Ulterior Motives


Part Thirty-Five

Xander thought about his class work; he was well pleased with his progress. He'd been reading English on a ninth grade level, and now he was reading well above that. Giles had said something about college seniors reading worse. He was also very pleased with his handwriting. He'd always had something of a chicken scratch, but now he was using a neat, printed hand that was very legible, although he still kept his notes in shorthand as it was much quicker to write. Tim, Mr. Dalton to everyone else, was also very pleased. He and Giles had worked very hard with Xander, and and Xander appreciated it.

Xander sighed and turned back to his work. He was writing the much despised 'What I did on my summer vacation' paper. He'd snarled at Giles, who had just shrugged and said, “Sorry, it's actually a requirement. And there’re a couple of others that I despise just as much as you do, but they have to be in your record.”

“We've been at this for almost a year and I still have all sorts of stupid stuff to do to finish my requirements... again. Didn't I already graduate? I thought I did. Remember? Big snake, school go boom?”

Giles smiled. “I do indeed. But you don't have that much more to do. In fact, I think we'll cheat just a bit. A lot of what the Learning Disabilities Center wants you did in school; if I can get copies of that, I'll use them.” He sipped at the ever present tea and changed the subject. “You killed a lothrac demon last night. How?”

Xander turned red. “Well, you know they can be killed with any acid.”

“I know that. Come on, 'fess.” Giles got that stubborn look that Xander knew meant he would keep at it until he found out.

“Ok, Ok. I pissed on it. Satisfied?”

Giles started laughing and had to put down his teacup. “Oh, my. Oh, dear. That's priceless. The Sword of Vegas defeating a demon by peeing on him.”

Xander gave Giles a look. “I did knock it down first.” Then he started laughing, too. “But you know... whatever works. Spike would spank my ass good if I took unnecessary chances. There are enough necessary ones.”

Giles agreed with that one then sighed as Tom Dalton and Dominic Vigilanti came in. They were now two of Xander's captains, Spike's Secundii. Xander just sighed and stood up.

“Ok, what's the problem now?” Xander stretched out a hand for the note that Dominic offered him.

Dominic handed it to him and took an attentive stance, hands clasped in front of him in a position that betrayed his Mafia background. “Sorry, boss, but the Progress has to start now. Master Spike managed to put it off for a year, stating that he needed to get his domain in order. Now, we've got to go or they'll all claim insult. Master Spike sent that note to remind you of who all is supposed to go.”

Xander opened the note and sighed; there were nearly sixty names on the list. He now had to arrange transportation for sixty assorted beings including vampires, demons, and humans. It gave him a headache just thinking about it.

He called Sylvia to come in and bring her transcriber which she did. Then he settled behind his desk and began to think. Giles stood by to listen and offer what suggestions he could. He and Xander did this often; sometimes with Spike, sometimes without. Tom Dalton would help, too, but this was going to be a thing of the past soon as he was being assigned as a Secundus, Master of Sunnydale. In other words, he was deemed worthy of being a High Master in charge of one of the most difficult towns in the domain. Spike had elevated him just last night. Xander was very pleased by this and let Spike know it. Spike was very pleased, too. In fact, they pleased each other.

Xander pulled his attention back to the subject at hand. “Tom, when are you heading out for Sunnyhell?”

Tom settled in a chair, raising his eyebrow for permission first. At Xander's nod, both he and Dominic had sat.

“I thought I'd head out tomorrow evening. I don't need to make the Progression with you so I decided that I'd get a head start on the job. Do you need me? If so, I'll put it off.”

Xander just grinned. “No, no, go, take over. I'm just really pleased; you deserve it.”

Tom bowed from his seated position. “Thank you. I just hope I'm up to the job.”

Xander snorted. “If you can plan lesson plans, do research, and keep me on track, you can manage Sunnydale. My only suggestion is, go see Buffy; don't make her come to you. Get her on your side.”

“I've already been in contact with Miss Buffy several times. When she came to visit last time we sat down and... swapped Xander stories. We get along well. She shared her desires, her... hopes, if you will... for Sunnydale and herself. Miss Dawn has decided to stay with her father in LA and I believe that Miss Buffy is lonely. I'll make sure that she has rooms in the Masters Hall. I am not moving into the old master's quarters. They're... disgusting.”

Xander realized that he'd never actually seen the old master's quarters; Spike had had digs of his own and never used them.

“That bad?”

“Terrible. They are beneath the city in an old, buried church.”

Xander blinked. “Oh, yeah, now I remember. Not nice. You're right to get your own. You don't like Spike's place?”

“I can't take that over. It's still his. I need to show that I'm my own man, not a minion of High Master Spike's. Even though I am. Face, you know.”

Xander nodded. “You're right. You need any help getting your plans in order?”

“No, I thought I might sit in on yours and offer my input.”

Xander grinned. “Thanks, I can use it.”

So they settled in to make all the arrangements for Spike's Progression to the other territories. Between them, Xander, Dominic, Tom, and Giles finalized the arrangements in less than three hours. Sylvia left with her machine to transcribe all the notes into travel plans, vehicle lists, and seating arrangements.

Giles nodded. “Well, that's that. I'm staying here. I have no intention of subjecting myself to the annoyance of traveling with Spike. And there's this particularly interesting book I've been meaning to read. Have fun. I'll be there to see you off.” He got up and ambled out the door, whistling softly.

Xander smiled and waved to him; as the door closed he turned to Dominic and smirked. “You know damn well that he's going to spend the next month holed up with that smokin' hot blonde from the stables, don't you?”

Dominic shrugged, “And that's bad?” Xander laughed, shaking his head. “I checked her out, of course; she's Ok. Nice girl from a nice family, got a little lost. She's well educated, quiet, and off the junk. Clean as a whistle.”

“Ok, just making sure. So, we travel. Anything I need to know about?”

Dominic thought for a moment, sipping at his ever-present latte. “Not much. As you're a Claimed Companion, you're off limits to everyone. No touchie. You're also High Master Spike's Enforcer, so that gives you a lot of leeway as to what you'll tolerate. Get chesty with them; if that doesn't back them off, kill 'em. That's my advice. But what do I know?”

Xander laughed. “A lot more than me, that's for sure. But don't I have to be careful? What if the pest turns out to be a big wig?”

Dominic looked at Xander then said, “Are you trying to annoy the shit out of me, or are you just not thinking?” Xander snorted and raised an eyebrow. “Ok, cards on the table. You're only as good as the last kill you made. If you kill them, they deserved it for biting off more than they can chew. Got me? And don't let anyone except Master Spike make you back down. Ever. Our domain is bigger than any other, and we're richer than all the others put together. We're also tougher. See?”

“I do.” Xander's expression turned from considering to ruthless. “I really do. Face. It's all about face. Right?”

“Exactly. Who's got it, who wants it, and how they plan to get it, or ruin it.”

Xander sighed; he didn't like this part of his job very much. He was always afraid he'd kill the wrong person and cause trouble for Spike. He'd spent quite some time getting his head around the fact that he was Spike's right hand and enforcer. He'd always thought of a Claimed Companion as some sort of senior pet or something. Spike hadn't taken long to get that all sorted out. A Claimed Companion was a non-vampire who was the sole companion to a High Master Vampire with whom he shared sex and blood regularly. Xander wondered from time to time how he'd gotten to be so lucky.

“Ok, I know that, I really do. Come on, let's go find Spike and get his input. If we don't, we'll just have it all to do again, perverse fuck that he is.”

Dominic grinned at Xander's fond tone and nodded. “That he is, but you'll never hear me say it to his face. He'd just rip mine off.”

Xander agreed that this was probably so then realized that Spike would have to beat him to it. He could insult Spike all he wanted to, but no one else could. He chuckled to himself at the thought.

“Yeah, well, let's get to it. I want all this approved and done. I don't leave things until the last minute.” He started out the door, but paused when his cell phone rang. “Buffy! Hi! No, we're going on Progression starting next week, or as soon as Spike approves the arrangements and we actually implement them.” He listened for a moment then laughed. “Not so much. I'm the Enforcer, and they really do jump when I say 'frog'.” Dominic had to grin a bit; his vampiric hearing allowed him to follow both ends of the conversation. Buffy was asking why. “Because I'll kill them if they don't. I'm a High Master's Companion, Claimed or whatever. Now, you called? What for? Not trying to be rude, just busy.” Buffy replied that she was just checking up on her counterpart, the new Master of the Hellmouth. “Oh, Dalton will be there day after tomorrow. He's leaving tomorrow evening. If you need his itinerary, call Sylvia. I don't have a clue.”

Buffy talked for a few more seconds then said 'good-bye' and hung up. Xander ended the call and pocketed his Blackberry.

They walked across the reception area to Spike's office and found him on the phone as well, with Angel. Xander groaned; it always put Spike in a rotten mood. “No nookie for me tonight. Damn.”

Dominic just sighed. No sex usually put Xander in a bad mood, too. He didn't take it out on others like Spike sometimes did, but it did make him sharp-tongued. He settled himself with his back to the door, heels against it. Old habits died hard.

“Spike, here's the arrangements. Tell Angel to fuck off and let's get down to business.”

Spike grinned at Xander and said into the phone, “Naff off, Peaches. We'll take care of that, if you haven't, when we get back. That gives you about three to four weeks.”

Xander rubbed his face. “What's he panicking about now? I swear, he's the worst broody old woman ever.”

“Got that right. He says someone is trying to take over the gangs in LA, but he doesn't know who.”

Xander snorted. “I know that one. It's a couple of minor chaos mages. I sent Bud and Tara to take care of it.”

Spike grinned. “Oh, Ok. And how's the courting going?”

“Great. That's one of the reasons Bud took Miss Tara with him, to prove that she's worthy of standing by his side.”

Spike grew still in a way only a vampire can. “Worthy? That wanker better never say she isn't.”

Xander nodded. “He's not, calm down. It's just part of the courting ritual. Tara's thrilled. Bud's about to bust his buttons that they've made it this far so fast. Now, we're here to discuss the arrangements for the Progression. Sit. Tea.”

