Ulterior Motives


Part Thirty-Seven

Xander stood at Spike's side, wishing for another cup of coffee.

They'd awakened late and had to rush to get ready for court. Spike was bidding Master Robinson good-bye, so everything was really formal and stiff. Including their clothing. He sighed and forced himself not to fuss with his tie.

Spike mouthed all the proper things, bowed (just barely), smacked Arnold on the ass, and walked out. Xander scrambled to keep up with him. Spike smirked over his shoulder and Xander scowled back. Bud just snickered softly.

Tara, on the other hand, rolled her eyes and wondered if she'd ever get used to this male 'pissing contest' nonsense.

They made their way to the cars and drove out of the parking lot. Xander had felt a bit sorry for all the people that had to sit and wait for them; telling Master Robinson that they were waiting wouldn't have made any difference. He not only wouldn't understand the problem, he wouldn't care.

But now they were on the road to Chicago.

Xander had decided to tell Spike that it would take sixteen hours. Actually, driving straight through should take 14, but Xander knew that they were going to have to stop at least once. Traveling with a complete household was a Dextera's nightmare. Xander had tried several times to get Spike to send at least some of the beings home, but every time he just about had him convinced, that particular person would be needed. He'd finally given up, complaining bitterly about organizational nightmares and uncooperative fate.

So, here they were traveling 900 plus miles by bus, SUV, and semi. He wished they could fly, but Spike had vetoed that on the first day. Some of the demons accompanying them were not human friendly and not at all willing to fly. Never mind that getting their weapons through security was impossible. Xander grumbled softly to himself; this damn convoy was a real nuisance. It was going to be even worse when they headed back for Nevada. He really dreaded the drive across Kansas. Not that he was really looking forward to driving the length of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois. He sighed and rubbed his face.

“What is it?” Spike tugged Xander until he leaned against his shoulder.

Xander let his head rest on Spike for a moment. “All the arrangements, they're driving me nuts. Renting new vehicles for one, who was the idiot that turned ours back in? And if one more person says they have to check with you first, I'm dismembering them, I swear.”

“That's the big problem?” Spike snarled softly; he'd known there were going to be problems, but he'd hoped that Xander would be able to handle them. He'd handled construction crews of men older and more experienced than he; what was the problem here?

“I don't have anything to threaten them with. ‘I'll tell Spike?’ That's as bad as ‘I'll tell Daddy.’”

Spike poked him into a position that was more comfortable, for Spike. “Just fuckin' kill 'em. I don't care. You're my Enforcer; you need them to be scared of you.”

Xander made a soft noise. “I know that! What's... I... tell Timmins to quit feeding me stupid pills, will you?”

Spike snorted. “You're too nice. If I tell you directly to do something, you do it very well. So... No one disrespects you, no one back talks you, no one argues with you. It's the same as doing it to me. You're my Dextera.”

Xander grumbled, “But what does that mean? I'm just a second. You gave me all my jobs, but Timmins...”

Spike interrupted him sharply. “Timmins is teaching you your job. I told you, you're my Dextera.” Spike sighed softly. “Did it again, didn't I? Well, listen up. There's only one Dextera, ever. You're mine. You're my voice, my hand, my ears, my eyes, when I'm not around. You kill when I tell you to, you kill when you find someone has done something to deserve it, and you kill when you feel like it. No one can say no, no one can discipline you except me. I'm a god and you're a godling, for lack of a better way to explain it. If someone says they have to ask me before they do what you tell them to, kill em. They’re too stupid to live anyway. Understand?”

Xander sighed happily. “Yes, sir. Kiss?”

Spike pulled Xander until he was lying along the seat with his head in Spike's lap and his feet across the U-shaped back seat. Spike bent over him in a fashion that Xander could only describe as looming and kissed him. Xander opened his mouth and kissed back.

“Mmmmm, nice vampire.”

“’M not nice.”

“Are too.”


“Stop arguing and kiss me some more.”

Spike did as his Dextera ordered him to.

After several minutes of blatantly necking, Spike realized that Xander was going to have to take a break; panting that hard couldn't be good for him.

“Ok, pet?”

Xander gulped air. “Yes, only... not a pet.”

“Shut it, you're my pet. This is nice.”

Xander snickered. “Yeah, necking in a back seat with your lover is supposed to be brilliant. Right.”

Spike smirked down at him. “Bloody brilliant, to be exact. Now... how the hell do you expect me to kiss you with your lips flappin' around like that?” Spike returned to his endeavors, Xander just relaxed and let things happen. Nice things.

Those things took up three hours of their time, made the driver nearly run off the road at least twice, and left them both thirsty. Xander fished in the mini-fridge for a drink. He cursed softly when he realized that no one had filled the thing. He was going to have words with Timmins; this was his job, not Xander's. Then he realized that Timmins had a lot more important things to do than seeing if a rented SUV was properly stocked. Xander got out his Blackberry and tried to send an email to the rental agency. There was no signal just now, one of the few drawbacks of the thing, so he made a note to send one later.

Spike snarled, grumbled a bit then ordered the driver to pull over. Xander checked his Blackberry for bars and only had two, not enough to get a clear connection.

“Wait until we get a good connection so I can text everyone that we're pulling over.”

Spike glared at him. “What difference does that make? Whose business is it?”

Xander bared his teeth at Spike. “Everyone's. We need to stay in touch. This circus is so big it's ridiculous. I don't want everyone turning around and coming back to find us. This way, they'll know that we've stopped for a break and just keep on their merry way. Don't be a pain.”

Spike pouted, but Xander ignored him.

After another mile or two, Xander told the driver to go ahead and pull out at the next available facility which turned out to be a truck stop.

Spike wasn't happy about the fact that; since it was barely noon, he couldn't go in with Xander. Xander just snorted and said, “What? I'm like three? Just relax; I'll be back in a few with some drinks and snacks. Funyuns? I know you like them.”

Spike grumbled some more, but demanded Funyuns and AriZona tea. Xander made a ‘yuk’ face at him, but promised to bring both.

Xander walked across the parking lot at a leisurely pace, admiring the big rigs and trailers. Some of them had fantastic paint jobs and lights in places that had him puzzled. He shrugged as he walked through the door.

The mini-mart was like all truck stops: brightly lit, remarkably clean, and filled with counters too close together. The Muzak was predigested pap and the food was Hardee's and KFC. Yummy.

He decided to purchase one of the cheap coolers, stock it with cold drinks, and get a bucket of chicken to go. Spike liked wings.

Xander reached up to get a cooler from its place on top of the marquee over the fridge.

Then he heard a voice from behind him, “Pretty collar, little boy.”

He turned around to confront a huge trucker who was grinning at him in a fashion that Xander didn't like.


“I think you need a new master. Your old one doesn't seem to know how to treat a slave.”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Sorry, really busy. Oh, and I'm not a slave, or a toy.” The man grabbed his wrist. “Hands off, ugly.”

The trucker jerked on Xander's wrist, snarling wordlessly. Xander ducked under his out stretched arm, used the man's body as a fulcrum and tossed him over the nearest four-foot section and into the aisle on the other side. He landed with a loud thump and slid down the aisle until he hit the end. Several other large men looked over, caught a good look at Xander and decided, due to the glaring, that they weren't interested.

Xander picked out some drinks, gathered his snacks, and carried the whole pile up to the check out.

“I'll be back for that when I get my chicken. Ok?”

The clerk gave Xander an uninterested once over. “What about that guy?”

“Who? Oh, big daddy? Not my problem. He'll be someone else's if he doesn't leave me alone.” Xander turned away to get his chicken.

The clerk just sighed and said, “Ok.”

The moment he was at the KFC counter she turned her head and yelled, “Clean up on aisle three. Toss him out the back, please.”

A boy about seventeen wandered out from a back room and looked at the huge man. “Not a chance. I'll strain my back. Throw him out when he sobers up.”

“Not drunk. Some guy tossed him over the shelves.”

The boy looked impressed. “Cool. He get personal with him? That guy over at KFC, right?”

The clerk nodded. “Yeah. Something special about him?”

The stock boy, who happened to be a Dilmona demon, shrugged. “He's a Claimed. I can smell it. Not messing with him for a second.”

“Vampire Claimed? Oh, shit. Phil really picked on the wrong sub this time.” The clerk shook her head sadly. “I knew this was coming sooner or later. He's always gotten subs who wanted him before, but he's been getting too pushy lately.”

Xander returned with his chicken and glanced from the clerk to the stock boy. “I'll give you a bit of advice for free. Get that idiot out of here and keep him out. He might be harmless, but guys like him? They escalate.” At their puzzled looks he explained. “They get worse and worse. Sooner or later, they go too far, and either really, really hurt someone, or even kill them. And then the cops come around, truckers hear that this is a pick up joint, then the fun really starts. The good guys avoid you, the bad guys crowd in, and you're ruined in no time.”

Both the clerk and the boy looked worried. Xander nodded and started for the door, cooler, chicken, and snacks in hand. He glanced around and sighed; the place was nice, but they were in more trouble than they thought. He wondered if he shouldn't tell Spike then he realized that it wasn't Spike's domain; it belonged to the Master of Louisiana.

He walked back to the SUV, handed his booty in to Spike, and climbed in after. Spike sniffed once and threw a fit.

“What the hell? Who touched you? I'll kill 'em.”

Xander just handed Spike his tea and Funyuns. “Don't bother. I tossed him over the counters. He's out like a light, and in disgrace. He'll have a hard time even getting back in the store. But...” He fished out the Blackberry and started a text. “Um... where the hell are we? Whose territory is this?”

“We're still in Louisiana’s, just barely.” Spike watched as Xander composed and sent the message. He got one back almost immediately, all it said was, “Situation noted, steps will be taken.”

Xander pinged back to show that he'd actually gotten the message then dove into the bags.

“Here, Funyuns.” Spike held up the bag he'd already been given. “What? I know you; more than one is good. And there's another tea. I got chicken for me and the driver; what the hell is his name?”

Spiked shook his head. “No idea. Hey!” The driver turned around. “What the hell is your name? We can't keep calling you ‘Driver’.”

