Rough Diamond


by
BmblBee



Part Eleven

Spike and Penn paced the hallways of the government building till impatience and frustration had them fussing and nit picking at each other. They knew Buffy was the best and that the process couldn't be hurried if they wanted the results they needed, but it had been three hours and the only thing to come out of the room so far had been a pizza order and six Cokes. Two diet.

They had made countless trips into the back of the interrogation room to stare in through the two way mirror but just watching the boy wave his hands and Buffy nod and sketch, only served to make the wait seemed longer. It was, however, discussed and decided that when their prized witness was finished, he would be escorted to a holding cell.

It would be explained that he couldn't go back to his own place until CSI completed all their evidence gathering and the scene was unsealed. In truth, the detectives had no intention of allowing this golden goose out of their sight till all these men were safely behind bars.

If Xander Harris ended up with a second smile like his pal Joey had, their case went right down the drain.

"So what time is it?"

Spike rolled his eyes at his partner's redundance. Every room of the government building had huge, round clocks displayed prominently on the walls and Penn, himself, wore an accurate, if not attractive, Timex. Yet he repeated the same aggravating question like.....well, like clockwork.

With his arms crossed over his chest, Spike turned to offer a scathingly sarcastic reply but was cut off with the buzzing of the desk phone. Reaching into his suit jacket pocket, Spike snapped out a linen handkerchief, shook it out, expertly flipped it to cover the handset and picked it up.

"Bradshaw. Yes?......Oh, great.....yes, yes of course. Detective Penn and I are in the annex off interrogation room #2. Please send him right up."

Spike quickly hung up, folded and replaced the hanky as he spoke.

"O' Connor is here from INS. He's coming through security now and should be up here in a few minutes."

Penn wrinkled his nose but nodded. "Yeah, good. Although we could have just faxed the reports and the drawings over to him."

Spike stared into the room where his witness still moved animatedly. He avoided looking into his partner's face to spare him the embarrassment as he spoke.

"Look, Penn, I know you hate the guy, hell in similar circumstances, I would too, but the fact is, it was one night. It was a Christmas party and everyone there had way too much to drink. Yeah, he was a jerk to hit on your wife, but you know Faith loves you. She would never look twice at a guy like that. After all, what does she need with a tall, good looking, rich, government agent like Liam O'Conner when she has......you"

Penn snorted, shook his head and chuckled. "You're a prick, you know that?"

Spike glanced back over his shoulder and winked. "I've been told."

Before they could expound on Spike's personality defects or Liam's ego, they were interrupted by a quick knock before the man himself stepped in.

"Good morning gentlemen. How's life in the burglary and traffic ticket business? I was told you have some information for me. It's understandable. You get in over your heads and you have to call in the big guns. Holy Shit!"

Liam leaned forward with his hands against the glass of the two way mirror and stared at the small blond sketch artist. All the way over here, he had planned on a rousing game of insult and infuriate the detectives, he had mentally rehearsed several germ and phobia cracks to toss out at the clean freak and he was going to hit Penn with the real zinger of "How's the little woman?" for the capper, but now all of that evaporated straight out of his mind as he stared at the delicious blond.

While Penn stuttered and fumed over the insults, searching for just the right comeback, Spike was quicker. "Yeah, looks just your type, innit? Soft, sweet, I can see you two now. Would make a right cute couple. Unfortunately, that's our witness and we need you to keep you hands off him. Oh, and the other one is Buffy, our sketch artist."

Penn's face nearly exploded as he tried to keep it straight. If he had been allowed to touch his partner, he would have hugged and kissed him right there and then. Especially when Liam whirled around, steam nearly rolling out of his ears like on a Bugs Bunny cartoon. "You're a prick, you know that, Spike?"

Unlike his partner, Spike made no effort to check himself as he chortled with glee. "Funny you should mention that. Someone else recently...."

Before he could finish. Penn lurched forward and slapped his palms on the glass. "Hey, look, she's finished. She's coming out. Come on."

