Xander painted quickly, but carefully. He loved the feel of paint flowing off his brush, and now that he knew that he could do more than cover work, he really enjoyed watching something take shape. He had drawn the symbols on with a carpenter's pencil, and now all he had to do was fill in the shapes. It didn't seem more difficult than that to him. Then a little bit of stippling and some detail work, and all done. He smiled at the Horus eye he was working on.
“Eh, pet, what are you doing?” Spike walked up behind Xander. He'd seen Xander and waited until he was wiping a brush before he said anything. He didn't want to startle Xander and make him ruin his work.
“You know exactly what I'm doing. I'm making that hack look like... well, a hack. He swore to me that he had translated the text himself, but he didn't. He just copied stuff. This” Xander pointed to a cartouche. “is from one era, and that” he pointed to another “is from another. But he's used them in a mural together, as if they were from the same time frame. And this one is a real gem,” he pointed to another. “Beautiful work, really nice.” He smirked at Spike. “It's in English.”
Spike sputtered. “I thought you had all the mistakes painted over. And that's English? How do you... um... never mind.”
Xander grinned at Spike's acknowledgement of his expertise. “Well, I missed those and a couple of others. I took a photograph so I can work on fixing them up. And how do I know it's English? Because Hieroglyphics are phonetic. I bet he just went online and used one of several translation tools to translate some fairly bad English poetry into hieroglyphics, without thinking about the fact that they just change letters into phony hieroglyphics. There's actually one program that is named 'named ‘Write Like an Egyptian’. Cute, but that's about all.”
Spike glanced at Xander then laughed. Xander had a smudge of bright blue paint on his forehead and another of red on his nose.
Xander looked confused for a second then laughed, too. “Ok, how much paint do I have on my face?”
“Not much. Here, give me that.” Spike took the chemical impregnated towel from Xander and swiped at the paint. “I'll do it. You'll just muck it up.”
Xander held still while Spike cleaned off the paint.
“Want to talk to you.” Xander just grunted, poked at the drying paint to test how dry it was, then started putting paint away. “You listening?”
“Yeah. I just want to put this all away before it skins.”
“Ok. Listen, you need to do something with your court. They're all out of hand, coming to my court, and in general being a nuisance.”
“Sorry. I'll kill someone tonight; that should hold the trouble makers for a while. But seriously, I'm so busy doing all the things that you want me to, and what I want to, that I don't have time for their complaints. What should I do?”
Spike sighed; he'd been afraid of this. Xander was his Consort and Companion, but the new sort of vampires they'd found in Vegas didn't seem to understand or care. “Hammer it through their heads that you're my second, no matter if you're human or not. Make it a point to explain that, if I have to come in and take over, they're not going to like it.”
“Well, it would help if you hadn't taken all the smart ones for yourself. All I have are a bunch of idiots. I'm taking care of things I ought to be able to delegate to my seconds, which I don't actually have.”
Spike felt a bit of guilt; he hadn't thought of that when he'd stripped Xander's court of anything with a brain. “Well, shit. Sorry, pet, but it's too late to return them. They've all sworn fealty to me. Let me think about it.”
Xander just shrugged. “Ok, but I'm warning you. I don't have time to deal with all the petty shit and keep Las Vegas in line, too. It's a kind of an either/or situation. Frankly, my court is a bit of a joke, no matter how you look at it. I've got about 30 vamps, all of them newbies and low level minions, not even a fledge in the bunch. There's a few demons that have attached themselves just to be able to say they belong to The Master of Vegas.”
Spike rubbed his face and sighed. “Sorry, pet.”
“I'm too weak to deal with it.”
“Oi! Not weak. You didn't see our leathers, did you?”
Xander looked puzzled, “Leathers?”
“You tore our leathers off last night.”
Xander looked a bit embarrassed. “OH! Sorry. But... how?”
“You've been getting about an ounce and a half of my blood every day. I've been drinking from you as well. That's more than enough to make you not only my Companion, but a Claimed as well.”
Xander blinked. “Claimed? I'm just...” He made a funny sort of 'oomph' sound as Spike flattened two fingers over his lips.
“Not a thrall anymore. You've gotten way above that now. Get used to it.”
“Hmm. Ok. Does that mean I'm not a pet either?”
“Yeah, it does. Why?”
Xander smirked at Spike. “Then you have to quit calling me that. They hear you call me 'pet' and they think you mean it for real.”
Neither one of them had to clarify who “they” were. Spike sighed, “Ok, I'll quit it. Don't have to like it, but I will.”
Xander pulled Spike into his arms and kissed him until he was panting. And making an unbreathing vampire pant was something.
“So, I'm strong, am I? What else am I?”
Spike had to laugh a bit. “Handsome, smart, funny, loyal, mine. That enough?”
Xander laughed softly. “Didn't say anything about ruthless, murderous, or impressive.”
“No, that's me.”
Xander made Spike think again. “If I'm a Claimed instead of a Thrall, I have responsibilities. Taking care of you is one of them. I take my responsibilities seriously. Understand?” Spike admitted that he did, so Xander kissed him silly, not that Spike minded.
Xander finally drew back with a sigh. “I have to go. I've got training with Master Bruce then a class with Tom.”
“That's going to be fun.”
Xander managed to look both scornful and miserable. “Not. I'll just ...”
Spike nudged Xander in the ribs. “Think positively... and none of that shite about 'I'm positive I'll fail.' Got me?”
Xander nodded. “I do. Ok, I'll really give it a chance. Is Giles going to be there? Tom said something about both of them having at me.”
“Don't know. When's your eye exam?”
Xander grunted as he lifted the box of paints and brushes. “Don't know. That's what I've got Syl for. Here, it's not heavy, just awkward.”
Spike yelled indignantly after Xander as he suddenly trotted away. “Oi! And what the hell am I supposed to do with this?”
He didn't get an answer from Xander, but Timmins came out of a hidden side door and took the stuff from him. “I'll take that. I'll just put it right here where he can find it when he wants it. I was just coming to tell him to go to the dojo and then his tutoring session. Do you think he'll do well?”
Spike glanced at Timmins, saw the fond look on his face, and shrugged. “Probably. He needs some encouragement, a few successes. If he gets that, he'll do well.”
“I'll remember that.”
Xander nodded to Master Bruce, took off his shoes, then bowed properly. “Sir.”
“Well, go change.” The master was smiling a bit. This was going to be good. Xander was stronger and faster than any non-vampire student he'd ever had. He was actually looking forward to this.
Xander obeyed and came back in his Aikido hakima and gi. “I'm ready. What are we going to study today?”
“Ryu Tsui Sen.”
Xander blinked then gulped. This was the penultimate attack of his school. “Ok. I'm ready.”
Master Bruce started Xander out with a review of every cut he knew then went on to the defenses. They worked for three hours then Xander called a halt to the workout, exclaiming, “Damn! I'm gonna be late for my tutoring session if I don't leave right now. I'm sorry, master, but I have to go.”
Master Bruce nodded his permission, took Xander's sword, and sent him on his way.
Spike stepped out of the niche that he had slipped into half way through the workout. “He did well?”
“Yes, Master Spike, very well. He even has enough presence of mind to feel the passing of time. He realized he was going to be late at the same time I did. He's exceptional.”
“Not much gets past him.”
“Very true. But if you take my advice, he's not the sort to hold court. He's a protector, an enforcer, not a governor. If you understand my meaning. And holding court is making him unhappy.”
Spike considered this advice carefully. “I'll sneak in on his court. If it's that bunch of newbies doing it, I'll gut someone.”
