of it. Half the symbols are just plain wrong, and the rest don't make sense. Spike!”

Spike glanced in the door. “What, pet? Something wrong?”

“Yes, whoever wrote this couldn't spell, sort of. It's all wrong. I really can't read it. It's like this guy copied the letter out of a book. Like um... you copying a letter in Chinese. You know, like out of one of those books of letters you saw years ago?”

“Oh, yeah, Miss Amelia's Proper Correspondence for Young Ladies of Good Family. Never write a letter when you can copy off one. Give it here. I'll have Sylvia send it back and tell them to send it again in a language we can read. You doing Ok?”

“Yeah, I'm getting tired so that's the last one for today. I'm going home and get lunch then I'm taking a bath and a nap. I want to start working out again tomorrow, but don't fuss. Master Bruce said he wasn't going to let me work too hard just yet, but I need it. I'll feel better if I can get back on my old routine.”

Spike gave Xander a searching look then relented. “Ok, good enough. I'll be back at about supper time.”

“Good, we can eat together. What do you want?”

“Don't care. Whatever Timmins is fixin' you. Now git.”

Xander laughed softly. “I'm gone. But... Spike, I want to have that talk tonight. I'm tired of trying to stay mad at you, and I'm tired of the suspense. Don't argue, please.”

“Ok, pet, I won't. We'll get it over with and go on, Ok?”

“Yeah, Ok.” Xander sighed. Spike watched him for a moment then sighed, too. “Seems we're both doing a lot of sighing lately.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. I'll see you at supper. Go.”

Xander got up from behind his desk and trudged to the door to his gardens. “I'm going to go through my gardens; maybe they'll make me feel better. I just feel...blank. Not really sick, just... uneasy. I don't know.” Xander trailed off, looked at Spike, then turned and went down the beautiful spiral staircase, caressing the now gleaming hand rail absently.

Spike wondered how a heart that didn't beat could hurt so much.

Xander spent nearly an hour in the gardens, walking from room to room and sitting on one bench or another to examine the flower beds and pots of different plants. He really did like the gardens, but he felt guilty about enjoying them until he and Spike were back on firm footing. He finally returned to his room, kicked his shoes into the closet, and flopped down on the couch.

Timmins just shook his head when he saw Xander; the poor thing looked so unhappy. He put Xander's lunch on a tray and took it to him. Xander just looked at it for a moment.

“Am I on house arrest or something?”

Timmins thought for a second. “Not that I'm aware. Why?”

“I'd really rather eat at the kitchen table, if you don't mind.”

Timmins just picked up the tray and led the way into the new kitchen. Xander looked around and smiled.

“Man, this is really nice. I like it. Italian?”

“Yes, very nice. All the newest appliances and look there.” Timmins pointed into a nook near the door to the dining room. Xander's espresso maker was there along with all the cups, the knocker box, the grinder, and every bottle of syrup that Xander liked. “Master Spike had that made especially. Do you like it?”

Xander nodded, his mouth full of Muffuletta, a sandwich popular in New Orleans that Xander had fallen in love with. He swallowed thickly then said, “I love it; it's really nice. And what the hell is he up to anyway. He's all lovey-dovey with me even when I freeze him out. And I'm not giving up on this. It's just really hard to stay mad at him when he looks at me like that.”

Timmins wisely didn't ask like what; he was well aware that Master Spike was giving Xander what would have been called, 'goo-goo eyes' in an earlier time. He thought it was amusing; he also thought it would be more than his existence was worth to show it.

“Miss Tara is asking after you. Would you like to see her tomorrow?”

Xander nodded eagerly. “That would be really nice. I'll look her up after I exercise and shower. Ok?”

“I'll send for her.” Timmins gave Xander a quelling look and he subsided, taking another bite out of his sandwich. “You'll be done at about 9:30, or I miss my guess. She's on vampire time, too, so it's Ok. I'll have her come at 10:00; that way, if your visit goes too long, you can have lunch together. Bud wants to see you, too, but he'll be at your exercises; Master Bruce is lining up opponents for you.”

“Good, I want to see him, too. That's great. And Giles? I want to see him.”

“Soon. He's involved in some research with... well, we picked up a teacher of all things while we were looking for you. Master Spike doesn't want much said until we're sure of a few things. He, Mister Giles that is, is researching with Thomas Dalton to find out... things. I'm sure I don't really understand it at all. Something about a learning disability.”

Xander sighed. “I'm stupid, I know that. Slow, not exactly retarded, but not real smart, either. They tested me in grade school.”

Timmins made a disgusted sound. “Well, if you believed them, I'm sure I know where most of your problems come from. Ignore them; Hellmouth educational systems are usually in chaos anyway.”

“Oh, Ok. I guess.” Xander just gave it up. “I'm going to eat and forget about all that. I don't want to hear about it until Giles has something concrete. Can I have another sandwich?”

“Yes, I have it made up already. Let me get it.” Timmins went to the refrigerator and brought the sandwich back to Xander. Xander took it and wolfed it down, too. Then he stood up, stretched, and yawned.