The man grinned, teeth very white in his dark face. “Why not? It's my name. Mr. Jim Driver, at your service. And... um... I'm not that fond of chicken. So I'll just drive, Ok?”

Xander just shrugged. “I've got some snacks, too. Cheese crackers, chips, Doritos... um... and some chocolate. Kit Kat, Snickers, Ho-Hos, and a few others.

Mr. Driver just politely refused all offered treats, started the SUV, and pulled out of the parking lot. Spike immediately confiscated more than half of the snacks, amidst some very serious complaining on Xander's part.

“But, Spike, it's a special occasion!” He tried a pout; Spike just stashed the confiscated snacks in the console next to him and shook his head. “You never let me have snacks.”

“I do, too. Nice ones like fruit and stuff.” Spike laughed at Xander's protruding lip. “I'll ride to town on that.”

“Damn. Why does that work for Willow and Buffy and not for me? It's not fair.” Xander laughed, his natural good humor surfacing. “You just want them all for yourself, evil, undead git.”

“Oi! I resemble that. And no I don't. You haven't pigged out on this kind of stuff in forever. You'll be sick as a foundered horse. An' I don't fancy riding around in a vehicle that smells of puke.”

Xander grumbled, but picked out another piece of chicken. He also opened one of the small containers of cole slaw, and another of baked beans. Spike sighed, Xander and beans didn't mix well. He snatched it off Xander's knee and tossed it out the window he'd opened just for that purpose. Xander didn't even flinch; he just mumbled, “Asshole,” around a mouthful of chicken.

Spike just raised his eyebrow and found the other container; it went the way of its companion and Spike leaned back against the seat again. “No beans. Potato salad, cole slaw, fine, but no beans.”

Xander snorted around his slaw. “Glad we're not going to Boston, then.”

Spike laughed lightly. “Me, too.” He turned to his tea, but snagged a drumstick to go along with it.

The SUV drove on into the day, tinted windows protecting its occupants from the sun.


They arrived at Little Italy near nine pm, and slipped quietly into the parking garage of their hotel.

It was one of those out of the way places that no one really knew about except the 'cognoscenti'; those in the know. La Residenza was a small building with a great deal more underground than above. The building had been built during Prohibition as a hide-out for Al Capone, but he'd never even entered it, winding up in prison instead. Now it was a residence for guests of the Master of Chicago and the Northern Territories.

Xander looked around at the check-in desk and lobby. It was windowless but bright with indirect lighting coming from a strip of lights behind a decorative ledge around the walls near the ceiling. There were also lights on the pillars scattered around the area. He liked the style and really wanted to get a ladder and inspect the hidden lighting closer.

Timmins was in close discussion with the Maitre d' and the Manager. He was making sure that all the linens would be replaced with their own, and that all the rooms for vampires were underground. Xander managed to listen in, learning quite a bit in the process. Timmins was polite in a cool way that intimated that he could be not so cool in a split second. Xander had to grin a bit; Timmins was very intimidating when he wanted to be.

“What are you grinning at?”

“Timmins. He's older than Angel, claims to be nothing much special then intimidates the hell out of every place we stay.”

Spike shrugged. “He's a great valet, what can I say?”

Xander snorted. “Thanks?”

Spike looked horrified. “I'd never insult him by implying that his efforts were visible.”

Xander thought about that for a moment. “Oh? Well...” He trailed off, deciding that it had to be a vampire thing.


It didn't take them long to get settled in their suite, Timmins swooped in and took care of everything in a few moments. Xander and Spike wisely kept out of his way in the living room.

The suite was huge with a large living area containing three seating arrangements and a desk; there was also a dining room seating eight comfortably, two bedrooms with attached baths, and a small foyer.

Xander flopped down on a couch in one of the seating arrangements; all of them were identical with a couch, love seat and two chairs, a coffee table and three end tables. He put his feet up on the coffee table and grumbled. He was tired and hungry and not in the mood to mess with anything more than a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.

“Spike, how soon before supper? We slept in the SUV and I'm restless.”

Spike just shrugged. “We could go to supper now, but it's a bit rude. We haven't greeted the High Master yet.”

Xander grumbled again, but agreed that they had to make their appearance in court. “When should we leave for court?”

“As soon as we can be ready.” Spike heaved himself off the love seat he'd sat down on and headed for the bedroom Timmins had assigned them. They found that Timmins was still talking to the head of housekeeping. Xander shook his head at Spike, slipped into the bathroom and started the shower. Xander knew that Spike didn't care for all this formality, things that Timmins delighted in, but he was putting up with it because they had to establish themselves as true High Master and Claimed. All this grand progression stuff was annoying, Xander knew he shouldn't feel like this, but he did.

Spike wasn't enjoying it much either, from what Xander could tell. He seemed irritable half the time and resigned the rest; it didn't make Xander happy.


“Yeah?” Spike followed Xander into the bathroom and undressed, planning on taking the first shower.

“You're not really happy with all this are you?”

“No, I don't like it at all. I don't like being out of my territory, I don't like trusting your safety and mine to a near stranger. I don't know most of the beings we're coming in contact with, so I don't know what to expect from them. Makes me twitchy.”

“Can we leave for New York City sooner?”

“I wish we could. We have to stay at least the three days we’d planned. I'm keeping our visit to the bare, polite minimum. I'm telling them that my territory has been neglected for so long that it's taking me forever to get things back under control. So far, no one has said anything.”

Xander shrugged, trying to shake the tension out of his shoulders. “I don't like it. I want to go home. Something bad is going to happen. Or not.”

Spike grunted as he soaped up. Xander stayed dressed, nominally guarding the door from strangers. Spike wasn't happy to be gone from his territory for so long, either. They'd been gone for four days, and it felt like four months; he was wondering who was up to what while his back was turned. He realized that it didn't make much difference; if he insulted the other High Masters he'd be involved in war on at least two fronts and his territory would never survive it. He ground his teeth and finished his shower, drying off quickly. Timmins had at least gotten their toiletries and towels in place before the lecture.

Timmins had finally finished instructing the housekeeping staff on what he expected from them. He'd put out something for both Spike and Xander awaiting their approval. Xander only examined his suit for a second before approving it. Spike turned his over, examined it carefully then nodded once.

Spike wished that he and Xander had time to do more than shower and dress, but if they didn't want to insult High Master Antonio De Luca they had to appear at his court at the proper time. Each court had different traditions, and in this court the proper time was about halfway through the session, or at approximately midnight. He glanced at his watch and snarled, if they hurried they'd just make it.

Xander’s brief, unsatisfying shower was followed by shaving and dressing. Spike managed a bit more quickly than Xander as he’d started first and didn't have to shave, but Xander's blue five o'clock shadow needed attention. Xander examined his chin to make sure that he hadn't left a tuft and grumbled even more.

“I don't see why we have to make it to court tonight. We just got in, I'm tired, never mind that I slept in the SUV, and we're rushing around like crazy things to make it to court? Stupid, that's what it is. And I'm nervous, I feel like... something bad is going to happen, and I don't know what. So... Timmins, I want both swords, both Berettas, and as many throwing knives as I can hide. And I want Spike armed, too.” He turned to glare at Spike. “And no argument. Timmins? Call Bud and tell him to arm up, too.”

Timmins just nodded and left to do as he was told. When Xander got like this it was better to just do as he was told; arguing only made Xander sulky.

So Timmins put out everything Xander asked for, called Bud and gave him his orders, and advised him to leave Tara in her quarters. Bud agreed and asked Timmins to let Xander know that he'd be ready in twenty minutes.

It took that long for Xander to convince Spike to carry weapons, and Xander only managed that by telling him that he, Xander, might need them. Spike grumbled that the MAC-10 spoiled the fit of his suit; Xander didn't see it. After all, he was hiding his gladius, two Beretta 93R's, and half a dozen knives. He hadn't managed to figure out how to hide his tachi so he was just going to have Bud carry it. If the Master of the Territory didn't like it, tough. He knew they were going to be accompanied by nearly a dozen other bodyguards, but he didn't care.


Xander followed Spike into the court room and nearly stopped cold. It was amazing, like something out of an old Gangster movie.

“Jesus, Spike, they all look like wise guys.”

Spike shrugged. “Don't bother to whisper, they can all hear you. And most of the older ones are all 'made men', original made men. The Master actually does refer to himself as the Capo di Tutti Capi, so do all his people.” Spike smirked as one of the Capi came to escort him to the couch the Capo sat on. Xander found it a bit confusing as Capo meant captain, and every higher up here was called Capo. He shrugged that away and paid attention.

They were given comfortable chairs, Spike and Xander; Bud stood behind Xander's chair with his sword in one hand. The rest of Spike's entourage either did not come or were pointed to places far enough away that they were part of the court, but not intruding on the Capo's personal space. Xander didn't like being that far away from the rest of the group, but Spike didn't seem bothered.

Xander ignored the polite small talk in favor of scanning the room for exits, problems, and weak points. After evaluating everything Xander decided that the court was safe enough. There were nearly a hundred beings in the court, most of them vampires. The few other demons were harmless sorts, and seemed to be servants or very low level minions. He relaxed a bit.

Spike glanced at Xander, noted his wandering eyes, and returned to exchanging civilities with Master De Luca.

Suddenly there was a bang from the back of the room. Xander jumped up from the chair, gladius in one hand and a 93R in the other. Spike pulled the MAC-10, and Bud unsheathed the tachi. Others in the room scurried to get out of the way of the combatants.

Master De Luca just leaned back on his couch and purred, “Well, well, what do we have here?”

Spike discretely pulled Xander and Bud off to one side. This was not their problem, and they needed to stay out of it as much as possible.

Bud took his position on Spike's right and Xander on the left. They kept their weapons in hand.

Don Antonio watched as four vampires advanced to a place right in front of him. They all looked like old Mafiosi.

What followed was just like something out of Mafia legend.

Don Antonio talked about loyalty to the head of family; the four talked about new blood. The verbal sparring made Xander's head ache.

