Ulterior Motives


Part Thirty-One

Spike liked his office; it was large, airy and light, without being too bright. But right now it seemed very small. He was pacing restlessly because they were taking Xander to the Learning Disabilities Center to be tested.

“Spike, you're wearing out the carpet.” Giles couldn't contain a slight smirk. Spike was ‘going mental’ and he found it amusing.

“Shut up. When's Xander getting here? He said ten minutes. It's...”

“Been six. He'll be here. Where would he go?”

“He hates tests! No matter what he said, I'm afraid he'll do a runner. I don't want to have to chase him down.”

A voice from the door made them both jump. “And why not? It sounds like fun. I'm here. Let's get going.”

Xander smiled at Spike, who blinked back at him for a moment. Xander was dressed in neat jeans that fit just right. He had his work boots on and a flannel shirt, but the jacket he was wearing was a Harley-Davidson leather racing jacket. It showed off his broad shoulders and narrow waist. He looked good, sleek and dangerous. Spike grinned back, licking his lips.

“None of that. That's for later. We better get going.” Xander glanced at his watch. “We've got an hour to get there. You know where it is?”

Giles shook his head. “No, he doesn't, but I do. We'll be taking the limo as Tom is coming with us.”

Xander pouted a bit. “I was hoping we could take the bikes. I know how to ride, and I really wanted to try out one of the Harleys.” Xander just shrugged when Spike shook his head. “Oh, snap. Maybe some other time?”

“Sure thing, pet. When we get back, if it's early enough. That good?”

“Yeah. And I want that map. You promised me.”

Spike nodded. “I'll have to send for it. There's four originals, as well as a more modern one, one for each High Master. My set's in safe keeping, somewhere. I've never actually seen it. Haven't had time.”

Xander halted in his tracks. The limo was pulled up in front of the mansion, looming in the dimmer lights of the front parking area. And a stretch Hummer really looms. Xander laughed softly.

“Is that for me?”

Spike smirked. “Yeah, pet. I've got a Rolls. We better get a move on. We don't want to be late and miss our appointment.”

Xander drooped a bit. “Yeah, actually, we do. I hate tests; I never do well. And, believe me, I've had plenty of experience with failing. I don't need more.”

A voice from the side said gently, “These tests aren't pass/fail. They're diagnostic. Just relax, answer the questions the best you can, and we'll see.”

Xander smiled at Tom. “Mr. Dalton, you're coming too?”

Tom bowed a bit. “Yes, I'll want to consult with the diagnostic team. And perhaps get some training materials.”

They all climbed into the Hummer, and the driver eased away from the door for the drive to the center.

The driver knew exactly where the center was so they didn't have to rely on Giles to find it. They were twenty-five minutes early for their appointment which was good as they needed to fill out reams of paperwork first. Xander got giggly when the receptionist asked where the 'young man' was. But Spike was impressed as she looked upset when Xander admitted that he was the test subject. He was even more impressed when he heard her mutter softly, “Damn, another one nearly lost.” She typed into her computer for a moment then asked for the pile of paperwork.

Xander handed over the papers with a grimace. He really didn't want to have to spend time trying to fill out paperwork that he couldn't really read. He knew Spike would help him with it, but that was another sore point. Having to have his boyfriend help him with it was also embarrassing. He was overjoyed when the receptionist shuffled through the pile, removing whole sections; she ended up handing him back less than half of it.

“As you're not a minor, most of this is irrelevant. We do need an up-to-date list of vaccinations and your health records.”

Xander shrugged. “Never been vaccinated for anything that I remember. And no health records, either. I haven't been to a doctor in...eight? Or nine years. Not sure. I was in the...no, I wasn't. Spike had a doctor come to me. Spike?”

“No records, pet. Healer was strictly sub rosa. You've never been vaccinated?”

Xander just shook his head.

Spike glanced at the receptionist who had a very sour expression on her face. “If his tetanus shots aren't up to date he needs to get that attended to.”

Xander nodded. “I'll see to that as soon as I can. Test? Or can I go home now?”

The hopeful expression on his face made the receptionist smile, but she shook her head. “Sorry, no. The doctor will be up to take you into the testing room in a few minutes. I understand you have some people with you who are going to be your tutors?”

Xander glanced at Giles, who nodded and stepped forward. “I'll be lead and Mr. Dalton is going to be doing most of the actual training. Is that what you call it?”

Xander sighed and waited while the receptionist explained that they didn't care what you called it as long as Xander got some help. She said that she preferred the term tutoring. Giles nodded his understanding, and their conversation wandered off into the vast and confusing territory that was education and learning disabilities.

To Xander's relief, a man came to collect him for his tests. He ambled along behind the man, peeking into doors as they went. When they reached their destination, Xander snickered; all the desks were a bit too small for his six foot plus frame.

“Um...desks are a tad small, don't you think?”

“Yes, but we'll go on through and into the parents' interview room. That's where we'll be testing you. I don't really think Winnie the Pooh is going to be much comfort to you. Oh, nearly forgot. My name is Henry Massingale. I'll be your tester.”

Xander followed Henry on through the class room and into the interview room. It had a large table and several chairs right in the middle of it. The table had a deck of cards, a tablet, several books, and a few other odds and ends.

“Now, to start out, I understand that you have a secret language that you write in?” Henry managed to look interested, not condescending.

Xander blinked at him for a moment, wondering what the hell he was talking about then the light dawned. “Oh, um....it's not a secret language; it's Gregg.” At Henry's puzzled look, he explained, “Shorthand. Old note taking method. Went out of fashion when recorders became more popular. I can read it easily, even though some of the forms are mirror images. I just put a dot on the leading side of them.”

“Um...I see. So. First we’ll have you draw what you see.” Xander shifted uncomfortably. “Don't worry. None of the tests are pass/fail. I thought you'd already been told this?”

“Yeah, see me believing that a test isn't ‘fail and look stupid’.” Xander settled at the table when Henry gestured to a chair.

“Here's the first image. Just draw what you see.”

Xander struggled with that task for several minutes then just put the pencil down. “I can't. I can look at that until the demons eat me and I'll never get it. What's next?”

So Henry picked up another image and showed it to Xander. Xander managed that one fairly easily, but when he saw the third one he flatly refused to even try. Henry didn't make a fuss; it wasn't that unusual for an older person to know exactly what they could and couldn't do, and it wasn't any use to push them. It only made the rest of the tests harder.

Henry spent the next two hours testing Xander, soothing his hesitancy, and putting up with his bursts of temper. He was used to this, especially from the older students. They mostly got over it when they realized that no one was going to laugh at them. Xander didn't seem to.

“Well, Xander, I’ll have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed. You don't seem to realize that I’m not going to laugh at you or make fun. These little...temper tantrums don't become you.”

Xander snorted sourly. “Look, I'm not the Zeppo anymore. I'm a grown man. And don't give me that, 'You're only nineteen' crap. I've seen and done shit that'd make your hair turn white. And I don't like taking tests. I'd rather take a beating. Now...are we done?”

“Yes, we're done. And I'll begin analyzing the data at once. It shouldn't take me more than half an hour. If I need more time, I'll let you know by then. Excuse me.” Henry stalked out in what Xander could only describe as a snit.

Xander sighed and went to find Spike. It didn't take him long as Spike was exactly where Xander had left him, in the waiting room next to the receptionist's desk.

“Hey, I'm done. I think I pissed Henry off. He left in a snit when I refused to try to read Coptic. I can't. He didn't test me on anything I can read either. Can we go now? I'm hungry.”

Spike shook his head. “We have to wait until the boffins do their thing. Once Giles and Dalton have all the info, we'll go have a steak. How's that?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, steak. And a baked potato and salad. Beer?” Xander licked his lips. “Yeah, beer. Real beer, not that pasteurized crap that most Americans drink.”

Spike snickered. “Learned to drink the right stuff, did you, pet?”

Xander nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but Henry came in with a handful of papers and a scowl on his face. Xander sighed. That scowl meant that he wasn't getting his steak anytime soon. Instead he was going to get the 'doesn't pay attention in class, underachiever, should work harder' speech.

Henry nodded to Giles and Tom and motioned to a large conference room. “Let's go in there. There's plenty of room to sit and spread things out. I'm a bit confused so I need to ask some questions.”

Xander sighed heavily; there went his hope of eating anytime soon. Spike poked him in the ribs and pointed to a chair. “Sit.”

“Arf.” Xander grinned at Spike, who swatted him on the shoulder.

“Stop that. We'll get you that steak, if I have to kill the cow myself.”

Henry chuckled a bit. “Ok, you two. It's not that bad. Once I was told that Mr. Harris’ secret code was Gregg Shorthand, I cleared a lot of questions off the board. The only thing I need to finish my diagnosis is a list of the languages you can read.”

Xander glanced at Spike who just raised an eyebrow at Xander. Xander rattled off the list of human languages that he could read and watched as Henry checked them against some sort of list he had.

“Ok. That's very interesting. Every language that you don't have a problem with is symbolic. And syllabic-based. Roman alphabet...hummm. I'd like you to put on these glasses and see if they help you any.”

Xander accepted the cardboard glasses and settled them on his nose. He glanced at the paper, expecting the words to start wriggling, only they didn't. He checked twice.

“Ok, that's...really strange. Why...um...how?” Xander gave up in frustration.

“It's as simple and as complicated as the human brain. For some reason that no one can figure out, sometimes the brain just decides to be...difficult. There are as many theories on why as there are theoreticians. I'm not one of them. All I do is try to figure out what's wrong and what we need to do to help. In your case what you have is dyslexia. And not that bad a case as far as I can tell. These glasses and some retraining should see you well on your way to being a reader.” He held up his hand. “I know. You claim to be able to read several languages, and I'm sure you can. There's no reason for you to lie. But that's not the problem; the problem is you can't read English. That's what we're going to fix.”

He set out several books and a different pair of glasses. “These books are a good starter and these glasses are the best grade of the cardboard ones I had you use. Their refraction is a bit better too. If you like, you can go to an optometrist and have better ones still, although these frames are very nice.”