“I'm taking a nap, on the couch, with the TV on. Please don't sneak in and turn it off. Ok?”

“Yes, Young Master, I won't. Get plenty of rest. Tomorrow might be harder than you expect.”

Xander chuckled a bit. “Hard? Master Bruce is going to rake me over the coals. His idea of an easy routine would wear out almost anyone. When is Spike going to start giving me his blood again?”

“He has been. I mixed some in with the olive salad in the Muffuletta. And it's been in your tea every cup.”

Xander hummed softly. “Oh. I'm sleeping now.” He'd headed into the living room while he and Timmins talked, and now he flopped down on the sofa and curled up. Timmins turned the TV on, found something banal, and covered Xander with a blanket. Xander was asleep before he was done.


Spike finished the last of his work for the day and left a bit early, calling to Sylvia that he was leaving. He went down the circular stairs and wandered in the gardens a bit. He found it as relaxing as Xander did.

It didn't take him that long to get back home. Nor did it take him long to wake Xander up. Simply opening the door did that.

“Spike? That you?” Xander sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“No, it's the Easter Bunny! Of course it's me, you...” Spike sighed, rubbed the back of his neck, then apologized. “Sorry, didn't mean to snap at you. Come into the kitchen. We'll have our talk before both of us crack.”

“Ok. Just give me a sec; I want coffee. I'll make you one if you want.”

Xander's hopeful look made Spike's refusal die on his lips. “Sure thing, pet. Love one.”

Xander fiddled with the machine, produced two perfect cappuccinos, and settled at the table.

“Ok, just spit it out. I'm not in the mood for gentle. My nerves are wound like a two-dollar watch.”

“Alright, pet. There's got to be a punishment, that's for sure. Someone fucked up royally and needs a good beating. Someone didn't listen to someone else and they should have. Someone only wanted one thing and they didn't get it.”

Xander looked at Spike with wide eyes. “Oh, Spike, stop. It's Ok.”

Spike shook his head. “No! It's not. This isn't the way... I want you to... you deserve better. I'm sorry. Really sorry. The court expects it, and they're going to get it. You deserve it, too. You get... any punishment you want. I swear I won't hold it against you. Not for a second. No matter what you do, I deserve it.”

Xander eyed Spike for a moment, sipping his coffee. “Ok, you'll let me do anything I want to you, and you won't get mad at me or hold it against me later?”

“That's right, pet. Anything you want, I won't be mad. How could I? This whole mess is my fault, me and my nasty temper. I should have listened to you. I should have known Arnold couldn't be trusted as far as I could throw your truck. Which is in the garage, by the way.”

Xander nodded. “Ok, I have some plans to make. Day after tomorrow, Ok?”

“Fine. Kiss an' make up?”

“Sure. After. More coffee.”

Spike sighed; it seemed that Xander could hold a grudge when he really wanted to.

Part Thirty

Spike woke Xander a bit early so he'd have time to wake up before heading for the dojo. Xander shambled around the bed room for a bit, until his brain kicked in. He stretched and rubbed his head then went to the closet.

“I'm just going to wear my gi. If anyone doesn't like it, they can talk to you.”

Spike just grinned. “Like that. I'm in the mood for a touch of violence.”

“Why don't you come and work out with me? You need to work off some of your energy before court. You're always better off if you beat up something, one, whatever.” Xander looked at Spike with hopeful eyes.

“Well, sure, why not. An', you'll notice that I'm bein'...being careful of my accent.”

“You sure are. Come on. Master Bruce will make us both run laps if we're late.”

“And how do you know if you're late?”

“Unless he's changed, I'm supposed to be there at six on the dot. By my watch, he knows I don't cheat. So, it's ten 'til.”

Spike nodded, “We better go then. We'll be right on time.”


Master Bruce nodded to Xander and then Spike. Xander bowed back, but Spike hesitated.

“Master Spike, I told you that I would be careful with him until we were sure he was well. Do you not trust me?” Master Bruce was getting ready to be offended, but Spike just held up his hand.

“I was thinking that I could work out a bit. I'm restless.”

“Ah! Of course. Come then.” Master Bruce bowed one master to another.

“I will set Xander to his exercises then we'll spar.”

Master Bruce told Xander to do his kata until he was sweating lightly then cool down with Tai Chi; last, he was to do a yoga flexibility routine and meditate. He finished his instructions with, “And don't think I can't keep an eye on you and work out with Master Spike at the same time.”

Xander just smirked at him. “Sure. I'm on my best behavior. So, go. Fight Master Spike.”

Master Bruce gave him a beady eyed look and went to spar with Spike.

Spike had been warming up while he waited. He knew better than to work out without a warm up. He assumed that Master Bruce was already warmed up. What martial arts master would be waiting on a student, cold?

They moved to the other side of the dojo, leaving Xander plenty of room to work out, and themselves enough room as well.