Spike watched the battle of wills with sharp attention. This was the sort of thing he had to deal with, and it was always interesting to see how another master handled it. Don Antonio just let the four argue themselves into a dead end then abandoned them to their own stupidity. They argued with each other at the end and nearly came to blows over it. Xander just put up his weapons and sat back down in a convenient chair.

The Don invited two vampires from the side to come forward and advise him. They leaned over his shoulders and whispered in his ears, they whispered to each other, and finally stood. They backed up into the shadows again, and Don Antonio turned to Spike.

“It seems I have a problem that only someone not in line of succession can help me with. I would ask you for a favor.”

Spike studied the Don for a few long moments then asked, “What kind of favor? I'm not inclined to grant carte blanche. Sorry.”

“No problem. I ask, you say yea or nay.”

Spike thought about that for a second. “Ok, ask; the worst I'll do is say no.”

“I need someone removed. Only one person. An execution if you will. But if any of my people do it there will be a vendetta. If someone not attached to this court does it, it'll be considered a lifetime favor to me and no blame attached to it at all.”

Xander shifted uncomfortably; he had an idea where this was going. Bud put a hand on his shoulder.

Spike turned his head to look at Xander. “Xander?”

Xander thought carefully, could he do this? He was sure he could, if Spike said it was necessary. And that meant the Don would owe them a huge favor. He shrugged.

“Up to you. If you want to grant the favor, I can do it.”

Spike turned back to the Don. “Who do you want whacked?”

Don Antonio thought for a moment then pointed to the one who seemed to be the instigator to him. He knew that the vampire that was the nominal leader hadn't thought this up, he wasn't smart enough, but his 'advisor' was. That was the vampire he wanted dead. Several of his courtiers grabbed the one he pointed out. It didn't take them long to subdue him and drag him to stand in front of Don Antonio.

Xander stood up, shed his jacket, and took his tachi from Bud, exchanging it for his gladius which was in a sheath between his shoulder blades. He kept his guns as they wouldn't be in his way.

Don Antonio glared at his chosen target. The vampire snarled, “I'm not letting that human take me out. He'll have to fight me to do it.”

The Don looked at Spike. Spike shrugged. “He can do it. Might press home a few ideas. Like we High Masters stand up for each other. If it's a legitimate challenge that's one thing. This sort of stupidity is another. How you want to do this?”

Don Antonio shrugged. “Up to your human. Whatever makes him happy.”

Spike just looked at Xander. Xander just remarked, “What would make me happy is not to mess up my new suit fighting that fool. I just put it on for the first time.”

The Don just said, “Fugedabowdit, I'll buy you two new suits, your choice.” He waved a hand expansively. “Don't care how much it costs.”

Xander just shrugged. “Ok.” He turned to Bud shrugging off his harness. “Here, hold this, too.” Bud just smirked and took the harness.

Xander pulled his hair back and put a tie on it. It was now very long, nearly to the bottom of his shoulder blades and had several war locks braided into it, each with a jewel or totem at the end. Xander liked it that way better, the other locks had been heavy and more uncomfortable than he was willing to put up with. Besides, this way it took Spike more time to braid them for him, time they both enjoyed.

He turned back to the Don and nodded. “Let the bum go. Oh, and I hate killing someone whose name I don't know. What's his?”

One of the courtiers holding the vampire said, “His name's Dominic Murano, or mud, depending.”

Xander just set himself; Dominic was finally let go, and the fight was on. The vampire thought all he would have to do was charge Xander and it would be all over. It didn't work; Xander stepped out of the way and let him charge by. Dominic stumbled to a halt glaring around, vamp faced and furious. Spike helpfully grabbed him by one arm and got him pointed in the right direction again.

The second charge resulted in the same dodging as the first, but Xander smacked Dominic across the buttocks with the flat of his sword as he passed. Xander reassumed his defensive posture, sword held at shoulder height, point towards his opponent. Xander waited while Dominic thought about things. Whatever he'd come up with wasn't a good idea as it led to him charging Xander for a third time.

Xander sighed, “Bored now.” He kicked Dominic in the back and watched as he stumbled and fell to his knees. When he reared up to stand, Xander sliced off his head in one powerful blow. He flicked his sword to dash off blood then grinned at Spike; as the fool had been a vampire, there was no blood.

Spike got up, nodded to Don Antonio, and remarked. “That's it. I know we're supposed to trade pleasantries and such, but we've been on the road for something like 15 hours and I'm tired. With your permission I'm taking my boy and going back to the hotel. We'll return to court tomorrow.”

The Capo di Tutti Capi stood, motioned to chairs and said genially, “Sit! Sit! We'll have a little refreshment then you can go. But my Mama taught me it's rude to let you go without refreshment. Coffee, connoli?”

Spike had to laugh, he was sure the Don had no idea how much Xander loved coffee. Xander accepted his harness from Bud and shrugged into it. He put his gladius back in its sheath, exchanging it for his tachi again. He settled in the chair that Spike pointed to, wondering for the thousandth time why he was allowed to sit in the presence of the High Master of the Northern Territory.

“Got an odd look on your face, boy. What's the problem? Are you bothered by that?”

Xander didn't ask by what; he wasn't that naive. “No, just wondering why I get to sit in your presence. I'm more or less a nobody.”

Don Antonio waved a hand. “Bah! I know a Companion when I see one. Used to be that wasn't that big a deal, slaves more than anything else. But the new ways are going far back to the really old days. Days when a Companion or a Claimed were valued, high ranking members of a court. I find I like it. So, coffee? Cannoli?”

Xander's eyes lit up, “Cappuccino? What's a cannoli?”

Spike and Don Antonio both burst out laughing. Xander visibly pouted. It was a bit difficult to equate this pouting young man with the stone faced warrior of only a moment ago. Several of the courtiers shifted uncomfortably, wondering how this was going to affect their lives.

An elderly, motherly looking woman came in with a tray. On the tray were two cups of espresso, a cup of cappuccino and a plate of tubular pastries with filling oozing out of them. She handed the two espressos out, one to Spike and one to Don Antonio. She offered the last cup to Xander. He took the cup of cappuccino from the old woman and said, “Gratzie. Is that right?”

She smiled, revealing fangs. “Yes, very good. Here is cannoli. Mangia.”

The Don just shook his head. “Mama! Not so bossy.”

Mama just turned and smacked him in the back of the head. “Who are you to tell me what to do? You boss everyone else, I boss you. That's the way it is. Now. I'm going to cook.”

No one laughed, not even Spike. Xander knew enough about Italian families that he just ignored the byplay and concentrated on his cannoli.

Spike accepted a cannoli on a dainty plate from the Don who immediately filled another plate. Xander frowned a bit, but didn't say anything; he was still not quite sure how to act in a situation like this.

Spike handed the plate he was holding to Xander with a soft, “Never eat anything at court unless I either approve by going first or actually give it to you.” Xander nodded, remembering that he'd followed Spike at the New Orleans buffet.

“Ok. I'll remember.” He picked up the pastry after watching the Don do so, and bit into it. “Mmmm. This is so goo'“ He licked some of the creamy filling off his lower lip and sighed. He finished his cannoli and cappuccino then nudged Spike with his foot. Spike smiled over at him and shook his head. Xander nodded his understanding; they were leaving.

Spike stood up, offered his hand to the Don, and said, “Thank you so much for your hospitality.”

“No, thank you for helping me avoid an... unpleasantness. I'm grateful.”

Spike nodded, almost a bow, and turned to leave. Xander did bow, not more than a dip of his shoulders, but it seemed to please the Don. Bud bowed a bit, too, and followed Xander down the aisle left between the couch and doors. The rest of Spike’s entourage bowed to varying degrees, and they all left.

The drive back to the hotel was accomplished in silence. Xander just put his head on Spike’s shoulder and dozed. They were all tired, and Spike was irritable.

When they got back to the hotel, Spike jiggled Xander gently. “Wakey, wakey, we're here.”

“Huh?” Xander jerked then straightened up. “Oh, Ok.” He dragged himself after Spike, feeling tired and muzzy. He followed Spike into the elevator and leaned against the wall.

He finally got his thoughts organized and wondered if he'd gone too far with the execution.


“What, luv? You don't look happy.”

Xander rubbed his face wearily. “I'm... not. You don't think I was too ruthless there, do you?”

“Vampire here, it was a thing of beauty as far as I'm concerned. Clean, quick, and smooth. No torture, but a vamp can't have everything. Don't worry about it. I gave an order, and you carried it out. We both came out of it smelling like roses, and the Don owes me a favor. It's all good.”

Xander looked relieved. “Ok, that's good then. I won't worry about it anymore.”

Spike patted Xander. “That's my boy. I think we're both just overtired. All that driving, and no time to do more than scrape the sweat off. Come on, beddie-bye.”

Xander snorted. “I'm not three. But, you're right, I'm tired. Killing people is hard work.” He stretched and grunted. “Hum. Do you think Mama would give the recipe for those cannon things to Timmins?”

“You mean cannoli? Probably not. Women of that sort keep family recipes closer than their virgin daughters. But Timmins probably has a recipe of his own.”

Xander frowned wondering why Timmins hadn't made him any. He decided not to worry about it for now; he was too tired. Crashing from an adrenaline high after a 15 hour drive, even if he did manage to sleep, was just messing with his head too much.

“Spike, I'm so tired now that I'm stupid. If you need me to be on, there's things I can do. I'd rather not as they're really hard on the system later. Let's just go to bed.”

Spike felt a bit sad that he'd had to put Xander on the spot like that, but felt that it was worth it in the long run. Having a powerful Master like Don Antonio De Luca owe him a favor was a big boost to his prestige.

“Ok, Xander, bed it is. You'll feel better in the morning.”

“I know. I just get tired of all the dancing. Never was good a dancing.”

Spike blinked for a second, dancing? What the heck was Xander rambling about? He decided not to worry about it and just get Xander to bed before he fell over.

It didn't take long to get Xander to their rooms. Timmins met them at the door and shook his head. Spike would never admit that he looked as tired as Xander did.