Xander eyed the frames and decided he didn't like them much; they looked like Gargoyles, very good for shooting, but not very nice in an office. He'd ask Spike about others later.

Tom and Giles split the books between them and were lost at once. Henry only smiled and wondered at this boy who had three very powerful men caring for him. He wasn't sure exactly what the dynamics were, but the one named Tom was the lowest on the chain, then Giles, then Xander, and at the top Spike. This was very strange. Henry found himself a bit disgusted that he was never going to get this one figured out.


Xander took a deep breath of the desert night air. While he was being tested, the air had cooled while the concrete and asphalt were still pleasantly sun-warmed. He couldn't help a soft laugh.

“Well, now I know. I...”

Spike walked up behind Xander and just wrapped his arms around him. “I'm so sorry, pet. I know someone told you that you're slow. I should have...well, you wouldn't have believed me. Now that we know what's really going on, Giles and Dalton will...fix it? Is that what will happen?”

Xander shrugged. “I'm just glad I know I'm not stupid. I could read the English text...fairly well. At least the letters didn't crawl around on the page like bugs. But I really, really hate these glasses. They look like goggles. I might use them for woodworking; they might help with the inlay. I always have problems getting it symmetrical. I want neat glasses like Giles has. I like them. Small frames, intellectual. You know?”

Spike glanced at Giles, whose red face showed that he'd heard. Giles nodded then came over to tell Xander, “You can have any kind of frame you like. The lenses are prismatic and a bit difficult to make, but nowhere near impossible. You might like to have several pairs. In case of breakage, and so that you don't have to remember to carry a pair with you. It just depends.”

Xander shrugged. “Not really sure, but I guess I'll be finding out.”

Tom joined them, smiled at Xander , and said, “You won't be wearing them all the time, just for reading English or any other language that tends to crawl around. I'm really impressed at the number of languages you do read. They're all symbol-based; that was my first clue. Now I'll be working up a tutoring schedule that doesn't conflict with your other duties. Um...Master Spike?” Spike nodded. “I'd like to just go home and work on that, if you don't mind. I don't eat human food. No taste to it.”

Spike nodded. “We'll go back to the manse, and I'll take Xander out from there. We might just go upstairs to the Luxor and eat in the Tender. It has the best steaks around. Xander?”

Xander grinned. “Sounds good to me. How do we get from the manse to the Luxor?”



Spike just smirked. They were all feeling very good tonight.


Xander found that Tender's dress code was business casual, Timmins had made sure to find out the dress codes of all the best restaurants in Vegas. He liked the charcoal gray suit with its lighter grey cotton shirt. He was also very glad he didn't have to wear a tie.

“Are you sure that this is Ok?” Xander fiddled with the French cuffs, fastened with platinum cuff links.

“Quite. The suit is Armani, the shirt is made to measure Eton, and your shoes are Gucci. Yes, you're dressed properly. Relax. They'd let you in wearing rags if Master Spike wanted it.”

“That's all well and good, but I don't want that, and I don't want to embarrass him.” Xander grinned at the mirror, even though there was no reflection to smile at.

Timmins shook his head. “Would you rather have the Versace? It's very nice, too.”

Xander thought about it. “No, I like this suit. I'll save the Versace for another time.”

“As you wish. Master Spike said to give you these things.” Timmins handed Xander a plain magnetic leather money clip with a thousand dollars in fifties and hundreds, and a credit card clasped in its grip. Xander sighed. The card probably wouldn't work, but you try explaining magnetic strips to a vampire as old as Timmins. He was also handed a Blackberry Curve 8900. He tucked everything away in his pockets: the money in one trouser pocket, and the credit card in the leather Blackberry cover which he put in his inside jacket, and then he added something to the outer pocket. He patted himself down then asked. “No bulges?”

Timmins examined him carefully. “No, sir. You look fine. You better get going; you know how Master Spike hates waiting. Do you want your glasses?”

“No, those things are ugly. Make great welding goggles, but otherwise? I don't think so.”

Spike stuck his head in the door to see what was keeping Xander. “Oi, you coming or what?” A genuine smile of admiration flashed over Spike's face. “Well, hello beautiful. That suit really looks good on you.”

Xander smoothed one lapel. “It really does. But I'm going to have to talk to a tailor. I can't wear a weapon under this one. They all show. But... Steak! Now.”

Spike just nodded and motioned for Xander to follow him. He led the way down the hall between their rooms and the throne room. Just behind the throne room, the hall bent into a dead end with a rank of elevators across the back.

“You need a key to use these, or an escort. You have a key in your wallet; it looks like a blank credit card. Don't lose it.”

“Ok, I wondered what that white card was, but I figured someone would tell me sooner or later.”

Xander blinked in awe as the elevator doors opened to reveal what amounted to a small room. The couch across the back was upholstered in the finest leather, tufted and padded for comfort. There was a tiny refrigerator on one side with juice, soda and water in small bottles. Music played softly, and not Muzak, either. Spike announced the floor, and the doors closed. The elevator started smoothly and zipped them to the casino floor.

When they stepped out, Xander winced at the noise from the casino floors. The bonging of slot machines rose in a clamor that was almost painful. Spike noticed at once; the noise was very hard on his ears, but he was used to blocking out such things.

“Too loud? Would you rather go to Delmonico's?”

Xander grinned. “No, let's save that for some other occasion. I'll be Ok once we get into the restaurant. There's no way Tender's owner would allow all that noise to interfere with the conversation of their patrons. I hope.”

They entered the establishment and were shown to a table at once. Spike admitted to having a permanent reservation for this particular day and time. Xander smirked at him.

“And where else do you have a permanent reservation?” He settled himself in the chair the maitre d' pulled out and let the man ease it back under the table as he did so. He kept his hands above the table, and so did Spike when he was seated. They also let the maitre d' put their napkins in their laps for them.

Xander took the menu and examined it for a moment. Spike just smirked and waited. Xander nodded to the server when he came over. “I'll have the New Zealand porterhouse, and the Hawaiian Blue Prawns, leave off the junk, sautéed organic mushrooms, the slow roasted russet potato, and baby organic spinach salad, no tofu. Spike, will you pick a wine?”

The server started to say something about Xander calling the plate of rice pilaf, andouille sausage, and Louisiana gumbo 'junk', but shut up as he added up the cost of what he was ordering. At $128 and counting he wasn't about to snub the man. He turned to the blond and nodded, “Sir.”

Spike nodded, “I'll have the same, and Guinness for both of us.”

Xander noticed that the server hadn't asked how they wanted their steaks and, since he'd already walked off, leaned over the to whisper, “He didn't ask how we want our steaks. Why not?”

Spike chuckled indulgently. “Because, unless you want it other than rare, you have to ask.” Spike glanced around and, catching sight of a plate going by, asked, “You didn't want any oysters, or caviar? You could have either, or both, you know.”

Xander shook his head. “Some other time. I'm really in the mood for surf and turf, if you know what I mean. This place is great. I really like it.”

Xander looked around himself and had to admit that the place was really nice. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice from behind him said, “Excuse me, Master Spike, could I speak to you for a moment?”

Spike looked up and nodded. He pointed to a seat at the side of the table. “Sit there. And talk quick. If you're still here when the food arrives you can forget it.”

“It won't take me long. I'm an emissary from the Court of Las Vegas. We need to know when you're going to pick a new master of the city. Things have been getting out of hand for a while, and now that Master Goodness is dead, things are getting worse fast. I'm afraid that the humans are going to start noticing. I'm sorry to disturb you while you're eating, but we're getting desperate.”

Spike sighed. “Well, I've already picked him. In fact, this dinner was going to be a celebration, and I was going to...ease him into the idea, but if things are as bad as you say...” The vampire just nodded. “I see. Xander, you're the new Master of Las Vegas. Enjoy your steak.”

Xander just blinked for a second, then surprised Spike by saying, “Ok, complete control? Or do you want to keep your hand in?”

“Complete control with the option of yelling for me if you need to. I don't see you needing me much. If you can boss a construction crew you can deal with this. Especially as you can kill the really obnoxious ones.”

Xander shifted in the U-shaped, tufted leather chair, making it squeak. “You think I can handle them?”

Spike snorted. “Sure you can, pet. You're really scary when you want to be.”

Xander just shrugged and smiled, making the vampire representative groan silently.

The food came and Xander turned to his new minion. “What's your name?”

“Dominic Vigilante. I am...or was the third-in-command of the Court of Las Vegas. It is your option, of course, to get rid of all of us and install your own people.” He stood, bowed and waited to be dismissed.

Xander nodded to him. “Well, Dominic, I think I'll leave well enough alone. We'll see how things go.” Dominic turned to go. “Oh, Mr. Vigilante, don't expect me to make the usual jokes. Have a nice evening.”

The server put plates on the table and left. Xander started on his salad. Spike just picked at his.

“Don't like it?” Xander couldn't hide his smirk.

“It's got apples in. And they put...looks like cheese, but it doesn't taste like it. I like the rest.”

“That white stuff is tofu and the apples are Fuji. Just eat it.” Spike pouted at Xander which made him laugh. That made Spike laugh.

When they were finished with the salads, the server came to take away the plates and ask if they wanted the rest of the service all together or as separate courses. Xander said all together, and Spike nodded his agreement.

The server brought their Guinness and said, “Ten to fifteen minutes, gentlemen.”

Xander nodded, never realizing that he'd taken over from Spike. Spike just let him, enjoying watching Xander assert himself.

When the server brought the rest of their food, Xander eyed the potato on one plate, the mushrooms on another and the steak on a third and shrugged. He picked up the plate of mushrooms and slid them onto the steak then ordered another Guinness. Spike copied him and started to eat.

The steak was so tender it could be cut with a fork, the potato was mealy with a crisp herbed crust, and the mushrooms were perfect. Xander groaned softly. “Good, pet?”

“Mmmm, sooo good.” Xander had to mumble around his mouthful of steak and mushrooms.

Spike took a bite of his steak and nodded. It was perfect; as far as he was concerned, all it needed was a bit of salt.

They ate in companionable silence until Xander idly asked Spike if their prawns would come soon. Spike had forgotten about them completely, but Xander hadn't. Spike looked around, found their server and motioned him over.