The three men, like Stooges, collided into each other and bounced back as they all attempted to run out the narrow doorway at one time. When they finally did pop through, Liam was in the lead, Penn second and Spike brushing his suit off in disgust. No one noticed the boy in the interrogation room who had curled up in a corner of the room and gone to sleep.

Buffy looked a wreck. Her hair protruded from the rubber band restraints in wild peaks, tufts and curls. Her sunken eyes had dark circles and although her body screamed for sleep, the infusion of copious amounts of caffeine had her brain spinning on warp speed.

Heading straight for Spike, she was charged with excitement and electricity.

"Here, I think they're really good. Oh my God, he was fantastic! His memory for detail is extraordinary, especially considering there were four of them. I think this is exactly what you guys......."

Before she could finish, Liam physically stepped between them. He sucked his teeth as his eyes put on skates and rolled up her body and slowly back down. "Well, well boys, call a priest, I do believe heaven has lost an angel."

Buffy blinked, her face scrunched up in confusion. "Angel?"

Liam nodded his spiky haired head as a slow, seductive grin crossed his lips.

"Yeah, that will work. You can call me Angel."





Part Twelve

The arguing had been going on for the better part of an hour. They had all been summoned into the Mayor's office at dawn and almost immediately it became apparent that the jurisdictional conflicts of this case were going to be a nightmare.

As suspects in both the murder and drug cases within the city limits, Spike and Penn were insisting that they have first crack on presenting their evidence and cases to the grand jury for indictments while Angel saw this as a sure promotion within the INS department if he could bring charges against such high level illegals.

The mayor had his own agenda. Elections were coming up next fall and Ethan Rayne did not want to give up the reigns of power just yet. Public outcry against the men who arrogantly flaunted their illegal status in the country while contaminating the streets and playgrounds with their drugs and crime was one of the top concerns right now with the voting public. An arrest and conviction within his city's department would assure him another four years.

Police Chief Rupert Giles seemed to be the only one atending the meeting who did not voice an argumental position. He sat silently and listened.

Pounding his fist on his desk, the Mayor demanded silence and their attention. "Gentlemen! Stop it! All this bickering and whining like little girls is getting us nowhere. Oh, sorry, no offense Miss Summers."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, none taken mayor."

Mayor Rayne hoisted his ample body out of his leather chair and clasp his hands behind his back while he voiced his thoughts.

"Now, here's what I think, and since my opinion is the only one that counts right now, it is what we are going to do. First, I want it understood that nothing that is said between us, leaves this room. This is top priority, people. Loose lips sink ships and if this fucking boat goes down, each and every one of you will go with it. Am I understood?"

The matching nods were all the response he wanted and the Mayor continued.

"Good, now, Liam has faxed those sketches back to INS headquarters for identification, thank's to our lovely Miss Summers, and is assured that the suspect's round up is imminent. However, make no mistake, these are powerful men. They have more people working for them on the streets than we do and until they are securely behind bars, nothing about this case is safe. So, right now, all our eggs are in one basket. Our witness. We saw what they did to his friend and if that happens to him, we are fucked. We could keep him here under PC but the fact is, that's just too public. The media will find out about him and his face will be plastered all over the news by this afternoon. The other issue that we are unsure of is the way they ripped up his apartment. Obviously they're looking for something and they think he has it. You say he claims he doesn't know what? You think he is lying?"

Penn slumped back in his chair. The excitement of the evening had long ago worn off and he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more right now than to go home and climb in bed next to his warm, loving and faithful wife.

"No. He says the only thing he took from them was the money they paid after the sex. The boys split a thousand between them and that is nothing to men like this. They would not have risked being noticed just to retrieve a few bucks. I don't think it was the money that they wanted. They want something else and since they killed the boy, they obviously didn't get it."

The mayor nodded his head as he thought about it. He turned and looked out over the streaks of red that colored the morning sky and the solution came to him. Spinning back around, he slapped his palms on his desk and he stared into all their faces.