“Fine, all that court business over with?” Spike cast him a puzzled look. “You think I don't know exactly what you two have been up to? I have my sources. Both of you, bath, bed. I've already got it all set up. The tub is big enough for both of you. Wash and get to bed before you both fall over.”

Neither argued with the bossy valet. They were both tired enough that they just showered and headed to bed.

Spike crawled between the sheets and held them up so that Xander could scoot in beside him. “Come on, luv, we're both knackered. I'm more tired than if I'd done battle.”

Xander scooted into the bed and cuddled up to Spike. “I did battle. Sleep now.”

Spike sighed and settled in against Xander. “Know ya did battle; that's why I'm so tired. Hate watching and not being able to help. Worry, ya know?”

“I do know.” Xander snuggled down more, getting comfortable against Spike's side. “Sleep, you. Noisy vampire.”

Xander waited for Spike to say something in return then realized that Spike was already asleep. He was asleep before he could do more than marvel a bit.


Morning was seven pm and Timmins knocked softly on the door; when Spike mumbled, “In,” he peeked in the door then smiled at what he saw. Xander had reared up behind Spike, scowling. The sight of a slender, blond-haired Spike backed by Xander's more powerful shoulders and streaming dark hair made him smile. His boys were so beautifully deadly.

“Well, here we are. Breakfast.” Timmins put the tray on the bed in front of Spike. Piled on the tray was a stack of cannoli, a bowl of fruit, and two cups of thick cappuccino. Xander immediately picked up a cannoli and bit into it.

“Oi! Those things shatter. You've got crumbs in the bed.” Spike pretended indignation, but he was actually pleased to see Xander eat. He always ate with such abandon, just like he did other things.

“Sod off.” Xander grinned at Spike around a mouthful of chocolate cream filling. Spike caught a glimpse of a blob in the corner of his mouth over his shoulder. He decided the only just punishment was to steal it, so he did. He rolled Xander over and kissed the blob of filling off his mouth.

Xander held the rest of his pastry overhead to avoid it being smashed, but otherwise didn't resist. Timmins adroitly snatched the tray away so that the coffee wasn't spilled. Spike kissed Xander until he was limp then licked his neck. He sighed and eased back; the time was almost right, but not just yet.

Xander gave Spike a puzzled look, but then shrugged, Spike would tell him what was up when he wanted to and not a second before. He settled back into a lounging position and stuffed the rest of the cannoli into his mouth. After chewing and swallowing, he grumbled, “Spike, if you've spilled the coffee, I'm not gonna be happy.”

Timmins set the tray back on the bed. “You better hurry a bit. You'll be wanting showers and a heartier breakfast. Court will convene at 10 p.m. precisely. It wouldn't do to be late. There will be a meal at midnight. Signora De Luca is cooking.” He gave them a smug look. “She was so kind as to send me a cannoli recipe. I've never made them before. I hope they are up to standard.”

Xander moved to sit on the side of the bed, nudging Spike out of his way to do so. “They're really good. And...” he took an appreciative sip of his coffee, “the cappuccino is especially good.”

“Thank you. As you know, we couldn't bring your machine along; it's not good for them to be moved so often. But they have an acceptable machine here. Now, finish your coffee and shower. I'll notify the kitchens that you'll be down to the main dining room for breakfast in... an hour?”

Spike nodded. “Hour would be just about right. Full breakfast, in case that luncheon isn't up to par.”

Timmins nodded. “Very well. Although I will say that I don't think Signora De Luca would serve substandard food.”

Xander grinned. “Spike, even I know that in a family like that one, the lady is on top of service. She might even be doing all the cooking herself. And, that's really strange, vampires that have banquets. I still don't get it. But, who am I to turn down food? Come on, let's get going.”

After showering and getting dressed, this time in similar suits with fewer weapons (Xander carried one of his Berettas and Spike just stuck a knife up his sleeve), they arrived in the main vestibule and entered the restaurant without incident.

Breakfast was decent, by anyone else's standards, but Timmins had spoiled them both. Xander eyed the eggs with a scornful expression.

“They're watery.” He touched them. “And cold. I'm not eating this.”

Spike picked up his mug of blood, sniffed it and scowled. “This is off. And too warm. What's going on here?”

Xander shrugged. “I don't know and I don't care. We'll find someplace else to eat. There's got to be a good restaurant close. It's Little Italy, damn it.”

As they left Spike cornered the Maitre d' and reamed him a new one. “You ever serve me or mine a mess like that again and I'll eat you. Got me.”

The Maitre d' stuttered then managed, “But it's supper time, not breakfast. We don't usually do breakfast at 8pm.”

Spike sneered at this. “Don't care, do I. You're supposed to be one of the best restaurants around that caters to demon trade. My blood was off, and too warm. My boy couldn't eat his food either. We'll be leaving early. And the Master of the Territory will hear about this.”

The man, the Maitre d' was human, promptly wet himself. Spike smirked, his mission accomplished, and sauntered away, coattails swinging.

Xander just snickered, “You didn't!”

“Did!” Spike's self-satisfied smirk made Xander snicker even more. He found he just couldn't be bothered to worry about people that stupid.

“Shame on us.” He glanced at his very practical military-style watch and announced, “We have less than two hours before we just have to head for court. I hear DiMaggio's is great for pizza. Let's go there.”

Spike sighed. “No. Not unless they have something beside pizza. Pizza is not the end all and be all of Italian food.”

Xander shrugged. “Ok, wise guy, you pick. But I'm hungry and not in the mood to drive halfway across the city to eat at some chi-chi place that thinks a mushroom and a scrap of bread is a course.”

The doorman overheard them and asked, “Are you looking for some other restaurant?”

Xander nodded, remarking, “Yeah, the Maitre d' here is an idiot. Cold eggs just don't cut it. You got any ideas?” He squinted to get a look at his name tag. “Nicco?”

Nicco shrugged in the way only an Italian can. “Sure, go up to Mulberry St. and start walking, doesn't make any difference which direction, and just stand in a doorway. If you like the smell, go in; if not, walk on. Easy.” He shrugged again, opened the door, and bowed them out with a ‘this way’ gesture.

The walked up Hester St. and turned onto Mulberry; as they walked along they sniffed the air like a pair of hunting hounds. One place looked clean, but Spike smelled something he didn't like so they walked on. Finally Xander stopped in front of a place and announced, “Casa Bella? I've got to eat here. Spike?”

Spike sniffed carefully. “Smells great. A bit garlicky, but that's to be expected. Let's get seated.”

Xander could feel his mouth watering already. The entered and were seated at once.

The waiter handed them a menu each and asked for a drink order. Spike thought for a moment then said, “Water for now. We'll decide on wine when we figure out what we're ordering.” The waiter nodded and left to let them decide.

Xander opened the menu to the last page and blinked. He read for a moment then turned to Spike. “Ok this ain't Dominic's Pasta Palace. Antipasti, Primi, Secundi? What the heck?”

“Order one of each. Just go easy, we're supposed to eat at court in...” He glanced at a clock on the wall. “about four hours.”

Xander snorted. “I can manage, I'm sure, especially since we never had dinner last night.”

They turned back to their menus and Xander found himself drooling over Portobello alla Griglia, portobello mushroom caps grilled over an open fire then brushed with a marinade of white wine, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil. Spike sighed; he was going to have to get Xander a whole box of mints.

Spike chose a simple Caprese; fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, drizzled with olive oil.

For Primi they both chose Lobster Ravioli with a sauce of light cream and saffron. Xander had to take a drink of his water to keep from drooling.

Then for Secundi they went different ways; Spike chose Pasta Puttanesca, fettucini in a tomato sauce with garlic, capers, and black olives, easy on the garlic, while Xander chose Spaghetti Carbonara, simple spaghetti in a sauce of bacon, onions and cream.

When the waiter came for their order he suggested that they have a house wine with their meal as it came by the glass. Spike asked for a taste before deciding, and the sommelier came with a small glass of the house white. It was more than acceptable, so the waiter went away to turn in their order.

Xander leaned back in his chair and grumbled a bit. He couldn't figure out why the restaurant didn't offer dessert. Spike snorted and told him he didn't need one; he'd be too full after all that food, but if he did want one, they'd go to a patisserie. There had to be one nearby, so Xander quit bitching and started in on another one of his stream of questions. Spike just answered as best he could.

They ate, arguing amiably about how to organize the last leg of the trip, and finished in agreement that the meal had been one of the best they'd ever had. Spike sighed and sipped the last of his wine.

“Well, we better get out of here. Pay the lad, will you?”

Xander pulled a credit card out of his wallet and put it on the small tray along with the bill. He waited until the waiter came over then handed him the tray. The waiter looked at him more closely then left to ring them up. He returned, had Xander sign the bill, examined the signature closely, and left, mumbling, “They look younger every year.”

Spike looked at Xander who just glowered at the waiter’s retreating back.

Xander stood up, suggesting that they go on to court, and just hang around until it convened; Spike agreed. The walk was short, and they got to the court with plenty of time.

“Um... Spike? Why did we take an SUV last time if the court is so close to the hotel.”

“Wanted to drive around a bit and see the lights. Vegas is better.”

Xander laughed; he knew Spike was vain about his city. “Yeah, no place in the world for neon like Vegas. And it's all yours. Smile at the Mafiosi.”

They'd just entered the building where the court room was. That room was underground, but much of the rest of the court business was done in the three stories above ground. The entry way was not the way they'd come in last time; then they'd come in through the underground garage entrance. The main entrance was large in the way only something built in the 1920's could be. It was marble, several different colors of it set into patterns in the floor and on the walls. The reception counter was a massive slab of highly polished teak. The vampire behind the desk took one look at them and scurried out to greet them in person.

“Master Spike, Companion Harris, welcome. We weren't expecting you quite so soon. Is there a problem?”

Spike just shook his head. “No, we just ate at Casa Bella, decided to just come on over and do a bit of visiting. That's alright, isn't it?”

“Of course it is. Please, this way.” The receptionist led them to a bank of elevators and spoke to the attendant. He showed them on back to an elevator hidden in a nook at the back of the bank. He opened the door of that elevator himself and motioned them in.