“We were supposed to have prawns as well. Go check to see where they are, please.”

The server got a horrified, in a dignified sort of way, expression on his face. “I'm so sorry, sir. I'll check at once.”

It wasn't long before the server was back with an excuse. “I'm so sorry; the...someone, decided that the order had to be a mistake as no one could eat all that food and since part of the order was changed they didn't make any prawns. They'll be just a little while. I'll bring them right over. And they're comped. Compliments of the management.”

Spike nodded, and was about to speak when Xander spoke instead. “I'd like to talk to the manager, please.”

The server just nodded and left, glad that the hard-eyed blond hadn't handed him his head on a plate.

“Why'd you do that, pet? I was just getting going.”

Xander shook his head, chewing a bite of steak. He swallowed then said, “On the wrong person. Once the ticket is turned in, it's the job of the chef and the sous-chef to make sure the ticket is filled correctly. The server should have noticed, but as busy as they are tonight, I'm not surprised he didn't. Someone somewhere decided that the server didn't write things down right, but they never asked the server to check on the order. They just fixed it wrong. It's the manager’s job to go yell at them. And take the heat.”

Spike nodded to himself; this was clear proof that he'd picked right when he'd decided that Xander was the new Master of Las Vegas. “Ok, pet, I see. Can I have a shot at him or do you want to do it?”

“And why would I take that pleasure away from you? I'll learn from the best. Just make it snarky instead of loud. There's no need to upset other customers and ruin their night.”

“Got it, pet. No yelling. Never be crude enough to do that anyway.” Spike grinned, licking his lips in anticipation.

“Do not do that!” Xander grinned.

“And why not?” Spike was a bit hurt by that.

“Because it makes me want to drag you into a dark corner and fuck you until you faint.”

Spike let his jaw drop, but didn't get to comment as the manager was coming to the table.

“I understand that there's been some problem? How can I make it right?” The manager started to sweat the second he realized which table this was. He wasn't involved with Under Las Vegas, but he knew power when he saw it. He assumed that Spike was some English millionaire. From the bit of conversation he'd overheard as he walked up probably inherited down a few centuries. And Xander looked like someone who'd made their money in construction or oil. So he was sweating this one.

“Yeah, a small problem.” Xander winked at Spike to let him know that he wasn't trying to take the wind out of his sails. “Would you bring the ticket for our table and explain to us how you managed to screw up such a simple order?”

The manager turned to the server to ask for the ticket and was handed the slip of paper. He examined it carefully then looked at Spike. “I'm sorry? It's very plain. Someone changed their order and the prawns were crossed off.” He handed the ticket to Spike who looked at it, handed it to Xander and drew a deep breath.

Spike let the breath out slowly and then said, “So, you're implying that your servers are so ineffectual that they can't even write out a ticket that simple without making mistakes? Do you need to retrain them? Or are you admitting that your kitchen staff can't read simple English?” The manager shifted uncomfortably. Spike hadn't been snarky or nasty; his entire speech was made in a friendly tone of voice, interested, and rather kindly. Xander was waiting for the clincher.

“No, sir, it's just that...no one eats like that.”

“So...I'm no one then? Interesting.” Spike steepled his fingers in front of his face.

The manager decided that his best bet was to keep his mouth shut, take it on the chin, and do his best to fix it.

“Nothing else to say?” The manager shook his head, sweating even more. Spike looked at Xander. “You, pet?”

“Yes. You see, I don't like the way someone, and I'm not asking who because I really don't care, decided that they knew better what I might eat than either my server or I did. Seems a bit high and mighty to me. Why didn't they send the server to ask what was wanted, instead of making up my mind for me? I'm paying for it; I should get the final say in what I'm eating. This isn't McDonald's, you know.”

“Indeed, it is not.” The manager couldn't contain himself any longer. “I'll have words with someone very soon, you can rely on that. As soon as I find out who changed the order, they'll be washing dishes instead of cooking. Now, I'm prepared to comp anything you like. Caviar, oysters, champagne. You name it, you'll have it.”

“Death by Chocolate Cheesecake with hot fudge sauce and double whipped cream and cherries.” Xander put the last bite of his steak in his mouth and chewed contemplatively. He swallowed and glanced at Spike. He blinked then turned to see the manager staring at the polished cherry paneling behind Spike. “Cheesecake? Now?”

The manager blinked again then hurried away. He was going to have to send out for the cake.

Xander gave Spike a rather cruel smile. “That was good. No yelling, no sarcasm, exactly. But he looked like he was about to pass out. You looked like you wanted to eat him. And not in the bite him on the neck way.”

Spike shrugged. “I am actually a baronet; several centuries of ancestors and a century plus of intimidating minions and fledges helps a lot. But ...” He grinned. “You aren't too shabby yourself.”

Xander snorted. “Construction workers really don't respond well to threats of physical violence so you better have a good cold look up your sleeve. I wonder if they'll actually get me cheesecake?”

“I'm sure they will. They'll have to send out for it, but I bet the whipped cream is whipped by hand.”

Xander shrugged in a ‘we’ll see’ sort of way and finished his Guinness.

“Would you like another?” The server was right there with a slightly fearful expression on his face.

“Coffee for me. Guinness is great, but it really doesn't go well with chocolate. Spike?”

“Coffee for me, as well.” Spike smirked at Xander as the server went away to get their coffees. “About something you said earlier. You really think you could?”

Xander didn't pretend he didn't understand what Spike was talking about. “Don't know if I can, but I'd sure like to try. You?”

“All yours for one month. You want, I do.” Spike smiled at Xander in a way that made his toes curl.

Xander managed not to leer at Spike too obviously.

They had to quit their teasing when Xander's cheesecake arrived. Xander didn't bother to remark that it wasn't quite right, he was happy with what he had. Spike watched in amazement as Xander nearly inhaled it. When he was finished Xander folded his napkin and stood up. He fished in his pocket for a moment then tossed a fifty on the table. “There. I know it wasn't his fault and the server isn't going to suffer for some cook.”

Spike nodded. “We're supposed to stay at the table for the bill.”

Xander shrugged, settling his jacket over his shoulders. “I don't care. I'm ready to leave now. We'll go to the bar and pay. Come on.”

Spike followed Xander, admiring his straight back and firm buttocks. He was waiting for Xander to realize that he had taken charge of the evening with some interest.

Xander glanced back at Spike and waited for him to come to the bar. The bartender, alerted by the manager, didn't argue when Spike demanded to pay the bill there. He just shrugged and said, “It's on the house.”

Spike shook his head. He wanted a good reputation with the restaurants so he wasn't about to allow them to comp the whole meal. “No, prawns are comped because we never got them, and the cheesecake; the rest, I pay for. What's the tab?”

The bartender took a bill from under the register and eyed it for a moment. “$310, that includes the drinks.” Spike just handed the man four one hundred dollar bills, waited for his change, then handed back a ten. “Tell the manager that we'll be back.”

Xander followed Spike out the door.

“You think I impressed the right people?”

Spike nodded. “I think so. Come on, I'll take you down to the demon levels and introduce you around. After all that food, you need the walk.”

Xander just laughed. “I think we should take a walk, but to where?”

“Down to the levels below the sub-basements. Where the demons dwell.” Spike let his eyes turn yellow. “Were you rule, or die. And, pet, I can't help you much, or you'll just get ambushed.”

“You think I can handle it?” Spike nodded. “Ok, then I will. First meeting, I'll just get the lay of the land. I'd appreciate it if you'd hang around. Then we'll get together and decide who gets dusted and who doesn't. I'm not going to play patty-cake with them. I'll run it just like I would a job. Only they don't get fired; they just die.”

Spike blinked. “Um...pet? I don't remember you being this ruthless. What happened?”

“You gave me a family and a place of my own. With the girls, I was just a tag-a-long, the Zeppo, the doughnut boy. You're giving me a whole city to take care of. It's going to take all I've got to do the job. But if you think I can, then I can. Simple, easy, and when I figure out whoever told you I was nice, I'll...think of something nasty to do to them.”

Spike looked Xander over in admiration; Timmins had been right. Xander was much more than he ever let on. “Ok, pet.”

“Spike, I always thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn't read simple English, but I could read all those other languages. Now...yeah, there's something wrong with me, but I'm not stupid, just different. Different, I can handle. I feel...relieved...free. I can't exactly explain it. But I am different from my old self. You'll see. I'll do you proud. Come on, introduce me to my court.”

“Ok, this way.”

Xander followed Spike out the front entrance of the Luxor and into the car park in front; his Hummer was there waiting.

The drive to his court didn't really take that long, but Xander didn't like it.

“It's too far. I don't like this. I've got a Residence I'll never use and this drive leaves me way too exposed. Why don't we move my court to the throne room at our place? We can use the Vegas Master's Residence for guests and really impress the hell out of them.”

Spike laughed. “You're supposed to demand that your court be at least as elegant as mine, not give up your court entirely.”

“What? I don't need a more elegant throne room than yours when I can just use yours instead. And that keeps me from having to take a dangerous drive. And that reminds me, when's Mr. Yakov coming? I thought he was supposed to be here by now.”

Spike leaned back in the seat. “He got held up a bit. I'm not sure exactly why; he had to go to Israel, I think.”

“You didn't get pissy with him, did you?” Xander gave Spike a suspicious look.

“No, getting pissy with him is like getting pissy with me. Doesn't do anything but put my back up. Him, too.”

“Hmmm. Wonder what's up with him then.” Xander glanced out the window, saw that they were almost at the court, and settled back in his own seat. “We're there. You get out first?”

“Yeah, then you. Follow me into the court, I'll introduce you, and we'll see who opens their stupid gob.”

Xander gave Spike a truly predatory grin. “Ok, you going to eat them or do I get to stake them? Oh, and you do remember that I'm not armed?”

“Yeah, we need to get some things out of the back. Come here.”

Xander walked around to the back of the Hummer and waited while Spike produced his swords. Smiling, Spike handed them to Xander who just raised his eyebrows.

“You don't have to try to hide them here. They'll expect you to be armed so you might as well shove them in their faces. Jacket.” Xander handed Spike his suit jacket and Spike handed him a leather jacket instead. “Good, good. You look kick ass. Come on.”