Spike sat and ordered tea which Sylvia brought at once. She also brought the typed up notes and itinerary.

Xander accepted them with a smile. “Still the fastest typist in the world.”

Sylvia wiggled her fingers. “Vampiric speed and a word-to-text program work wonders. There's probably still some typos in there, but I figured speed was more important. They're just the rough notes anyway, I'll type them up nice when they're approved.” She grinned at Dominic on her way out. “More coffee?” Dominic eyed his cup then shook his head. “Ring if you need me; I'll hang around until you're done.” She shut the door on her way out and Dominic started to reassume his position.

“Nick, sit down. You make me nervous, standing around like that.” Spike pointed to a chair.

Dominic sat down with a shrug. “Ok, boss, sorry about that.”

Xander snorted. “No, you're not. But that's Ok, I like it that you're always on guard.” He turned to Spike and pointed to the papers. “Go over all that and make your changes then we'll argue about them and finalize them. I don't want to wait until the last minute to give them to Timmins. He'll probably have some input as well.”

Spike thought about that for a moment. “And why didn't Timmins do this in the first place?”

Xander sighed heavily, putting on a disgruntled expression. “He said I needed to know how to do all this and just threw me to the wolves. Bastard.”

“I believe his parents were married. And he's right, you do need to know how to do this; so, who helped you?”

“Giles, Dominic, and Tom. We brainstormed it. Think tank sort of thing. I don't see any need for me to try to figure out all this sort of thing by myself when I have help like that. Doesn't make sense and it's a waste besides.” Xander sipped at the hot tea.

Spike lifted his cup in a silent salute and sipped, too. “Nice. I do like Oolong. How's yours?”

Xander took another sip of the smoky Russian Caravan. “Good. Strange how I like my coffee loaded and my tea plain. So, you going to read that, or just use it for a coaster?”

Spike snarled at Xander in a half-hearted fashion and started to read. It took him two cups of tea and thirty minutes to do it. When he was done, he put the last page down and nodded. “Looks good to me. Everyone has a ticket with their vehicle and seat numbers, and a firm no trading policy. I like it. You did good, Xan. I'm impressed.”

Xander gave Spike an adoring look; he'd gotten over being shy about such things, finally. “Thanks. I'll hand all this to Timmins and get him started on the final arrangements. I'll handle policing, but I don't think there'll be much argument.”

“And if there is?” Spike waited coldly for an answer.

Xander grinned at Spike, all teeth and no humor. “I'll handle it.”

Spike relaxed and gave Xander an approving smile that made Dominic roll his eyes. He sometimes wondered how the hell two of the most ruthless men he knew could be such saps.


It didn't take Timmins long to look over the arrangements and approve them. He had admitted that he was impressed with Xander's planning even when Xander admitted that he'd had a lot of help. Timmins only remarked that a Dextera was too important to waste his time making plans that someone else could do just as well. He delegated then approved. Xander had nodded then remarked, “Yes, but you also say I have to know how to do it myself before I can know whether or not the plans will work. I think I agree with you.”

Now they were well on their way to New Orleans, with a stop over in San Antonio TX on the way. Xander was glad for the closed Winnebago driven by a human driver. They didn't have to lay over somewhere in between. At the speed limit, they were going to be on the road for over nineteen hours, but he didn't want to risk staying somewhere between Vegas and San Antonio. There was too much risk. Some cleaning woman might open curtains on them, or some random demon hunter walk in on the crew. Some priest might decide to bless the strangers. And who knew what might happen out in the middle of nowhere not to mention in Phoenix, Tucson, or El Paso. Xander sighed and bit his lip. It was too bad flying hadn’t been an option. He’d have been willing to charter a jet, but there was still an issue of his weapons which he wasn’t traveling without. Then, too, there was all the associated baggage that went with the entourage.

Spike looked up from the book he was reading. “What's that huge sigh about?”

“I don't like this. There's way too much that could happen. What if...'

Spike held up a hand. “What if, what if. You're going to worry yourself old and gray. Stop it. We'll be fine.”

Xander grumbled a bit, but tried to stop worrying.

They drove through the day and ended in San Antonio at around ten that night. The night was more or less uneventful, for which Xander was grateful. The wake-up call nearly got the bellboy eaten, but that was his fault. Xander had expressly asked for a call, not a door knock. He thought it was hilarious that Spike called it a 'knock up'. Spike's indignant “Oi!” when he cracked up made him laugh even more.

Xander was really glad that there was no master in San Antonio. He didn't want to deal with a court after all that traveling with more to come. Spike had announced that he was going to install a master as soon as he got back from the Progression. But it wasn't that big a deal; San Antonio was a quiet town.

The next day saw them through Houston, again quietly. Xander thanked his lucky stars. Traveling with 60 or so assorted demons, vampires, and humans was guaranteed to result in some disaster or other. It was just a matter of time. He decided to put his worries away until it was time. He'd planned as best he could for any thing he could think of and that was the best he could do. Spike didn't seem worried at all, so Xander decided to copy his attitude and just enjoy things.

The six or so hours from Houston to New Orleans were accomplished in daylight and they arrived at the obscure hotel well before sundown. The whole trip from San Antonio through Houston and on to New Orleans had taken a grand total of nine hours; traffic through Houston had been heavy, but not excessively so.

Xander thought he was going to die from boredom before they got to their destination. When they did, he perked up.

“Spike, it's really beautiful. Why's it called obscure?” Xander eyed the huge old building.

Spike didn’t answer as he hurried from the RV to the door; the canopy was large, but he wasn't taking chances. Rather embarrassing to burst into flames the first day visiting. He was followed by a contingent of demons and vampires, some holding umbrellas over their heads. Xander noticed one demon carrying a pink-flowered parasol; this was particularly disturbing as the demon was large, gray, and looked somewhat like a cross between a squid and a hippo. Xander followed Spike when he was sure the traveling court was calm. He did not want a fight in the foyer.

It took them all of an hour to get everyone checked in and to their assigned rooms. Some went to the underground rooms and others took rooms on the ground and second floors. Xander wasn't too happy about having his people all over the hotel until the manager pointed out that they were all on the same stair case and connected; also, that he'd shut off their sections from the rest of the hotel. Xander relaxed. He wasn't sure what was bothering him, but something was.

“Pet?” Spike still called Xander pet, but only in private, usually when he was worried about something.


“What is it?”

Xander shrugged irritably. “Not sure, I just don't like having people on three different levels. Feels... off. I wish we were all on one floor. The manager said we're isolated by having the corridors shut off... but... I'm not sure. I just don't like it.”

“I'll talk to the wanker. If you want us all on one floor, pick one, I'll see that we're all on it.”

Xander thought for a moment. “No, I'm in charge of this circus, I'll do it. I was just wondering if I'm being silly or there really is something to worry about.”

Spike patted him on the back then rubbed it in soothing circles for a moment. “If it bothers you, fix it. You're feeling something, we'll cater to it. So, go, fix it then come to our rooms.”

Xander nodded. “Ok. I'll be back as soon as I can.”


Xander motioned to the manager and eased him into a corner of the lobby; he didn't want to cause a real scene unless it was necessary.

“I'd like you to make arrangements to bring everyone in my party to the underground level. I don't like having my people spread all over the hotel.” Xander kept his expression neutral, not friendly, but not adversarial; yet.

“Now, see here, young man, all the arrangements were approved by the Master's companion. “

Xander sighed and rubbed his face, this was going to be a pain. “No, they weren't.”

“I assure you, they were. Now, why don't you run along and find your rooms.”

Xander flexed a bit, making his chest ripple. “I'm in the Royal Suite with my Master. He doesn't like the idea of our people spread across three floors, either. See to changing the rooms, please.” Xander's tone was still polite, but a touch of a chill had crept in.

The manager sensed this chill and, putting two and two together, hurried to soothe his customer. “Oh, I see. Of course we want you to be comfortable. I'll have to do some rearranging and it might take a bit. We'll see to it as soon as possible. And I apologize for any inconvenience.”

Xander just nodded and walked away. The manager breathed a sigh of relief; that could have gone badly for not only him, but the hotel. He had no doubt in the world that Enforcer Harris would take every single being elsewhere. He was just sorry that he hadn't taken time to find a picture of The Enforcer of California. This man looked much too young for the position.

After dabbing at his brow with a snowy white handkerchief, he started changing arrangements He had to notify the owners that he had to give several people comps in order to get them to move, but it was cheaper than having 60 special accommodations walk out. Not to mention the bad public relations. He knew he'd barely averted a major disaster, but he wasn't sure where the trouble would have come from, Master Spike or Enforcer Harris.


Spike met Xander at the door, snatched him inside, and proceeded to give him a once over. Xander slapped at his hands without irritation.

“Stop that! I'm fine.” He grinned at Spike. “But I don't think the manager will recover anytime soon. I gave him the cold-but-not-yet-pissed look. He wilted like... well, like some really wilty thing.” Xander's grin turned a little manic. “I liked it.”

“Good, you should like doing your job. And you do a good job, too. Come in and have a drink. I'm knackered from all that riding. I hate it when I can't drive, but it was a good idea to travel during the day. I think.”

Xander smirked at Spike. “You know damn good and well that you're so wired right now that you're practically twanging. You sleep or read during the trip so you're rested when we get where ever we're going. So we drove straight through, changing drivers every four hours or so. We could have driven from Vegas, but I took pity on the ones riding in busses, they were really cramped. And why, may I ask was it necessary to travel with sixty assorted demons and humans?”

“Face, pet.” Spike handed Xander his rum and coke. “I travel in style. That means bodyguards, cooks, valet, cleaning crew, et al.”

Xander nodded his understanding then asked, “Where's Timmins?”

“Putting our sheets on the bed. And our towels in the bathroom, not to mention the shampoo, liquor, and so on.”

Xander sighed. “Face again?”

“Yeah. Pain in the arse, but what can I do? I have to set myself up as High Master before I can start making a lot of changes. This is the first step.”

“Got it. What do you want from me?” Xander took a sip of his drink.