Master Bruce expected Spike to forego the formalities so he was surprised when he bowed, one master to another, then took up his stance. Bruce bowed back and waited for Spike to make the first move. Which he did by jumping up and aiming a roundhouse kick right at his head. This didn't work very well as Master Bruce ducked under it then caught Spike on the back swing. Spike used the force of the kick to flip out of the master's reach. After that Xander went back to his workout as they were nothing but blurs. He knew the match was going to go on for quite a while. Spike was very good and Bruce was his equal. Bruce might have the edge in technique, but Spike had the edge in real life experience.

They ended with a draw, which didn't surprise Spike or Xander, but Bruce was just a tad bit put out, as Xander said. He hadn't expected Spike to be quite as strong as he was.

“Well, that was a bit of a surprise, Master Spike. Come on, then, we need to check on Xander. He's doing quite well, for not having any of your blood for a while.” They both walked over to Xander, who was doing his yoga routine.

Xander settled in for his meditation and felt Master Bruce touch his back; he realized that he was slouching and straightened up. A soft, ”Good”, was his reward. He felt a bit tired, but not too much so. He knew he was supposed to be meditating, but he eavesdropped instead.

“How much formal training have you had?”

“None. I just pick up stuff quickly, especially when my life depends on it. I watched Rupert train the Slayer, Buffy. Then I tried the moves out on fledges. Wonder what degree I'd have if I had formal training.”

Master Bruce thought for a moment. “With your experience and your skill level I'd say you deserve at least a 6th dan belt. Xander has a 4th dan already.”

Spike shrugged. “That's good, I guess. I have no idea what that means.”

“Ah! Of course not. Well, black belt, or obi, is the highest color you can attain. When I was a student that was it. Then, new forms were invented, and weapons got better. So we needed higher rankings. The black belt was given two stripes on each end. White, then yellow, orange, and so on. To indicate the dan, or senior level. You are purple and Xander is green. I don't believe in belts myself, there's more to a level than how many forms you know. I'd give you, in my private ranking, a level of pure killer. Xander is just below you in that. It's more about the mental attitude than skill. Xander would kill many 10th level black belts because he has it in him to actually kill someone. They'd lose because they aren't ruthless enough. He's just below you because of his skill levels and no other reason.”

Spike blinked for a second. “Oh, well, shit. He's that good?”

“He's that ruthless, when he feels he has to be.”

Xander didn't twitch a muscle. He thought about Master Bruce's opinion and decided that he was right. He'd kill in a second if it was necessary, and his definition of necessary was his own.

Spike rubbed his face, glanced at Xander and pulled Master Bruce into the hall. “Boy has ears like a vamp. Where's Yakov?”

“Went to do some visiting. He'll be back soon.”

“Oh, ok.” Spike turned back to see Xander laying flat on his back, a peaceful expression on his face. “How long should we leave him?”

“Another few minutes, then he needs to go to his office.” At Spike's puzzled look he explained, “I talk to his secretary. She keeps me aware of what he needs to do so that I don't exhaust him on days he needs to work.”

Spike nodded, “I'll stir him in five.”

“Very good, and, before I forget, Mister Giles said that the minion Thomas Dalton would like to speak to Xander this afternoon. If you approve.”

Spike shrugged. “Sure, tell him I said it was ok.”

Master Bruce bowed and left.

Spike watched Xander for the next few minutes. He looked much better than when Spike had found him. He was putting on weight at a fantastic rate, and his tan was coming back.

“Xander?” Spike's soft call didn't even make Xander twitch.

“Yeah. I'm done. Office?”

“Yeah. Come on, I got work to do, too.”

Xander sighed. “I'll shower and be right up.”

“No, come with me. Last of the pressies.”

“Ooo, more pressies.” Xander grinned like a little kid. “I like pressies. Is it something really good?”

“I think so. I'll even use it. If it's ok with you, that is.”

“I'm sure it will be.” Xander dragged Spike to the stairs. “Show me! Now!”

“Greedy little shit.”

“You betcha.”

So Spike took Xander through part of the gardens and through a hidden door. Xander sniffed once, the smell of chlorine was heavy in the damp air. Xander took one look and grabbed Spike.

“Oh, man! A pool! My very own pool! Thank you so much.” Xander just grinned, stripped off and went skinny dipping. Much to Spikes disgust. The pool was situated under a huge skylight, and the late afternoon sun made it impossible for him to enter. He contented himself with standing in the hallway and watching.

Xander made several laps then climbed out. There were towels on a small rack at pool side, and he helped himself, drying off quickly. He put his gi back on wrinkling his nose at the scent.

“I'll be keeping some clothing here from now on. That was great. Spike?”

“Not vamp friendly until dark, pet. But you enjoy it any time you want.”

“Sorry. I didn't know. I'll get a order in for the glass as soon as I can.”

Spike shook his head. “No, don't. It's your special place. Someplace I can't go. Just for you. See?”

Xander did. “Oh, that's ... that's ... yeah. Thanks. We better get to the office. I've got a ton of stuff to go through, then I'm not sure what. But, big lunch, maybe two. And a nap.”