Xander shook his head. “No, did you bring my boots?”

“Yeah, I brought your good ones...but...oh, loafers? No, just no. Boots...boots...where? Ah, here they are.” Spike produced a pair of short boots and handed them to Xander. Xander sat on the tailgate and pulled them on. They were zip-sided, soft-soled, and comfortable. “Ready now?”

Xander stood, nodded, and announced, “Ready. Let's go kick ass.”

They strode up to the doors and through them; the guards cringed back, looking confused. Spike led the way, but Xander was only a step behind him and to the right. The inner doors of the throne room opened and the two marched straight to the dais. Spike pointed to Xander.

“This is the new Master of Las Vegas. He is human, my Companion, and untouchable. Fear him. He is my right hand, my sword and my shield. He drinks my blood.”

Xander gazed over the group with a cold eye. “Anyone have anything to say? Say it now...or don't say it at all.”

There were a few titters and Xander glowered. “I don't think I said anything funny. If I tell a joke, you laugh, and I'll make sure you know it's a joke. Otherwise, no one laughs. If you do, you'll be laughing out of the other side of your head, real quick. Got me?”

There were a few nods, and a lot of ugly expressions. Xander shrugged; this was not going to end well, for someone other than him. He turned to Spike. “You want to choose or should I?”

“I'll choose, pet, I think I've still got a better eye for the real problem ones. I pick ’em, you slay ’em. Ok?”

Xander just ran his eye over the nearly empty court room. “Ok, but the pickin's are pretty slim. What's with that?”

Spike glanced at Xander out of the corner of his eye. “I stole all the good ones from you.”

Xander shrugged easily. “Oh, that's Ok then. I'll be closing this mess down like you asked. The ones who go with better be the best of the best; the rest stay here to serve the guests. Now...” He turned back to the group of twenty or so and grinned at them again. “Who do you want beheaded?”

Spiked glared around; he already knew who the troublemakers would be. Years of experience and harsh training at the hands of Angelus made him quick to figure that out.

Spike pointed the three minions he'd chosen out and said, “That one, that one, and him. Kill them for me.”

Xander just stepped off the dais and readied his tachi, the gladius he handed to Spike. “Here, hold this for me, please.”

Spike took the sword and waited for Xander to do something. He didn't. He just stood and waited. He let the chosen vampires circle him then smirked at Spike. “You remember that I'm not at my best, right?” Spike stiffened; he had forgotten, but it didn't seem to bother Xander much. He just stood there waiting for something.

When the vampires began circling him he let his head droop. One of the vampires sneered, which was his undoing. Xander drew the sword and whirled, sheathing it again. A drift of dust swirled in the breeze of its passing.

The other two vampires glanced at each other then attacked together. Xander unsheathed his sword again and leapt into the air, flipping over the head of one vampire, he landed outside the circle and whirled, sword lashing out again, another drift of dust made Spike smile. The third vampire tried to run and got four steps away from his starting place before Xander caught him. His despairing wail was cut off, just like his head. Xander's hard, cold look drifted over the remaining vampires pinning the few he thought might cause trouble with a clear warning, “Get out of line, die.”

Xander returned to Spike's side, wiping his sword on a cloth. He sneezed several times.

“You Ok?”

“Yes, a snoot full of vamp dust always does that to me. We done here?”

“No, now you hold court. I'll sit in. Just in case you need some advice.”

Xander made a pouty face. “Do I have to? You're better at this than I am. I don't know the customs and stuff.”

“Don't need to. It's your court, make up your own rules. I'm gonna. Tired of all this tradition this and tradition that. My court, my rules, get over it.”

Xander grinned. “Ok.” He turned to the room. “You heard him. And after tonight, there's going to be a combined court. Get over that, too.”

So Xander settled on his throne and listened to the complaints and needs of the remainder of his court. It didn't take him long to handle most of the problems. They were just the usual he stole my 'fill in the blank' and I want it back, and he insulted me and I want revenge, him punished, 'Daddy, make him stop’. Xander wondered how Spike kept from dusting the bunch of them and vowed to find a way to get out of this, permanently.

The last petitioner was Dominic Vigilante. He approached the dais, bowed to Xander then to Spike. Xander raised an eyebrow and Spike blandly explained, “It's your court so he bows to you first. Find out what's on his mind and let's go home.” Xander nodded to Dominic who had waited patiently until Xander and Spike were finished talking.

“I'm sorry to report that a group of...I'm not sure what kind of demons...are causing a great deal of trouble in Under Venice. We're losing revenue. Something must be done, by you. I've tried negotiating, but it didn't work. Please, I need your help.”

Xander pulled at his lower lip, making Spike bite his. “Not sure exactly what you want me to do. I'm open to suggestions, so speak up. If I don't like your idea there won't be any...trouble. I'll just tell you your idea sucks. So spit it out.”

Dominic gulped then told Xander. “The only way to handle this is to challenge the chief of the tribe to mortal combat, I think.”

Xander made a face. “Ok, that's the sort of thing that'll get me pissed. Don't know what kind of demon they are, aren't sure how to shut them down, but you expect me to do something when you know nothing. When you know what kind of demon they are and what I need to do to make them quit scaring off the paying customers, come back. Now, I'm going home and have hot ...” Spike swatted Xander. “Cocoa. Yup, with little marshmallows. The first person who laughs will have real problems. Come on, let's blow this pop stand.”

Spike snickered and led the way. Xander followed, not bothering to look back; he knew that no one would attack from behind.


Xander stopped Spike at the tail gate of the Hummer. “Where the hell did you get this? It's great, don't get me wrong.”

“I had it especially made just for you. Single extension. Three seats instead of two, U-shaped back seat, TV, wet bar, cell phone repeater, computer, and the best stereo system available. In the back there's a full weapons chest containing swords, battle axe, morning star, hand guns in 9mm, 10mm, .45, and .357 magnum calibers. Long guns in MAC-10, AR-15, and 30-06. Two sawed off shotguns, 10 gauge, and plenty of ammo. There's food, water, soft drinks from soda to juice in the wet bar with refills here, and a full medic kit. Check that out and decide if you want other stuff in it. It's rated for a platoon, but it's up to you.”

Xander smirked genially, “You know, I'm really glad you got me this. It's a real war-wagon. And I'm gonna need it. Las Vegas seems to be completely out of hand. I'm going to have a hell of a time getting it under control again. Come on, I'm done here.”

“Bossy, much?” Spike just grinned at Xander. He was wondering what Xander had on his mind besides Las Vegas.

“Yeah, my month is only two days on. Get in the car.” Xander gave Spike a no nonsense look and Spike shrugged in return. He wasn't sure what Xander had in mind, but he wasn't complaining.

“I'm nineteen years old.” Spike winced, he'd managed to miss the boy's birthday. “And I'm in fairly good health. You're always going on about vampiric recovery time; want to put it up against a horny teenager?”

Spike climbed into the Hummer then turned to look at Xander in puzzlement. “Sure, but...I'm not sure what you have in mind.”

“You never had a wank-fest with Angelus?” Spike shook his head, a slightly dazed expression on his face. “Oh, well, that's a real disappointment. Here.” Xander found his jacket, reached into the side pocket and pulled out a pillow packet of lube and tossed it to Spike, then got out one for himself. “And there's more where that came from.”

Spike couldn't help himself; he got a case of giggles that left him helplessly holding his sides. Xander just smirked at him until he got himself back together again. “And what are we going to do about the inevitable consequences of wanking?”

Xander reached over the back of the seat into the space between the back of the back seat and the weapons chest. “Timmins thinks of everything.” He tossed Spike a towel with a convenient hole right in the middle of it, neatly bound in blanket stitching in a complimentary color. Spike nearly hurt himself he laughed so hard.

Xander just unzipped his fly, arranged his own towel, and raised an eyebrow at Spike. Spike ran his tongue over his teeth, and then grinned back. They settled themselves then had to laugh again when the chauffer asked them where they wanted to go over the intercom. Xander punched the send button and said, “Cruise the Strip.” The car started away and they began.

They were soon sweating and panting. Xander flinched as Spike cried out and came hard; he followed almost immediately. Spike held out his hand, announcing, “One, and I need more lube.”

Xander handed over more of the foil pillows, opening one for himself. “There. Use all you want, there's plenty.” He settled back to wait for his breathing to come back to normal then growled as he realized that Spike was at it again. “Fuck! Already?”

Spike grunted, “Yeah.” And ejaculated hard. Xander just glared. “Go lookin' at me like that too long and your face'll freeze that way.”

Xander just snarled and went back to what he was doing. He took longer to come again and realized that tonight, two was his limit. “Damn, alright already. I give, two's it.”

Spike stroked himself to one last orgasm and smirked at Xander. “What was that about youthful enthusiasm? Just remember age and experience will overcome every time.”

“Not to mention the fact that you cheat.”

“Me?” Spike gave Xander an exaggeratedly hurt look. “What makes you say that?”

Xander narrowed his eyes at Spike. “I dunno. Evil, undead vampire? Or something.” He grinned. “But never mind, did you have fun?”

Spike laughed softly. “Any time I have orgasms with you, it's fun.” He wrinkled his nose. 'Ugh...we better clean up. This is just nasty.”

Xander concurred and handed over a tub of baby wipes, which Spike took with another laugh. “We'll go back home and take a walk in the gardens. I want to talk to you about a few things, and I want to just relax with you for a while. How do you feel?”

Xander took a moment to tell the chauffer to take them home.

“Good, I'm really recovering fast. I expected to be recuperating for at least another week.”

“My blood is really doing its job, now that you're getting enough and it's not diluted by something. I'll need to bite you again soon. I need more of your blood to solidify the link I'm forming between us. This is what makes you more than a thrall. Still like to have a few harsh words with Red...but wi—want in one hand and shit in the other.”

Xander nodded, remarking while he stuffed things into a trash bag, “Right, but what the hell, you don't see me complaining. Timmins better remember to get this out of the car. I don't want my vehicle smelling like sex.”

“When has Timmins ever forgotten anything?”