Master Bruce thought about that for a moment. “I don't think that's so. They are out of control, but if young Xander had the right mind set, there wouldn't have been trouble from the start.”
Spike just gave a snarl and stalked out. Master Bruce gazed after him for a moment, chuckled, and went to clean and store the swords.
Xander made it to his room, into the shower, and through to clean clothing in record time. Timmins gave his shirt one last tug then handed him something.
Xander looked at the stick-like thing in his hand and smiled; it was an old-fashioned pen holder. Without its nib, it looked like any old stick, but he knew that it was an antique.
“This is really old, you sure?”
Timmins nodded. “One of my masters gave it to me when he decided that I needed to learn to read and write. I'd be honored if you'd accept it.”
Xander fingered the small thing then tucked it into his shirt pocket. “I'm honored that you'd think me worthy of it. I'm going to put it in my desk after my class. I better run or I'll be late and I don't want to start out on the wrong foot. Bye.”
Xander hurried through the corridors, noticing that everyone pressed themselves against the walls to stay out of his way. He noticed, and thought Spike was the reason.
“Hi, I'm here. Ready to learn and all that.”
Tom just pointed to a large table and told Xander to take a seat at the head of it. Xander settled in place and looked around. There was a free standing white board about four feet from the end of the table which was stacked with books. There was one seat at each side of the table, and Xander noticed that both places had papers and other implements of learning scattered around, as well as cups of tea.
Um... is there tea for me, too?”
Giles poured a cup from the tea set on a side table and pushed it across to Xander with a slight smile.
Xander took his tea and sipped it while Giles talked. He found out that today was just an overview, a chance for him to find out what they were going to be doing. He took his glasses out of the case on his belt and put them on. Giles nodded in satisfaction and Tom held out one hand. Giles handed him a quarter and they got down to business.
Xander observed the pass with some amusement then announced, “As Master of Vegas, I get one percent of any gambling done in Undertown, so watch it.”
Tom laughed while Giles's gobsmacked expression made Xander smirk.
They turned to their tutoring, and Xander found that, while Giles was well informed, Tom was phenomenal; he seemed to have an instinctive feel for exactly how to explain things to Xander. He set Xander examples which Giles had written up, and Xander worked his way through them. They made more progress in that two hour session than Xander had made in four years of high school.
Giles finally leaned back in his chair, finished his third cup of tea, and announced, “Well, I'm highly satisfied with this session. I don't know that we need as many sessions as we originally thought. Tom?”
“I think I was right. Xander is going to have to do a lot of grunt work, but he has the knowledge, just not the experience. His comparative perceptions are off. The glasses will help, but... it's hard to explain in words, but it's like seeing something new. His brain will have to be trained to recognize letters again.”
Xander sighed. “That won't be that hard, now that they don't change shapes on me every time I look at them.” He held up a hand. “That's the way it seems to me. I know they don't, but they look like they do. That's what the glasses are meant to help me with. They make the letters stay still. So what's the program?”
“We explained that you are going to have a lot of rote work to do. Copying things, drawing shapes, that sort of thing.” Tom pointed to a ring binder that he and Giles had already made up. “That's your work book . You'll be copying things out of it. And reading comprehension. I have a list of books here; read one from column A, one from column B, and two from column C. Then you do book reports on them. And Cliff Notes won't work. I ask questions that aren't in them. That's the other thing. I'll have a list of questions on each book you choose; the answers to at least sixteen out of twenty have to be in the report. And no, I'm not going to tell you the questions.”
Xander sighed. “Ok, as long as Catterbury Tails isn't required. I didn't care for that the first time around. Ye Middle Englishe isn't my bag.”
Giles laughed. “It’s Canterbury Tales, and I really think you'd like some parts. The best ones don't show up in books meant for high schoolers. But that's for another day.”
Xander examined the workbook with a scowl; it was fairly thick, and he grumbled a bit at the fact that every page was covered with text. “How long do I have to do all this?”
“As long as you need; as long as you are actually working on it every day. And we’ll go over everything you've done each afternoon before we go on. It's not as much work as it looks like. You're only supposed to copy each page once; it's the variety that's going to help, along with repetition. Anything you have trouble with, you'll copy several times. We'll know that we're getting somewhere when you can just look at a page and read it instead of having to study it.”
Xander's expression brightened. “Oh, you mean when I can read English like I can kanji or Sumerian, or Fraktu. Ok.”
Giles rubbed his face. “Damn it, you read Fraktu? So help me ...” He trailed off grimacing.
“Um... yeah? Not that big a deal. It's like shorthand. Syllabic based symbology. Simple, not easy.”
Giles just started gathering up his things, grumbling about 'moronic Council members' and 'idiot' something Xander missed out on.
Xander thanked both Tom and Giles then went to his office, told Sylvia that he was available for the next three hours, to bring him something to eat, and started copying his homework. He worked on one page at a time, copying carefully, but worrying that he was just grinding the same old mistakes deeper into his nervous system. Then he had the idea of having Sylvia proof them.
He called her in and told her what he wanted and she said that she was willing, as long as it wasn't cheating. Xander thought about that for a second then just told her to connect him with Mr Giles. She scurried to do that and his phone soon rang.
“Xander. What is it?”
It didn't take him long to explain his fear and his solution. “I see. That's very well thought out and a perfect solution. I'll explain to Sylvia exactly what is allowed and what is not.”
“Explain to me, too. She's just loyal enough to me that she might think she's helping by letting something slide.”
“Good, good. If you are copying something wrong, she's to point out the mistake and show you the correct way to do it. She is not to actually do the copying herself. Understand?”
“Yeah. Thanks. See you tomorrow. Good-bye.”
Giles replied the same and hung up. Xander cradled his handset against his cheek for a second more then hung up, too.
He went back to his work, copying one page and having Sylvia check it over for him, then going on to the next. When he looked at his watch, a very expensive present from Spike, he realized that his three scheduled hours were up and that he was about a quarter of the way through the book.
“Sylvia, is there anything on the docket for today?”
“A couple of what Master Spike calls ‘whiney shits’, and one for real problem. What do you want to do? Shall I have them convene a court?”
Xander thought about that for a second. “No, just send them in here. I've got an idea. I'll have a combination of the old master's submit a complaint form and Spike's kill 'em before they get out of hand style. What do you think?”
Sylvia allowed that she had no thoughts on the matter at all and said that she might have to get a vacuum sweeper. She removed his lunch tray when she left.
Xander looked up from a translation about fifteen minutes after he'd given Sylvia the go-ahead. “Yes?”
“Um... I... well, you see, it's like this.” The vampire paused a moment and gave Xander that arrogant, doubtful look that made Xander want to stake him.
“I don't have time to mess around with you, nor the patience to coax whatever is on your tiny mind out of your mouth. Get on with it.”
“But... you're not even a vampire, what gives you the right to judge us?” The vampire was very young, both in true age and turned, his expression was one of mixed frustration and fury.
“In two words... Spike. Said. Now get on with this or I'll call in the next idiot and you can deal yourself.”
This explanation seemed to soothe the boy’s ire so he started in on a convoluted explanation of why the guy who had a TV shouldn't have one if he couldn't.
Xander held up a hand again. “Did he steal it from you?”
“He got it for himself?”
“Yeah... but... but.”
“Stop. If he acquired it for himself, pays for the hook up, and doesn't bother anyone by playing it too loud, there's nothing I'm going to do about it. Nor is anyone else. If you think otherwise, get over it.”
“But there's no TV in the common room. Why should he have one when no one else does?”
