rngrdead (rngrdead) wrote in bloodclaim,

The Stray # 25

Title: The Stray
Pairing: S/X
Rating: NC/17
Warnings: Will appear on chapters if needed – some M/M relations
Summary: Spike survived the Black Thorn but only because one of the Senior Partners had heard Illyria refer to him as suitable for her pet and decided to amuse themselves with devastating results

Previous Parts here

Part 25

The following fortnight followed a fairly familiar pattern, Xander running on all but one morning with the dogs, and taking off for work ‘at his desk job’ around nine and arriving home at sundown each day – even on Saturday. The immediate tasks for Jerry and he and their core team were to inspect the site with the surveyors, review the plans over and over with the architects, and based on all the reports available, chart out the project timing, at the same time negotiate with HR to hire or advertise for necessary workers and initial subcontractors to begin construction as planned.

Nights were spent in Spike’s company, though, as was expected, he often arrived home tired and less than ‘chipper’. The action side of construction was his thing, and though the mantel of assistant project manager was quite the step up from site manager of an existing project and exciting in its own way, the responsibilities Jerry was happy to hand him weighed heavy. He sometimes shared his concerns with Spike but more often than not simply tried to ‘be there’ for Poppie and the changed Spike, before falling asleep in front of the television.

Spike worried. He knew Xander’s capacity for work, his dedication and his willingness to put others first, often to his own detriment. Despite Xander’s constant reassurances that this always happened at the beginning of any project to ‘get things off the ground’, Spike had seen Xander’s fatigue first hand during and at the end of the last project, and now it seemed the hours were going to be even longer and decisions harder.

On the Friday evening of the second week, Xander was given the perfect excuse for celebration and a well earned weekend. Gracie called. Chloe was in labour and had already produced one perfectly black little girl, there were more on the way. Spike paced the room as his vampire hearing picked up the news. He fished his lighter from his front jeans pocket and shook a cigarette from the pack on the lounge-room mantel. Hovering near Xander he mouthed, “Is Chloe OK?” Xander relayed the question before nodding at Spike and waving him outside to smoke before continuing the conversation.

“We’ll swing by in the morning if that’s alright with you. Just that I’ve only just arrived home from work and… yeah I know it’s after seven… well… yeah… hmph – no such thing as a free ride in this life… No, no… Spike and Poppie are fine… And a definite nadda on that one but thanks for the offer. You’ve got your hands more than full, you don’t need us lot along at this hour. Sure I’ll let Spike know he’s a dad again. Oh, I’m sure he’ll understand… OK see you tomorrow and… good luck yeah?”

Spike was sitting with his feet on the first step of the back porch smoking and stroking Poppie’s ears just as Xander had expected. The human joined the vampire/husky silently, joining the contemplation. His life, like Spike’s life/unlife seemed only ever to become more, not less, complicated.

Spike made no attempt to change what he was doing and blew a smoke ring then took another long drag before squeezing the remaining tobacco from the still burning butt and dropping the filter onto the ground. “Thanks…”

Xander looked puzzled and Spike met his gaze, noticing again the nasty scar that Caleb had inflicted and Spike had been unable to stop happening. “Just thanks is all. Coulda been euthanized in Kamloops, instead I’m the head of a dynasty of sorts, livin’ with a corporate construction hot shot on the way up who happens to double as my ‘master’ in the day and bloody good lover at night – last few nights notwithstanding.”

“About that Spike… I’m sorry it’s just… work is so hectic at the moment – promise I’ll make it up to you.”

Spike gave a quiet snort, “Bet you say that to all your dashingly handsome vampire companions.”

Xander was suddenly on the back foot again, “I didn’t mean… I…”

“Don’t sweat it pet, I was joking, OK?... Know you’re the important boss man now and we’re all new at this…” His voice dropped to an almost whisper, “All of this…” There was a long pause before a somewhat brighter, “How’s Chloe?”

“Um Gracie said she’s coping well, first one is a girl, all black apparently, Gracie seems to think she will have a few pale spots later… but she’s healthy Spike… and there are more on the way. We’ll go over first thing…”

“So I heard… taa luv. Hear that Poppie? You’ve scored at least one new sister. Wonder how many more. This rate half of Calgary will have one o’ mine as a pet.”

Xander grinned “And I’m pledged to the father of the line – where do I fit in this dynasty of dog.”

“Well I’ve got a most productive concubine, that would make you the queen, and now that I think about it, that fits and so do I, into the raging queen, I mean.” With vampiric speed that caused Poppie to jump with surprise, Spike kissed Xander hard then was on his feet and sprinting for the bedroom Xander in hot pursuit.

He was stopped in his tracks by the phone ringing again. Expecting it to be Gracie again he picked it up still panting with exertion and excitement. “House of Huskies, Top Dog speaking.”