The elevator was old enough that it still actually had an operator. Spike ignored the man. Xander, however, was fascinated and pelted the man with questions. He answered each one and even let Xander try the control. There were only two controls, a handle and slot arrangement and a stop button. The outer doors were opened with a simple pull handle, and the inner cab doors were nothing but strips of steel riveted together and opened with another pull handle, the locking mechanism no more than a button and slot. Xander marveled at its simplicity. He was told firmly that he wasn't allowed to do more than he had, and the operator took them down to the lower levels.

Spike slipped the human a hundred dollar bill and smiled at him.


Their visit at court went well. All the courtiers were well aware that Xander was more than some meat puppet that Spike had picked up. Seeing him actually dust a member of the court at the Don's request had set his status in their eyes.

Xander stuck close to Spike with Bud, who'd slipped into the room about ten minutes after they'd arrived, on his other side. They circulated, and Spike displayed his Victorian manners with aplomb.

After half an hour of this Xander muttered in Spike's ear, “I hate you. How the heck can you keep this up?”

Spike just smiled pleasantly at some dignitary or other. “I keep imagining them sucking me off. It's all good.” Xander stifled a whoop of laughter by clapping one hand over his mouth.

“Evil undead git.”

“That's me, luv.” He turned as doors opened. “Looks like court is convening right on time.”

They entered the court room first, Xander uncomfortable with having so many strange vampires and demons at his back. Spike with the arrogant assurance of someone strong enough not to worry about that.

The Don welcomed everyone, Spike, Xander, and Bud in particular, and announced that this session was informal then waved his hand in a grand gesture, dismissing them all to their own devices. Spike scowled his annoyance; he'd wanted to speak to the Don again. He was pleased a second later when Don Antonio's Secundus came to him and asked him to speak to the Don.

They wound up in the comfortable chairs the Don reserved for special guests discussing their arrangements to get to New York City. Spike admitted, finally, that the group was too large and it was really a lot more difficult to travel with all those beings than he'd expected. Xander sighed softly and started compiling a mental list of who he could safely send back to Nevada at once. He was surprised at how long it actually was. He rubbed his forehead fretfully; Timmins was going to have fits.

“Luv? Something wrong?” Spike put a hand on Xander's arm gently. The Don smiled to himself; being a vampire, he recognized 'young love' when he saw it.

“Not really. Just figuring out who to send back. The list includes all the cleaning crew and about half the rest of the... whatever you call this traveling circus. Timmins is not going to be happy.”

Spike scowled then said in a harsh tone, “I don't care about that. He's a servant, a childe not mine; he'll do as he's told and like it.”

Xander couldn't help the warm feeling that flowed through him. “Oh, Ok. I'll write out the list and give it to him. Can he make arrangements, or should I?”

The Don interrupted calmly. “Just send them back in the vehicles you're renting. I'll make arrangements to get you to New York. I've still got my railway cars. And I still have the connections to get them hooked up to a train going that way. I might even be able to make a nonstop connection. I'll see what I can do. Tell me when you know how many people you'll actually be taking.”

Xander nodded absently while he studied his Blackberry. “Yes, sir. I'll get this done in a few minutes, email it to... do you have a printer here?” One of the aides gave Xander the address and he went back to his list, nodding his thanks. Spike started to say something, but the Don just shook his head, amused instead of annoyed. Spike relaxed back in his chair, and he and the Don returned to their idle discussion of territorial politics.

Xander looked up and smiled apologetically. “Oh, damn, sorry about that. I've gotten our little... crew down to 30 people that we just can't get along without. Mostly bodyguards, the stable and such; except for Timmins and the cooks. And they're all vamps except the stable so it's not like they're all helpless or anything. In fact that one Chinese guy is a mean asshole with a cleaver. But, here's who we're taking and I sent an email to Timmins to make arrangements to get the others sent back right now. That way I don't have to argue with him, I just told him that Spike said and that's that. They should be gone by the time we get back to the hotel. Thank goodness.”

Spike snickered rather meanly. “Good, but you know damn good and well that Timmins is going to pout or pitch a hissy. He's very big on my putting up the proper image.”

Don Antonio snorted. “Like being one-fourth of The Scourge of Europe isn't prestige enough.” He eyed Xander for a moment then went on, “And having that one at your side, willingly? Pfft! What I wouldn't give for one of my own. But, come, eat.” He pointed to his mother, who was standing in the door of the dining room with a small glass bell in her hand. “She's going to ring the bell, and God help the ones who don't line up promptly.”

Xander stood, waiting impatiently for the Don and Spike to start the line then had a brain storm. “Spike, I thought vampires didn't eat human food.”

Spike just glanced at the Don; he was wondering about that himself.

Don Antonio answered easily. “Na! Some do, some don't. Mostly it depends on the creator. My Sire was an eater. So all my Childer are, too. Spike's an aberration; his Lady Sire was... not all there. If you take my meaning, no insult intended”

Spike cheerfully admitted, “No insult taken. My Dark Princess was loony as they come. Loved her once, don't anymore.”

Xander felt a bit bad about that, but realized that they were all better off if Dru never showed up again. He decided to forget about her and concentrate on the food.

Mama rang her bell and they all filed into the dining room. The tables there were set up in a neat arrangement that let everyone know who was who. There was one long main table where the ‘upper class' sat. Then there were two more tables, shorter, and off to the sides; these tables were for the lowest levels of minions and fledges.

The food was all served family style with huge platters of spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, ziti, and salad. Carafes of wine lined the tables as well. And toasted garlic bread in baskets. Xander was in heaven; Spike just wrinkled his nose and sighed. He knew that garlic didn't repel vampires due to any magical qualities; it just stank to many of them. Obviously, this lot didn't think so. He decided he'd better have plenty of the hair of the dog so to speak. He reached over for the lasagna.

Xander on the other hand was happily piling his plate with spaghetti, lasagna, ziti, and bread. His small side plate was filled with salad, more bread, and some of the lovely, fat olives. He nodded to the Capo who filled his wine glass for him, after glancing at Spike for his permission, and mumbled, “Thank you,” around a meatball.

Spike also helped himself to a serving of almost everything on the table and settled in to eat with good humor. After all, everything was made with a mother's love, something he hadn't had in more than a hundred years.

Due to the Old World manners encouraged by the court, Xander only spoke to the people on either side of him. This meant that he couldn't speak to Spike as he was seated on the other side of the table. He watched Spike without shame, happy that Spike was happy. Spike looked up and caught him. He grinned and nodded.

When the desserts were served, tiramisu, cannoli, and some cookie Xander didn't like as it tasted like cough medicine, Spike refused them and just took coffee. Xander took all the sweets he thought he could get away with and coffee. Spike knew that Xander was flirting with a stomach ache, but didn't say anything, deciding that the experience was a better teacher. But he hoped not.

Don Antonio stood up, dismissed the diners, and left after nodding to Spike and Xander. Bud had been sent farther down the table and so was ignored, something he couldn't have cared less about. All he was really interested in doing was getting back to Tara. He had to smile about that; for some reason she'd refused to come to this court at all. Spike didn't push her.

They made their way back to the hotel and settled in for the night. Tara greeted Bud at the doors with a smile and they disappeared back upstairs. Spike and Xander's eyes met in a knowing glance.

Part Thirty-Eight

Xander decided that this day was not going to go well shortly after he woke up. This was because he heard Spike in the living area, slamming things around. He got out of bed and wandered in, scratching his ass with one hand and trying to straighten his hair with the other.

“Spike, what the hell? What's going on?”

Spike turned, vamp faced, and snarled, “They tried again.” At Xander's blank-faced stare, he explained, “To off the Don. I don't like this. We need to do something.”

Xander sighed then shrugged, “Yeah, get out of town, right now. We're distracting him.” Spike glowered. “Shut it! We can't get involved anymore than we already are. Do you really want to undermine his authority?” Spike shook his head. “Didn't think so. We mess in his business now and we'll ruin him. We just need to get out of his hair so he can concentrate on taking care of this.” Xander sighed and called Timmins.

Timmins appeared out of his rooms and nodded. “Sir?”

Xander didn't bother with niceties. “You heard and don't shake your head. I know you did. Start packing us up, get the stable ready, and tell the others that they've got exactly one hour to get their shit together. We'll be leaving... by train. I'll go stick a poker up someone's ass and make the arrangements. We'll take the old subway from here to the train station, if I can fix it up.”

Spike snarled, “And what am I supposed to be doing while you do all that?”

Xander snarked, “Well, going to the Don and making nice wouldn't hurt. Salve his conscience about us leaving so fast. We were going to leave tomorrow anyway, right? Take the blame, or dump it on me. Tell him a nice lie. You'll both know it's a lie, but neither one of you'll admit it. So suck it up and get. I'll see about getting arrangements made by the time you get back.”

Spike just snorted. “Ok, Mr. Bossy. You said one hour, how'm I supposed to get an appropriate amount of schmoozing done in an hour?”

“I gave the minions an hour. We'll take as long as we take. They'll wait or they'll wait. The stable will take at least three hours to get organized, even with Timmins standing over them. Scat!”

So Spike dressed in what Timmins had laid out for him; Xander demanded BDU's and every weapon he could get away with. Timmins put out his things while he showered and planned. He wound up looking like an off duty SWAT member, a very well-armed one. He couldn't carry his tachi, but he had his gladius down the back of his neck in a special break away sheath. He also had his Berettas in his shoulder harness. He was quite willing to risk Chicago police stopping him. If someone was trying to assassinate Don Antonio, they might be after Spike and him, too.

Spike went to speak to the Don while Xander managed to issue orders to Timmins. There was a lot more to getting their group on the road than just issuing an order. Timmins made sure that Xander stood by while he organized the group. Xander learned a lot in the hour.


“Don Antonio.” Spike approached the vampire with an easy deference that made him smile.

“What can I do for you?”

Spike stepped close and put a hand on the Don’s shoulder. “Don't get yourself killed; you still owe me a favor. But it's not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you. I'd like to just get out of your hair. I'm a distraction at a time when you don't need one. Get one of your childer to arrange a train for us. We don't have time to rent a convoy of SUV's, RV's, and busses.”