"I've got it gentlemen, oh, and lady, we need to hide our witness out. Somewhere safe till these men are caught. Somewhere no one knows about but the six of us and if word leaks out and anything happens to him, one of you will burn, guaranteed, and I'll light the fucking match myself."

Angel had, all along argued that he should be allowed to take physical custody of the witness and return him to INS headquarters for interrogation, but fact was, everything the mayor was saying was true. In a public place like Immigration and Naturalization, the boy could be snuffed out like a candle. Protection would be almost impossible and Angel did NOT want a dead witness on his employment record. So, grudgingly, he agreed.

Penn sat forward in his chair. "Fine, how do we do this and where can we put him?"

Mayor Rayne studied all their faces and hoped to God that they were all trustworthy.  The promise of big money in exchange for selling out this boy was a temptation hard to avoid. He could personally attest to the truth of that.

"I have a small hunting cabin deep in the Adirondack. I haven't been there in some time, but I can give you directions. It has everything you need, water, propane for cooking and a wood fireplace for heat. It gets chilly at night. I need one person to take him there and hide out. Hopefully, it won't be for long but we can't afford to take any chances. You will go armed and protect him with your life. There's a telephone and I'll have service turned on so you can keep in touch but you are only to call back here to the department in an emergency. Phone calls are traceble. Any questions?"

They all looked back and forth between themselves. They all had one, huge screaming, 'hell yes, we have questions', question that no one wanted to be the first to ask. Finally, Angel did.

"Who's the sacrificial lamb? I gotta be honest here, Mayor, I can't get away from my job right now and frankly, for your department to do the paperwork through my department to request my temporary transfer, it would take months for such a requisition to be approved."

Buffy's eyes got big. "Huh uh. I just draw 'em. I don't even own a gun. Well, I do, a 38, but that's beside the point. Huh uh. No way."

All eyes then turned to Penn. "No, please Mayor. Faith would kill me if I took another one of these special assignments. That four month stake out cost me a new car and a shopping spree before she would forgive me. I can't afford that fucking kitchen remodel she's been harping about right now."

Mayor Rayne nodded. He had thirty-nine years of his own marital issues and could sympathize with Penn's. With that settled, all heads turned and every eye silently stared at Spike.

Frantically, Spike attempted to conjure up a thousand excuses but he knew none would carry weight. He had no plants that needed watering and pets were certainly not an issue. He had no personal relationship that would suffer and he doubted that the mayor would consider his aversion to the great outdoors as a valid reason to refuse.

He finally gave the only response he could.

"Well, fuck."





Part Thirteen

Xander's body and mind had crashed. He peaked on the scale of horror and despair and could no longer process the additional information that was being fed to him.

The only person who had shown him any compassion and sympathy for his loss was the nice artist so he had done his best to accommodate her and describe the men who were responsible for his friends death.

His brain hadn't had a moment's peace to consider why the murder had taken place in his apartment beyond the idea that Joey had gone there to look for him, they must have caught up with him, hunting for both boys, and killed him there.

Maybe, Xander thought, these macho men didn't want any witnesses left alive that could point a finger at them and label them with the dreaded 'fag' word. With the overload of shock and grief, Xander had completly forgotten about swapping his cheap stud earring with the diamond.

When the pictures were complete, Xander was stunned and amazed. It was as if they had been drawn from the men themselves sitting and posing for their portraits. He had never met a real artist before and he wondered if someday she would draw a picture of him, but he knew he would never ask.

The likenesses to the unsubs were uncanny. Without names, she had tagged them by the terms Xander, himself, had coined. One was Curly, one Slick, one Skinny and the other was Slug.

After she left, he did the only thing his body could do. He curled up on the floor and immediately fell asleep. He would have been unable to rest and probably would have beat a hasty retreat to the nearest exit if he had known of the plot involving him that swirled around like a maelstrom.