Xander grimaced, now they were getting to the crux of the matter. “Why isn't there a TV in the common room now? There was one the last time I was there.”
“Someone broke it.” The vampire squirmed in his chair.
“Ah-ha! See, you need to go after whoever broke it. Make them replace it. If they're too high above you in rank, send them to me. Got me?”
A dawning look of comprehension and respect crossed the boys face then he nodded. “If someone was to sort of write a name on something and it kinda found its way into someone else's hand, what would you do?”
“Someone, whose name showed up on a paper, would be buying a new TV for the common room.”
He shuffled his feet a bit. “What if they didn't have any money?”
“I'll take it out in trade. Of one kind or another. That all?”
“Um... yeah. Thanks, Boss.” He shuffled out the door, mumbling to himself.
Xander sighed and realized that he actually had a second of sympathy for Principal Snyder, well, maybe a split second.
The other whiner turned out to be another of those 'he has, I want' sorts. Xander listened to him for a moment then sent him away with what Spike called a flea in his ear, a not so gentle lecture on the way the world was.
The third petitioner was a sour-faced woman who demanded to know who was going to clean up after some demon who made a nuisance of himself by trashing the common room on a regular basis, dropping beer cans and chip bags everywhere.
Xander handled this one more easily than anyone would have thought. “Can you whip him?”
“Excuse me, young... master?” She gave him a indignant look.
“Simple question, can you whip him? Doesn't seem complicated to me. Either yes, or no. And don't tell me fighting isn't lady-like, I don't care. Um... also, what did you do before you were turned? Just curious, you can politely tell me to MYOB.”
The lady shifted uncomfortably in her seat for a moment. “I was a teacher. I taught calculus at a private school.”
“I see. Well, go... teach that pig some manners. And you're in charge of the dorms from now on. If staking a few of the worst complainers doesn't do any good, come back to me.”
She gave a self-satisfied little nod then asked, “Would you mind putting that in writing? I think that would help a lot.” Xander just pulled a piece of his letterhead out of a drawer, put on his glasses, and carefully wrote the note. “That do?”
She looked at it, folded it carefully and tucked it into her purse. “I do believe so. And... you need to work on your penmanship; it's terrible.”
Xander started laughing, and laughed her right out the door.
Several days went by in a whirl of activities. Xander took music lessons once a week from Giles and used that hour to practice the rest of the time. Once, Spike came to join him in the music room and play the clavichord along with Xander. He enjoyed that a great deal and promised Spike a surprise soon.
He worked out with both Yakov and Master Bruce, brutal workouts that left him panting and weary. He realized that he was learning more than anyone, especially he himself, could have thought. He basked in Master Bruce’s approval while wondering how earning it continued to be possible.
The tutoring sessions went from daily to three times a week on the second day. That cut Xander enough slack time that he could do more woodworking than he originally had on his schedule, another pleasure.
And his gardens were coming along so well, all Xander had to do was point and express a wish, and he had it. It didn't hurt that he was as willing as ever to dive in and do it himself.
With all the things he had to do, Xander's days passed quickly.
But he hadn't forgotten his promise to Spike to give him a surprise. It arrived a bit later than Xander had expected, but the spells had taken longer than the witch had thought they would.
“Spike, come here.” Xander's crooning tone of voice made Spike grin. “I have a little pressie for you.”
“A pressie? For me? Oh, how nice.” Spike went into Xander's arms happily. He had worried a bit about his promise, but Xander had never done anything that hurt or humiliated him and the sex was great. Xander had also proven that he had a kink, sex in unexpected places.
“I'm glad you think so. Drop your pants and bend over the desk; I don't want to hurt you.”
Spike blinked for a second then laughed, dropped his jeans and bent over the desk. “You know that always confuses me a bit. Brits say, 'Drop trou.' or ‘Trousers’. Pants are what you wear under trousers.”
Xander laughed a bit. “If you wear them at all. Which you don't.”
Spike felt Xander's fingers stroking and stretching him, just enough to open him a bit. “You going to fuck me over the desk, you kinky bastard?” He grinned over his shoulder at Xander.
“No. By the time I'm done with you, you'll wish I would. Now. I'm going to put this in you and you can't let on it's there. If you do, no sex. Got me?” As he spoke Xander eased something into Spike.
“Ok. No letting on that something's up there, or that anything is out of the ordinary. Got it. If I'm good, you going to see to me proper?”
“Yes, I'll see to you good and proper. And stop that.”
Spike gave Xander a puzzled glance. “Stop what?”
“Making me speak all British and stuffy. Prat.”
Spike fell onto the desk top, laughing like a loon. He didn't think much about the egg shaped object lodged in him, the small stem that kept it from slipping all the way in him wasn't even noticeable.
Spike was sitting at his desk, reading a contract, when the egg activated for the first time. It started out as a gentle vibration which made Spike smirk. The stem swelled just a bit as well, making Spike aware that it was there. He went back to his contract with a small smile on his face.
Then next time the egg activated, Spike was walking down a corridor on the way to the gardens. It buzzed a bit harder, and the stem swelled just a bit more. Spike didn't break stride although his smirk appeared again.
Xander was working in his shop, carefully crafting an inlay for a table top. He put aside his tools when Spike said he wanted to talk to him.
“Ok, what's up?”
Spike just grinned. “I just wanted to tell you I like my pressie.”
Xander stood up and sauntered over to Spike. “Good. I'm glad you like it. You might not in a while. Depends on how good you are at denial.”
“Not just a river in Egypt. I'm fair at it. Depends on how good the reward is.”
Xander just grinned, an evil, sparkly-eyed thing that made Spike laugh out loud. “I'm thinking you're practicing to be a big bad yourself.”
“No, I'm just a little bad.” Xander kissed Spike hard enough that he tasted blood then went back to his inlay.
Spike was going to say more, but the egg activated again, vibrating against his prostate with a thrumming feeling that made him suppress a jump. The stem swelled noticeably this time.
He was prevented from noticing Xander's pleased smirk by a knock on the door frame.
“Excuse me. Can I come in?” The vampire was a young looking Hispanic who introduced himself as Jesus Gonzales.
Xander told him to come in a find a place to sit. Spike stayed long enough to find out that Jesus wanted to talk to Xander then left, adjusting his tight jeans as he went.
Xander just turned to talk to Jesus.
As the day went on the activations became stronger then started switching between a roaring vibration and thick stem that left Spike clenching his fists and shuddering to a gentle buzz that he barely felt. By the time he came in for supper, he was nearly insane with need and could hardly hide what was going on.
Xander sat down to supper with a bland expression on his face. Spike tried to match it, but failed; all he could do was gaze pleadingly at Xander. He knew better than to ask.
“If you're really good, I'll be happy to help you with your little problem.”
Spike squirmed a bit then snarled, “It's not a little problem. Damn it, you're evil, pet.”
“And you enjoy it, don't you?” Xander raised an eye brow at Spike's suddenly coy glance.
“Yeah, I do. But this thing is fiendish; it's all I can do not to... break the rules.” The egg went off, and it really was all Spike could do not to do something he shouldn't. “Damn it!”
Xander took pity on Spike and jerked his head. “Bedroom, now.”
Spike never noticed Timmins standing in the kitchen, laughing his head off.
Xander followed Spike into the bedroom and caught him around the waist as soon as he kicked the door shut.
“On the bed, now. On your knees and spread 'em.”
Spike stripped off his clothing without being told, dropping everything in a trail from the door on over. He positioned himself as he was ordered to and waited. He didn't wait long.
Xander had been stripping along with Spike and climbed onto the bed behind him. “You ready?”