“Silent, but deadly. It wouldn't hurt for you to smile once in a while, but be on guard. And no one messes with you. I mean it. If one of the other masters tries something, kill 'em. I don't care if it's the High Master himself. I'll just make sure his Dextera takes over for him.”

Xander had to laugh, Spike's arrogance never failed to amaze, and amuse, him. He settled back in a comfortable chair and put his feet up, worked on his drink, and listened as Spike talked on the phone.

Spike spent most of an hour on the phone making arrangements to attend the Master of Louisiana's New Orleans court. High Master Robinson was accommodating and polite, as far as Xander could tell. He invited Spike to bring anyone he wanted to court, emphasizing that Xander was more than welcome.

Xander stood up and stretched as Spike hung up his phone. “What should I wear? Leather and weapons, or skin and chains?”

Spike leered at Xander. “I like skin and chains, but leather and weapons is more appropriate.”

Xander leered back and replied, “Both could be arranged, one then the other. I'll go see Timmins.” He sauntered out of the room, swaying his hips suggestively. Spike watched after him for a moment then shook his head. “I've created a monster, I have. I like it.” He grinned to himself for a second then went back to his arrangements. He'd have made Timmins and/or Xander do it, but he was in direct communication with the Master of Louisiana so he was honor bound to take care of it himself.

He headed into the bedroom after Xander. He had to get dressed as well.

Timmins greeted him just inside the room with a sharp, “Shower, no fooling around.”

Spike just laughed. “Ok, Ok, no hanky-panky. We'll never get there if we get started messing around.”

Timmins gave a little sniff and went to put out clothing to order. Xander watched him leave then started to laugh.

“What's so funny?”

“Him. He doesn't disapprove so why the sniff? Doesn't make sense.” Xander poured some shampoo into his hair and started to lather it up. His hair was now down to the bottom of his shoulder blades and took a bit of time to wash. And god forbid he forget the conditioner.

“He's not happy with the accommodations. Not up to standards. His, at least.” Spike ran some water over his face to wash off the soap he'd washed it with. “And he's in a snit with housekeeping.” Xander mumbled something that Spike didn't bother to translate. “Seems he found a dust bunny under the bed.”

“Horrors! Run for the hills.” Xander stepped out, took a towel off the warmer and started to dry himself.

Timmins sniffed again. “Horrors indeed. This room was filthy, I actually had to have my own cleaning crew do it over again entirely. Disgusting. What do you want to wear?”

Xander thought. “Black spandex tank, leather pants, full weapons harness, and that long-tailed coat with the half cape. Engineer boots, the ones with the steel toes and the pin sheaths. Both swords, the twin Mac 10's, and both my knife sets.”

“Very well.” Timmins turned to Spike. “And you, sire?”

Spike grinned. “The same minus the hardware, except I want the red tank, and I'll wear my duster.”

Timmins smiled, showing fang. “I had assumed so, sire.”

Spike was taken aback a bit when he saw the answering vicious smile on Xander's face.

Spike was pleased with the progress he'd made with Xander. Xander was his in all ways that counted, but he'd managed not to spoil the boy; his plans were working out perfectly.

“What are you thinking about with that look on your face?”

Spike turned, kissed Xander, and just said, “Oh, this an' that. Ulterior Motives, don't ya know.”

Xander gave him a blank look then went back to getting dressed. Spike followed him, grinning complacently.


The Master of Louisiana had the Master of New Orleans at his side when Xander, Spike, Timmins, Bud, and Tara, in that order, entered the room. He waived them forward and watched as the group approached his throne. And it was a throne, a huge gold and green monstrosity that loomed over the dais.

Xander knelt to the dais and rose from his knee at once. Spike nodded while the rest of the group mirrored Xander.

“Master Robinson. You know Xander, my Enforcer; Timmins, my Man, and Bud, my chief body guard. And the lady is Miss Tara, my Mage.”

Master Robinson nodded to everyone except Tara; he bowed elegantly to her. “Miss Tara, how are you?”

Tara curtseyed. “Fine, thank you, sir.”

The Master of Louisiana pulled his companion forward. “This is the Master of New Orleans, François du Champs.” He waived his hand. “And the rest are insignificant. Welcome to my court.”

Spike bowed gracefully as he'd been taught as a child and accepted the welcome. He looked around admiring the French Colonial style of the room then realized that it was probably all original. “Very nice.”

“Thank you. Oh, I do believe that I have an old friend of yours here. Would you like to see him?”

Xander wondered who Master Robinson was speaking of then remembered Arnold.

Sure enough Arnold was the person. He was brought in on the end of a leash. Xander smirked at him. Arnold had always wanted to be the pet of a Master; now he was, but he didn't look too happy about it. Xander wondered if it was the bit gag, the nipple clamps, the heavy corset, or the hobbles that he was unhappy about. He was also wearing a chastity device that included a sound and a thick butt plug. His arms were folded behind him and each wrist bound to the opposite elbow.

Spike leered at Arnold and asked, “Well, you wanted this position, are you happy?”

Arnold made a squeaky noise then rolled his eyes at his master. High Master Robinson frowned at him and Xander noticed that he nearly cried. As the Las Vegas group watched, Arnold was placed in position on a spanking horse and left there. Spike snorted at what he saw.

Arnold's back and buttocks were covered with welts, no cuts, but he had to be uncomfortable. His neck was raw over the little bump at the back; his collar was just a touch too tight. All in all, he couldn't be enjoying the position he'd craved so much. Spike turned his attention to the matter at hand.

Xander had a longer look and just smiled in a rather nasty way. When he turned back around he noticed that Master François was winking at him. The wink gave him hope for a nice, uncomplicated, peaceful visit.

The court session lasted most of the night and included sitting in on complaints, domain business, and some entertainment.

Xander had sighed at that, expecting some vampiric torture session or some other cruel display. It turned out to be a very Las Vegas-style review with dancers, a male vocalist, and a contortionist. The show lasted about 45 minutes then High Master Robinson dismissed the court, bowed to Spike, smiled at Tara, and left the room via a side door.

Xander looked around them and realized that they were in the middle of a room with about 40 strange beings. It made him feel really uncomfortable. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a door slammed open at one side of the room

A demon standing nearby laughed lightly and said, “Nearly scared the bejezzus out of me the first time, too. He puts on a good spread, but insists that we wait until court is over. Come on, I'll muscle you in.”

Xander grinned, but replied, “I better wait on Master Spike. He likes human food, so he'll go first. Right?”

“Oh, if he eats, yes, he'll go first.” The demon hurried away and Xander saw him talking to the major domo a few seconds later.

It didn't take long for Spike to be led to the head of the line with the rest of his group right behind him. They moved down the line of the buffet, filling their plates happily. Xander cheated a bit and snitched a charger off a side table. No one said anything and he settled at their table with a soft sigh.

Spike blinked at the pile of food. He was well aware that Xander ate like two lions, but the pile of food on Xander's charger-cum-plate was impressive.

“Bloody hell! Xander, you'll founder.”

“Not sure what that is, but I doubt it. I'm starving.” Xander dug into his food with a will while Spike shook his head in amusement.

Spike turned his attention to his own plate to find that the food was well prepared with attention to the needs of several different beings. It was nicely spiced, but light on heavily scented spices and herbs. He realized that he'd been neatly guided to foods he'd enjoy. He was sure of that when a fork of linguini was waived in his direction. It was redolent with garlic and basil. It stank to him, but Xander's pleasure was evident.

“Good stuff. I'd like Timmins to talk to his cook.”

Xander nodded, mumbling around a mouthful of noodles. “I'll see to it.” He swallowed quickly then added, “I'd really like to go into the French Quarter, and Fat City. Do you think we can swing it?”

Spike nodded. “Of course we can. I'll have Timmins do up something. I think we can slip into New Orleans' Underground mostly unnoticed.”

Xander smiled happily. “That'd be great. And I want to hear some good jazz.” At Spike’s doubtful glance, he managed to look offended, for all of two seconds. “What? I like lots of different kinds of music.”

“Patsy Cline is not different kinds of music, only different songs.” Spike waited for it.

“I only listen to Miss Cline when you're being a butt. I like jazz as long as it's not existential, I can't stand that crap. 'The search for form in formlessness.'” He snorted. “What's that all about? Either there's a tune there, or there's not.” He popped a meatball into his mouth defiantly.

Spike thought about that for a moment. “It's pretentious elitism at its best. Give me good ol' Count Basie any time.”

Xander agreed with a sharp nod and returned to his food. He tried to think of other places that he'd like to go, but never having bothered much with Louisiana, he couldn't think of much. Except, “I think I'd like to get beignets at the Cafe du Monde, too. I've heard they're great.”

Spike snorted. “There's places better and without a ton of tourists; I'll find one. And we have to have Muffulettas and oysters and... we'll have to make a list.”

Xander just hummed his agreement around a mouthful of okra.

After they ate, an aide came to show them back to their cars and on their way home. He was a chatterbox so they got an earful.

“I don't think the master's pet is going to last too much longer, do you? He offended his last master and was given away; he's untrained and not taking well to being trained. He fights too much and won't learn. Too bad, he's quite nice actually, as long as you don't turn your back on him. He's a gossip and a back stabber. Master Robinson is very annoyed; he was hoping that having a vamp as a pet would make things a bit easier in the maintenance department.”

Xander made a sound suspiciously like a growl. “He's causing trouble still? Just stake him, I'm sure Master Spike won't take offense.”

Their escort just shrugged, “He's on punishment right now, but one more misstep and he's either dust or a gift to someone else. Ah! Here's the cars. I'll send a guide with you if you like.”

The lead driver refused this with a thanks.


Xander settled in his favorite chair on the patio of their hotel. They'd been in town for two days; the entourage had settled in, and things had been organized. Timmins could be a real terror when he wanted to, and he had. Housekeeping crept around in fear of his scorn and the kitchens were under the supervision of their cook when their meals were being made.

Xander nibbled on a beignet and sighed. They were wonderful: light, airy and just sweet enough. The sip of chicory-laced coffee that followed was rich and chocolaty-bitter. He couldn't believe that this fried confection was so god-awful when cold. He also couldn't believe the amount of powdered sugar he got all over himself. It annoyed Timmins no end.