Xander suddenly got a big eyed look. “Oh, shit! I forgot about Bud, Tara and Giles. They were going to come see me at the dojo. Fuck!”

Spike held up a hand. “Don't fret yourself. I told them all to come to your office to see you. You're not going to bury your nose in a bunch of translations right off the bat. Now, come on. Tara's probably waiting on you. Sylvia will not be pleased if we put her schedule off.”

Xander happily followed Spike to the offices.


Tara knocked on the door and waited for the deep voice to call, “Come in.” She opened the door and blinked. Xander had called Timmins and had him bring some clothing to the office where he'd unashamedly stripped off the gi and put on the charcoal grey linen trousers and light grey cotton button down shirt. His shoes were Gucci, worn without socks. Tara blinked for a second. The clothing clashed a bit with his hair. The war-locks on either side of his face made him look fierce. Then he smiled.

“Tara, I'm so glad to see you. How are you? Bud treating you ok?”

“Bud is ... he's very good to me. He's taken me everywhere. All he has to do is wear a pair of sunglasses. Even at night, people around here wear them. Can you imagine? It's really strange. And there's all sorts of things to do at night. Shows and... and... I'm babbling. Sorry.”

Xander laughed. “It's nice. Sit down and relax. I don't bite. Except if it's Spike.”

Tara laughed softly and settled in the comfortable chair that Xander motioned to. He buzzed Sylvia and asked her for one of Tara's favorite teas. When she brought it in, Tara thanked her and took a sip.

“It's really good. Do your beads need renewing?”

Xander shrugged. “Not really. I think just their natural influence is good enough. Do you need anything?”

Tara shook her head.

They gossiped for a while and laughed over this and that. Tara finished her tea, and in proper social style, excused herself and left, giving Xander a quick hug and peck on the cheek. Xander hugged and pecked her back. Sylvia nodded her approval and announced that Bud would be there in three minutes.

Bud showed up in two, knocked on the door and opened it without invitation. Xander just grinned at him.

“Hi! How's everything?”

“Good, good. You're a shit, you know that, don't you?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. Did Spike have a complete spaz?”

“Howled like a kicked dog. Really unsettling. And sulked, pouted and generally acted like someone who was missing the other half of himself. Shame on you. He insulted you, you should have come to me. We'd have handled it properly.”

“Really? What would we have done?”

“Gone out and gotten pissed and come back. Passed out and made him take care of you.” Bud grinned at Xander.

“Yeah, evil undead wouldn't do anything like that. He'd just let me wake up with a hangover and laugh.” Xander grinned back, knowing that Spike would do no such thing. He offered Bud a coffee, which he accepted.

They exchanged the sort of chat that men do. Xander burped, Bud snickered.

Sylvia stuck her head in the door just in time to hear. “Ugh! You're just disgusting. Bud, out. Mr. Giles is here.”

Bud just stood up and waited until Xander walked around his desk. They hugged and bumped fists. Bud nodded to Giles as he left.

“Giles, hello. You look ... um ...” Xander stumbled to a halt. He'd seen Giles the night Spike had found him, but hadn't paid that much attention to him. Now he wasn't sure what to think of the 'new' Giles.

“Like Ripper. I know. I've been working on loosening up a bit. How do you feel?”

Xander sighed. “I think I'll have little cards made out. I'm fine. I need to gain back a few pounds, but Spike and I ... we've reached an understanding. Things are looking up. Tea?”

“That's good. And tea would be great. Thanks.”

Sylvia brought in tea for both of them and smiled at Giles. “Your companion has finished his research, he says that he'd like to talk to Xander this afternoon.”

Giles just nodded his thanks, sipped his tea, and let Xander ramble. Which Xander happily did. He realized that this was the 'olive branch' in their relationship, and he accepted it with both hands.

Giles finally put down his empty cup and said kindly, “Xander, as interesting as all this is, and I do mean that, I need to speak to you about something.”

Xander stopped talking and just looked at Giles for a moment. “Ok, what? But if this is about Spike and me, don't bother.”

“It's not about you and Spike. You're nineteen and your sex life is your business. If he becomes abusive, I'll try to help. But, frankly, I doubt he'll do that. He was frantic when you disappeared. No, it's about your reading difficulties. I'm sorry I ... um ... well, I'm not a trained teacher, so I had no idea that you might have a disability. There's a vampire who knows about these things. He'll be coming to meet you this afternoon. Cooperate with him, and we might be able to help you.”

“Oh, good. I always knew there was something wrong, but I could never figure out what. Things crawl around, and ’saw’ and ’was’ don't look different, and a lot of other stuff. But Sunnyhell is well known as the 'I don't care' capital of the educational world. But why can I read some writing easily and others look like ... I'm not sure what.”

Giles easily admitted, “I haven't a clue. That's what Tom is doing. He's reading all the newest literature on several specific learning disabilities, and he has an idea. There's some tests he wants. After that, we'll know something.”