After being sent home to pack, it was over three hours before Spike again reported to the Mayor's office, his bags discreetly hidden in the trunk of his car where none of the uniformed officers passing through the garage would notice. He hoped one bag and two days worth of clothing would suffice.

"Where the fuck have you been? I was beginning to think you had skipped out."

Spike calmly rolled his eyes at the Mayor's outrage.

"Actually, Mr. Rayne, I thought I acted most expeditiously considering I needed to shower and change into a fresh suit as well as organize and pack, a situation made more difficult by the fact that you have given no indication of a time line."

Ethan Rayne stared at the quirky Englishman as though he had grown a second head and wondered, not for the first time, if this wasn't a huge mistake. Luckily, when he had sent Penn out to buy some things for the boy, the detective, knowing his partner had doubled the order. Penn had hooted, wishing he had a hidden camera to get a snap shot of William Bradshaw in a red checkered flannel shirt and jeans.

"You're wearing a suit? For fuck sake, Spike, you're going to be out in the woods."

Spike sniffed and straightened the linen handkerchief in his breast pocket. He hated it when it worked its way up so that more than a half an inch of the point protruded from its designated area. "Yes, well although I am being thrust into an environment that is not of my choosing, there is no reason to change my accompagnement."

"Your....? Fuck, never mind. Look, while you were off fucking around, your partner has gotten everything he thinks you two might need. Here is an envelope with the directions on how to get there as well as some money and some phone numbers. Now, there's a small town a few miles down the road, but of course we can't risk you going there. If you call this number, the local grocer will deliver."

Spike took the offered envelope, dangling it between his thumb and forefinger and staring at it distastefully. "Has the witness been prepped for the journey?"

Mayor Rayne turned his back on the detective. He didn't want the truth being read in his face. Fact was, the boy had gone ballistic. He had been wakened from a sound sleep and informed that his life wasn't worth a plug nickle unless he did as they had instructed until these men could be found and detained.

"The witness is ready. In fact Penn should be loading the clothes and hygiene items he purchased for the two of you into the back trunk of your car and the boy has been squirreled away in a lower level holding cell. When you're ready, just pull up to the loading dock and he'll be brought out. As soon as you take custody of him he's your responsibility, Spike. Anything happens to him and it's your ass on the line."

Spike scowled. "Penn bought me toilet items? Doesn't he know how sensitive my skin is? I may be stuck in the ungodly wilderness with the bears and the bugs but there is no way I will apply commercially made soaps and chemicals to my highly allergic body. No, thank you very much, I have, of course packed my own products."

"Goddamn it Spike! I don't give a fuck if you packed a case of Summer's Eve bottled douches, I'm talking about the fucking witness!"

Spike straightened his back bone and twitched. "I understand perfectly and intend to dispatch my duties with the utmost professionalism, as always. Now, if there is nothing further, I will collect my charge and go. I do hope this will be a short term arrangement, Mayor. I have only packed for a limited stay."

Mayor Ethan Rayne watched the man turn to go and he dropped back down in his over stuffed, leather chair. He placed his face in his hands and he mumbled. "Lord save us all. We're fucked!"

When Buffy heard how upset Xander was over the plan, she went down to the holding cell and sat with him. She patted his hand and tried to give him some reassurances.

"It won't be that bad. Think of this as a vacation. A paid vacation. Haven't you ever been camping?"

Xander frowned. After listening to the nice artist lady, this whole thing was actually starting to sound not all that bad, but he wasn't ready to be agreeable just yet. "No, I've never been. My Uncle Rory was going to take me once when I was a kid, but he got caught up in a drug bust and they sent him away before he got the chance."

Buffy grinned. "See. This will be fun. I just know it."

Xander began to waver. "Well, maybe. So who did you say was going to go with me?"

"Oh, um....." Before she could answer, Spike breezed in and began snapping his fingers. "Hup, hup. Snap to. Let's go Mr. Harris. Time to leave."