“More coffee, sir?”

Xander nearly choked on his coffee. “Damn it! I swear I'm buying twin bells, one for you and one for Spike. And, no more coffee, thanks.” Timmins raised his eyebrow at Xander with a knowing smirk. “And stop that. I want clothing laid out. I'm taking a shower as soon as I finish my coffee. Spike is going to take me to Fat City then the French Quarter tonight. We'll be leaving in about two hours, give or take. Ok?”

Timmins nodded. “Certainly. As soon as I make sure the bathroom is appropriately clean, I'll put out something... comfortable?”

Xander thought for a moment then nodded. “That'll do. But I'd like... stylish, too.”

“I have just the outfit. It's also quite capable of hiding a multitude of... sins. If you know what I mean.”

Xander did and grinned at Timmins in undisguised delight. “You're a treasure, in case I've never said.”

Timmins just swatted Xander on the shoulder and said, “Shower. Go.” Xander ambled away to his shower.

Timmins thought for a few moments then put out a nice pair of slacks, slightly looser than was strictly fashionable, a silk t-shirt in a dark brown with a linen button down in bronze to go over it. He also put out a pair of western-style boots with knife sheathes in them. This meant that he had to provide a pair of thick silk socks to protect Xander's skin from the hilts. Then he put out the chocolate brown doe-skin duster that had sewn-in sheathes for Xander's gladius and two knives; it also had loops sewn in under the skirts to hold a wakazashi. If Xander wanted pistols as well, he'd have to wear harness, but the coat was tailored to hide one. Timmins decided that he was glad it was the middle of October, Xander would sweat himself to death otherwise.

Spike wandered in to get dressed and wound up with his trade mark black jeans, black t and red silk button down, left open, and his ever present duster. Only Timmins and Xander knew what he had hidden in its depths.

Xander came out of the bath just as Spike finished dressing. He was rubbing the last of the water out of his hair with a towel, another wrapped around his hips. Spike admired the view with a lecherous leer; Xander leered back.

Timmins put an end to thoughts of what he called funny business by reminding them that they were going to be late for their reservation and the restaurant was popular enough that they wouldn't hold the reservation even for Spike.

Spike scowled, but didn't fool either Xander or Timmins. “Alright, alright, we're going.” He grumbled all the way out the door.

Xander ignored Spike in favor of checking out their surroundings. He had a creepy feeling on the back of his neck.

“Xan?” Spike sensed Xander's uneasiness and turned to him. “What is it?”

“Dunno, back of my neck is crawling. Just keep an eye out, Ok?”

“Sure thing, luv. We taking Bud?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, and Miss Tara. They're still courting and Bud can show her a nice time without worrying about anything. That Ok?”

“Yeah, young love is usually boring and annoying, but those two are different. They don't hang all over each other like most young 'uns. Here's the car.”

Xander nodded to Bud, who was driving and Tara, sitting next to him in the front. Tara turned around and grinned at them, her laughing, “Oooo, sexy,” making Spike laugh and Xander blush.

“Ok, boss, where are we going first?” Bud started the SUV as he spoke. He pulled into traffic and started down the drive. “Fat City, maybe?”

“Sounds good to me, but I want to be in the French Quarter before midnight.” Spike leaned against Xander, his smaller frame belying his inherent strength.

“I'll take us to 18th St. then. Do you want to walk around or be chauffeured from place to place?”

Spike wriggled in Xander's embrace and shrugged, making Xander giggle as it tickled him. “I only want to go to three clubs, park as close as you can get then we'll walk from there to the club. We'll drive from one to the other as they're several blocks apart. And you better hurry or we really will miss our reservation.”

As they drove Xander noticed that Fat City was looking a bit down at the heels, a thing that made him sad. He'd heard that it was the place to go in New Orleans if you didn't want to brave the French Quarter. Now it seemed that it was not.

When Bud parked in the lot beside the restaurant, Xander gazed at the building with a mixture of amusement and curiosity. The place was mundane in the extreme; in fact, it looked like a greasy spoon. The structure was cinderblocks painted a pink that seemed the color of New Orleans. The front windows were large and covered with slat blinds. It was so common looking that Xander asked Bud if he was sure about the address. Spike assured Xander that this was the place. They exited the SUV and entered the restaurant.

The inside was significantly different to the outside. The décor was plain, but neat and clean. The tables widely spaced and set with gleaming china and crystal. The fact that the rather large space only held 24 tables capable of seating 48 people wasn't missed by anyone in the party.

The maitre d' greeted them urbanely, ignoring their breach of the clothing requirements. None of them were wearing ties, nor even a suit. He led them to a round table which, under normal usage, would have seated eight, but was set for four.

Xander settled at once, but Spike looked around curiously. All the tables were huge, set at least six feet apart and had table settings for four. Spike nodded to the hovering maitre d' then sat down himself.

Their waiter was soft footed, which nearly got him killed when he offered Xander his menu from over Xander's shoulder. Xander flinched and a knife appeared in his hand; Spike's sharp, “No!” was the only thing that kept the waiter alive. Xander flicked his hand, hid his knife and accepted the menu without a flinch.

The waiter handed menus to the rest of the table and they all settled in to choose their meals. Xander read for a moment, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose.

“Um...Spike? There's no prices.”

Spike looked up from his menu. “That's right; if you have to ask the price, you can't afford to eat here.”

“Oh.” Xander went back to his menu, finally deciding on a surf ’n turf, salad, and garlic bread. He left the choice of wine up to Spike.

Tara and Bud settled on the porterhouse for two, with attendant potato and salad. Spike surprised them all by choosing quail in sherry sauce, asparagus, and potatoes Anna. The waiter didn't write it down, well trained to remember who had what.

Spike and Xander discussed their Progression while Bud and Tara frankly canoodled, as Spike called it.

When the food came, it was good, but Xander's lobster was cold. He frowned and summoned the waiter.

“Yes?” His attitude suggested that Xander didn't know how his food should be served.

“This is cold. If I'd wanted cold lobster, I would have ordered it cold. Take it back and have it redone.” The waiter sneered and started to remove Xander's plate. Xander stopped him. “Not the whole plate, just the lobster. I'm eating the steak.” Xander's grip on the waiter's wrist made him flinch. “Just take the lobster.”

“And how would you suggest I carry it?” The waiter looked down his nose at Xander.

Xander just said, “Hold out your hand.” The waiter did so and Xander dumped the lobster into his hand. “There. Simple. And I'd suggest that you tell the cook not to pull any stunts with my food either.”

Spike just ignored all this and continued to eat. Tara glanced from one to the other, but a pat on the hand from Bud reassured her. She leaned over and whispered, “Are we going to have to leave in a hurry?”

“No, love, Xander won't cause a scene, at least not unless the waiter starts something.”

It seemed that the waiter wasn't above trying to cause some trouble for the unconventional group as the manager came over to enquire about their problem.

“I understand that the lobster wasn't up to standard. What was the problem?”

Xander swallowed the bite of steak he was chewing and replied, “It was cold. I didn't order lobster salad, I ordered surf ’n turf. That's hot. So, now what? And you can tell Mr. Snooty that he just sunk his tip.”

“I see. If the lobster was cold, and I don't doubt that it was, I apologize. You'll get a comp on the meal and I'll have a word with the waiter. He's usually very competent so I'm not sure what the problem is. I'll find out. Excuse me.” The manager disappeared behind a real green baize door.

Spike sighed. “You Ok?”

“Yeah, I just don't like it when I get bad service. The prices we're paying here, I should get my ass kissed, not be told in so many words to kiss his. Wonder what his problem is?”

Spike examined a spear of asparagus. “Mmmm, don't know, but I'll bite him for you, if you like.”

“No, you'll just get an upset tummy. He's probably all tough and salty.”

“Probably right. Tara? Is your food Ok?” Spike noticed that Tara was nibbling at her steak rather unhappily.

“No, my food is fine. But there's something off here and I can't figure out what.”

“Well, finish your dinner then take a little sniff around. Yeah?”

“Ok. But I want cheesecake.”

“Right.” Spike smiled at Tara who grinned back and returned to her potato.

The manager returned with a frown on his face. “I swear to you that Chef says that lobster was hot when he sent it out. He' has no reason to lie, but I touched it and it's as cold as if it had been refrigerated. My apologies. And the waiter is fired. He just said that he didn't think he needed to serve you appropriately because you were violating the dress code.” The manager looked tired. “I don't remember ever telling him we had one. Many of our customers are New Orleans elite and... eccentric. We tend to ignore some rather bizarre dress. I'm very sorry that you were offended. I'll serve you for the rest of the evening myself.”

Spike nodded once and poked Xander under the table with his foot. “Fine, fine. But... my radar is going off like crazy.” Spike looked up sharply. “I know. But it is. Miss Tara, the second you're done eating, I'd like you to really go over this place good.”

Tara nodded around a bite of salad, Bud smiled at her, his fond expression making Xander grin. He stage whispered, “Next stage of courtship coming right up.” Bud sent him a glare. Tara giggled.

It didn't take Xander long to be served another lobster and, true to his word, the manager brought it himself. It was hot, juicy, buttery and perfect. Xander started on it quickly. The manager hovered until Xander nodded his approval then left sighing softly. They always had trouble with waiters like that one.

When they all finished their food, Tara stood up and started wandering around the room, feigning interest in the various things hanging on the wall. It didn't take her long to stop at an arrangement of silk flowers with a disgusted expression on her face. She turned to Bud. “Honey, this is just... wrong, for lack of a better name. Take it out, please.”

Bud didn't argue, he just took the arrangement off the wall and carried it to the green baize door. He pushed the door open and went through with Tara right after him. The manager followed.

“Excuse me. Is there something offensive about that arrangement?”

Tara just waved at him to follow her and pointed to the alley door. “Out there, please.”

Bud just went out the door and put the arrangement on a pile of boxes so that Tara wouldn't have to bend down to examine it.