“Never.” Xander looked up. “And we're here.”

They took a small side entrance down to the gardens, Xander noticed that it was guarded by two huge demons which made him feel better about an entrance to his gardens so close to the 'front door'.

Spike opened the door to the long hall way that led down at a slant to the gardens. The hall was painted like an ancient Egyptian funerary hall. Very fancy, with lots of walking men, women, priests, and animals. Interspersed between these walking figures were panels of hieroglyphics.

Xander enjoyed looking at the figures, but laughed at one of the panels. “Oh, boy, you got cheated here.”

Spike looked at the elegant painted fresco of a bull, a priest and a queen. “Yeah? What's wrong with it?”

“Well, it's in the wrong styles, or rather the figures and the script styles aren't from the same time period, and it's...um...for lack of a better way to put it, spelled wrong.” He pointed to a line of characters. “See? This walking priest, and then double feathers, and an arm, then a basket? Doesn't mean a thing. It's nonsense. The rest of it is just a conglomeration of words strung together. This says, “Dog, grain, water, run, come, go, and...this is nonsense again.”

Spike gritted his teeth. “I'll have someone's guts for garters, I will.”

Xander put his arms around Spike, “You do that, lover. And I'll have fun redoing it. There's something really nice I'd like to have there instead of that. Come on. Let's get into the gardens and plan a few things.” He kissed Spike on the cheek with gentle affection and led him on into the gardens. Spike sighed happily and followed; it seemed he hadn't messed up as badly as he'd thought.

Part Thirty-Two

Xander ordered the parts of the mural that he had marked to be over painted in eggshell. He was checking and cross checking his references carefully. He was going to do the mural himself, and he was going to make sure that it was right.

He hummed softly as he checked his list of colors. He was going to the strip mall he was familiar with. He had to get paints, and he wanted to look at the new Two Cherries tools again. He really had all the tools he needed, but he couldn't help looking. You could never have enough tools.

He turned and nearly ran into Spike. “Damn it! I swear I'm going to put a bell on you.”

Spike grinned, leered really, at Xander. “Where are you going, pet?”

“Hardware store and a quick drop in at a tool store right next door. Wanna come?”

“In more ways than one. But this'll do for now.” Spike gave Xander one of his more lecherous looks, grinning and running his tongue over his teeth.

Xander just grinned back. “Later. I've got plans for later. Can we take bikes? I want to ride that Harley you brought me home on.”

“Sure thing, pet, if you're qualified.”

Xander drooped a bit. “I don't have a license to drive a motorcycle.”

“Don't care about a license, now, do I? Can you ride?” Spike rolled his eyes in aggravation.

“Oh, yeah, I can ride. Uncle Rory taught me. So can we?”

“Sure, I said yes, didn't I?”

They laughed together then headed for the garage. Xander had to smile a bit. He was really looking forward to their ride.

“Oh, before I forget, Yakov said your first class is tomorrow at four am. Don't be late.”

Xander just shrugged. “Ok. I just hope he doesn't kill me.”

Spike vamped before he even thought about it. “He better....”

Xander held up his hands in a surrender gesture. “Easy, easy. He won't. ‘Don't kill the students; they're payin' for the beans.’”

Spike shook his vampire face away. “Yeah, you're right. But don't say stuff like that; my demon doesn't like it.”

“Really? Why not? It's not like I believe it. He'll be rough on me, but that's fine. Rather a bruise from a friend than a stab from an enemy. Here's the garage; where's my bike?” Xander pushed the door open and stepped into the garage.

Spike followed him in and led the way to where the bikes were parked. They didn't see any attendants and that made Spike growl a bit. Xander hushed him, found the helmets and keys, and handed Spike his.

“Come on, let's go. Yell at the help later. I want to ride, and I need to get to the hardware store before it closes at nine pm.”

Spike looked at his watch and said, “It's going on seven now. Sundown isn't until seven twenty something.”

Xander sighed; the desert wasn't friendly, especially to vampires. Summer was the worst as the sun didn't go down until very late. He knew why they called it 'the city that doesn't sleep', but some days he wished it would. He liked riding a bike. He knew riding doubles with Spike was great, but he wanted to ride partners with him.

“Well, shit. That doesn't give me much time.” Xander started to put his helmet on the seat of the bike.

“Gives us plenty of time.” Spike grinned at Xander then pulled the full face helmet on; he slapped the face shield down, and Xander realized that it was mirrored. Spike pulled on gauntlets and was completely covered from head to toe. His leather pants tucked into his boots, and his jacket was mandarin-collared. It wasn't that unusual to see someone wearing full leathers, even in the desert heat. The night chill made them almost mandatory. And Nevada's helmet law made the full face common.

Xander put his own full face helmet on and mounted up.

They rode out in a staggered side-by-side formation, easing into traffic smoothly. Spike rode behind Xander for two reasons: one, he wanted to make sure Xander really knew what he was doing, and two, he wanted to look at his ass. He managed both without wrecking himself.

Xander led the way, knowing quite well exactly what Spike was doing. He vowed to follow Spike back; why should Spike be the only one to enjoy the view?

They reached the mall, parked the bikes, and ambled under the deep overhang. All the sidewalks were covered due to the hot sun of Nevada and were in heavy shade; in other words, Spike-safe.

“Nice, pet, you like this mall?” Spike pulled his helmet off and looked around.

“Yeah, I do. I used to come here after work, just to walk around and window shop. I found a store that specializes in woodworking tools. They've got some really nice stuff. Um....”

Spike laughed and announced, “You know I moved everything, including your shop.”

“Yeah, I haven't had time to do more than take a look. All that nice wood. Beautiful stuff. I want to work with it, but....”

Spike interrupted Xander, his sharp face bland. “Xander, if you want to do woodworking, just put it in your schedule and make it stick.” He eased one arm around Xander's waist. “Love, you're the boss, unless I say you're not.” He smirked at Xander who smirked back.

“Ok, I see. I think what I'll do is sit down with Mr. Dalton, Mr. Giles, and Master Chen ... oh, and Mr. Ptomkin. I'll have to figure out a schedule that'll allow me to do all the things I want to do as well as what I'm supposed to do. I'll give it to our secretary. Court is going to take a big, big bite out of my time.” Xander gave Spike a rather hopeful look.

“Can't do it. You have to hold your own court, or you'll never have the respect that you need to be my Consort.”

“Your what?” Xander gave Spike a blank look.

“Ask Giles about it. I'm crap at explaining that sort of thing. Where are we going?”

“There.” Xander pointed out the home store and headed that way. “I want paints to fix the mural and some sandpaper then I want to go to the woodworking shop and look at some tools.”

“I thought you had every tool known to man. Isn’t that enough?”

“Never. You speak sacrilege. A man can never have too many tools.”

Spike laughed and followed Xander into the store.

“And how are we going to get all this stuff back on bikes?”

Xander smirked over his shoulder. “They deliver.” He glanced around then pointed. “Over here.”

After he had spent nearly forty-five minutes spent in consultation with a clerk, Spike was ready to drag Xander away by the ear. He had matched his colors and ordered his paints, given the man the address for the delivery, and was now picking out brushes and other supplies. Spike was bored. He glanced at his watch; they'd been there over an hour.

“Ready? I'm all done; they'll deliver it in the morning.” Xander grinned at Spike. “Bored, aren't you?”

“Yeah, nearly as interesting as watching the paint dry.”

Xander's fond gaze held Spike in place for a moment then he gave Spike a rather predatory look. “Too bad. I've got a visit to the woodworking store then....” He smirked, something Spike was glad to see he was getting very good at.

“Then what? What? Xander!” Spike glared in disbelief at Xander's retreating back. Xander just laughed and kept walking.

“Oi, evil git, you are. Wait up.” Spike hurried to catch up to Xander who just grinned at him and snagged his hand.

They wandered down the mall, gazing in windows and gossiping about various things. Finally Spike asked, “Hey, where's that store? I thought you said it was right next door.”

“It is... on the other side.” He shrugged when Spike gave him a mock annoyed glare. “I wanted to window shop.”

Spike mumbled something that sounded like, “Buy all the windows you want,” then snickered.

Xander ignored him in favor of looking at wood chisels. He had his eye on a special set of Two Cherries brand mini tools made especially for working with inlay and parquetry. He really wanted them, even though he had a nice set already.

“I want these and some good polish; I'm almost out of that. And there's a new kind of plane I want. And a finger rasp, and....”

Spike just laughed, cutting Xander off in mid-babble. “Get whatever you want. But... pet, what the hell is a finger rasp?”

Xander snickered; he knew what kind of images the name engendered in Spike's ever perverted mind. “It's a small scraper that fits on the end of one finger; makes it easy to get into tight places. Pervert.”

“You know it.” Spike replied proudly. “I'm a vampire, pet. What do you expect?”

Xander just swatted him on the shoulder and returned to his shopping.

Xander finished quickly, made arrangements for delivery, and turned to Spike. “I want to just ride. Can we do that? Just go?”

“Sure, any particular place? Or just ride?” Xander gave Spike a slightly disgusted look then nodded. “Just makin' sure, love. Think you'd like to cruise the Strip?”

Xander grinned and nodded. “That'd be great. It's dark enough now, let's go.”

So they mounted their bikes and roared away, headed to cruise the Strip for an hour or two.

Spike didn't need to see a watch; his senses made him aware of the hour in plenty of time to go back home.

They entered the garage in a surprisingly sedate way, Spike in the lead. They both knew the dangers of entering a dimly lit garage from a brighter area. Even with minimal lighting, the street lights had made it dangerously blinding. They eased down the entry ramp, the growl of the motors echoing off the walls.

Spike led the way into the bay where the bikes were all parked and eased the big machine onto its kickstand. He watched in appreciation when Xander did the same, unaware that doing this made his pants stretch across his backside in a very attractive manner.

“Xander, let's go up to the street level and just walk around a bit. What cha say?”

Xander tossed his helmet to a nearby mechanic and ran his hands through his hair, flipping the war locks behind his ears. “Sure. Sounds like fun. Maybe we can visit a buffet? I'm hungry.”