“Ready as I'll ever be.” Spike relaxed, thinking Xander was going to remove the egg; he didn't. Instead it roared into life and Spike nearly fell onto his face. Xander wrapped one arm around his waist and held onto him to keep him from going down flat. Spike moaned softly then vamped.
That was what Xander had been waiting for, and when Spike was in full vampire form, he pulled the egg out and slid into Spike. The egg had provided a thin film of constant lubrication to avoid irritating delicate tissues, and as Xander pulled it, he signaled it to let out a gush of lube. He tossed the egg over his shoulder and rammed into Spike completely, burying himself in one stroke.
Spike yelled out and surged backwards. Xander quickly established a punishing rhythm that ratcheted Spike toward ecstasy at once. They rocked on the bed, their furious rhythm causing the headboard to slam against the wall, shaking a picture off its mounting.
Xander let all his weight settle onto Spike, trusting him to maintain their rhythm, and reached under Spike to grasp his cock and strip a violent orgasm from him. His own was only a second later.
“Oh, my god.” Xander rolled over and flopped off Spike. “I'm dead.”
“I'm undead, pleased ta meetcha.” Spike panted for a few seconds as Xander stifled his laughter. “Go ahead an' laugh. Evil, you're evil, that's what you are.”
“Told you, I'm studying to be the Little Bad. I nearly didn't make it. I thought I'd explode before noon.”
Spike rolled his eyes to look at Xander out of the corners. “What are you on about?”
Xander sighed, and rolled to one side to present his back to Spike. “Get that out of me will you?”
That was when Spike realized that Xander was wearing an identical egg.
The next morning Xander got up and wandered into the bathroom, the only thing on his mind, brushing his teeth.
He finished up his business and washed his hands. As he was drying them, he felt cool arms encircle him.
“Mornin', love. You awake?”
Xander just went, “Mmmmm?” and snuggled back against Spike.
“That was brilliant. What do you have planned next?”
Xander rubbed his stubbled cheek against Spike's. “Nothing. Yesterday was Day thirty.”
Spike actually looked disappointed. “You sure?”
Xander nodded, gazing at his lonely reflection in the mirror. “Yeah, I had Sylvia keep track.”
Xander shrugged, eyes twinkling in the mirror. “That just means the ball’s in your court again. Maybe we should reinstate the shows?”
Spike started to shake his head then realized that Xander couldn't see him. He turned Xander around and smiled at him. “Ok, no more shows. You're too high up on the ladder for that shit now. Unless you want to make the shows martial arts exhibitions.”
Xander thought about that for a moment. “Not a bad idea. The court needs to know what I can do. And what I will do.”
“I'll think of something for... Friday?” Spike made the last word a question.
Xander mentally reviewed his schedule then nodded. “Fine. What shall I do?”
“Talk to Master Bruce about that. I have no idea what would make a good show.” Spike gave Xander a quick kiss and left him to his ablutions.
Xander got through breakfast just in time to be called to Spike's office. He sent a fledge to tell Master Bruce and Yakov that he was going to be late, then hurried to Spike’s office to see what the problem was.
“Xander, take a look at this.” Spike handed Xander a letter.
Xander read it and shrugged. “Not that much of a problem, is it? Angel wants us to meet a representative of a new government agency. Trust issues?” He snorted softly.” And he says right here that the agent knows that he's out on a limb; we'll kill him if we can't reach an agreement. I think we might have to move headquarters if we don't reach that agreement, but other than that, I don't really see a problem. Throwaway agents, though, that does bother me some.”
Spike rubbed his face then sat down on the edge of his desk. “That's what bothers me about this letter, the fact that this agency thinks that sacrificing a man isn't a big thing. What's to say that they won't decide that sacrificing all of us isn't a good idea? See?”
Xander nodded. “Yeah, this whole thing makes me really nervous. So, what do you want to do?”
“Not really sure; first thing we do is meet this guy and see how he feels.”
“Ok. Good so far, but what do we do if he feels off?”
“Thinking about that one.” Spike frowned in thought and Xander stayed quiet, doing some thinking of his own.
Xander had a few thoughts of his own like, if Angel trusted this guy, it was possible that he was truly trustworthy. Angel wouldn't do anything to truly hurt either one of them; even if Xander didn't like Angel, he did trust him, mostly.
He began in a thoughtful voice, “I think we need to... we can't kill this guy, no matter what. It's not right, in a big ol' bad vibes way.”
Spike pulled at his lower lip for a second. “You're right, on several levels. I establish myself as someone who will take care of... small fry, no matter who they belong to, and I really increase my face. If you know what I mean?”
Xander nodded, his martial arts had made him very aware of 'face' and its importance in politics, especially vampire politics. “I do. I think we just need to hear the guy out then decide what we mean to do if we can't reach an agreement with his people. I'm sure he has parameters within which he can bargain for whatever it is they want.”
“Yes, but I'm inclined to refuse, just on general principles.”
“Cut off nose to spite face, anyone?” Xander shook his head at Spike.
Spike's sour tone made Xander snicker when he snarled. “No, but I don't like dealing with people more heartless than I am. Now go see Master Bruce and Yakov while I draft my reply.”
Xander hugged Spike, who returned the favor, then went out the door, shaking his head at Sylvia's raised eyebrow.
Xander talked to Master Bruce and Yakov. They both gave him the same advice, be armed to the teeth and go with his gut. It seemed that no one really knew who, or what, Angel was bringing with him.
So Xander dressed in leather pants, tank top, and a flowing coat that hid what Spike referred to as a multitude of sins. Mostly guns and knives, his sword, and a garrote thrown in for good measure.
He turned to Timmins and just said, “Tell Bud I want him. He's been a bit absent lately.”
“Miss Tara had need of him. I have been taking his place.”
Xander nodded. “Fine, but I need him. Tell Miss Tara that she's welcome to come to court anytime. You assign her someone.”
“As you wish.” Timmins gave Xander a small bow and left to carry out his orders. He was well pleased; his young master was turning out quite well.
Xander paced in the anteroom, swirling around his ankles as he turned. Bud watched him for a moment then announced his presence by snapping his fingers.
“Bud, haven't seen you in a while.”
“Courting takes a bit of doing. You don't mind?”
“As long as Tara is happy, I'm happy.”
Bud sighed. “I'd rather you called her Miss. I've kind of made a point of it. Hate to have to get into a fight with you about it.”
Xander grinned at Bud. “Ok, Miss it is. She's special; see that you take good care of her. Shovel talk”
Bud raised his eyebrows, but declined to ask; he knew what Xander was getting at no matter how he put it. “I'll be good to her. She's got plenty of magic to protect herself with, but...” He shrugged.
Xander nodded, one short movement of his head. “Well, let's get this damn show on the road. Do you have any idea?”
Bud shook his head. “Nope. I think Master Spike is worried about this, though.”
“Ok, on our toes, then. I just hope no one actually attacks him. I'm in a mood to kill and do it messy.”
Bud blinked at that. Xander was on edge, and that wasn't conducive to someone's health.
Xander took a second to look Bud over. Not surprisingly, he was dressed much like Xander, except that he was wearing a red tank top instead of green.
“Well, you look half decent. Come on, let’s go.”
Bud followed Xander down the aisle that led from the door to the throne.
Xander made a graceful bow to Spike then went to stand on his right-hand side. Bud bowed, too, moving to stand beside Xander. Spike nodded to both of them when they bowed, but didn't do more.