Xander picked at his lip for a second. “Ok, I'll go along as long as Spike approves.” He glanced at his watch and stood up. “I'm sorry, Giles, I've got to run you off. I've got some arrangements to make, and I need to get started on them. Will you be in court tonight?”

“Yes. Um ... as I said before, it's not my business, but ... be careful what you do. If you humiliate Spike too much, he ... he's very proud. Not to mention the damage to his 'face'. Las Vegas, or even all of Old California, could get completely out of hand.”

Xander just nodded. “I'm well aware of what could happen. But, Old California? Not sure what you mean. California is a state, right?”

“Yes, California is a state. And the state of California was admitted into the union in 1850, but the divisions of the continent into Vampiric Dominions was done in 1630. So California is very large and Louisiana includes the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and some others that I have forgotten. The Eastern Seaboard Domain is all of the original colonial states and part of Canada. I'll see if I can't find you a map.”

Xander gave Giles a pole-axed look and sat down a bit abruptly. “Oh ... um ... I see. Wow. I'll take that into consideration.”

With that Giles excused himself and Xander called Sylvia into the office, requested she see if Timmins could attend him, and set to work.

He had Sylvia do the writing so that he could concentrate on the particulars. He made up a list of things that Spike had to do to gain forgiveness. It wasn't long, nor particularly difficult, just very detailed. When he was done he asked Sylvia to type it up like a contract and give it to Timmins for a look over, then Timmins was to give it to him for correction.

Timmins looked it over in hand written form, nodded his head. “Very complete, detailed, and, as Miss Tara would say, doable. I don't see that any corrections need to be made. It can stand as is. I'll go prepare your lunch.” Timmins stood up, bowed to Sylvia and left. Xander gave his last instructions for the final copy.

That done he went home for lunch.


Xander was lounging in bed, eating a second lunch and watching the TV when someone knocked on the door. He crawled out of bed and shambled to the door. When he opened it he nearly slammed it again. He didn't know the vamp on the other side.

“Thomas Dalton. Master Spike accepted my fealty. I'm here to talk to you for a moment and ask you some questions.”

Xander blinked for a second then shut the door in his face, announcing, “Not until I clear it with Timmins.”

Thomas waited patiently, well aware that Xander had reason to be cautious. The door opened, and Xander gave him grudging permission to enter.

“Ok, Timmins said. What do you want? I'm going to sit down. You can sit wherever you want. And if this is something to do with Spike's punishment, that's personal. So, what?”

“I'm the one who has experience in learning disabilities. I'd like to interview you as a start to your diagnosis.”

“I thought your name was Tom. Sorry. Giles just dropped your name into the conversation, and I wasn't paying proper attention. So, what's the what?”

Thomas thought for a moment, evidently trying to see how to explain everything to Xander. Xander just waited, something he'd learned from Spike and Master Bruce.

“Well, there are several learning disabilities that you might have. I'm leaning towards dyslexia and there are several tests that I want you to take before we do anything else. I'm not a diagnostician so I'd rather have someone else do that. I am, however, quite qualified to help you conquer these problems. You're not stupid by any means, nor even illiterate. And I'm sure your memory is excellent.”

Xander sighed, “Ok, one, I don't test well. Two, where would we have to go, and three, can Spike and Bud come, too?”

Thomas smiled gently. “I understand exactly. So, one, the test is not pass/fail, it's diagnostic, to see what you can do how you do it. Two, we have to go to the Las Vegas Learning Disabilities Clinic, it's out in the 'burbs somewhere. And Master Spike and Bud have to come, or Master Spike will have, what my mother used to call, a tizzy.”

Xander considered this for a moment. “Ok, make an appointment for next week. I can't do it any earlier. Thanks.” Xander stood and held out a hand for Thomas to shake. “Mr. Dalton?” Thomas raised an eye brow. “I really want to learn to read better. I'll work hard, but I won't tolerate being treated like a child, or an idiot. Ok?”

“I would never presume to do so. I'll leave you now.” He bowed and turned away, smiling to himself. This was going to be easy.

Xander eyed his back until he closed the door on it. This was not going to be easy.


Spike bit at his lip. He was ready for court, he hoped. Xander had sent a note asking him to come to court 'dressed appropriately'. Whatever that meant. He poked through his closet, trying to decided what to wear.

Something, anything. Then he decided. Something symbolic, Xander was big on symbols. He found what he was looking for and put the clothing on. He wondered what Xander was going to wear.

The other part of the note was that Xander wanted an apology, and an explanation made to the court. Spike could understand that, and he could do it. He didn't even see any problem with it. The court would do as he said, or else. And he could be quite inventive with his ‘or else’s’.

Timmins stuck his head in the door and told Spike that Xander had left for court. Spike grinned at the expression on Timmins' face, or rather the total lack of expression.

“Don't approve?”

“It's not my place to say. I'll bring you something to change into.”

Spike didn't argue. Timmins was a force unto himself.


Xander paced for a moment. He needed to look just right, powerful, in control, in command. But not too dressed up. Not a suit. He eyed the suit that Timmins had put out. “Too Mafia. What the hell is he thinking?” Xander never realized that Timmins could hear him clear down the hall, and was laughing up his sleeve.