Tara poked at the arrangement for a moment. “Oh, my, what do we have here?” She pulled a small bag out of the container and looked at it for a second. “My, my. Someone doesn't like you at all. It's a mojo bag. Very bad one, too.”

“I see. Um... I think I better call the owner. I'll be right back.”

Tara nodded at him absently, but announced. “You better. I can't destroy it without him right here.” The manager hurried away. Tara called after him. “And I want my cheesecake.”

Xander stuck his head out the door. “Need me?”

Tara shook her head. “Just see that my cheesecake is on the table when I'm done. This sort of thing burns up calories like you wouldn't believe.” Xander grunted, pulled his head back, and turned to the pastry chef. “Ok, pal, you heard her.”


It was nearly twenty minutes later when the owner turned up. He took one look at the little bag and snarled. “Mojo, I hate that shit.” He gulped and turned to Tara. “Sorry, ma'am.”

“ 'S Ok. I'm not too fond of the blacker arts myself. I'll open it now.” She opened the bag carefully and dumped the contents onto the top of a box directly under a security light. “I wonder... hummm.” She trailed off as she poked at the contents with a dirty straw she'd pulled out of one of the nearby trash cans. “Yes, here. Hair.” She nudged it out into plain sight under the light. “Yours?”

The owner shook his head. “No, mine's not that curly. Looks like my son's. Why?”

“I need to know the degree of relation before I can decide if he needs to be here. If it's your biological child, you'll do.”

“He's my biological son. What do I do?”

Tara shook her head. “I don't know yet, depends on what else is here. I just hope there's no blood. I hate blood magic.” She continued to poke and prod at the bits and pieces, refusing to touch it with her hands.

Tara finally managed to get everything spread out. There was an odd assortment of things; a lock of hair, a piece of silky cloth, a pill bottle full of dirty gray powder, and some bones and feathers.

“Ok, no blood and nothing specific to anyone else. Call Spike and Xander, will you, Bud?”

“Sure thing.” Bud went in the building to call the other two members of the group while the owner of Polly's, whose name was Oscar, eyed the mess with a jaundiced and unhappy eye.

Spike swaggered out the back door with Xander on his heels. “Miss Tara, you wanted me?”

Tara nodded. “If you'll stand here, as anchor. Xander, there, secondary anchor, and Bud here, tertiary anchor. Mr. Oscar, there and I'll stand here.” She arranged them in a triangular pattern, Bud behind her with Spike to her right and on the other side of the box. Xander took a similar position to her left with Oscar between them and inside the triangle with Tara. “Good.”

Tara started to put out some things she extracted from her huge purse. She put a small copper dish on the box and poured some fluid into it. The smell let Spike know that it was lighter fluid. She lit it and started chanting. As she chanted she tossed the various things into the dish where they burned merrily. The last thing she put in was the lock of hair, which burned with a stench and a cloud of dark gray smoke. Tara nodded her head once. “There. Where's my dessert?”

Oscar looked confused. “That's it? That's all it takes?”

Tara shrugged. “Yup. That's it. You better find out who hates you that much, though.”

He shrugged. “I know. My ex-wife. She hung that on the wall about three days after the divorce was final. I don't know why she'd want to harm our son, but I'll find out.”

“Oh, she didn't want to harm him; she just used the hair as an anchor for the mojo. His DNA is half yours, you see.”

“Ah, Ok. She's pissed that I got the place instead of her. I don't know why she thinks she should get it; she never wanted to have anything to do with it before the divorce.”

“Sour grapes. You need to take care of your business. Have the place blessed, put out salt dishes and so on.” Tara finished putting her apparatus away. “Where's my cheesecake?”

Spike gave Tara a sharp look, squinting slightly, but he refrained from comment.

They sat back at their table, finished their dessert, and Spike called for the check.

“No check. Mr. Oscar said it is all on the house. Have a nice evening.” The manager walked away and left them to leave.

Bud gave Tara his arm and escorted her to the SUV. Spike and Xander followed exchanging wry, amused looks.

“Ok, here we go, French Quarter it is.”

Part Thirty-Six

Thanks to cluegirl, yohjideranged, and bumpkin for the help with the clubs

Bud parked in the parking garage and announced flatly, “Sorry, Boss, but there's no way for me to drive you from one club to another. The traffic is awful.”

Spike pitched his cigarette out the window then agreed, “Awful doesn't begin to describe it.”

Bud sighed and asked, “Should I stay with the SUV?” This question wasn't as off base as it seemed. It wasn't that unusual for people to come back to find their vehicle either gone or stripped down to the frame.

“No, I'd rather you come with. Miss Tara needs an escort and if the SUV gets stripped or something....” Spike shrugged. “I'll just tell Master Robinson, and he'll replace it. Come on.”

So they headed out into the French Quarter. Since the parking garage was at one end of the tourist section of Bourbon Street, they just walked out the door and started down one side of the street. Spike knew where the club he wanted to visit was and grumbled a bit; it was nearly four blocks. Xander just thumped his shoulder and told him cheerfully to 'man up'.

During the walk, Tara stayed close to Bud, but Xander ranged from one side of the street to the other. He looked in windows and slipped into a store or two. He came back from one of his forays to ask, “Where are we going first?”

Tara jumped in with, “Can we see Preservation House?”

Spike checked the address then said, “Up this way at St. Peter's Street. But it's no use this late; the place will be packed and we'll never get inside. Unless you want to pull rank.”

Tara looked disappointed, but shook her head. “We don't need the attention.” She looked around, confused, “Is every building pink?”

Spike laughed, “Just about. We can cut through this alley and stand outside for a bit. Would you like that?”

Tara thought for a moment. “I really just want to hear the music.”

Spike eased Xander between Tara and a group of drunken college boys. Bud moved to back him up.

After glancing around, Xander noted that Pat O’Brien’s was right across the street from Preservation Hall. Then he saw something that made him snicker. “Reverend Zombie's House of Voodoo, you're kidding me, right?”

Tara smiled, “Madame Marie LeVeau’s House. No, not kidding. But it's mainly a tourist trap now. Too bad.”

Spike shook his head. “Mojo is not on my list tonight. It's really about visiting some of the old places I went to last time I was here.”

“With Drusilla.” Xander couldn't keep a touch of jealousy out of his voice.

“Naw, she dumped me for about six years around 1840. I came here because I don't like Galveston. I used to hang around in the Old Absinthe House and the Napoleon House. The Bombay Club in the Prince Conti Hotel was also a favorite, but not by that name. And Lafitte's Tavern wasn't too bad. Those are the places I want to visit. We'll just walk around and rubberneck, unless someone has a better idea?”

The consensus was that walking was a good idea. No one had worn uncomfortable shoes, not even Tara, so that was what they did. Spike settled the route as he was familiar with the area, even if the familiarity was some 150 years old. Things hadn't changed all that much.

Spike looked around again to orient himself. “Ok, we'll backtrack a bit as I want to wind up at Lafitte's. First... um... Napoleon House. I think you'll all like it. It's a bit posh, but the ambiance is something. Then the Absinthe House, just for a while, very artsy-fartsy in my day. But the absinthe was to die for, literally in some cases. They changed the name a while ago, think it's like Tony Moran's or sommat. Then the Bombay Club, they've got a hundred and some different kinds of martini. We'll be underground before dawn.”

So they turned back and walked back down Bourbon Street to Napoleon House. Bud hung back a bit and attracted Xander's attention. Xander dropped back to walk beside him while Spike regaled Tara with stories of the different places they walked past.

“How bad is this going to get?”

Xander shrugged. “Not sure. Depends on how bad he was way back then. The worse he felt then the worse it's going to be now. Just stay on your toes.”

“Ok, gotcha.” Bud sighed; sometimes it was a real bitch being honor bound to a vampire.

Tara was thrilled with the old hotel and dragged a long suffering Bud into as much of it as she could. Xander and Spike settled in the courtyard with a Pimm's Cup and waited for the twosome to come back. It didn't take long for them to return, Tara smiling and chattering about all the wonderful points of the decor, Bud doing his best not to look bored out of his mind.

Spike got up and ambled off, Xander at his heels. He'd seen what he wanted to, and now he wanted to move on. He was already beginning to regret this little trip down memory lane.

The next stop was the Absinthe House. They peeked into the Bistro, but one look told all of them that it was too grand and fussy for their mood although they admired the décor which was authentic to the age of the structure, the 1807 fireplace being a set piece. Spike remarked that it was all 'period', and he wasn't thrilled with that particular style the first time around.

They went upstairs to Tony Moran's and glanced around, but when a waiter came to seat them Spike just shook his head and said, “Came to show the lady the bar. That's Ok, yeah?”

The waiter just smiled and nodded. “Lots of people come just for that. If you want to leave your dollar, I'll be happy to put them up. We don't let customers do it themselves anymore, too many drunks fell. Take your time and look around; just please don't disturb the diners.”

Spike nodded. “Lady probably will want to leave a dollar. We'll leave it with the bar keep. Thanks.”

Tara signed a dollar that she begged off Xander and gave it to the bartender who ostentatiously tucked it into a box behind the bar, making sure that they saw him do so. Tara blinked then glanced at Spike who just mouthed, 'explain later'.

Xander demanded to go to Lafitte's bar downstairs for a Frappe. Spike made a face, but agreed. He knew that regular doses of his blood had made Xander astonishingly hard headed so mixing his drinks wasn't going to be a problem. Bud, being a demon, no matter that he looked human enough, metabolized alcohol of any kind as fast as Spike did.

So they settled at a table and watched as the bartender mixed their drinks. The yellow-green color made Spike snicker, but Tara gave her drink a doubtful drink. After one dainty sip she shuddered and exclaimed, “Ugh! Licorice, I don't like licorice. That's awful.”

Spike, who'd already finished his drink, just reached over and snagged it. “Don't worry, pet. I'll drink it. Reminds me of the old absinthe, can't get that in the US anymore.”

Xander blinked, “You mean that this isn't a real absinthe frappe? What's in it then?”