“Sure, pet, buffet, whatever. But we need to be in by... nine or so. I think Giles might arrange your meeting by then. I'll call and see.” Spike fished his cell phone out of his pocket as he walked and speed dialed their secretary.

When she answered, Spike asked her about the meeting; her reply was everything that Xander could have wanted. She said that Giles had arranged it for 3am so they had plenty of time to eat, spend some time together, and still not be late. Spike flatly announced that Xander was never late to a meeting. Xander gave him a slightly puzzled look, and Spike shrugged. “They wait on you, not the other way around. Never apologize for being late, even if it's hours after time. Got me?”

Xander favored Spike with one of his more ruthless looks. “I do. Over there.” He pointed to the buffet he was interested in. “Looks nice.”

“Ok. We should talk about your ideas for a schedule while we eat. Get some things straight in your head.”

Xander thought about that as they crossed the street. “Yeah, sounds like a good idea. Present them with a preliminary schedule, a starting point. But they're going to have to adjust their schedules to meet mine, not the other way around. I'm boss, and this is the way it is.”

“That's right. Good for you, you're thinking like a boss.”

Xander shrugged, making his leather jacket creak. “I am a boss. I ran a crew. I can do things no one else can. And I can beat the pants off most of the people Master Bruce puts me up against. I even got him once.”

Spike looked suitably impressed. “Can you now? That's good. Very good. Here.” Spike handed Xander a tray with a package of utensils on it.

They made their way down the line, pointing out what they wanted. Spike was happy to see that Xander picked a well balanced meal, a bit heavy on meat, but he was still way too skinny so Spike didn't say anything.

Xander found them seats and settled with his back to a wall. “This looks really good. I bet Timmins is glad we live in Vegas now. He was always having to cook for me. This gives him time to himself. Bet that's nice for him.”

Spike sipped his coffee for a moment. “Don't think so. He's been a servant all his life and unlife. He likes serving us for some reason or other. I think he gets bored when we're not around to manage. He's been grumbling about nothing to do for days now.”

Xander thought about that for a few bites. “Oh, well... never thought of it that way. I guess we're really lucky to have him then. And I won't feel guilty about asking him to get me a wardrobe worthy of my station. I need suits, and I'm shit at picking them. Mom always said that I look like a mortician.”

“Well, it's better than looking like an escapee from the 70's. Look.” Spike nodded his head sideways.

Xander looked carefully in the direction that Spike indicated. He was amused to see two men in polyester suits standing in the doorway. They were looking right at Spike with sneers on their faces.

“What's that about?”

Spike sighed. “Not sure, but it's not going to be fun. For anyone.”

Xander just returned to eating, mumbling around a mouthful, “If they come over here, I hope their insurance is paid up. Spoil my dinner and see what you get.”

Spike sighed again. “Looks like they're headed this way.”

Xander just put his fork down and stood up.

He met the men halfway between their table and the door. Spike followed after, frowning.

Xander just stood waiting for someone to say something. Finally, one of the men cleared his throat and snapped, “You're the new boss of Vegas? We were expecting someone a bit older. We need to talk.”

Spike stepped back to let Xander handle this himself. He didn't recognize the men; he didn't need to. They were dumb muscle and not much more. He also wondered who was stupid enough to send men like this to Xander.

Xander looked at one man then the other. He decided that, as they were real humans, he'd give them the benefit of the doubt. “Ok, talk. Come to our table, I want to finish my dinner.”

He turned around just in time to see Spike stop a bus boy from taking their plates which pissed him off. He plopped rather inelegantly into his chair and picked up his fork again.

“Ok, you nearly lost me my dinner so I'm not in the mood for small talk. What do you want?”

One of the men looked at the other then snapped, “I don't want anything; my boss wants a meet.”

The other man just rubbed his face with one hand then asked, “Are you a pet, thrall, Companion, or what?”

Xander looked at Spike for the answer to that. “He's a Companion now. He started out as a thrall, but he's had enough of my blood to be a Companion.” Xander gave Spike a wide-eyed look at that comment. “An' don't look at me like that. You are, get over it.”

Xander grinned and continued eating.

“Well, both of you look damned young to me.”

Spike snarled, “I'm over a hundred. What do you want?”

“Our boss wants a meet with the Master of Las Vegas. Come on, we'll take both of you to him.”

Xander snorted. “He wants a meet, he can petition like everyone else. I'll meet with him when he makes an appointment to come to me and not before. Get up and leave.” He stayed calm, which impressed Spike. He gave both men looks that made them get up and do as he said.

“Well, that went well. Wonder who they were from.” Spike poked at his now cold food.

“Don't know, don't care. They can all come to me or go to hell, don't care which. And since when, exactly, am I a Companion instead of a thrall?”

Spike shoved his plate away and shrugged. “Since about a week ago. You've gotten enough of my blood now to make your status change. Mad?”

“No, not mad, just... I wish you would tell me stuff like that. I hate finding out the details from a third party, and that includes Giles.” Xander finished his food and got up. “Come on. I'm tired of talking with my mouth full. Let's go home.”

They looked out the window and decided it was too busy to walk back across the street. Spike led Xander into the basement, dodging the few people who might object, and led the way to a series of tunnels that got them back across the street; they found themselves in one of the service areas near the residence. Spike pointed the way to the elevator down to the residence.

Xander leaned against the wall of the elevator in a snit.

“What is it?” Spike put his arm around Xander's waist and tucked one hand into his belt.

“Just... Do you really think anyone is going to let me be master of anything?”

“No, I don't.” Xander gave Spike a tired look. “No one is going to let you do much of anything in this world. You make them suck it up and take it. You rule by ruling, not by waiting for permission.”

Xander gave Spike a thoughtful look then nodded. “Ok, I get that. So... I just tell them like it is and make it stick?”

“Yup. And how you make it stick is your business. I'll help if you need it, but you have to ask.”

Xander grumbled something in a sour tone and sort of stomped out the elevator door. Spike followed with an amused smirk pointed at Xander's back.


Spike watched Xander as he padded quietly down the ramp to the gardens. He noticed that Xander checked the patches of blank wall, touching them with a finger.

“What's that all about?”

”Just checking.” They went back up the ramp, heading toward their private quarters. “If the paint is dry enough, I'll be able to fix this. Tomorrow, I think. Or day after. Depending on one thing and another.” Spike had to snarl a bit; he'd been had and he didn't like it. “Ok, Mr. Cranky Pants, I'll deal with your cheater. I'm Master of Las Vegas; I'll call him on the carpet and get to the bottom of this.” Xander opened the door of their private quarters and pulled Spike through it. “After I get to your bottom.”

Spike let out a little whimper; this was only the beginning of his penalty. He was looking forward to what Xander had planned now. The boy had an imagination that just didn't quit. And he had endurance. Spike knew that it was due to his blood, but that didn't make it any the less pleasant.

“Spike, come here.” Spike scurried to do what Xander asked. He didn't care that it was undignified, nor that he was obeying his Companion; all he cared about was the fact that they were going to share some mind blowing sex.

Xander pulled Spike into his arms and carried him to the bed. Spike snickered into his neck, but didn't protest. Xander tossed Spike in the general direction of the bed and let him manage to land on it for himself; he wasn't some fainting damsel who couldn't take care of himself. Spike yelped once then swore at Xander in a genial sort of way.

“Oi, asshole, watch what you're doin'. I could have gotten a bruise.”

Xander leaned into the bathroom just far enough to grab a towel. “Sure you could. But you didn't. Quit whining.” He tossed the towel down on the bed and flopped on top of it. He reached over and started tearing Spike’s clothing off. Spike didn't bother to protest as Xander was tearing his own off, too.

Spike laughed happily; things were working out a lot better than he thought they would. After his mistake in losing his temper, he thought Xander would be put off of him for a while. He hadn't counted on Xander's great heart and loving forgiveness. He was really enjoying his punishment much more than he'd anticipated. Xander was a gentle and considerate lover and just kinky enough that Spike was kept wondering what was coming next. He didn't mind that as long as he was coming, sooner or later.

Xander tossed the last of their clothing onto the floor and ran a hand over Spike's belly. It was hard and smooth. “Mmmm, nice. Pretty vampire.”

Spike blinked for a second, distracted by what Xander's hands were doing. “Oi!! Not pretty! 'M not a bint!”

Spike's indignation made Xander snicker.

“No, you're most certainly not a bint. I think.” Xander grinned at Spike and continued to rub circles on his stomach. “What's a bint?”

“A girl, you git!” Spike started to say more, but Xander's hand reached its goal, and he forgot what he was going to say. When Xander's sword-calloused hand closed over his erection, his brain went out the window. All he could do was hold his breath, not that he needed to breathe, and wait to see what would happen next.

Xander leaned down and licked the head of Spike's cock. He nearly exploded right there and then. “No coming until I tell you you can.”

“Xanderrrrrr.” Spike's whine made Xander snicker with Spike's cock in his mouth. Spike nearly came just from watching this.

Xander wrapped his hand around the base of Spike's cock and squeezed gently, laughing slightly as Spike moaned. Spike decided that he was going insane; how the hell could Xander snicker and laugh with his mouth full?

Xander continued to torment Spike, licking and sucking him, until Spike could only moan and wriggle under the assault.

He finally broke, whimpering in surrender, “Xan, pet, do something. Anything. I'm losin' my mind here.”

Xander grinned cheerfully at Spike, making him glare. “Ok, roll over. On your knees.”

Spike rolled over and presented himself. Xander sighed, “You're so... if I say beautiful will you laugh at me?”

“No. But 'm not beautiful. I'm a man. I'm handsome.” Spike glowered over his shoulder. “You gonna do something, or just look.”

Xander smacked Spike on the buttock, making him yelp. “Yeah, I'm going to do something.” Xander picked up the lube from where he'd tossed it and popped open the top. The soft popping sound made Spike shiver.

“Ok, this is cold. Give me a sec.” Xander held the lube for a moment to warm it a bit then he smeared some on himself and the rest on Spike. “You need prep?”

Spike snapped, figuratively and literally, “Damn it, what the hell am I, some sort of... just fuck me already.”