Xander stood looking at Buffy and appearing, for all the world as though he hadn't heard.

Spike crossed his arms and huffed. "Let's go. Move. It's a long ride, Mr. Harris. We need to be on the road."

When he still got no response beyond Xander whistling and checking the condition of his fingernails, Buffy finally leaned over and whispered into Spike's ear. His face scrunched up in total disbelief.

"Oh for God.........fine. Let's go, XANder."

With a bright smile, the boy now grabbed up his cowboy hat and plopped it on his head. "Let's roll, partner."





Part Fourteen

After cautiously scanning the area for threats, Spike quickly led his charge through the adjacent hallway to the rear door of the booking area of the government building. They quickly proceeded to the parking garage where Spike held his hand up indicating that Xander should wait.

With his hand on his shoulder holster, Spike stepped into the secured garage and assured himself that the tight security had not been breeched and, with a wave of his hand, indicated it was safe for Xander to follow.

When he had returned earlier, Spike had parked his prized Volvo as close to the exit as possible, assuring they would be inside, doors locked, and safely concealed before even the overhead cameras could catch wind of their leaving.

Standing by the passenger's door, no conversation passed between them as Spike went to the drivers's side and he unlocked the door while Xander took the time to admire the car. It was showroom perfect. Even in the dim light of the car park, he could see that there wasn't a speck of dust or dirt anywhere on it.

It was painted a deep, titanium gray that glistened and shined, reflecting even the glaring, false light of the overhead industrial bulbs of the parking garage. The car had dark, factory tinted windows and expensive wheel rims that shined like the silver balls on a Christmas tree.

Xander had sucked cock in some pretty nice cars, but this one really took the prize. He wondered if it was new. He decided that it must be. Either that or the detective never drove it on common errands. It lacked the tell tale scratches that are virtually impossible to avoid when grocery carts, baby buggies and punks with jealous pen knives see something like this sitting outside the mall.

He was quickly getting excited at the thought of riding in such luxury and continued to patiently wait by the passenger's side with the door handle already in his hand. When Xander heard the click of the lock release, he jerked open the door, inhaled the heady aroma of leather cleaner and Windex and he began to sit down.

"NO! STOP!!"

Spike's screeching shout caught Xander off guard and he immediately jumped back as the detective ran around to the boy's side of the vehicle. He wondered if there was a bomb inside. Had he been discovered? Should he tuck, duck and roll?

"What?"

Expecting Spike to draw his weapon, or at least call for back up, Xander was confused when the detective hurriedly stepped between him and the car and calmly went about the task of popping open the glove box where he extracted a small, white, clean towel. Xander stood back with his arms crossed as he watched the Volvo's owner neatly spread the towel across the passenger's seat.

He smoothed it out and picked at it till he assure himself that it covered as much area as possible and the wrinkles were neatly pressed out. Finally, he stepped back, sighed and nodded toward the confused rider.

"Ah, there we are. Please, please, have a seat." Without waiting for the boy's response, Spike hustled back to his own side.

Xander immediately reached in, snatched the towel off his seat and tossed it into a crumpled heap on the floor in the back. He then flopped down and glared at the man he assumed was insulting him.

The minute Spike was in and saw what Xander had done, he turned to face him. "Now see here. As owner and driver of the vehicle in question, I do believe that I have say over how said vehicle is treated."

Xander too, turned his body fully to the side to face off with the suited, stick up the butt detective. "Well, let me tell you something. If you think, because of what I do, that I am going to contaminate your precious car, well, fuck you. I'm tested regularly at the clinic and I ain't got no diseases. I took a shower. I'm every bit as clean as you are. I don't have whore cooties that are going to jump off my ass and burrow deep into the upholstery so if you think I'm going to sit on that fucking towel, forget it."

Spike had the decency to feel a bit sheepish. He had not considered his action would be interpreted as an insult, still, it did slightly concern him that there possibly were a form of cootie that burrowed....no, no, he was certain that wasn't the case.