Spike took a sip and rolled it around in his mouth. From the taste of it, Anisette, Herbsaint, and a bit of sugar, soda water, ice. Dump it all in a pitcher, muddle and strain. Frappe. It's as real as a heart attack. This recipe is the Absinthe House signature drink. Not bad actually.”

Tara watched as all three 'men' drank their drinks; she'd decided that she wasn't drinking anything else alcoholic that night. So far her taste of Pimm's Cup had been disappointing, and the Frappe downright disgusting. She was idly wishing for a soda when a voice behind her drawled, “Well, well, if it isn't... what is it now?... Spike? Yes, that's it. So much more... sibilant than William the Bloody, but not as descriptive. What have you been doing with yourself lately, and who is this yummy looking bint?”

Spike just glanced at the vampire, a mocking look that belittled him easily. “Yeah, it's Spike now. Became Master of California and the Hellmouth. And she's; one, not a bint, and two, my business. As to yummy, wouldn't try, if I was you. Don't need to run afoul of me, the Enforcer, and that one.” He indicated first Xander then Bud. “Like your suit. Last decade's Armani, isn't it? Finances on the ebb again? Always were a sucker for a hand of whist, weren't you?”

The nameless vampire hissed and stalked away.

Tara made with the big eyes and whispered, “Who was that?”

Spike didn't bother to keep his voice down when he replied, “That stupid sod is Lucius St Cloud. Lost his family fortune at whist in the late 1700's and tried to commit suicide. Got vamped instead. Idiot. Annoying, and stupid. The only reason he's still alive, or undead, is pure luck, and Remy fell for his golden hair and blue eyes. Twit.” He didn't bother to explain who Remy was, and no one felt interested enough to inquire.

Xander finished his drink and announced, “I'm bored; let's move on. Ok?”

Spike just grinned, announced, “That's my boy,” and headed for the door. Tara and Bud had a bit of a scramble to keep up, but Tara poked Bud in the ribs and snickered. Bud noticed what she was laughing about and smiled. Xander was walking, or rather strutting, half a step behind Spike and to his left. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were related. They stood alike, walked alike, and mirrored each other without thought.

Bud hugged Tara then asked, “Where to now? The Bom... something?”

“Bombay Club. Martinis.” Xander tossed over his shoulder. Spike just mumbled, “Damn straight.” and led the way out of the building.

Xander wondered what Spike was searching for because, obviously, he was. And not finding it, if his growing sour mood was any indication.

They walked side-by-side now, crowding people off the sidewalk. Spike's jittery, nervous behavior was making them nervous, too. He was going to snap, Xander feared, and there was going to be a fight. Xander and Bud knew this as sure as breathing. Tara wasn't sure what was going on, but she knew she didn't like it. But she knew that people were stepping into the street to avoid a small blond tornado in a black coat.

They reached the Bombay Club with little trouble, the short jaunt down the side street leading them away from the noise and confusion of Bourbon Street into a much quieter area. Tara sighed her relief; she wasn't comfortable in crowds even with Bud by her side.

They entered the club with its British Colonial-style furnishings and elegant air, Spike just sighed. “I remember this. It really hasn't changed very much. Still looks like a gentlemen's club. One of those ones that the remittance men all haunted. But they make good drinks. In the old days it was all wine, mulled and what not, or a mint julep, rum, mulled, buttered, or straight. Nothing as fancy as this. All this British Wallah decor, Dru would have hated it, but I...” Spike grinned unabashed. “I admit that I like it. Comfortable, that's what it is.”

As Spike was speaking, they made their way to the table/booth at the end of the bar. Spike settled in on the bench seat against the wall and Xander slid into the other side. Tara took the seat with her back to the room and Bud took the one on the end nearest Spike; that left one more seat open.

The waiter came over and asked what they'd like to drink. Xander decided on a sour-apple martini, at which Spike grimaced. Bud asked for a 007, and Tara wanted a crantini. Spike just shrugged and said, “Stolnycha, frozen, twist of lemon, and just yell vermouth at it.”

Bud turned to Tara. “Sweet, I thought you weren't going to drink any more.”

“Changed my mind. This place is nice and I feel more comfortable.” Tara's sweet smile got returns from the three men, and they settled in for a quiet drink or two.

The waiter returned with their drinks and Xander promptly ate his apple slice while Tara distastefully picked the candied orange out of hers.

She just snorted and remarked, “I thought it was supposed to be just orange, not candied.” Bud glanced around for the waiter. “It's Ok, sweetie, I just picked it out. My drink is fine. Don't fuss.”

Bud smiled at her. “That's my job. Fussing and protecting.”

Spike made a gagging noise which got him a poke in the ribs from Xander.

“Shut it, you.” Spike smirked at Xander who pouted back.

Tara poked Bud who just patted her hand and winked.

They finished their drinks, taking their time and enjoying the atmosphere of the Bombay Club. Their conversation drifted from one topic to another, led by a still jittery Spike. Xander kept touching him on the arm, the shoulder, the thigh, trying to calm him. It was helping, but not much. Xander, Bud and Tara were all worried about him. Something was going on with him that no one could figure out. He shouldn't be this nervous about a visit to the French Quarter.

Spike had all he could do to avoid nervously jerking one leg. He'd been broken of the habit before it really got started; his mother would just pat his thigh and shake her head at him. Then Angelus had finished the job with a fierce beating the one time he'd forgotten. Now, his nerves were on edge so badly that he wanted to scream.

Xander stood up, tossed some money on the table and announced, “Ok, I'm done with this crap. Where the hell do you really want to go, Spike? I'm tired of feeling you twanging like a bow string.”

Spike sighed and stood up, too. “Sorry, luv, I'm just... I need to go into Under-New Orleans, and I know there's going to be a problem. I don't want to take Miss Tara down, but I think we might need Bud. And her, too. It's settin' my nerves on edge.”

Bud shrugged. “Missy? You wanna go or stay?”

Tara bit at her lip for a moment. “I think I better not. If I'd known you might need magic, I wouldn't have had anything to drink. Mojo and booze? Very unmixy things. I'll catch a cab back to the hotel.”

Bud considered this for a moment. “I think that's a good idea. If we need you we'll send for you.” He turned to Spike. “I'd like to wait until she's actually in the cab.”

Spike nodded. “Fine. I think I'll get the concierge to call one.” He turned, realized that Xander wasn't behind him and hissed softly. Before he could really get started Xander walked back to the group.

“I just called a cab for Tara. We need her, we can send for her. Let's wait outside for it. Ok?”

He flicked his gaze from a snickering Spike to a giggling Tara. “Ok, what?” His flat tone made Bud snort.

Tara answered, “You and Spike are starting to think alike.”

“Scary thought.” Xander shook his head. “Cab should be here fairly quickly, we better get outside.”

They went out and stood on the curb until the cab pulled up. The doorman hurried to open the door for Tara, but some suit tried to bull his way in front of her. He found himself facing a smiling Xander.

“Sorry, buddy, that cab is for the lady.” Xander took a step forward.

“I don't see her name on it. Step aside.” He tried to shove around Xander and wound up with Spike in his face.

“Man said the cab was for the lady.” Spike’s dress and mild tone of voice fooled the man into making the worst mistake of his life. He laid hands on Spike; putting his hand on Spike's shoulder, he tried to push him away. Pushing a vampire is somewhat like pushing a brick wall so this did nothing but annoy both Spike and Xander.

This got the nuisance lifted by both arms, Xander on one side and Spike on the other, and more or less tossed out of the way. Bud calmly waived the doorman away and helped Tara into the cab himself. He gave her a quick kiss, shut the door, and banged on the top of the cab. It pulled away as the three waved.

“Well, that was interesting. When did manners get so bad?”

Xander snorted at Spike. “This from the vampire that ate the last waiter that was rude to him.”

“Did not!” Spike was all indignation. “He was much too salty for me. Just bit him a little.”

Xander glanced around for their annoying 'friend', but couldn't see him, nor the doorman. He made a mental note to send a tip to the man for keeping the cops out of the picture.


Xander put his hand on Bud's shoulder. “You Ok?”

Bud nodded. “Yeah, I actually feel better now than I did half an hour ago.”

Xander sighed. “That was a long walk. I never thought a street could manage to hold that many pedestrians, trucks, cars, and whatever else, without an accident. Incredible.”

Bud nodded to Spike. “He's getting worse instead of better. What's going on with him?”

Xander shook his head then grumbled, “I don't know. Be ready for anything. He's looking for something or someone. Some sign maybe. Just... I don't know... be ready.”

“Ok. Wonder if the Old One is still around? If she is, we might be able to get her to figure it out. Not like Spike to be this agitated and not kill something.”

Xander bit at his lip for a moment. “Can't kill anything. Not his territory. May be what's got him on edge.”

Bud just grunted, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

They were standing in front of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop which was actually now a bar. The sign on the wall stated that it had been established in 1772 as a smithy and converted into a tavern in the 1840's. Spike looked at the front of the inconspicuous building for a few moments then motioned for them to follow as he headed for the door.

Xander glanced around as the soothing sounds of mellow jazz drifted from the front, played by a live pianist. The bar was old, worn, and a bit frayed around the edges. It was also charming, low key, and quite pleasant. The dim lighting was all provided by candles with a few lamps in the corners of the bar and one at the top of a flight of stairs that was nearly hidden in the back.

Spike nodded to the bartender and made a bee line for those stairs. Bud and Xander trooped along behind him, glancing around as they went. Xander was a bit sad that they wouldn't get to stay awhile to listen to the music.

At the bottom of the steps, the tunnel led away from the bar and farther into the earth. Xander sniffed then wrinkled his nose. The place smelled of sewers.

“Sewers! I hate sewers.” Bud wrinkled his nose, too.

Spike shushed them impatiently and strode into the darkness. Xander and Bud followed, walking shoulder to shoulder. Xander's hands itched for the feel of the haft of his gladius.

It didn't take them long to reach gates that completely blocked the tunnel. The guard took one look at Spike, did a double take then opened the small sally port without a word. Spike strode through it, ignoring the guard completely. Xander glanced at him then stepped through the door, too. Bud made a face and followed. Maybe now they'd find out what was wrong with Spike. And maybe not.