Xander just slid one finger into Spike. “I'm not going to hurt you. You never hurt me. So, prep.”

Spike nearly snarled in frustration; he was hard, ready, willing, and pissed. “Damn it.”

Xander snatched his finger out and lined up. “Ok, Ok. Grumpy.”

One steady push and Xander was seated in Spike up to the hilt and easing back out again. Spike just groaned, “Oh, god,” and waited. He didn't have to wait long; Xander started a steady, slow thrusting that dragged the head of his erection over nerves that sent sparks up Spike’s spine and into his brain. All Spike could do was kneel and enjoy, a lot.

Xander kept up his motions, groaning softly, “Oh, man. Spike, you feel sooooo good. Fuck.”

Spike started rocking to meet each thrust, making Xander see stars. Xander grabbed Spike and flipped him, pulling out and jamming back in easily. Spike just grunted once and pulled his legs up to his chest. Xander leaned over and braced himself on the mattress, one hand on either side of Spike's head. Their eyes met and Xander grinned, “Nice vampire.”

“Fuck, Xander; fuck now, talk later.”


A few seconds later Spike groaned, “Let me come. Please? I'm about to lose my mind.”

Xander gritted his teeth to keep from moaning then said, “Come when you're ready.”

Spike slid his hand down his belly and grasped his erection; stroking quickly, he brought himself to completion. Xander felt the convulsions as Spike clenched around him and came as well.

They collapsed in a sweaty, happy heap on the mattress and rolled apart. Xander scrabbled for the towel, found it, and wiped himself off. He handed Spike the towel, and Spike scrubbed himself down, too. He turned to say something to Xander and found him out cold.

Spike gave him an indignant poke which produced nothing more than a grunt. “Oi, ya better not snore.” Xander mumbled, rolled over, and started snoring. “Damn it.” Spike rolled the other way and tried to go to sleep, too.


Timmins smiled to himself; he knew both Spike and Xander and knew that they would be hungry in no time. He started fixing them something to eat. He liked it that his master ate. It made Timmins happy that he could do more to please Spike than just care for his clothing and keep the residence clean. It seemed more personal somehow to fix real food, not just warm up some blood or make sure that the new member of the stable was clean and sober. He hummed a bit as he put out pork and vegetables. He was going to fix a stir-fry; with everything ready, he could cook on a moments notice. The rice would hold in the cooker for several hours. He doubted it would be done before Xander woke hungry and woke Spike up, too.

He'd spent years, decades even, doing nothing but hiding bodies and putting out clothing. It was more than boring. Now he had two bright young things to train and take care of. Spike wasn't easy to manage, but he could do it when it was really necessary. Xander on the other hand didn't need managing; he was open to suggestion and ready to listen. Timmins smiled again. Yes, life, unlife, whatever you called it, was very good.

He heard footsteps in the bathroom and put on the rice. His masters would be in very soon. They were going to be hungry and impatient. He started chopping onions, adding the chopped bits to the already prepared stuff. He paused to listen to the shower; it was running full blast, and he could hear Xander yelling at Spike for using all the towels. He could also hear Spike laughing and the rustle of towels being tossed. He turned on the kettle for the tea.

It was only a few minutes until both Spike and Xander wandered into the room. They flopped into chairs and gave Timmins identical hungry looks. He just put tea in front of both of them and turned to check on the rice.

It was done enough that he could start the stir fry and have the rice come out ready at the same time. He listened to Spike explain what he wanted for court while he cooked the meat for the stir fry.

Xander finished his tea and poured himself another cup. He checked the pot then added more water to it. Timmins nodded to show that he had seen this. Xander grinned at him and reached around him to try to snatch a bit of carrot. Timmins smacked him on the hand.

“Ow! Evil man.” Xander gave Timmins his best pout.

“I'll ride to town on that lip. Hands off the food. The stir fry will be done in just a few minutes.”

Spike laughed softly. “Guess he told you, pet. Come sit down.”

Xander sighed dramatically. “Damn. And here I was with a taste for carrot.”

Spike rolled his eyes. 'You know that pout doesn't work on me.”

“Much. Don't fool me a bit, you.” Xander poured Spike another cup of tea and put the pot aside.

Timmins smiled at the teasing. His boys were doing well. He was happy.

“Here. It's done. I'll put it in bowls with chopsticks?” They both nodded and leaned back so that Timmins could put the bowls in front of them.

Spike tasted the ginger pork and vegetables; it was spicy without being aggressive; the pork was just done and the vegetables were crisp-tender and perfect. “Mmmm, great. Timmins, you're a real treasure.”

Xander just nodded, he was too busy stuffing his face to talk; besides, Timmins had rules about table manners, and he might take away dessert.

Spike grinned at Xander; this punishment was turning out to not be so bad. “Xander? I really think I need to know where this is going. I'm all off balance; not that I'm not enjoying this, but....”

Xander pulled Spike out of his chair and onto his lap. “Ok, here's the deal. I'm treating you the way I want to be treated. You have some of the worst examples I've ever heard of.” He pouted slightly. “I still don't see why you won't let me stake Angel, or at least annoy him to death. You need really good role models to follow. Not that I'm an expert, but you get the drift?”

Spike pressed his forehead to Xander's. “Yeah, I get the drift. Completely. Here's my say. You're now my Companion; the blood exchanges have already completed the process.”

Xander didn't even flinch; he was much smarter than anybody gave him credit for and had already figured out what Spike was up to. “Ok. But that means you're my Companion, too, doesn't it?”

“Yeah. Mad?”

“Crazy mad, for you. More tea?” And just like that, the one thing Spike thought would send Xander into a tail spin was said and done with.

He accepted the tea and cake and returned to his seat, congratulating himself on dodging that bullet.

They were just finished with their meal when a high level minion stuck his head around the door, looking a bit puzzled at finding the two masters eating in a kitchen. “Excuse me. There's some trouble in one of the casinos; they want the Master of Vegas to come sort it out.”

Xander sighed and pushed away from the table. “How bad is it?”

“It's not bad, as in, no fight. But they would appreciate you getting there within the hour.”

“Ok. Timmins, set me out a suit. Something impressive, expensive, and... not too flashy.”

“Yes, sir. At once.”

Xander nodded. “I'll be picking out weapons. Spike? Advice?”

“Gun, big. Knife, easily hidden, where you can get to it quick. Bigger knife, also easy to get to. No sword. Maybe some pins, or something like that.”

“Thanks. I'll be ready in twenty minutes.”

The minion gulped; the sweetly smiling boy had just turned into something very scary. He nodded to the Master Vampires and the Master of Las Vegas and got out, going to wait by the door.

Xander went into the small armory they kept in one of the unused bedrooms and picked his weapons. He liked a common Taurus 9mm with a seventeen shot magazine. He inserted one and pulled back the slide, chambering a round then flicked the safety on. He also picked a simple chest harness and attached a sheath for his larger knife on the side opposite of the holster. He found a set of throwing pins and an arm band to hold them. He rechecked his choices and satisfied, he went to see what suit Timmins had chosen for him.

Timmins had chosen a Botany 500 suit of simple cut with a slightly nipped-waist jacket. This cut made it easy to hide a shoulder harness; and he remembered being measured for harness in Sunnydale. Timmins was always ordering him new suits; he assumed the same measurements were used for the suits and other garments that had appeared in his closet. The dark chocolate brown suit looked good combined with the soft soled shoes and bronze tie. His shirt was a lighter shade of brown linen and fit properly across his shoulders.

By the time Timmins was done fussing, he looked impressive, masculine, imperious, and ready for anything. Timmins brushed off his shoulders, straightened his tie, and told him, “You are now perfect. Don't mess with anything. Straightening your tie is a sign of discomfort or unease, don't do it. If it's crooked, just leave it. Now, go.”

Xander walked out the door, through the living area, and motioned to the minion to go first. “How far is it?”

“Just down the block. About five minutes walk. Master Spike told me to tell you that he was going out. I think he wants to be there without anyone else knowing.”

“I'm sure you're right. Don't look for him when we get there. You won't find him, and it'll clue the trouble makers in that I have back up. When we get there, introduce me to whoever I need to know then get lost.”

The minion shivered in relief. “Yes, master, thank you.”


Xander eyed the small, grey-skinned demon for a moment. “So, you're telling me that you have a problem with humans that know about us coming in and tearing up the place, and you can't do anything about it? Why not?” He wasn't going to lose his temper with this demon. He was some sort of prince or something. The introduction he'd gotten was less than good. “And explain to me again who you are exactly. Minions don't do introductions well.”

“Ah, no wonder you're confused. I am Prince Luspras of the Emrom. We are peaceful types, merchants and providers. We don't do well with violence. We have a contract with the Master of Las Vegas, whomever he is, to take care of things like this, especially with humans. Please.”

Xander nodded. “I see. So, you want me to make them go away? Or do they owe you money?”

“Both. We have the money. That's the problem; they want it back. They claim we cheated them.” He managed to look indignant and a bit angry without actually changing expression. “We don't cheat. We don't need to. Too many fools are ready to throw money our way without the work of cheating.”

Xander nodded. “Ok, didn't think you were cheating, but it's nice to hear. So... I'll just go down and see about things. Um... how much damage are you willing to put up with?”

“As much as it takes. Our reputation for handling our problems has suffered enough. I don't care if you kill them, just get our peace back.”

Xander nodded. He didn't wonder why he was doing this instead of hired muscle; he was well aware that it was a test.

Xander watched for a little while as the humans just made pests of themselves, taking drinks off the hostesses’ trays, pushing people around, and generally acting like punks.

He walked out of the observation room and into the casino proper. He looked around for a moment and realized that most of the demons in the room were peaceful sorts. The few who were not, the punks were avoiding very carefully; in fact, one actually gave a drink to a frowning, horned demon. Xander didn't recognize his kind.

After checking for exits and impediments to free movement, Xander decided that the best place to confront the group was in the blackjack pits. This casino had all the tables arranged around a large open space where the pit bosses and a few others stood or walked around, keeping an eye on the various games. It was perfect as the group insisted on jumping the velvet ropes and crossing the room through that customer forbidden area.