"Look, it appears we are getting off on the wrong foot. It just so happens that I ask everyone who sits there to place a towel under themselves. After all, I don't know how people live or what sort of germs could be transmitted. My partner never complains."

Xander pulled his door shut and he settled in. His anger had cooled somewhat and he decided to reserve his opinion on whether or not his keeper was an asshole or just a clueless idiot. Either way, it was making this little camping trip look a lot less appealing. Then, he remembered what Buffy had said and, despite himself, he was again getting excited at the prospect of actually camping out in the woods.

"Well, then your partner is a putz. Look, maybe I overreacted. We're going to be spending a lot of time together this week and we might as well get along, right?"

Spike grinned and glanced at his passenger. Cooperation and consideration were the keys to a successful cohabitation. Spike had read that somewhere once and it seemed a very logical concept. In theory. He had hoped to never test it in practice.

"Excellent. Cooperation. That is the key. We shall do just fine this week. Although it will be most helpful if we keep in mind certain considerations of the other."

Xander's brow wrinkled slightly and he glanced to the side. "Considerations?"

Spike was delighted that they were able to broach this subject so early in their trip. Might as well lay all cards out on the table and understand each other before they get any further down the highway. It will make the entire trip slightly less horrendous.

"Yes, little things. Give and takes that will assure our co habitation will be less stressful. Don't you agree? Tell you what, I'll give you some of my simple requests and then you do the same."

Xander's silence was Spike's signal to continue.

"Good. Good. For example. Please never remove your shoes inside the vehicle. In direct contrast, please ALWAYS remove your shoes as soon as we enter the cottage. Next, I will have to insist that certain cleanliness be observed at all times. Whenever the kitchen is used, all surfaces must be wiped down immediately. I have brought a container of disinfectant wipes. Next, and possibly most important is the treatment of the facilities."

Xander blinked. "Facilities?"

"The restroom facilities. It is absolutely crucial that the entire room be cleaned twice a day and each time you use it. Have you any idea how many airborne germs there are in an area such as that?"

Xander had now lost all interest in the luxury and opulence of the interior of the car and he stared at the driver in dry disbelief.

"You really are fucked up aren't you?"





Part Fifteen

The next three hours were spent in the volley of give and take. The casual feeling out of insult and retort that gave them each a feel for the man they were to spend the next week or more with. None of the barbs were too sharp. None reached the so far untouchable subjects of Xander's profession or the devastating loss of his friend.

Generally, they stayed in the safe territory of a grungy cowboy hat vs a straight jacket-like business suit. A shaggy haircut, which Spike would die before admitting he really thought looked smashing on the boy, vs a too restrictive do of blond curls that were formed and plastered, with not one stray hair out of place, to the detective's scalp.

Interspersed with the snipes were extra rules tossed out by Spike as they came to mind. Xander was having a hard time believing the man was serious. He had never met anyone like this before in his life and considering the number of men he had chalked up in his past, that was a startling situation.

By ten AM, the sun was high and hot in the sky and Xander's interest in verbal game playing had waned. The warmth baking in through the tinted windows was making him sleepy but, more than that, the hollowness in his stomach demanded attention. He still had money left from his windfall, but experience told him to keep his cash hush hush, besides, he was the apparent prisoner here, shouldn't his jailer have to feed him?

"Hey, Helmet Head, I'm hungry."

Spike chose to ignore the hair insult. Fact was, he was starving too. He had, for the past few miles been considering the problem. The entire length of the interstate was traversed with advertisements for fast food, "Grandma's Home Cookin'" and chain restaurants. He was almost certain none of them served decent, grease free food on clean dishes.

Still, he knew they would soon have to stop. He needed to get out the directions and see at what point they were to leave the main highway and turn onto the secondary roads that, no doubt, would then reduce themselves to a cow path that leads directly to the certain hell that is the boon docks.