Spike was sitting on his 'throne', a chair that he had designated as one. He liked the chair, it was comfortable. He had always snorted when anyone called it a throne. He was Master of California, he didn't need a throne.
“Let the petitioner enter.” Spike waived his hand and sighed. Angel had turned California over to him, so he was now a petitioner. Angel. Spike wondered again what bloody damned mess he was bringing now.
“I'd like to bring someone before you. Someone you have no reason to trust, but I do. Just listen to him and make a decision based on what is best for all of us.”
Spike glared at Angel for a moment then nodded. “I'll do as I think best. I'll hear him, and I won't kill him, even if I decide not to agree with his... people.”
Angel relaxed visibly. “Thank you. I think that you'll find his offer more than interesting.”
Spike didn't even turn a hair when Riley Finn moved out of the doorway and walked up to stand beside Angel. Xander didn't, either. He just drew his left-hand pistol and pointed it right between his eyes. Riley flinched then steadied himself.
“I don't trust you. Bud, search him. Bring me anything that isn't clothing.” Xander's voice was stern, strong, and steady. Spike smirked at Angel. Bud obeyed.
He produced a wallet, a small pocket knife, a cell phone, a handful of coins, and a handkerchief. Xander held out a hand, “Cell.” Bud obediently brought it to him. Xander holstered his gun and opened the phone. It didn't have a GPS, and he relaxed slightly.
Spike glanced at Xander; Xander nodded, “Let him speak. There's no way he could be traced here. Not unless he knows magic, which I don't believe he does.”
A small, hesitant voice sounded from the side. “I'll check him over... if you like. Sorry to cause trouble?” Tara stepped from the side of her guard to peer anxiously from Spike to Bud to Xander.
Xander gave her a gentle smile. “Please, if it's not too much trouble.”
Tara slipped out of the crowd and just looked at Riley for a moment. “No magic. Not even... well, anything.” Tara started to go back into the crowd, but Spike motioned for her to approach him. She did, and he smiled gently; everyone was gentle around Tara. As she approached Spike, he looked her over and took a good sniff as well.
“I see you looking well. Is Bud good to you?”
Angel shifted impatiently behind Tara; Riley put a hand on his arm.
“Yes, he's very good to me. I feel safe with him. I'm sorry if you needed him.”
Xander smiled when she glanced at him. He'd needed Bud, but not enough to call for him. Now he was glad he hadn't. Things were looking good for Tara now.
“No, didn't need him. I knew where he was and could have called him.” Spike turned to Bud. “When you gonna make an honest woman of her?”
“As soon as I figure out who her... er... parent is. It's tradition, and I'd hate to have to go to my elders and tell them I didn't have proper permission. Not a good way to start a marriage.”
Spike grumbled something about tribal something then made a decision. “I will stand in loco parentis. Will that do?”
Bud thought for a moment then nodded once. He moved to kneel at Spike’s feet. “I formally request permission to begin courtship of Miss Tara McLay.”
Spike took Tara by the hand and gazed into her eyes for a moment. “Is this acceptable to you?” Tara nodded vigorously. “Very well.” He passed Tara's hand to Bud. “You may court her.” Bud grinned and tugged on Tara's hand.
They stepped away from before the dais; Bud handed Tara off to her guard then returned to his place.
While this had been going on, Angel had been getting angrier and angrier. Riley was doing his best to calm him down, but not succeeding very well. Angel was seething.
“Excuse me? If we could get to the point of these proceedings?”
Spike just smirked. “Don't do to lose your temper, Sire. Point of these proceedings is to take care of court business. You want to butt the line?” Angel growled, but Riley patted him into silence. Spike looked the court over. “I don't mind, does anyone else?” His expression was open and bland. No one objected; they were all too curious as to what was going on. “Well, no one is complaining, so go ahead.”
Riley stepped forward and found himself face to face with Xander's gun, again. “No closer. Talk, don't touch.”
Riley stopped at once. “It's not my intention to bring strife to your court. Master Spike, the Initiative is done. The human powers that be found out what was going on, and... it wasn't pretty. The installation under Sunnydale is gone. And now there's a real problem. The Master of Sunnydale is gone. You're here instead of there. We need to establish relations between you and... an entity that has been set up to coordinate relations between the demon worlds and the human. It's going to be hard... and painful. But we need to do this.”
Spike shook his head. “No. You want to make some sort of...” he waived a hand, “arrangements. Be my guest. But not with me. I'll keep to the old ways. Demons and humans need to be separate; there's too much chance of disaster.”
Riley nodded. “That's right. And my group, as its main purpose, intends to support that ideal. Humans and demons should not mix. It's too dangerous to both sides.”
Xander sighed, it was the same ol', same ol', and it wasn't going to work. “Sorry guys, but the separation of demon and human is a fallacy, and you all know it. Demons know about humans and some humans know about demons. It's not going to change, no matter how you try. What you really mean is; we need to keep the impact of humans finding out about demons to a minimum, to avoid panic. Right?”
Riley just glanced at Xander, muttered, “And another pet heard from,” then turned back to Spike.
Spike just sighed. “Finn, I don't like you, don't trust you, and don't appreciate your arrogance. Xander is not a pet, never was a pet. He's my Companion and will be my Claimed. He's also my Dextera.
Xander smirked; Spike had gotten his message. Xander was now his first in command, and from the makeup of the court, Spike had also taken over as Master of Las Vegas, or at least taken over the more aggravating court side of things. Xander breathed a silent sigh of relief. He had more than enough to do.
Spike waited for that to sink in then motioned to Xander. “Xander, show Riley Finn why you are worthy of respect.”
Xander shrugged his coat in to a more comfortable position and stepped to the fore. “Who do you want dead?”
Riley sneered a bit. Xander glared right back. “Still think I'm just the donut boy?”
“Well, I remember you fairly well. Not sayin' you're not good; just, demons are...”
“Not up to my level. Demonstration.”
Xander watched as several fledges dragged a minor Master in. The vampire had violated several rules that Spike had recently implemented. Xander had sent several of his people after him, and only one had come back. Spike had sent some of his people, and three of them came back. Now, after sending another, much larger group, after him, he was being dragged in in chains.
Spike looked at him then at Angel. “What do I do with him? Hummm? He's done everything he can think of to draw a lot of unwanted attention to Under Vegas.”
Angel shook his head. “I don't know. That's why I turned this over to you. Angelus could have done it, I can't. I'm a white hat, not a ruler.”
Xander nodded his understanding. He wasn't a white hat anymore, but he knew he wasn't crown material either. He was better as an enforcer, and that was what he was going to do right now.
“Turn him lose.” The vampires quickly unshackled the Master and got out of the way.
Riley started to step forward, but Angel caught his arm pulling him back and whispering in his ear.
Xander didn't bother to remove his coat or even try; he just pulled his sword and waited. The vampire knew he was doomed, knew it deep in his bones. That didn't keep him from wanting to take someone with him. He made the mistake of thinking that Spike was the only one who could take him.
The vampire had been a body builder in his human life and stuck with the unfortunate name of Ethelburt, which he'd changed to Burt as soon as he started school. The name seemed to have warped his perceptions, or perhaps he was just stupid.
Xander twirled his sword and watched as Burt sneered. When Xander came to guard, Burt attacked. Xander sidestepped him and pivoted to face him again. He raised an eyebrow and jerked his head in scorn. “That's all you've got? Please!”
Burt showed why he was in trouble to begin with; he pulled a knife and threw it at Xander. Xander caught it just as it whizzed by his ear. He glanced at it then tossed it aside. “Bad move. One, not a thrower. Two, you missed. Three, bad steel. You're an idiot. I might have been able to save your life, if you'd fought within the boundaries of tradition. You're toast now.”