Xander went to the floor walker and told him to close down the tables. The demon didn't argue; he knew who Xander was. He just told the pit bosses to close the tables. There was a bit of grumbling, but not as much as Xander expected. All the gamblers just got up and walked away, gathering their chips and dispersing.

Xander watched the punks for a while more, waiting for them to notice that the blackjack tables were empty. He had to laugh when they did. The looks on their faces was one of total blank puzzlement. He wondered if they had enough brains to understand what was going on.

The group of punks jumped the velvet rope and started through the pit. Xander stepped into their way and just stood there. The inevitable happened; they got into Xander's face.

“Hey! Move! You're blockin' the way.”

Xander stood fast and just looked at the man. Another of the men changed direction and tried to back his buddy up. This put Xander, at 6'2” and not quite 260 lbs facing two men of 6' plus and around his same weight. The mismatch wasn't as obvious as it should have been.

One of the men took an amateurish swing at Xander. Xander caught his fist in one hand.

“You really shouldn't have done that.” The sound of the man's hand breaking couldn't be heard beyond a few feet away unless you were some sort of demon, but his scream of pain was heard all over the room.

The other man leapt to his companion's aid, only to find himself sailing across the velvet rope. He landed in the clear area between the rope and some slot machines. He didn't get up again.

This caused a bit of a disturbance in the watching crowd; a large demon jumped over the rope and charged Xander. Xander sighed slightly; trust some idiot to just want in on the fight. The demon met Xander's number nine, actually about a size 10 ½ , square on, right in the face. He bellowed and fell back a step. Xander followed up with a couple of quick jabs to the ribs and an uppercut left that lifted the demon off his feet and dumped him on his butt. There was polite applause from the crowd. Xander looked for his next opponent.

It didn't take long for the next one to throw himself into the fight, and all of two seconds for him to have a broken arm. Xander just grabbed him by the fist he'd swung and twisted sharply. The loud snap and scream didn't even make him blink.

Xander looked around for his next opponent and found that he was alone in the pit. The other punks had run out on their companions and disappeared. There was more polite patter, and it was all over.

Xander nodded to the pit boss who opened the tables again. Xander was proud that he hadn't made much mess. He straightened his tie, even though Timmins had told him not to. He wasn't going to go around with the knot that far off center.

The owner, Prince Luspras, approached him bowing gracefully. “Thank you so much for handling this in such a timely manner.”

“You're welcome. But the next time you call me to handle something that your security could do, I'm not going to be pleased. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes. But this is going to comfort many people. People who've felt... abandoned by their rulers. You do see my point?”

Xander thought about that for a moment then nodded. “I do. But I do not do well in tests. Remember that. And there is the old human tale of the boy who cried wolf. Yes?”

“Ah.” The demon nodded, smiling slightly. “There is that. Would you care for a drink before you go?”

Xander shook his head. “No, I'm not of age yet.”

One of the servers approached with a tray on which was an assortment of drinks, alcoholic and non; Xander took a glass of iced tea and sipped at it.

“If you will come this way. I'll show you out by the underground. And, again, thank you for coming so quickly. My people will offer tribute as usual.”

Xander nodded. “That's good.” Xander gave the prince a bland look that didn't fool him for a second. “Nice that I don't have to come back. Here, and thanks for the drink.” Xander handed the prince his glass and walked into the tunnel that led back home.


Xander entered the residence from the side door and went to his gardens; he needed to walk in the soothing, blooming place. He didn't mind fighting; he'd been fighting all his life, one way or another. What bothered him was that it was just so stupid this time. The human men were bullies and idiots, not worthy of his time. And he hated being tested.

“Oi, pet. You have a scowl on your face that'll wilt the flowers. What's up?”

“It was a test. I don't like tests at the best of times; this was really annoying. So. I've got a meeting with Giles and Tom, soon. I better go get changed, then I have to meet Yakov. I hate wasting my time on stuff like this. Hug?”

Spike wrapped Xander in his arms and nuzzled into his hair. “Sorry about that, pet, but best over as soon as possible. Now they know that you'll come if they really need you. Trust you made a show of it?”

“No, I'm not showy like you are. I just handled business and came home. I want to walk.” Xander just started off; Spike let go of him and walked beside him.

“Ok, are we going anywhere special or just wandering?”

“Just wandering. I wonder if I could... this harness doesn't fit quite right. It's binding me under my left arm. I think I'll send it back and have it reworked.” Xander jumped when a minion appeared like magic from somewhere and held out a hand for the harness. Xander stripped off his jacket and the harness, handed the harness to the minion, and put his jacket back on. “Take that to Timmins and tell him that it chafes me. Have him send it back and get it adjusted. And be very polite to him; if I hear that you've snubbed him or anything, I'll stake you. Got me?”

The minion nodded, glancing at Spike. Spike just shrugged. “He'll just stake you. I'll make you beg for it. Go.” The minion scurried off.

They walked for a while more then Xander sighed. “I better get back. I've got that meeting with my tutors and then Yakov. No sense putting it off.”

“Put it off if you want. You're my Companion; if you don't want to, don't.”

“I don't, but I want to learn, so I gotta. I better get going before I do chicken out. See you. Kiss.” Spike answered that demand with pleasure and kissed Xander until he had to draw back to breathe.


Giles looked up when Xander entered the room in a suit.

“I think I'm late. I had a little something to take care of all of a sudden.” Xander sat down at the head of the table and waited.

Tom fussed with some papers for a bit then sighed. “I'm not sure how much you understand about your condition so I'm going to start from the beginning; if you know this, we'll go on.”

Xander sighed. “I have no idea what the hell the problem is. I was tested in Sunnydale, and the counselor told my parents that I was slow. Not an idiot, but near. He also told them that I just didn't apply myself. That I could do the work, if I'd just pay attention. I'm the 'runs with scissors' boy.”

Giles just sighed. “I read his permanent record, and I must say, I've never read a more depressing document in all my days. They gave up on him before he had a chance. His tests were done in....” Giles consulted a file, “third grade and followed him like a curse. I'm not impressed. So... Mr. Dalton, what do you recommend?”

“Tutoring. Reading and writing. Math. His language skills are... excellent. Understatement there. It's a simple matter of retraining.” He held up a hand. “I said simple, not easy. It's mostly going to be drill. But you'll see results equal to effort. I promise. We set up a schedule that will allow you to do everything you need to do. It's very near the preliminary one you left with your secretary. I understand that you're going to be training with Mr. Ptomkin?” Xander nodded. “We have allowed plenty of time for that.” He slid the sheet of paper over the table to Xander.

Xander took his time looking over the paper carefully. “Ok, there's no conflict that I can see. You've left time for everything. And time for me to do nothing. Very good. Are we going to start on Monday?”

“Yes, Mr. Giles and I both thought that it would be a good idea. That gives you time to consult with Mr. Ptomkin.”

“Ok, and Yakov is going to take up a bunch more time than you think. And Sefu Bruce needs time with me, too. I'm not going to skimp on training. Giles, you know better than most how important that is. Don't over load me with homework; I really don't have time for it. And don't forget, Spike has first call on my time; he yells, I come.”

Giles nodded. “Of course. But you won't be having much homework. The thing that will help you the most is drill work. We'll be doing a lot of that. And you need several pair of glasses. I've made arrangements for you to have your eyes examined and proper glasses made, if that meets your approval. It won't take long.”

Xander nodded. “These glasses help a lot. I don't have time to go to an optometrist until next week. We might take my first class period to do that.”

Tom nodded. “That will be acceptable. I've got all the books we need and all the materials, too. So all we have to do is get started. Monday will be good. Start a schedule on a Monday, and it usually works out. So, questions?”

Xander thought for a moment. “No, not yet. Giles, anything?”

“Not really. Do you have a preference for the next tune you want to learn?”

Xander grinned. “Malaguena.”

“That's very difficult, but if you're sure?” Giles smiled.

“I'm sure I want to try. If that's all?” Tom nodded, as did Giles. “Then, I better go change and see what torture Yakov has planned for me.”


Xander changed quickly and headed for the dojo. He was really anxious to take up his training again. He knew he was just going to make it, if he ran. Minions and fledges pressed themselves to the walls as he charged by. No one wanted to get in his way; they were all afraid that he'd just run them down, and they were right.

“Sir, I'm sorry I was nearly late. I had a few too many things to take care of.” Xander panted.

“Well, I heard about the fight in the casino. I got the tapes. I'll go over them later and give you a critique. Now, I want you to show me what you remember.”

Xander nodded and went to the middle of the mat. He didn't have to wait long; the attack came almost immediately. He ducked the punch and rolled the man over his shoulder and almost off the mat. Yakov frowned. The next man got a kick in the solar plexus that left him gasping. Xander whirled and punched the last man, knocking him off his feet. Yakov just smiled a bit.

“Ok, good, good. You haven't forgotten anything. I'm pleased. Next we learn knife fighting.”

Xander just shrugged his gi into place again and settled himself, squaring his stance and grounding himself.

Yakov went to the rack and picked up a dummy knife. It looked like a real knife, but it left a blue line instead of a cut. It could bruise or raise a welt, but it couldn't cut.

“Treat this like a real knife at all times. I don't want you developing bad habits. Your opponents will all be demons or fledges with enough brains not to hurt you too badly. Do not expect me to coddle you anymore. You've had enough rest; now you're going to learn everything I can teach and learn it well. Any questions?”

Xander thought for a moment. “No, none yet. I reserve the right to ask questions.”

Yakov grinned. “Good, good. And you're going to keep working with Bruce, I take it?”

Xander nodded. “Yes, I like working with both of you. I like the challenge. But I do have to be a bit careful of my hands. Woodworking, writing, playing guitar; they all take whole hands.”

“Yes, I remember. I'm not senile yet.”

Yakov showed Xander moves, both attack and defense, and Xander practiced them. They wound up working for over two hours. When they stopped they turned to find Spike, Master Bruce, Bud, and Giles watching them. Xander sighed; this meant that he wasn't going to get back to the office anytime soon then he realized that it didn't really matter. He was the boss and he could come in anytime he wanted, or not at all. He settled on a zafu with his water and waited for the critique to start. This was going to be good.

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