When Xander's statement received no acknowledgement beyond a scowl as the driver stared straight ahead, he decided to try again. This time, Xander stuck both hands directly in Spike's face as his fingers made exaggerated movements, imitating sign language, and he tried again, now speaking slowly and emphasizing each word.

"Spike! I said I'm hungry. Stop. For. Food."

Spike immediately began slapping the germ laden flying fingers from in front of his face.

"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Fine, yes. We need to check our directions anyway. I just haven't seen anywhere appropriate for a good meal."

Xander's face scrunched in confusion. He had not only seen the passing billboards but, out of boredom, taken to counting them. So far, McDonalds was in the lead with twenty-three. In response to Spike's ignorant remark, Xander this time, took out a pair of sunglasses, put them on and began feeling around himself as though he were blind.

"Where am I? Who are you? What is this place?"

Spike just shook his head. "Oh for fuck's sake! Fine! There is a Cracker Barrel two miles up the highway at the next exit. It is a chain so I'm sure they have certain standards they must adhere to.We will stop there."

Xander grinned. Chalk up one for his side. He wished he could pull off his boots and let his sweaty feet air, propped up on the dash but he was afraid the shock would kill his jailer and why end the fun so soon?

Within minutes, the sleek, dark car pulled into the parking lot and proceed to the far, empty corner where it stopped, in the center of two designated slots and he turned the key to kill the ignition.

Xander craned his neck and held his hand over his eyebrows. "Is that it? Two miles up the road? Do we hike from here?"

Spike just huffed. "I am not parking anywhere that I might get struck by a careless patron hitting me with a car door or a hooligan mother recklessly bumping me with a baby carriage. Now if you are hungry, get out of the car, if not, let's just continue on."

Xander shook his head in disbelief and got out of the car. By the time they reached the front door and the smiling waitress, the hunger demon devouring his belly wiped all thoughts of Spike from Xander's mind. He was, however reminded of the Goldilocks story when she tried to seat them. The first table was too close to the main entrance. The second had squealing children nearby. The third was a booth and by then she realized her error and let Spike choose for himself.

When she hurried off to get their water, Spike reached into his pocket and pulled out the envelope tossing it on the table in front of Xander.

"I need to go wash up. The final driving directions and a map are in here along with the key to the cabin. Read over them and when I get back we can discuss how to get there."

Not waiting for a reply, Spike jumped from his seat and rushed off. Xander snorted and shrugged. He then opened the envelope. He took out the instructions and the map and laid them out on the table. When he glanced in the envelope he was startled to see not only a key but several hundred dollars. He quickly looked around to assure himself that Spike hadn't come back as his fingertips brushed the cash.

It would take only a second. Stick it all in his pocket, hot wire the car and be gone. He could go anywhere. Hell, he could go on to the cabin and live free. He could start a new life and be anything he wanted. Then he thought of Spike and for some unfathomable reason, he didn't want to see the man loose his job. He might still decide to do a runner, but for now, Xander left the cash in the envelope and decided to stay.

Finally, a smiling Spike returned and sat back down. He shook out his napkin and carefully placed it over his right knee. Xander was fuming.

"Jesus, fucking Christ! Where the fuck have you been? I'm fucking near starving here and you were gone long enough to take a fucking bath?"

Before his tirade could continue, their waitress returned. Xander noticed with some concern that she now appeared frazzled, her once smooth hair stuck up in tufts and the smile on her face was strained and tight. She jerked a pencil out of the rat's nest in her hair and looked at Xander.

"May I take your order?"

Xander relaxed and ordered the BIG breakfast. Eggs, meat, potatoes, biscuits and gravy. He wanted it all and he wanted it NOW. She then turned and walked away. Xander was stumped.

"She didn't take your order. Aren't you eating?"

Spike smiled. "Ah, yes, after washing up I took a stroll through the kitchen. As I offered some tips I also gave them my order with a few little requests. They were very accommodating and I'm happy to report that the kitchen is spotless. I will remember that and eat at the Cracker Barrel again."




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