Xander shrugged, tucking his sword away with the motion. When he shrugged again, he had a short metal rod in his hand. With a quick twist he divided it into two long straight knives, or short swords.
He began weaving a web of glittering steel between himself and his opponent. His gliding steps misled his opponent who attempted to strike, punching at his head so quickly that the humans in the court missed his blow completely. They didn't miss the hand that fell to the floor, flopping like a fish out of water. The vampire squealed and rushed Xander; he got his ear cut off for his trouble. This time his eyes widened, as his brain caught up with his body, he whimpered and backed off.
Xander followed him, careful not to leave him an opening that he could exploit. Spike watched from his throne, but not Xander; he kept his eyes on Riley Finn. Finn was watching the battle with a stunned expression on his face. Angel wasn't much better, and that really aggravated Spike.
Burt snarled like the cornered beast he was. “I have a right to feed. A right to kill. I. Am. A. Master.”
Xander shook his head. “That's were you're wrong. You're a minor master, at best. High Master Spike has set rules in place. It doesn't make any difference if you agree or not; you obey. You're not supposed to show yourself to humans; you did. You're not to leave a sloppy kill; you did that, too. Third,...”
Burt interrupted Xander, sneering; it wasn't very effective as he was crouched on the floor clutching his bleeding wrist. “What is this, a comic book? You plan to talk me to death?”
Xander glanced at Spike who just shrugged. “We'll read the whole laundry list later.”
Burt realized that this was his death knell and attacked when he thought Xander was distracted. He wasn't. Xander had rested his swords one on each shoulder, arms crossed, while Spike was speaking. Now he just waited until Burt was close enough then uncrossed his arms, scissoring the swords and cutting Burt’s head off easily. The resultant dust storm made him sneeze.
Riley glared at Angel. Angel had told him that Spike and Xander wouldn't be up to the challenge of managing California. Either Angel was misinformed, Riley didn't believe that, or he was projecting himself onto Spike. Riley felt himself relax; this was going to be easier than he'd expected.
Spike turned to Riley just as he was starting to speak.
“I'm not weak. Nor is my Companion. Speak your piece then leave. I don't want unannounced visitors either. Understand?”
Riley nodded. “What we, or rather my higher ups want, is an eye in your court. A known spy, if you will. The reason for this is simply that we need to know if things are going to get out of hand so that we can take over, if necessary.”
Spike snorted. “You can't do it. I'm still getting my territory under control; that's going to take some doing, and I can't afford to show that kind of weakness. I'm going to be doing some major traveling, and I'll leave a Secundus here. I'll also pick a few Secundii for other areas. They'll all report to me. I was going to establish Xander as one, but he makes a much better IDextera, don't you think? I don't need the aggravation of a spy, even one I know is there. Why would you think I'd allow one?”
“Angel said that you'd welcome one. Someone who'd help you gain control of your territory. We're working with him in LA, and he... well, I can see that it's not going to work. Um... now what?”
Xander leaned on Spike's throne and whispered in his ear. “They need our help. They're not going to admit it, but they do.”
Spike turned to look at Xander for a moment. “I think you're right. Angel's bitten off more than he can chew and gone running to someone for help. Don't like it.”
Spike turned to Riley. “I've made my decision. If you...” He looked at Riley then Angel. “Either one of you, need help, ask and I'll send it. Tend your city, Angel, and stay out of my business. Or you'll wind up with no city. You wanted me to be master of this territory; I am. And I intend to stay.”
Riley nodded, looking a bit sad. “That's good. But... if you lose control, we'll step in.”
Spike gave Riley a feral grin. “That's fine. If I lose control, best you do step in. I won't care because I'll be dead an' dust.”
Riley nodded. “Ah... one question?”
“Asked a bunch already, what difference is one more?” Spike gave Riley a sharp look none the less.
“If you're the Master of California, why did you set your base of operations in the middle of Nevada?”
Spike laughed. “Well, it's the middle of my territory, innit?”
Riley looked confused. “Middle of your territory? I thought you were Master of California?”
“I am. Old California. The territories were established during the colonial days, days when California was still a Spanish Possession. My territory goes from the Mississippi to the coast. Timmins, where's that damn map?”
Timmins stepped forward carrying a rolled piece of real parchment. When he unrolled it everyone could see the different territories marked out in hand drawn pen lines and rather sloppy watercolors. It was stained with what looked like old blood and who knew what.
Riley eyed the map then remarked, “That's not the Mississippi, that's more like the middle of Kansas.”
Spike looked irritated. “Damn it, I'm allowed a bit a' poetic license once in a while. Still, it's something like a third of the continental US and extends from above the Canadian border down into Mexico.”
Xander just blinked at the map for a second then started laughing. He looked at Angel, who was looking a bit stunned. “So, gave up more than you thought, didn't you? You could have lorded it over all that territory and forced your bleeding heart ideals on so many unsuspecting vampires. Good thing you abdicated when you did. You'd only have torn the whole continent into warring factions.”
Angel looked pissed. “Things have to change. The way the world is going, we're going to be reveled sooner or later.”
Xander nodded. “Yeah, things have to change. But slow and easy, sneak things up on them. You throw all this...” Xander waived a hand, encompassing more that Spike's court with the gesture, “into their faces at once and the Underworld is in trouble. Get them used to one thing at a time, and we just might make it work.”
Angel snorted, but Riley was interested and asked, “How long do you think it will take?”
Xander shrugged, glanced at Spike who just nodded. “Probably more than a hundred years, but who's counting?”
Angel grimaced, but Riley had to smile. “Yeah, who's counting. I'll notify my people that you're perfectly capable of handling your affairs yourself. If you need us, call us. We'll be around. Can we call on you?”
Spike thought about that. “Notify us if you need help.” He held up his hand, palm towards Riley. “I'll want all the info, so I can make an informed decision.” He looked at Angel then back to Riley. “Anything else?”
Xander stepped forward. “I'd like to know how you got from the Initiative to where you are now. Matter of trust, see?”
Riley sighed, rubbed his face and started telling his tale. “I found out that the Initiative was feeding us all drugs. I have no idea what all they were supposed to do. But it wasn't pleasant. Buffy had a fit. I got out, went to South America for a while. But things were getting bad on the Hellmouth, quickly. Giles wasn't answering calls,” Riley held up his hand. “And I know why. No blame there, just fact. He's more useful here. I got a call from the Order of Taraka, very classified. They wanted my help to form an organization of human and demon military forces. I liked what they told me so I joined up. Got some guarantees and such. So, I'm liaison between demon and human organizations; there’re several of us. I'm first contact a lot of times because I'm capable of defending myself, I think.” Xander snorted. “Well, unless my opponent is very well trained. All my organization wants is to make sure there are no incidents between human and demon. We're working in concert with the Order of Taraka. Or under them, I'm not really quite sure. So, that's the what.”
Spike nodded his head, understanding at last. Anyone involved with the Order of Taraka was well aware that, if it suited the Order, they were a sacrifice. He wasn't sure how useful this new organization was going to be, nor if he really supported it, but he wasn't going to deny it either. He'd just sit back and see.
“Fair enough. I'll watch you. I'm not sure about you, and I'll be plain, I think you're going to fall on your faces rather quickly. Humans aren't going to trust demons and demons are sure not going to trust humans. I think your best bet is to keep out of things and let the High Masters handle their own territories, like they've been doing for centuries, themselves.”