Don Antonio nodded his understanding. “Ok, good. I got a private car still and contacts to get it coupled to a train. Might be a cargo train instead of passenger. I'll send Dominic to see what he can do.”

Spike just nodded his understanding. He wanted out of Chicago now; he didn't want to be the source of a distraction that Don Antonio really couldn't afford right now.

“Thanks, I'll issue a formal invitation some other time, but feel free to come to Vegas and visit me anytime. I'll get going now, want me to take Dominic with me or does he need to stay here?”

“He can do what needs done from here. I don't want him out of the Residence; it's not safe. No one will bother you, so don't worry about that. I'll see you later. Good-bye.” And with that, the Don turned and walked away.

Spike watched him for a moment and thought that Xander would look much like that in another fifteen or twenty years.

He wanted that very much.


Xander took the call on his Blackberry. It was a vampire named Dominic. Dominic told him that the Don's private railway car was being coupled to a passenger train bound for New York City. It would be leaving at 10pm, or in about two hours. That meant they had less than 45 minutes to get out of the hotel and on their way.

Timmins issued orders like a drill sergeant and Xander did, too. The packing was mostly done already with just a few things to finish up. But getting everyone together was still a challenge. Some of the women in the stable caused an uproar when one of them demanded to return to her room to make sure she hadn't left her favorite earrings on the bathroom shelf. Xander let her go, but warned her that she had ten minutes to return or she'd be left. Tara had to forcibly prevent her from taking her suitcase back with her.

Spike arrived at the height of another uproar and handled it easily. “Oi! You lot shut it. We're leaving in twenty minutes whether you're ready or not. If you left something behind, tough! Xander!”

Xander popped out of a nearby meeting room. “Yes Master. I'm here.” Xander had taken to calling Spike “Master” in certain situations as it seemed to help emphasize his status.

“Get this rabble into the basement right away. Don Antonio made arrangements for us to take the train to New York.” Spike pitched his voice so everyone in the group could hear him. “We'll take the old subway to Union Station and get on the car in the lowest level. The car is Don Antonio's personal car and there's another car for the stable and any demons who are sun proof. Come on, get a move on.”

Xander just nodded then turned to start directing the various groups. He'd finally given up on keeping everyone in one huge group and divided them up into male and female stable members, and each class of demon in their own group. He'd put Tara in charge of the two stable groups, and Bud in charge of all the demon groups. He was in charge of all the vampires, and was having difficulties with them.

This time it was just one time too many. Xander told an old fledge to start putting all the luggage on a cart so they could move it to the basement in the freight elevator and he just started to walk off, sneering as he did so. Xander snapped. He turned around and grabbed the vampire by one arm. He spun him around with a jerk and demanded, “You got a problem, or are you just on the rag?”

“You're not my Master. I don't take orders from humans.” He sneered again and started away from Xander.

Xander just sighed; he'd known this was coming sooner or later; he just wished it had come later. He pulled a stake from his coat and staked the vampire without a blink. He walked away, snapping at a nearby demon, “Clean up that mess.”

Everyone he got near from then on was very cooperative and obedient. Xander got the procession organized and into the subway without further incident.

It only took them twenty minutes on the subway to get to Union Station. Since the subway was one that had been abandoned by humans in the '60's, no one remarked on them at all. They exited the subway in a sub-basement of Union Station and were guided to the train car by a demon who looked a bit like Clem. Xander greeted him calmly and passed on the order to keep together and follow as quietly as possible. He heard Spike snarking at Timmins who replied in a murmur too soft for Xander to hear. He was just glad that Spike was being cooperative; he knew how much it galled Spike to follow any orders but his own.

It only took Xander and Timmins another fifteen minutes to get everyone sorted. Since Xander had divided the once milling mob into groups and let nature take its course to decide on a leader, all he now had to do was gather the group leaders together and tell them what needed to be done then leave it up to them to do it. Luggage was loaded in moments and the different groups sorted themselves onto either the sun proof main car or into the common passenger car.

Xander was glad that the Master's car was a double; it made it so much easier to keep everyone content, if not exactly happy. He was going to punch the next being who said anything resembling, “My status demands....” even if it was Spike himself.

Spike wandered up just then and wrapped an arm around Xander's waist. “How's it going, luv? All on board?”

Xander leaned his head against Spike’s and grumbled, “Yeah, but can't we leave some more of these idiots behind? I'd love to lose about ten of them; they're way too status conscious.”

Spike shook his head. “I'd love to lose all of them, but it's not going to happen. I've got my reputation to uphold and traveling in comfort and speed doesn't do it. We've got to have a retinue, like some imbecilic foreign prince or something.” He smirked at Xander, upside down. “Otherwise, no one will respect us. Status. Stupid, but most vampires are stuck in the middle ages. It'll all be over soon and we can go home. Relax.”

“Feh! Easy for you to say.”

“But not to do. Come have a drink. We'll be pulling out in about ten minutes, or so, Dominic said.”

Xander just grunted and moved toward their compartment at the back of the car. As he went he checked on other beings. The car was an old-fashioned 'company' car with seats in the forward third, small compartments, three on each side in the middle third and the last third was a very nice 'bed-sit' with its own toilet.

Everything was mahogany, brass, or slate. The furniture was Neo-mid-Victorian and plush. Xander had a small moment of fear that the chair he'd sat on would engulf him completely. Spike just settled in the other chair, exclaiming, “Now that's more like it.”

Timmins brought a tea tray and put it down beside the last empty chair, took his place, and started pouring tea. He handed around the cups and then sandwich plates with egg salad and sliced chicken finger sandwiches as well as some cookies.

“There!” He glanced around in satisfaction. “I'm truly glad to be out of Chicago before everything goes to hell. Don Antonio is not happy.”

Xander snorted then exclaimed, “Is that what you call it? I'd call it pissed.”

Timmins sipped his tea for a moment before commenting blandly, “He is what is usually called flaming pissed. I do believe that he's going to wipe out that whole branch of his clan. Prune the rot before it spreads so to speak.”

Xander thought about that for a moment. “I think he left it a bit too long. He's not going to be pleased. I'm glad we're out of there.” He handed his cup to Timmins. “More tea, please.”

Timmins poured the tea for Xander, warmed Spike's cup then leaned back. “Sad, really. He's a good person and a fine High Master. He doesn't like messes like this. Unlike some others I've dealt with. Shame, that's what it is.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, and now you see why I nip opposition in the bud. Stake one, or stake a bunch. And if you leave it long enough, you've got a regular rebellion on your hands with the whole territory in an uproar and mundanes getting involved. Not a pretty picture.”

Xander nodded his understanding; he'd faced similar things, on a not so deadly scale, when he was foreman. He remembered that job with fondness.

“And I'm... what? A weapon? An Executioner?”

Spike watched Xander for a few seconds, his narrow-eyed gazed making him glower back. “You're my Companion. My Dextera. My right hand. The Enforcer, if you will. You don't take shite from anyone; not even me, if you think I'm wrong.”

Xander nodded his understanding. “Ok, I get it. So, you're not mad at me for staking that guy earlier?”

“No.” Spike shook his head. “I'm mad you didn't do it to someone sooner. You got to get tough with 'em or they'll walk all over you. And you're certainly not a door mat. Get it through your head that you really can do no wrong. If you mess up, I'll rub your nose in it in private.”

Xander snorted into his teacup. “I remember a few not so private punishments. How's that work?”

Spike sighed. “I needed to make it plain to everyone that you're mine alone. And get it through your hard head that you belong to me, no questions allowed. See?”

Xander nibbled at his lower lip for a moment, making Spike long to kiss it. “Ok, I see. I'm a thrall and there's some things that I just can't do, or I'll hurt myself. And... I get it, I just don't like it.”

“I don't either. Doesn't fit my plans at all, but what is, is. We deal. But, I don't think the spell was well cast, in fact I know it wasn't. Badly cast spells ...” He shrugged. “Some cause all sorts of problems and hang around forever. Others ...” He shrugged again. “They cause havoc, too, but they fade away.”

Xander glanced from Timmins, who was looking disgusted; to Spike, who was looking very self-satisfied. “Ok, so which one are we dealing with? And may I just say, being your thrall, while now my main goal in life, didn't turn out to be so very awful.”

Spike curled his tongue over his teeth, a sure sign that he was feeling smug. “Not sure yet, but the Seer thinks the thrall is fading. Tara wouldn't give an opinion as she doesn't have any experience with fucked up mojo.”

Xander snickered at that. “Only Willow. I swear I don't know what she thinks. I wish I could ask her but she's still in England, isn't she?”

“Yeah, she is, and likely to stay there for the foreseeable future. She's really out of control; the Elders aren't best pleased with her progress. She's just too stubborn for her own good. She thinks she knows a great deal more than she does.”

Xander gazed into his tea as he said, sadly, “She's very powerful and she's confused power with knowledge. I wish... I wish she'd never found out she's a witch. She's much too dangerous as she is.”

Spike reached over and patted Xander on the arm. “I'm sorry, luv, I know it makes you sad... and angry, by the scent of you.”

“Not your fault. And, yeah, I'm angry. Why couldn't she just leave well enough alone? The results of that stupid spell could have been so very much worse.” He sipped at the tea, made a face, and demanded. “And why, may I ask, am I drinking tea? Timmins, coffee, please.”

Timmins just got up and went to make coffee, leaving Xander in a blue funk and Spike grumbling about, “Stupid, red-headed, idiot witches,” into his cup. He also wondered how the hell they'd gotten on to the whole subject.


It took them over 20 hours to make the trip, but it wasn't a trial for most of them. The cars were in excellent condition and very comfortable. Unlike airplanes, all the seats reclined completely and there was plenty of leg room. They could get up easily and walk the length of the car comfortably, without jogging elbows.