Finally Xander found what he wanted. He selected a pair of black military BDU's and a tactical shirt, over that he pulled on a linen button down shirt which he left open to the bottom of his breast bone. He took some time to decide between a pair of tactical boots and an old pair of combat boots. He decided on the newer tac boots.

Xander looked at himself in the mirror, trying to see himself as someone else would. He saw a young man, on the edge of true maturity, powerful but inexperienced, willing to learn and open hearted. He saw someone physically strong, capable and still growing. He liked what he saw.

Timmins peeked out of the kitchen to see Xander stride off down the hall. He picked up the pile of folded clothing and followed a minute later.


Spike waited in the outer entrance hall, penitent and jittery. He knew that Xander was inside, on the dais, waiting on him. He wished for a smoke, he wished for a drink, but most especially, he wished he'd kept his temper.

Finally getting control of his nerves, Spike motioned to the minion to open the door, took a deep breath and walked through the door. He walked down the center of the aisle that had been left from the door to the dais. Xander watched him, expressionless and still.

Spike didn't saunter, didn't swagger, or strut; he just walked. He kept his eyes on Xander who looked back gravely. Spike knew he had some definite groveling to do.

Xander waited until he got to the base of the dais then announced. “I already explained what is going on. No one.” He glared around the court. “I repeat, no one will snicker, laugh or even breathe heavily. If they do, they'll answer to me.” Spike couldn't help a gentle glow of pride, Xander's glare rivaled his own.

Spike cleared his throat. “I have come, supplicant, to you. I have wronged you. I wish to make amends. Tell me how.”

Xander just handed Spike the paper. “Read. If you agree give it back to me.”

Spike raised an eye brow, but obediently read the paper. He blinked, reread it then just handed it back.

One, prepare yourself for a belting.

Spike took off the shirt he was wearing. He'd left off shoes or boots as was tradition. He walked the few steps left to the dais, handed the shirt to Timmins and looked around, against one wall was a whipping post.

Spike took off his belt, knelt on one knee and offered it to Xander. Xander took it and nodded once. Spike stood and went to the post. There was a ring set in it, just high enough up that Spike had to reach to get ahold of it.

Xander walked up behind Spike. He looked at the court and announced, “This is your Master. He has more honor than you can understand. This is what you're dealing with. He will not expect of you what he does not give himself. Remember.”

Spike waited for the beating of a lifetime, he got the unexpected. Xander raised his arm and brought the belt down across Spike's back. One time.

The sharp crack was unexpectedly loud in the silent room. Spike didn't even flinch, he'd bear his punishment stoically, hoping Xander would find it in his heart to forgive. Xander rolled the belt around his fist and said softly, “Turn around.”

Spike obediently turned, a puzzled expression on his face. “That's ... all? That's it? What?”

Xander just held out his hands. “Kiss?”

Spike started to kneel to kiss the belt that dangled from Xander's hand. Xander tossed it away, peeling it off his hand with a flick of his wrist. “Not that. Here.” He pointed to his mouth.

Spike staggered a bit, Xander wanted a kiss? He could do that.

Xander enveloped Spike in his arms, realizing for the first time that he was actually more than four inches taller than the vampire. He nuzzled his nose in the sandalwood scented side of Spike's neck, took a deep breath then raised his mouth to Spike's. The kiss was long, sultry, wet and passionate. Xander finally had to pull away to breathe.

They separated a bit and Xander took a really good look at Spike's clothing. “Um ... no, just no, a world of not a chance. What the hell are you wearing?”

“Traditional supplicants ... rags. Don't like it?” Spike peeked at Xander through his eye lashes.

“No! Look like a beggar. Where's Timmins.” Timmins stepped out of the shadows at the back of the dais. He just handed the clothing to Xander and smirked at Spike.

Xander waved Timmins away and helped Spike get dressed, noticing that the bruise from the single lash of the belt was already healing.

Spike eased back into Xander’s arms, ignoring the babble from the court. “One lash was nothing. 'M I forgiven?”

“If you can figure out what the lash was for. I'll think about it.” Xander's coy expression didn't fool Spike for a second.

“The lash was for loosing my temper. I'm really sorry. I should have listened.”

Xander leaned down to kiss Spike again and the court couldn't stand it any more, they broke out in cheers and laughter. This court was going to be much more fun than the old one. And California finally had a Master who was going to do the right thing, most of the time.

Spike snarled at them half-heartedly, making the braver ones laugh more. Xander just snorted.


Spike followed Xander back home and had to laugh at the second item on the list of his forfeits.

Two, I get to top for one month.

“You have any idea what you're doing?”

Xander grinned and admitted, “No, but I'm sure if I'm doing it wrong, you'll tell me. Loudly, and often.”

Spiked smirked, “Vampire, love. You have to try really hard to hurt me. And you don't want to at all. It'll be fine. Come on.”