Xander relaxed visibly, he really wasn't interested in getting involved in the problems of other masters. Humans could deal with their trouble themselves, too.
Spike leaned against Xander's hip to tell him the same thing.
Angel sighed. “I think you're all missing the point of this. You'll do as I say. If Mr. Finn asks for something you'll give it to him.”
Spike's head rose like a snake’s. This was a threat to his authority; one Angel had no right to make.
“Sorry, pet, no deal. Finn's welcome to petition me like any other person in my territory, but no deals.”
Angel loomed over Riley and everyone near. Tara squeaked, several other individuals made similar sounds.
“You'll do as I say.” Angel vamped out and took a step forward. Xander just retreated into shadows.
“Make me.” Spike vamped as well, dropped his coat into Timmins's hands and stepped down from the dais.
Timmins eased to stand next to Xander. “Oh, shit.” Xander nodded, hissing, “No, shit.”
Angel roared and attacked Spike who met him at the apex of his charge. The smack of fist on flesh filled the air, the blows coming so fast that only a few could actually see the individual moves. Spike yowled like a cat and dropped to one knee for a moment. Angel moved to take advantage of this and got a heavy boot to the gut for his troubles. Spike bounded to his feet and followed up with another kick to the ribs and a vigorous attempt at choking Angel. Angel shook him off, and staggering back out of range, rubbed his throat for a moment. He shook his head and snarled, “Don't breathe, remember?”
Spike licked his teeth and laughed. “Yeah, I do, but it's really aggravating, ain't it?”
Xander shook his head, wishing that Spike would get it over with.
“Yes, it's really annoying. So, why?”
“Because I can.”
Spike waited a beat then kicked Angel's feet out from under him and jumped on his chest with both feet. Several of Angel’s ribs broke with audible cracks. He choked, rolled over and coughed up blood. Spike pounced on his back, trying to pull his head back into position to bite him. Angel kicked out and managed to throw Spike off, but he couldn't get his feet under himself before Spike was right back on him kicking and punching. Angel tried to grab onto Spike to wrestle him, hoping to use his greater weight to his advantage. Spike was much too quick for this and hopped out of reach. The onlookers either gasped or groaned.
When Spike cleared the way, Angel rolled to his feet and set himself in a defensive posture. Spike stayed back and watched him for a moment. This set Angel's teeth on edge and pricked him into doing something stupid. He attacked at a dead rush that left him open to any attack. If it had worked, he would have gotten Spike in a bear hug that he couldn't break out of. It didn't work. Spike skipped out of the way easily. This put Angel completely off balance, hurt and weakening quickly.
“Back off, Sire. I'm not yours to punish anymore. I'm my own person, with my own problems. You can't help. You can't fix it. You dumped this mess on me, now back off and let me do it. Give up. I don't want to have to kill you.”
Angel panted, coughing up more blood. “I don't want this either, but...” Angel eyed Spike who glared right back. “Oh, fuck it. You're right; I dumped this mess on you. Deal.” He slipped slowly to his knees and sat back on his heels. He tipped his head back in a gesture of submission. His face returned to his human appearance. “You're High Master of California; I'm only Master of Los Angeles. I submit.”
Spike moved to stand behind Angel, leaned down and bit him. He bit him right over the jugular and took one hard draw of blood from him. “Ok. Submission accepted. Timmins, take him down to the stable, introduce him to some of the people and see he's taken proper care of.” Angel started to argue. “No argument. Riley, you go with. I want you to see a proper stable.”
Riley just nodded, helped Angel to his feet, and followed Timmins out a side door.
Xander nodded his head at Riley then turned to tend to Spike. This was one of the times when Spike needed him most. Not his submission, but his strength. Spike was still on his feet, but he was hurt and swayed slightly. Xander wrapped his arms around his lover and tipped his head to one side. Spike bit into Xander’s neck, gently easing his fangs into the flesh. Xander gave a chest deep groan and relaxed against him. Spike fed carefully, taking only enough to strengthen and heal himself, without weakening Xander unduly.
“Done, greedy-guts?” Xander clung to Spike's shoulders for a second, getting his balance.
“Yeah. Ta ever so.” Spike helped Xander to the side of his throne and got him settled there, sitting on one hip in what Xander called a 'mermaid'. Xander leaned against the arm with a sigh.
The court continued around him with the usual complaints and arguments.
“Here, drink this.” Xander looked up at the voice. Tara was holding a mug out to him. It smelled of herbs and spices. “It's a strengthening tea. It'll make you feel better.”
Xander smiled, glanced at Spike who just nodded, and accepted the tea. “Thanks, Miss Tara.”
“You need me to do anything for you?”
Xander thought for a second. “Can you go check on Angel for me?”
“Sure. Bud?” Bud appeared from nowhere and took her arm. They left together, heads tipped towards each other.
It wasn't three days later that Sylvia came into his office while he was doing his homework. It hadn't taken Tom and Giles long to find that he learned a lot more quickly than they had estimated. All he really needed was for his glasses to do their job. He also needed just a bit of practice writing. He still preferred shorthand for his note though; it was faster.
“Excuse me, boss. There's someone here to see you. Says she has a translation for you to do and wants to talk to you personally.”
Xander took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. They were tired from so much writing and he was glad of the break. “Ok, as long as it's not on the no-no list, I'll take a look at it.”
“Send her right in, then?”
Xander nodded. “And bring coffee.”
Sylvia walked out the door. Xander heard a murmur of voices then Buffy came in the door.
“Hi, Xander. How are you?”
“Good, good. You?”
“Really good. Um... this is weird.”
“Not so much. Sit, please.”
Buffy sat, pinching the pleat in her trousers up like a man. “Thank you.” She dumped her huge purse on the floor.
Sylvia came back in with a coffee set and put it on Xander's desk. He picked up a cup and fixed some for Buffy. He fixed his own cup and settled back in his chair.
Xander watched Buffy for a few moments then just asked, “Ok, what do you want?”
“Nothing. I just... it's time for me to clear the decks from some of my mistakes. I was so caught up in being The Slayer, The Chosen One, that I forgot a few things; like, Giles was my Watcher for a reason. Like, you are more than a fetch and carry, even if all you do is get coffee. Like, Willow had no right to enforce her will on someone else, no matter how powerful she is. And a few other things. I'm really sorry I let her do that to you.”
Xander shrugged. “I don't really blame you. How were you supposed to keep her from working magic?”
Buffy grimaced. “In this case, saying no would have done it. I didn't see any harm in getting Spike to be your friend, and I persuaded him. Willow talked you into it. Sorry. Um... how is it working out?”
“Not bad. He spoils me rotten. Got me this nifty collar.” Xander showed Buffy his collar. “And don't go all wibble lip on me. It's a good thing. Lets people know who I am, keeps me safe, helps him find me if he needs to. I like it. Besides the sex is mind blowing.”
Buffy choked on her coffee and Xander snickered then waited until she got her throat clear.
“I hear you're training.”
“Yes, Master Bruce Chen has agreed to teach me. And Yakov Ptomkin too. He's going to have to go back to Israel soon. Shame, I really like him. And they finally found out what my problem is. I'm dyslexic.” Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Learning disability, I'm training on that, too. It's really working. You?”
Buffy shrugged. “Slaying. Not really that much to tell about it. Heard you're on call if there's a big bad around.”
“Spike and I both are. Got a problem?”
Buffy smiled. “No. Just touching base with you. Learned a bit about being political. Riley is good at that sort of thing.”
Xander nodded. “I see. You decided to get serious?”