They entered a near duplicate of Lafitte's except more than half of the clientele was demon. Xander sighed. He was not looking forward to this; the back of his neck was really crawling now.

Spike wove his way through the packed room with ease. Demons moved out of his way like wheat before a scythe. Xander and Bud followed close behind, not realizing that their presence was part of the reason for the ease of their passing. Demons took one look at Spike, a high master vampire backed by his two scowling bodyguards, and parted like the Red Sea. Xander and Bud's fearsome reputations had preceded them.

They eased into the back and down another flight of stairs into a lower level.

This level was still finished nicely with polished walls and smooth, even floors. The corridor that disappeared into the distance was lined with doors, spaced unevenly down its length on both sides. Xander looked at one nearby and realized that the doors opened into shops, clubs, and other public places. Each door had a sign on or over it with a name on it.

Spike strode along the corridor, glancing at door after door. They were nearly to the end of the corridor before he found what he was looking for.

A quick tap on the door elicited a “Come in.” Spike turned to Xander and Bud. “Wait here. It won't take long.”

Spike opened the door and entered the darkened room. She was there, the Old One, the oldest vampire on the American continent. She sat in a simple straight-backed chair behind a round table looking like the gypsy she was.

“Ah, yes, William. I knew you would come. Just not when.” She watched him carefully for a few moments. “You are unhappy, so you have come to me again.”

Spike waited under the Old One's gaze. The vampire had to be all of eight hundred years old, probably much older, but she hadn't endured the changes that many very old vampires did. Changes that made them into monsters even when they hadn't 'changed'. She still looked like a girl of eighteen or so, just as she had in life. Spike wondered why.

“You wonder why I look as I do.” She smiled a bit flirtatiously. “Don't deny it.” She looked at Spike for a moment more. “I see that you do not. That is good. I am as I am because I still have my soul and also, I don't kill. It is the greed and killing that allow the demon to come to the fore and change your appearance. I think the killing is more important than the soul. We do not, as so many poets claim, love with our soul or our heart. We love with our brain. And you love. I can see it.”

Spike shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, I do. That's what I've come for. I love and he's mine. But there's a thrall spell on him, cast by an inexperienced, but very powerful, witch. I want it removed. I want him... free.” The Old One raised an eyebrow at this. “If something were to happen to me, one of my seconds would see that he was safe. But right now, he'll die. I don't want that.”

“And so you wish to free him from the spell? That is good. Drink tea with me.”

Spike started to refuse, but realized that her request wasn't an invitation, but a command. He accepted the tea with the best grace he could. When he was finished the Old One held out her hand for his cup. Spike sighed and handed it over; he should have known she would read the leaves for him, he just hoped she didn't drag out the cards, or worse yet runes.

“Yes, I know you consider this all foolishness, but humor me. And no runes or cards, I promise.” She twinkled at him, fluttering her eyelashes and smiling slyly then returned to the leaves. “Well, I see. You don't have to worry about the thrall. I see it is fading. You should let it fade naturally, as poorly cast magic usually does.” She nodded decisively. “I would like to meet your man.”

Spike just stood up, trying very hard to keep any expression off his face. The thrall was fading? He felt a relief he hadn't known he would. Xander would be safe if something happened to him. He got up and walked to the door, opened it, and called Xander into the room.

Xander entered and stood just inside the door waiting for Spike to tell him what to do.

“Come sit at my side, lovely.” The Old One patted a chair beside her.

Xander glanced at Spike who nodded. He settled in the indicated chair and waited.

“Hummmm. Yes, you smell of cinnamon, and salt. Tea.” She handed Xander a cup which he gulped quickly. Spike sighed, that was no way to treat good tea, but Xander was obviously nervous.

The Old One took his cup and looked at it. “Yes, yes, very good. You have a wonderful future in store for you. Your loyalty will be greatly rewarded.”

Xander nodded, his puzzlement evident. “Ok, that's good. Thanks.”

This was greeted with a light laugh that Xander couldn't help but echo. “Yes, it is good. I see a long life and much happiness for you. You are fierce and brave, loyal and funny. High Master Spike needs all these things very much. You will provide them. In return ...” She gave a mysterious smile. “He will grant you many things. Your heart's desire most of all. Now, go. I am tired.” She waved Xander away with another smile.

Spike gathered Xander up and towed him to the door; he turned and started to thank the seer when she spoke again. “Your little Miss Tara is a perfect seer; you didn't need to come to me. I am glad to see you again however, to give you better news than the last time. Cherish him. Go.”

So they went. Spike walked out the door with Xander on his heels. Bud joined up, and they headed back the way they came.

Xander sighed. “What was that all about?” Spike just shrugged; he wasn't about to explain. Xander eyed him for a minute then dropped the subject, turning to something that was more pressing to him. “I really wanted to listen to some good jazz before we left New Orleans. When do we head out?”

Spike shrugged again. “I did what I came to do. I saw all the old places. Talked to the pretty gypsy. We need to leave soon so that we don't wear out our welcome. Day after tomorrow, maybe.”

Bud stopped dead in the corridor. “Listen. Music.”

Spike stopped, too. “I hear it. It's coming from... there.” Spike pointed to a door. “Want to go in and see?”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, sounds good to me. Really good.”

Bud tapped on the door which opened a crack at once. “Members only?” Bud’s question was answered when the door opened fully to allow them entry.

“Door charge is $15 per.” The large orange demon held out a hand the size of a plate. Bud just handed over a fifty and told it to keep the change.

The music was just loud enough; they could talk over it, but still not disturb others, as long as they kept their voices down. Surprisingly, Spike was careful to keep his low.

They took a moment to survey the club. It was small, cluttered with small round tables, each with four chairs and crowded to the max. A few chairs were still available but only because the help was adding tables as customers entered. The dance floor was even taken up with seating. It didn't take them long to be directed to seats against one wall, near the middle. Spike watched as Xander sat, he lounged in the graceful, self-confident posture of a powerful man who knew what he was capable of and was comfortable with it. Spike couldn't suppress his smirk.

“What's that for?” Xander eyed Spike for a second then turned back to the music.

Spike took a seat behind Xander with his back to the wall. He didn't care that he couldn't see the stage; one jazz band looked very like another, unless you were a horn and tentacle counter. He was happy that they'd managed to find some jazz for Xander and that was that.

They listened through one set and part way into the next before anything happened. Then some new customer took exception to a 'pet' sitting on the furniture. He was drunk, which was his only excuse, but he put his hands on Xander.

Spike hissed softly, drawing back one hand to strike at the demon. He was too late to prevent it from dragging Xander out of his chair. Xander stumbled when the demon let go of him, but just a bit. He smoothly recovered his balance and dropped into a defensive stance and prepared to defend himself.

He didn't need to; Spike roared like a scalded tiger and jumped the demon. “No one touches him!” Xander wisely got out of the way, crowding Bud into a small niche and jamming himself in beside him. “Ok, so not good. We're going to get thrown out of New Orleans, never mind the Undercity.”

Bud just grunted, Xander's elbow was digging him in the ribs.

Spike hammered on the demon, who fought back. This was not a fight of finesse; it was brute strength, fang and claw. The patrons of the club scattered, leaving by any door they could reach, and there were more than it appeared.

The demon roared and flailed its arms as Spike took a bite out of its ear. Since he was vamped, it was most of the ear. It really didn't do to have long floppy ears in a fight with Spike. The demon managed to get hold of the back of Spike's coat and threw him into a wall. Spike bounced off with a grunt, but managed to keep his feet.

Xander sighed, crossed his arms over his chest and settled one ankle over the other. “I wish he wouldn't do that.”

Bud grunted, leaning in the same way against the other side of the niche and slightly behind Xander. There wasn't enough room for them to stand side-by-side. “You know he likes to play with his kill first. Leave him alone.”

While Bud and Xander had been talking, Spike had been hammering on his opponent. An opponent who was sadly overmatched, no matter that he was nearly twice Spike's size. Spike was not the oldest vampire around, even in New Orleans, but he was one of the strongest. He was turned by Drusilla, but mastered and sired by Angelus. He had blood he didn't have to fight for and a Companion who was his equal. All this made him very powerful.

Right now he was using this power to demolish the demon who'd dared to touch what was his. The demon knew it was in trouble; the fact that Spike was doing his best to tear off the ear he'd taken a bite out of was a really big clue. It snatched at Spike, but lost its grip; sometime during the fight Spike had broken several of its fingers.

Xander and Bud watched the fury with interest. Xander commented, “Spike really seems pissed.”

Bud replied, “Yeah, that idiot touched his Claimed.”

“I thought I was a Companion.”

“Claimed, Companion what's the difference? Same thing when it comes to insult. Besides, you're well on your way to being a Consort.”

Xander just grunted, “Oh... 'k.” and went back to watching.

But the fight was almost over; the demon was weakly kicking its legs and scrabbling its claws on the floor. Spike was strangling it, happily indulging his craving for mayhem.

Xander pointed to four bouncers who were approaching Spike. “We better get out there. If he mangles the help, people aren't going to be happy.”

Bud lunged up from his hip shot against the wall stance and headed for the bouncers. Xander followed, but veered off to see if he couldn't get Spike to lay off.

“Spike, come on, he's out of it. There's bouncers here. Spike!” Spike wasn't letting up, and Xander didn't want him to get into a fight with the bouncers as well; that would be an insult to Master Robinson. He grabbed at Spike again and nearly got himself smacked. Spike managed to pull up just in time.

“What the hell? Xander, you're going to get it later. What are you thinking?” Spike shook his head, shaking off his fury as well as his war face.

“I'm thinking that you're getting ready to insult our host in a way he can't ignore. Punish me later, leave now. Come on.” Xander grabbed Spike again, and this time Spike cooperated.

Xander left Bud to make excuses, apologies, or what ever was called for. He took Spike out into the long corridor and looked for a private place for him to calm down in. One of the bouncers obviously knew what he needed and just pointed to a door down the way a bit and said, “In there. Take your time. I'll stand outside.”