There was no dining car and the individuals in the common car weren't allowed into the private one, but there was a snack cart that went up and down the aisle every two hours, dispensing drinks, chips and nuts. There was also a nice meal provided, for those who could eat human food. Those who couldn't had either packed their own or didn't need to eat very often. Xander silently thanked his lucky stars that he had turned that facet of the trip over to Timmins.

At the moment he was sitting at the dining table that let down from one side of the compartment. He had arrangements to make, again. This time he had to get the whole group from Penn Station to their hotel. He was hoping that someone would meet them; but, since there was no signal on his phone at the moment, he wasn't sure. Hopefully, he'd have signal soon; he'd set the Blackberry to beep when there was one.

A soft beep dragged him from his thoughts and set him into another round of organizational frenzy. He grumbled softly. How the hell had he managed to wind up as a damn tour director?

“Walk this way, please. And we're walking... walking...” Xander mumbled as he gathered his nerve to do this again.

“Xan? Luv? What the hell are you mumbling about?” Spike sauntered over to run one hand through Xander's long hair.

Xander laughed at himself then turned to put an arm around Spike. “I feel like a tour guide. On the bus, off the bus, back on, and here we go again. I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to get this collection of idiots, demons, mutants, and deviants from Penn to the hotel. In fact... you know, I just realized that I don't know which hotel we're in even. Shit!”

Spike turned Xander to face him and shook him gently. “Don't worry about it. We're to be met at the train station by someone from Master Xavier's staff. It's up to them to get us from Penn to where ever. Come on, now, smile for me? Yeah?”

Xander managed a smile and breathed a small sigh of relief. He really hadn't been looking forward to trying to get all 'his' people from Penn Station to an unknown location. He was glad all he had to do was stand back and relax.

And relax he did; the guide was waiting when the train pulled into one of the lowest levels of the station, a level that hadn't been used since the '50's, or so everyone thought. It was in regular use by various demon and vampire clans. The guide introduced himself as Vlad Tomkin which made everyone laugh. He just smiled and remarked that he'd already heard several centuries of jokes so could they move along. Xander glowered at the few who seemed inclined to make some remark or joke; they all cringed and crumpled.

The trip to the hotel was by another abandoned subway. Xander wondered how many large cities had such things and why then decided that it really didn't make much difference. It was all a fait accompli.

It took them nearly 45 minutes to get to the hotel, another of those invisible places that only the underworld seemed to see. This place was under the Soho subway station. It had once been a stop on the older line but had been abandoned in favor of a newer, more modern station nearer to the surface. The main lobby was the old station and the rest of the hotel had been dug out of the ground, the new construction on the subway used to hide the dirt.

They were checked in and shown to their rooms in record time. Xander left getting everyone to a room to the staff, just taking a key to the Imperial suit from the bell boy and following the luggage cart, keeping an eye on things by habit. Spike sauntered along after him, humming softly. Timmins had disappeared with Vlad as soon as they got to the desk.

Xander didn't worry about Timmins much; he was probably off seeing if the rooms were clean enough or something. Which, they found out the second the doors opened, was exactly what he was doing.

Xander turned to Spike. “How the hell does he do that? We've only been in the door... what? Ten minutes?”

Spike shrugged elegantly. “Don't know. Don't care. Just glad he does. I'm knackered, and hungry.”

Xander shoved his shoulder gently. “Well, go visit the stable. I'll stay here and hold down the fort.”

Spike left with a swagger and a wave. Xander flopped onto the nearest soft surface and sighed. He just hoped that there wasn't another flap here. He didn't think he could handle it. He decided that, once he got back to Nevada, it was going to be a long time before he left again.

Timmins looked in on him and smiled. This young man was turning out well. He was happy for both him and his master. He eased back into the bedroom and dialed room service. He ordered a half-pound bacon cheese burger with everything and a double order of fries. He had to laugh slightly. Xander had been taking Master's Blood long enough now that his metabolism was half again as fast as it should be. There wasn't an ounce of extra fat on him anywhere. But he ate like a horse as the saying goes. Timmins thought for a moment then ordered Xander a slice of chocolate cake topped with fresh strawberries.

Xander perked up when the knock on the door sounded, but he answered the knock by demanding who was there before he opened the door. The bellman didn't say anything about that; he just pushed his cart in the door and took the stainless steel dome off with a flourish. Xander handed him ten dollars and dismissed him. He sighed in appreciation; now that he was really healthy he was allowed an occasional treat of burgers, pizza, or some other not so healthy food. He knew he was going to have indigestion, but he really didn't care.

After finishing his burger and fries, Xander burped once and headed for the bathroom to take a shower and find something comfortable to wear. He was really glad that Xavier wasn't demanding like the other two High Masters were; he had sent word that he didn't need to see them until tomorrow night. Xander thanked who ever was listening out there that this was so. Right now, all he wanted was some hot water then comfortable sweats and idiot box on demand.

He got everything he wanted; Spike didn't come back until late. He fell into bed next to Xander and dropped off after tugging Xander into a hug.


They slept all day and got up in their morning, or at about six pm. Xander grumbled that it was too early, but rose when Spike poked him. They breakfasted on eggs, American fries, toast, bacon, and juice. Xander had coffee, but Spike insisted on his own personal tea blend. Timmins, of course, had plenty with him. He served breakfast with a satisfied expression on his face.

He'd had a great time terrorizing the staff. Now, they literally cringed when he came close. And at least half the staff was vampires or human-looking demons. He smiled to himself. He'd never be a High Master, no matter how old he got, so he satisfied himself with being a servant to greatness. He found he didn't mind this at all.

If you were a High Master, it was a lot of very hard work, and the chances of getting dusted were nearly tripled. He liked his position just fine, close to the seat of power, but not in the spotlight. He watched his two boys for a moment then went to prepare their clothing for the court visit.

He enjoyed his job; he enjoyed seeing his boys looking handsome and strong. His job was to make sure that they had everything they needed as soon as they needed it. He rummaged through their clothing, wondering what sort of image they needed to project. After some thought, he decided that he needed to contact some of his sources; Vlad's hints hadn't done anything but wind him up.

It didn't take his contacts long to clue him in. Things were not going well in NYC; High Master Xavier was not 'well'. He was very old and was beginning to change in ways that made his minions unhappy. Master Heinrich of the Aurelian line came to mind.

Timmins put out bullet proof vests for both Spike and Xander. A vest could protect a vampire from being staked, the stab plate made sure of that. He also put out Xander's tachi, gladius, 93R's, and knives. He even put out a few things for Spike. He was feeling very paranoid.

When Xander and Spike saw the array of armaments they both blinked, but neither one of them argued; they just got dressed.

Xander tugged on his lapel for the second time in as many seconds. “Why do I feel underdressed? We're supposed to go alone? Just the two of us? Why?”

Spike grimaced at the flurry of questions. “I don't know why, all I know is the formal invitation, which I received just an hour ago, said, 'High Master Spike and Companion.' I'm not happy. One, you're not just my Companion, the invite should have said Dextera. And two, Timmins wouldn't have put all this out without some indication that they'll be needed. And three, I don't like not being allowed to bring Bud and Tara. Not comfortable with this at all.”

Xander shrugged his shoulders, trying to settle his harness more comfortably. “I don't like this either, I've got a nasty feeling about this. Did Xavier say why we're to come alone?” He shifted again; his gladius was bunching his coat between his shoulder blades.

“Something about a surprise.” Spike frowned.

“I get the feeling that it's not the streamers and confetti type of surprise. More like the blow up in your face kind. This is not good. Really, really, not good.” Xander scowled and headed for the door. “Ok, let's get this show on the road. Sooner we get there the sooner we can get back. And I'm not taking guff from anyone. I'm staking first and asking questions later, if at all.”

Spike just grunted his agreement and followed him.


They made their way back to the lobby and were directed to a side corridor which opened into a neat covered garage. Their ride was waiting for them there complete with chauffeur. The stretch Rolls Royce limo was black with a burgundy interior. Neither Spike nor Xander paid any attention to it. They were too busy trying to figure out what was making Timmins, and thus them, so very nervous.

They drove through the night streets of New York City in silence. Xander didn't even sight see; he just sat still, nibbling at his lip in worry. He wasn't afraid, just a bit worried and more than a bit annoyed. He had plans for his visit here, but if things heated up too much, they'd be headed back to Nevada A-SAP. Not that he minded that too much.

Their arrival at Xavier's Residence was greeted by one nervous minion, who opened the car door then just stood looking at them. Xander got out first and put himself between Spike and the open door until he got out as well.

“Not liking this.” Xander singsonged soft enough that only Spike heard.

Spike just snorted and walked through the door, coat tails swinging. He'd rejected the suit Timmins had put out and dressed instead in his duster, black jeans, black t-shirt and heavy boots. Xander didn't look like he was headed for court, either. He was wearing an exact copy of Spike's duster only in brown, and his jeans, t-shirt and overshirt were brown, too. That dark chocolate brown that Spike loved to see him in.

They walked side by side through the open foyer of the residence, looking like death wrapped up in leather. They were immediately dubbed the Scourge of the Americas.

Xander held the throne room door open for Spike, who walked through it and glanced around. Something didn't feel right, but he couldn't figure out what it was. It didn't take him long to find out.

Xavier was seated in an alcove at the opposite end of the room, only approachable from the front.

“Come, come in. Closer.” The thing that used to be Xavier motioned for Xander to approach him, ignoring Spike completely. Xander balked like a mule, no way was he getting too close to that. Xander was later to explain, “He looked like the Crypt Keeper only vamped and really, really oozy.” The once handsome master had withered into a nearly toothless near skeleton; the only remaining teeth were his fangs which had elongated freakishly. His skin was pale and he had oozing sores on his chest, legs, and arms. They must have been fairly painful as he was naked to the waist and wore a loincloth-like garment.

Spike glared at the master then at Xander; his snapped, “Obey.” sent Xander moving toward Master Xavier. He figured out why in a second.

Xander moved closer to Xavier and noticed that there was a small Japanese woman bound into an uncomfortable position lying at his feet one step down from the top of the dais and just outside of the alcove. She glowered at Xander then turned her head to glower at Spike as well. Xander carefully skirted her. As soon as he did that, the smell hit him. Not only did Master Xavier have some sort of rotting disease, he smelled rotten, too. Xander nearly gagged.