“Council sort of dumped me, like I had VD or something. They told me, be a good girl and we'll help you. I'm not in the mood to yield to blackmail. I'll manage on my own. I've been doing fairly good so far. I just need to know if you'll back me up if I need it.”
“I'll come if you call me.” Xander sipped his coffee for a moment. “This is nice.”
Buffy smiled over the rim of her cup. “Yeah, no heart burnings or recriminations. Once more, so you'll know I really mean it, I'm really sorry about what I did. Willow... she just... I think she might have compelled me a little. I had a witch from England come over, look at me and shake her head. She made me take a bath in some stinky herb stuff. I feel more clear-headed. Willow is still in England. Giles... he doesn't talk about her.”
“Giles...” Xander trailed off. Giles was his own man. If he wanted to keep in touch with Buffy, that was his business. “I'm glad you still talk.”
“We talk. I call him about once every other week. Just to yak a bit. I miss him, but I really think he's doing more good here. Oh, and I do have a scroll. It's on yak hide or something.” Buffy fished around in her purse and found her scroll.
It was rolled up around an ebony rod, enclosed in a hammered copper sleeve decorated with gold and capped with gold caps. Xander unrolled a bit of it and smiled. “Who sold you this?”
Buffy shook her head. “I got it from a... passing Master. He said it would shake the world and stars. Kinda freaked me out. Can you read it?”
Xander unrolled a bit more of the scroll. “Did you unroll this at all?”
Buffy gave him a wide-eyed look.”Who me? Not a chance. I'm not letting any mojo loose until I know exactly what it is. What's it say?”
Xander laughed softly “Um... you really don't want to know.”
“Oh, is it bad?” Buffy bit her lip, looking worried.
Xander took pity on her. “It's a pillow book written in Sanskrit. Part of the Kama Sutra... sort of.”
Buffy blinked. “A what?”
“A pillow book. A polite term for a sex manual. In a very old language. And... if you're homosexual... it will shake the world and stars. All night long.”
Buffy gave Xander a stunned look. “That... that... shit. He swore to me that it was dangerous and... and... I'm so gonna stake him if I ever see him again.”
Xander rolled up the scroll and slid it back into its tube. He rather reluctantly handed it over the desk. Buffy held up her hands and shook her head. “Oh, no you don't. I don't have any need for that. You keep it. Enjoy.”
Xander lit up. “Well, thanks. Um... you wanna see the rest of the place?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, thanks.” She stood up and picked up her purse.
Xander stood, walked around the desk and offered Buffy his arm. She blinked a moment then took it. Xander led her through the residence ignoring the hisses of some of the younger vampires. Buffy ignored them, too.
“Would you like to meet Master Bruce and Mr. Ptomkin? Yakov has to leave soon. Tomorrow, I think. Like I said before, he's needed back in Israel for some reason. He says he'd have to kill us if he told us. I think he just likes being mysterious.”
Buffy shivered a bit at the negligent way Xander spoke about something like that.
Xander patted Buffy's shoulder. “Cold? It can be a bit chilly down here. I like it cooler in the dojo than some. Here. Sit down, and I'll see who's here.” Xander settled Buffy on a zafu and zabuton then went into the back. Buffy settled comfortably, pulling off her shoes and putting them beside her purse on the outer floor. She knew better than to walk on the dojo floor with shoes on.
Xander came back to her, followed by a Chinese man and another man who she recognized as very dangerous, no matter how unremarkable he looked. She stood and shook hands with both of them. They all settled on zafu to visit. Buffy sighed softly, it wasn't that she was uncomfortable, but she wasn't comfortable either.
“Damn, Buffy, I'm sorry. Would you be more comfortable in a gi? Or sweats? I could find you something.”
Buffy smiled at Xander. “I'd really appreciate that. I heard from Riley that you're really good. I thought... well, we might have a match. If you like?”
Xander gave her one of the silly, goofy grins she remembered so well. “That'd be great. Come with me and I'll fix you up.”
They excused themselves to Master Bruce and Yakov who both just waved them on.
It didn't take Xander long to find a locker for Buffy. He found that she had sweat pants and a sports bra in that huge purse of hers. Xander left telling her to rejoin the group when she got changed.
She returned to the group and settled comfortably. They talked about weapons, attacks, defense, and how best to fake out what demon. Buffy displayed her expertise without her usual arrogance. Xander decided that she'd had it slapped out of her somewhere along the line. It made her a lot more attractive. Xander felt Spike peek in on them and looked up. Spike raised an eyebrow, but Xander smiled at him, so he left with a wave.
Buffy turned the conversation to weapons training, and Bruce offered to show her his swords. Xander said that he could show Buffy his swords, too. Buffy enjoyed looking at them and knew better than to ask to wield one.
When she saw Xander's swords she had to smile. “Trust Spike to get you the best of the best. I'm a bit jealous.” She turned to Master Bruce. “I hear that you taught him the penultimate attack of your school. When are you going to teach him the ultimate attack?”
Xander just shook his head. “Never.”
Buffy turned to look in surprise at Xander. “Why not?”
Master Bruce took over glaring at a snickering Yakov. “Because the ultimate attack is so dangerous to teach that the student usually kills the master when he conquers it. Xander doesn't want to take that chance. The penultimate attack is more than good enough.”
Buffy blinked at Xander's stony face then shuddered again. This was not the Xander she remembered. This was a man-of-arms; a man who would do whatever he needed to do.
“I see.” She turned on her best smile and asked, “Xander, how would you like to spar with me?”
Xander glanced at Master Bruce. He nodded, so Xander agreed. He went to change into a gi.
Buffy bowed to Master Bruce, and glanced at Yakov who just nodded to her. She turned and bowed to Xander, who bowed back.
Xander stood back to let her come to him. He wanted to see if she was holding back before he let himself go. It wouldn't do to hammer her if she wasn't going full out. They spent some time testing each other. When Buffy finally let go, Xander met her head on with all he had. They fought back and forth over the floor, Buffy on the offensive then Xander. Master Bruce and Yakov both watched with appreciation. They would both critique Xander later; Buffy too, if she asked.
Buffy finally got Xander down, but she couldn't keep him down. They declared it a draw. They both jumped at the patter of applause, neither one of them had noticed the gathering observers.
Buffy flinched and pivoted on her heel, putting her back to Xander's. Xander, more used to this, just looked pleased. Buffy had changed; she'd trusted someone at her back. Xander was pleased that she thought he was worthy.
“Easy, Buffy, they do this all the time.”
Buffy dropped her hands and cleared her throat, obviously embarrassed. “Sorry. Startled me.”
“That's Ok. Used to freak me out, too.” He turned to the crowd. “Ok, people, no more to see, take off.” The crowd dispersed, chattering softly about what they'd seen.
Buffy took a bottle of water from Yakov then settled on a zafu to listen. Xander accepted a towel and water from Master Bruce with a nod. Spike eased out of the shadows where he'd been watching. He usually stayed out of sight if there was a crowd so as not to spoil their enjoyment. Now, he nodded to Buffy then sat behind Xander; Xander sighed and leaned against him.
The next hour was spent in analyzing Buffy and Xander's match, eating snacks, and drinking tea. The talk was friendly and comfortable. Spike kept his ruder remarks to himself. Buffy refrained from calling him names. Xander was happy.
Giles read the letter with a frown on his face. Willow was asking to see him. He was disinclined to do so. He'd managed to send her where she could get help. That was all he could do.
He wasn't sure she had stopped using magic inappropriately yet. He didn't want to take chances with her recovery, or Xander's new found self assurance.
I drew and painted this map to look like what I saw in my head when I described the map several chapters ago.
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