Xander shrugged. “That's just it. I don't want to hurt you. And my manly manness insists that you enjoy it. You made sure I enjoyed it. I want you to, too.”

Spike had to hang on to Xander's shoulders to keep from falling down, he laughed so hard. Xander gave him a look of mingled disgust and amusement.

When he finally stopped laughing Spike announced, “Manly manness? Oh, hell, pet.” He hugged Xander then took him by the hand. “Come on then.”

Xander allowed Spike to lead him into 'their' bedroom, in other words, Spike's room, which Xander had refused, until now, to occupy with him. He had looked around at the huge living area as they went through, and approved of it. He'd also caught a glimpse of a library/sitting area first door on the right in the hall he had been half dragged down.

“Easy there, I'm not going to disappear in a puff of smoke.”

“Better not. You do, and ... well, I'm not sure what I'll do.”

Xander turned, caught Spike by the waist and lifted. Spike was stronger than anyone would ever think, but he weighed in at about 130, easy for Xander's martial arts hardened muscles. He was still a little short on endurance, but his strength had returned with his morning workout. He tossed Spike onto the bed, and pounced.

Spike yelped when he felt his feet leave the floor and again when he hit the bed and bounced. Xander grabbed Spike by one arm and tugged. “Off, nice clothes, but off. All of them. Now.”

Spike obliged, easily shedding the linen trousers, shirt and soft leather loafers that Timmins had handed him not more than ten minutes ago.

“There, pet, now what?”

“Lube, where's the lube? I know you have some. You never touch me without a ton of the stuff.”

“Have me dry, if you like. Don't mind.” Spike watched Xander with dilated eyes.

“No, I don't think so. Ouchy. For both of us.”

Spike just pointed to the bedside table. “Drawer.”

Xander retrieved the tube and sat on the bed. “Ok, I know how to go about it, but if I hurt you, I want to know about it at once. Got me?” Xander pinned Spike with a firm eye.

“Ok, pet, this is all yours, you know. All your way, whatever way you want.”

Xander crawled across the bed to lean over Spike. He pointed one finger right at his nose. “And don't you forget it.” Spike licked the end of Xander's finger. “Oh, you're gonna get it now.” Xander rubbed the wet end of his finger across the tip of Spike's nose, making him giggle.

“Aren't you a bit over dressed, pet?”

Xander stripped off, tossing his clothing everywhere, he didn't even bother to get off the bed, he just knelt up and then sat down. Spike moaned softly, Xander was still a bit ribby, but he looked great.

Spike jumped a bit as Xander lay back down on top of him. “Love you, Spike. Pay attention.”

Spike just replied, “Love you back, Xander.”

Spike reached to take his knees in his hands. He pulled them up to his chest and just watched Xander. Xander settled between Spike's bent legs and smiled at him over his chest. “Yeah, just like that, and I'm gonna...” Xander slid one finger into Spike making him groan. “Good?”

“Yeah. Real good. Don't need to go so easy though.”

Xander leaned down, pinning Spike. “Do too. Shush.”

Spike shushed because Xander settled between his thighs and started kissing him. Slow, sensuous kisses. Kisses that took his breath away, even if he didn't have any. Kisses that made his head spin and his belly clench.

“Mmmm, more.”

Xander kept kissing and slipped a second finger into Spike. Spike barely noticed, he was too occupied with sucking on Xander's tongue.

When Xander eased a third finger into Spike he finally found that little spot he had been carefully searching for. Spike surged upright with a yell that made Xander snicker. He pushed Spike back down and worked that spot, rubbing his middle finger over and over it. “No coming until I say.”

“No ... bloody hell, pet. You're killin' me.”

Xander just snorted then started nibbling Spike's neck, still pinning him down with the full weight of his body, not that it would do much good as Spike's sit up had proven. But neither Spike nor Xander really cared.

Spike panted and squirmed. “Now. Now. Now.” Xander obediently smeared lube over his raging erection and pushed Spike's knees closer to his chest.

Xander carefully lined up with Spike and pushed in. He froze. “Oh, my God. You're so tight. So ... so cool.”

Spike bent double and kissed Xander. “More. Move.”

Xander moved, thrusting into Spike until he found the sweet spot again. Then he became ruthless, thrusting hard and hitting that spot every time. Spike moaned and lost his grip on his knees. He wrapped his legs around Xander's waist and groaned, “More, harder, faster. Move.”

Xander obliged, muttering, “Pushy, pushy. You're supposed to be the bottom.”

“ 'M on the bottom.” Spike licked Xander's neck, sniffing deeply of his cinnamon and salt, earthy smell.

He lifted his hips to give Xander a better angle. “Close, love, so close.”

Xander just panted and increased the speed and force of his motions. They exploded at the same time shouting. Xander collapsed on top of Spike with a whimper.

“Spike. I. Brain dead. Fuck.”

Spike just rolled, easing Xander onto the bed. “Yeah.”

“Spike?” Xander rolled his head to gaze at Spike.


“That was incredible. How soon can we do that again?”