Spike took a moment after he ordered Xander to obey Xavier to look around. None of the court looked happy; in fact, most of them looked variations of murderous. He knew the court was on the verge of mutiny, but who was going to take over? Then he decided he really didn't care. Master Xavier was a dead vampire.

Xander stood right in front of Xavier and waited.

“Come closer, pretty. I want you. Your power, your loyalty, your very soul will be mine. Ignore that insignificant insect you called master. I will train you correctly, your blood will heal me, and you will cherish your place at my feet.” He tried to smile, but only managed a lecherous grimace.

Xander shrugged. “I get to stand beside you, or no deal.”

Of course Master Xavier threw a tizzy as Timmins called them, screaming that Xander would do as he was told and be where he was told to be. Xander looked bored; Spike eased closer, hidden by Xander's broad shoulders and wide coat tails. The court stayed silent.

Xander eyed Master Xavier and waited for him to wind down. He finally did and Xander glanced at the Japanese girl, she looked about 16, but since she was a vampire, she could be any age. “Who's the chick?”

“Chick? What... oh, you mean my so treacherous Dextera? Her name is unimportant since your first task will be to kill her.”

Xander didn't turn a hair. “Why? I don't even know her, why should I kill her? Just because you say?” He shrugged irritably. “Convince me.”

Xavier snarled, “I don't need to convince you. You've been allowed to do too much on your own. I'll correct that soon. You do as your Master tells you. Now.”

Xander shrugged again. It irritated Xavier which kept his attention off Spike. Xander just hoped Spike knew what he was doing and hoped he was doing it soon.

“Make me. I'm Spike's, not yours.” Xander prepared to do battle and it was a good thing he had. Xavier rushed him, moving so fast that Xander almost lost track of him. Xander thanked Spike's blood for the hundredth time; without it, he'd be dead. He just managed to skip out of Xavier's arms reach.

As it was, Xander had managed to infuriated Xavier enough that he stepped out of his protection and Spike nailed him.

The fight was quick and vicious. Spike attacked Xavier who tried to bite him right off. Spike laughed at him and punched him in the face. Then the fight got so fast that even the vampires couldn't really follow what was happening. The end was very clear, however. Spike had Xavier pinned to the floor. He slammed his head into the floor a few times then just twisted his head off. He wiped the resultant dust off his hands onto the suit of a nearby vampire.

“Well, that settles that. Xander, free the pretty lady and let's find out what the hell is going on around here.” Spike started to step into the alcove but changed his mind before he even mounted the dais. The smell was atrocious to his sensitive nose.

Xander cut the woman's bonds and helped her up. He knew that she was Xavier's Dextera, but that was all. She staggered a bit, but managed to keep her feet with Xander's hand on her arm. She bowed slightly to Xander then turned to Spike.

“What will you do now? Are you taking over the territory?”

Spike snorted. “What would I do with two territories separated by half a continent? No, I'm going to straighten up this mess.”

“Then we're going home.” Xander's interruption wasn't welcome, but he didn't care. Enough was enough.

“I'll deal with you later.” Then Spike turned his shoulder to Xander and addressed the court. “I can see that things haven't been going well here for quite some time. I'm not here to take over. I have one territory and I don't need another.”

A voice called from the back, “Then what are we supposed to do for a Master?”

Spike gritted his teeth and grasped his patience with both hands; beside him Xander stiffened. “Your Dextera usually takes over, unless they get killed in the fighting. In this case, she's right there, yeah?”

“Yes, I am right here. My name is Natsuko, I gave up my family name when I became a vampire. What do you want from me?”

Spike just looked her over. “Prove that you're worthy of taking over the Eastern Seaboard Territory.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, of course.” She made an elegant motion with one hand. “Please feel free to circulate, ask questions, I wish to refresh myself. I will return in one half of an hour.” She bowed, turned, and left, not waiting for Spike's permission.

Xander raised an eyebrow, but was secretly reassured. This delicate looking lady was no pushover, no matter how it seemed. He followed Spike as he wandered around the room. He spoke to some, glared at others, and avoided being mobbed by some fancy foot work. The general consensus was that Natsuko was more than capable of taking over the territory. She'd been the actual master for the last five years or more, keeping Master Xavier from destroying the territory and managing the day to day affairs for him. Spike, distracted by his questioning, didn't notice the three vampires until they were right on top of him.

Xander, on the other hand, was well aware of what was happening. The three vampires didn't stand a chance; one fell before Xander's gladius, another fell to Spike, who simply jammed his hand through his chest, plucking out his heart. The third was torn apart by his fellows who were tired of the fear and desperation of the last few years. Spike nodded to Xander and they retreated to the base of the dais to wait for Natsuko.

It took her a bit longer than the thirty minutes she'd requested, but when she entered the room, she was magnificent. She had dressed in kimono. Not the colorful fancy dress kimono that Americans would expect. She dressed in dark navy blue kimono, the sort that a married lady would wear. The fabric was rich, heavy silk brocade. She carried a short, ninja-style sword in one hand.

Xander noted her stance with approval; she was ready for anything. Except what happened next.

Spike moved from behind Xander and bent one knee to her. He smiled and announced, “All hail, Natsuko-sama, High Mistress of the Eastern Seaboard Territory.”

Xander swept his coat tails out of his way and knelt beside Spike. Natsuko beamed. Being acknowledged by another High Master and his Dextera was a great honor.

“Please stand. Thank you so much. I'll attend to clan business soon. Is there anything I can do to make your visit more pleasurable?”

Spike rose, bowed slightly, and just remarked, “I think you need to tend to your clan business. Xan and I will take in a show or two, do some shopping, and go home.”

Natsuko nodded slightly. “My apologies, your trip has saved us, but I'm afraid I must be unbearably rude and tell you that I truly don't have time to entertain you. When you are ready to leave, let me know and I'll make appropriate arrangements. Until then, I'll have a car and driver assigned to you. Now, I'm sorry for such rudeness, but you really should leave.” She bowed deeply then signaled to someone standing to the side. The person she signaled was a tall, young, black man with very odd scars on his face. Xander recognized them as tribal, but not which tribe. Spike didn't recognize them and couldn't have cared less if he had.

“This way. Your Rolls is available, but I'll be driving.” He turned and led them to the garage.

Xander looked around then had to ask, “Ok, why isn't the Residence on the subway? That doesn't seem like a hard thing to do.”

“It used to be... until the old master got so paranoid that he had the entryway bricked up. It's... inconvenient. Perhaps Mistress Natsuko will have it reinstated.”

Xander kept his temper as best he could, but this useless maundering was beginning to fray his last nerve. “Could we get on the road, please?”

Spike was startled by this, Xander was usually very even tempered and his quick switch from polite to curt was unusual. He hid his surprise well.

“Fine, we'll get going as soon as the car's here.”

Xander blinked, what was Spike on about, the car was right there. Then he realized that Spike wasn't about to walk to the car, he wanted the car driven the twenty or so feet from where it was to where they were. The driver went to get the car, pulling up next to them in only moments.

Spike got in the car with Xander on his heels. He settled into his seat and started to say something.

Xander interrupted him harshly. “Not a word. We're leaving as soon as we can get packed. The progression is officially ended. I'm tired of this crap.”

Spike started to object and found himself faced with a Xander that he'd never seen, firm and furious, he snarled right in Spike's face, “Look, I know I'm the man and you're the master but your safety is my first concern. I'm not arguing with you, I'm telling you. We'll be back at the hotel in half an hour or so. I'll be on my phone until then, making arrangements to get us back to Las Vegas. Timmins will help me. But you're not setting foot out of the hotel without me, Bud, and half a dozen other guards. I don't trust that woman to keep all her childer in line.” Spike opened his mouth to say something, but Xander interrupted him before he could do more than say, “They're…”

“I don't care if they're childer, minions, or ducks. I don't trust them. We're going home and that's it. Punish me later, I'm busy now.” Xander pulled his Blackberry from his pocket and started texting. Spike started to talk again but Xander just pointed to his own face, said, “Resolve face. No argument,” and went back to work.

Spike sighed and gave up. He hadn't been going to argue with Xander, anyway. He flopped back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest. “Wasn't going to argue, just wanting to know if we could fly somehow.”

Xander glanced at Spike then shrugged. He reached up and tapped on the glass between the passenger compartment and the driver’s seat. It lowered and Xander just asked, “Hey, any way to get us a plane that seats 125, vamp proof and all that?”

“I'll see as soon as I deliver you to the hotel. It should be possible.” He started to raise the window and silently congratulated himself on placating the High Master's whatever he was.

Xander didn't allow himself to be placated. “Don't see if you can do it. I want a plane, a train, a fucking bus, out of this town as soon as you can manage it. Preferable before we're done packing. Got me?”

“Yes. I understand. I'll have something arranged in two hours at most. Will that satisfy?”

“It'll do. It'll take that long for me to get our traveling circus organized.” Xander put his Blackberry away, having finished texting Bud, Tara, Timmins, and the group leaders.

They maintained a strained silence until they were in the garage attached to the hotel.

Timmins met them there with a serious expression. “What happened? I was told that things were not well with the master, but now that it was bad enough that we needed more than minimal precautions.”

Xander glowered at nothing then snapped, “Well, they were wrong. He wanted me; he got dusted. His Dextera is master, or mistress, now. We're leaving as soon as you can get organized.”

Timmins just left hurriedly, now understanding what the text had not explained. He'd started the arrangements the second he'd gotten the message and told his questioners that if Xander wanted them packed, they'd better get started. He had already started packing up Xander and Spike; it wouldn't take him long to finish.

Spike opened his mouth to object and found himself slammed up against a pillar with Xander in his face.

“Shut up! I don't care that you're the Master, you're in danger here no matter what they say. You'll do as I tell you; you can have a fit when we get back to Vegas. Now go check on Timmins. I'm not having you dusted, I love you too much. Go!”

Spike shut up and went, a strangely satisfied grin on his face.

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