Xander dragged Spike into the well appointed room and realized that it was a private scene or play room. It was attached to a club, and this was the private exit.

“Well, looks like we've got the perfect place for my punishment.” Xander hugged Spike then pushed him away a bit.

Spike snorted. “You know damn good and well that I'm not gonna do anything much to you. Idiot. I could have really hurt you.”

“But you didn't. You've got better control than that. Come here.”

Spike sidled back up to Xander smiling coyly. “An' what are ya gonna do?”

“You're evil. Stop that. Going all coy and stuff.”

Spike nipped at Xander's chin, blunt, human teeth making no mark. “ 'M not coy. 'M evil.”

Xander just kissed Spike silent. He ground his pelvis into Spike's groin, and they both groaned.

“Damn it, luv. Unless you want to get fucked right here, stop that.” Spike ground back.

Xander just started stripping Spike who didn't protest much, only wriggling his shoulders to help Xander get his shirt off, and then his hips as his jeans caught on his erect dick.

“Oh, my god. Do you know how hot I get just looking at you?” Xander stepped back a bit to look his fill. “You never let me look. It's all rush, rush, rush, not that I'm complaining exactly.”

Spike just looked back. Xander was right; they were usually in so much of a rush to get to business that they didn't take time to appreciate each other. Spike took a moment to really look at Xander. The boy had developed into a deep-chested, narrow-hipped man whose broad shoulders and powerful arms and legs told the story of hours and hours spent in a dojo and at hard physical labor. Xander moved like a panther, all powerful muscles under sleek skin. He realized that he needed to get Xander a new collar, his was just about too small and that wouldn't do.

Xander also took time to look. Spike hadn't changed much. He was still slender, whipcord lean and tight; tight abs, tight gluts, tight everywhere. His bleached blond hair was still as sleek as ever, but it seemed thicker somehow. And he was more than twice as strong as before. Regular blood supply and less stress, despite what he might claim, had led to his improved physical state. Xander found that he liked what he saw very much.

Xander gathered the smaller man into his arms and hugged him close. “Spike, master, what's wrong? You've been really nervous all night. Is there something I can do?”

Spike leaned into the hug. Sometimes all he wanted was to be able to let go for a moment, just a moment. “I'm Ok. Just had something that was worrying me. Lady cleared that one up, now I just need to let off some steam. Fight helped.”

“Well, a good fuck should finish the job then.”

Spike nibbled at Xander's neck. “Don't talk like that. Not about us.”

“Ok, then what is it we do?”

“Not sure. Make love? Too sappy for me. Screw? Granted you're a carpenter, but I'm not a piece of wood.”

Xander chuckled into Spike's cheek. “Ok, so we don't fuck, make love, or screw. There's a lot of other things to call it, most of them either crude or clinical. Let's get a thesaurus and look them all up. I'm sure you can find something that doesn't offend your Victorian sensibilities.” The laughter in his voice made Spike poke him in the stomach.

“Stop that, this is really serious. And Vicky was a straight laced old broad, even when she was young. Now.”

“How about you stop yapping and we bump uglies?”

Spike snarled softly, but with little threat. “That's the worst yet.”

Xander snickered then said softly, “Maybe we should stop talking then.”

Spike suddenly realized something, “Oi! How come I'm naked and you're not?”

“Was waiting for you to rectify the situation. Glad you finally noticed.” Xander smirked at Spike in a totally unrepentant way, which made Spike start stripping him.

“Jesus Christ! You must have... what's this?” As Spike stripped Xander, he piled his weapons on a small table. “Fuck.” Xander just grinned. “I know, I know. I see you put them up every day, but... I just never realized really.”

Xander grinned as he stood in nothing but his collar. “So, I'm a paranoid asshole. Deal.”

Spike just kissed Xander, nipping at his lips until he opened his mouth. The resultant tongue tangle left them both breathless; panting, Xander pushed Spike in the general direction of the nearest flat surface.

They tumbled onto the futon with a thump and laughed when the frame didn't survive the impact. There had been other places for them to occupy, but none of them were of interest: the spanking bench was too narrow, the sling too high, and neither one of them was interested in doing anything standing up. They pulled the cotton mattress off the broken frame and stretched out on it on the floor.

“Mmmm. Like this.” Xander ran a hand over Spike's chest, pinching one nipple.

“Oi!” Spike protest was half hearted at best as he was running one hand over Xander's chest and trying to wriggle the other under him. They'd rolled over several times and Spike had gotten on top of Xander, so now he was trying to get one hand under him for obvious reasons.

“If you insist.” Xander rolled them again then flipped onto his back beside Spike, allowing them both to touch where they wished.

It was a slow heat up; Xander stroked and petted Spike while Spike did the same to him. They touched and stroked each other until Xander couldn't stand it anymore. He lifted his legs and pulled his knees to his chest. “Spike, if you don't do something right now, I'm gonna blow on my own.”

Spike just laughed and helped himself to a small bottle of lube from the table nearby. “Mmmm, coconut.” He popped the top open and squeezed, but nothing happened, it was still sealed. Completely undaunted, he bit the bottom out of it and slathered the contents over himself and Xander.

Xander yelped as the cold stuff was smeared from his throbbing erection to his anus. “Damn it! That shit's cold!”

Spike leered at Xander. “A little friction will heat it up.”

Xander grumbled, “Evil, undead, cold-blooded...” then moaned as Spike moved between his legs and slipped into him in one smooth, firm stroke. “Oh, mu' god!”

Spike pulled out and did it again hitting Xander's prostate. He whimpered and grabbed at Spike's shoulders. “Contrary to popular belief, I won't break. Damn it, harder.”

Spike stroked harder, bumping Xander's prostate every other stroke. In any other man, this would have been painful after only a few moments, for Xander it just increased his enjoyment. Immensely. Spike sped up and Xander groaned. It felt so very good.

“Blast, luv, I'm not gonna last. Sorry.” Spike howled his release. Xander replied with a cry of his own as they climaxed almost together.

Spike collapsed against Xander who hugged him close.

“Sorry about that. Way too fast.”

Xander snorted. “It was good. We were both too tense to last long. Rest.”

So they rested, until someone knocked on the inside door. Spike gave Xander a big eyed look that made him laugh.

“How the hell did we get into this room?”

Xander rolled his head on the futon. “No idea. Luck? Magic? Someone forgot to lock the door? Don't care. Just pay the fucker and let's get cleaned up.”

Spike sauntered over to open the door and snarl in the knocker's face, “What!”

“Um... sir? I'm sorry, sir, but there's a fee for the room. It should have been paid up front, but... um... could you pay it now, please?”

Spike gave a jerky nod and turned to glare at a hysterically laughing Xander. “Stop that, you.” He slammed the door in the demon’s face.

Xander just laughed harder. Spike finally opened the attached bathroom door, turned on the shower, and returned to the futon. He pulled Xander into a standing position, jammed his shoulder in Xander's stomach making him 'oof', and strode to the running shower.

He dumped Xander into the brisk stream of water and snickered when Xander yelped. He hadn't left it ice cold, but it was still decidedly chilly.


Spike just adjusted the temperature and stepped in in front of Xander.

“Nice, now you get all the hot water.”


Spike just started washing himself.

Xander helped then started to wash himself, Spike helped, but wound up fondling Xander more than really washing him. Xander finally slapped his hands away and finished while Spike snickered.

Xander stepped out of the shower and took the towel Spike handed him. He sighed; he really didn't want to put the same underwear back on. His clothing was still clean, but he just had a thing about underwear.

“What? You hurt? You need something?” Spike gave him a concerned look.

Xander just shook his head. “Clean underwear.” Spike gave him blank face. “I'm not hurting. That's fine. I just hate putting on underwear that I've already worn.”

Spike nodded. “Ok, clean underwear.” He just tossed on his clothes and left. Xander wrapped the towel around his waist and wandered out into the outer room.

Spike opened the door the demon had tapped on and glanced out. The same demon was sitting on a small stool across the hallway. “Oi, you! Y-fronts size thirty-four. And the tab. Go.” The demon just nodded and trotted off.

Spike returned to the room and glanced around. It was well appointed and at one time would have been more than attractive to Spike, now he found it overdone, underwhelming, and slightly silly.

Xander was crouched, towel wrapped firmly around his waist, trying to fix the futon frame.

“Forget that crap. I'll pay for it and be done with it. Sit down. Relax.” Spike wandered over to the mini-bar and poked around for a moment. “Morgan and coke?” Spike held up the tiny bottle of liquor.

Xander snorted. “At those prices? Don't think so. Especially since that's barely a sip.”

Spike shrugged, he felt good enough that he really didn't care one way or the other. “Ok. Tab should be here soon. And underwear.”

Xander dropped the pants he was about to put back on and grinned. “Really?”

“Really. Would I lie to you?”

Xander considered this long enough that Spike was beginning to feel offended. “No, I really don't think you would. Why bother?”

Spike preened a bit. “Thanks.” A light tap on the door had him asking, “Get that, will you, luv?”

“Sure. Bet it's a massive bill and my shorts.” Xander opened the door to find that it was indeed his shorts and a bill. He just handed the demon his credit card and shut the door in its face.

It didn't take him long to dress and replace his weapons.

He went to the opposite side of the room and opened that door. “Bud?”

“Right here, buddy. What's up?”

“Nothing now.” Xander smirked at his friend. “We'll be leaving in a few. You Ok?”

“Fine as frog hair split three ways. Ready to go any time you are. Master Spike feel better?”

“Yeah. Me, too.” Bud just nodded.

Spike had to wait for the bill and credit card to come back so that Xander could sign it. They spent the time examining the set up and making crude comments. They laughed quite a bit; Spike's sharp wit and dry delivery kept Xander snickering.

The demon who returned with the bill was very apologetic about not having them on his reservation list; neither Spike nor Xander bothered to tell him that the outer door had been unlocked. Xander signed the invoice and they left, collecting Bud, and heading back up to the street level.

They exited the tavern and walked back to the SUV. Bud got them back to their hotel and they made it to bed just before sunrise.

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