Spike laughed, rubbing his cheek against Xander's sweat soaked shoulder. “As soon as you can get it up. I'm ready now.”

“Evil, undead git.”


Three, no more hiding your blood in something, I get it straight and from the source.

Xander woke, stretched and reached for Spike. Who wasn't there. “Hmm? Spike? Where are you?”

Xander rolled to his feet and started to go look for Spike, but he stuck his head in the door and called, “Come into the kitchen, pet.”

Xander smacked his lips, realized that he had morning mouth from hell and went to brush his teeth first, calling out, “Be there in a sec.”

Spike grinned at Timmins who just raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. He'll do it. He's my boy.”

Xander walked in just then, smelling of mint and flowers. “Spike, I don't really ask for much, but that frou-frou flowery soap has to go.” Timmins just nodded and made a mental note to get Xander's personal things moved at once. “And what is this?”

Spike held up a shot glass and a straight razor. “Not hiding the blood anymore. This,” Spike shook the shot glass at Xander, “is about what you should have every day.” He put the glass on the table and used the razor to make a shallow cut on his wrist. He held the cut over the shot glass and let his blood run into it until it was filled up to the 'shot' line engraved on it.

Xander didn't ask any questions, he just reached over and picked up the glass. He bolted the blood shot like a shot of whiskey. He shuddered once then put the glass back down on the table. “Thank you. Breakfast?”

Spike looked blank for a moment then he gave Xander a look of combined awe and love. “That's it?”

Xander shrugged. “It makes me strong, so I can keep up with you, protect you, be with you. Breakfast? Any time soon?”

“Git.” Spike held out a hand to Timmins who sourly handed over a dollar.


Four, give me something expensive and unexpected. You'll have to think about this one.

Spike groaned, he'd been thinking and thinking what he could get Xander that was unusual, expensive and something Xander would like. He'd put Sylvia to the task and gone to sit in his office in the dark.

“Got it, sir. Perfect. Something he'll never think of. And part of it he can eat and the rest is a great souvenir. He'll love it.”

Spike blinked at the picture on his computer monitor. Sylvia had tapped in the URL while he was trying to catch up to her.

“That's perfect. Do you think the man will come here?”

“Probably, if you pay him enough. It takes two days to get it, no matter what. I'll get in touch with him.”

Spike prepared to get Xander this special treat, no matter what.


Xander watched in amazement as a carefully dressed Spike brought out a wheeled cart covered with mysterious containers.

First, Spike opened a flocked box and took out a Baccarat Harcourt crystal champagne coupe. He carefully put the flat bowled glass on a gold charger.

Then he picked up a strange looking flat package and a gilding brush. He flicked the page back and lifted the gold leaf out carefully; he eased the square of gold into the coupe then added another, lining the glass with 23K gold.

Xander watched this with puzzlement. “Can I actually eat that?”

Spike nodded. “Food safe. Actually doesn't taste like much. Now the ice cream. Vanilla, made with Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla, organic even.”

Spike opened a thermal container and carefully took out the five balls of ice cream with a sliver spoon. He arranged them in the coupe, careful not to disarrange the gold.

After satisfying himself with the arrangement of the ice cream, Spike picked up a crystal pitcher full of Amedei Porcelana chocolate syrup and drizzled it all over the ice cream. Xander's mouth started to water. Then Spike added chunks of Chuao chocolate from a sliver box. Xander reached for his treat.

Spike patted his hand away. “Not done yet.” He retrieved the packet of gold leaf from its place and added a piece to the top of the sundae. Then he carefully stuck the stem of the gold, pulled sugar orchid, made especially for the occasion by Ron Ben-Israel.

Another box, made of crystal, yielded marzipan cherries, gold draggettes, and a truffle, which Spike placed on the charger.

The last touch made Xander blink. Spike placed a small mother of pearl dish on top of the sundae, it had been sitting in a small crystal bowl of ice. The pink caviar smelled like passion fruit.

Spike handed Xander a gold spoon and set the sundae in front of him.

“There you go, pet. A Grand Opulence Sundae. Compliments of Serendipity, New York City. No one except the owner himself has ever made one before. It took a lot of persuading, let me tell you. And it cost a grand. Enjoy.”

Xander blinked once, smiled in total bliss and dipped his spoon reverently into the confection. He placed the spoonfull of ice cream, chocolate and gold in his mouth and rolled it around on his tongue. The burst of vanilla, chocolate and cold made him moan. “Oh, man. That's almost ... orgasmic.” Spike snorted trying not to laugh. “Ok, laugh, but it is. Taste?” Xander offered Spike a spoonful.

Spike opened his mouth and allowed Xander to feed him a bite. “Yeah, love, it's good. But it's all for you.”

Xander smiled. “Ok, I know you don't care for ice cream that much. But.... mmmm.” Xander ate another spoonful. “It's really, really good.”

“Glad you like it. Done deal?”

Xander nodded. “Done deal.” He went back to his sundae, eating with relish.

The sundae really exists. You can read all about it here.

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