There was a rather surprised giggle on the other end of the phone. “Hi Xander. It’s Carrie. Glad to hear you in such a good mood, Jerry’s out to it on the couch. Just ringing to see if you’d like to come over tomorrow night for a free feed. It’ll be us and a few of the ‘inner circle’, nothing fancy but I thought it would be nice to celebrate a little before you all forget how to. Bring the dogs if you like – that’ll keep the twins busy.”

“Oh… um… sorry Carrie, I just thought… never mind. Um sure, we’d love to come… and I really thought you would be Gracie, Chloe is having another litter of Spike’s pups and…”

“Xander that’s marvellous – now Gracie promised to save us one this time, you will check with her won’t you, and check the price ey? I know how much work they are but the boys (including Jerry) just keep on and on about how wonderful it would be to have a dog – and I must say, after meeting your two, well… Now about the dinner, we’ll be starting around seven…”

“Well it will probably just be Poppie and myself, Spike will…”

“Oh yes Gracie told me *all* about that loving father, no doubt he’ll want to stay with the new family… I would expect nothing less of a dog of yours. But how about you bring… you know… someone…”

“Someone?... Who? I really don’t… Did Jerry say something?” Xander was frantically trying to remember if he had ever mentioned anything about ‘William’ but could think of no discussions with his colleague other than about Spike the husky.

“Oh come on! Hairdressers talk! David told me all about your lovely new friend and your evening out with Chris, you and ‘friend’ while we were up at the cabin.” When there was a rather pregnant pause on the phone Carrie backpedalled a little, “Look if I’ve poked my nose in where it doesn’t belong, you go right ahead and say…”

“No no… Not at all. His name’s William… Aurelius, he’s English and… I’m fairly certain he will come if I coax him a little. I’ll bring Poppie too – she’ll enjoy the company of the boys I’m sure.”

“Well coax away! And can I trouble you to pick up some ice and perhaps bring whatever meat you prefer to barbeque. Good, well that’s settled. Now I’ve banned Jerry from doing any work tomorrow other than be head chef and entertainment on the BBQ while the rest of us enjoy. So… no work for you either Mr Harris – you go and enjoy those new pups, oooh it must be such a thrill to see them when they are so tiny… Bye for now.”

Xander bade farewell and put the phone down with an over-tired thunk.

He jumped as a cool hand touched his shoulder, “Trouble at mill?”

“What? No! Ghods Spike you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Can’t have that then can we. Poppie’s abed, now hows about we do the same ‘n yours truly will try to give you a proper seeing to, heart attack or no. Nothin’ like a bit ‘o good ol’ fashioned love makin’ to relax a fella.”

With that Spike took Xander’s hand and led him to their shared bed. He gently eased Xander’s clothes off, pulled down the covers and placed a pillow strategically before pulling the human down and positioning him on his stomach. “Just you lie there and let me do all the work yeah? ‘n if I hear you snorin’ afore I’m done I’ll take it as a compliment – but only this once.”

Xander adjusted a little then relaxed. Spike’s careful preparations, complete massage then lube and one, two then three fingers had him aroused, compliant and sleepy all at once. As he felt the cool shaft press home and Spike’s partial weight on his back, he groaned with pleasure and pushed back just… so. The familiar baritone kept up endearments and reassurances in time with the leisurely pace, his prostate stroked each pass, “Tomorrow… is… tomorrow… Ghod Xan, you feel like liquid fire… unghh… yessssss… Feel that… it’s me inside you… we’re together… Love you Xan… Love… That’s it… Love… You… Oh Ghod… Come with me Xan come… Yes!”

Xander spilt as he felt Spike climax and cool seed flood him, barely feeling the sting of fangs as they pierced his shoulder and slight pull of blood before the wound was laved closed. There was no withdrawal, rather the wet pillow was pulled from under his hips and he registered Spike’s weight relaxing on his back as they both fell into post coital slumber.

Dawn brought with it a brisk shower and a run to Gracie’s.

Spike’s anxiety to see the new pups was palpable as Xander, still panting, fumbled with the gate. Chloe was on her side with five little fur balls snuggled up against her asleep. They all roused as Spike arrived, the little ones mewling a little then finding Chloe’s teats again with some difficulty. Spike simply sat and admired, growling low as Poppie came a little too close. She stayed in her tracks and sat down to wait. Her time to greet the pups would come, for now she and master watched on as father greeted first Chloe then each pup in turn. Three boys and two girls. Two almost black and the rest silver… but all with blue eyes barely visible as the newborns struggled up on wobbly legs, one by one learning their father’s scent as he licked over their little bodies.

Gracie was standing behind Xander in her ‘monkey face’ pink flannelette pajamas and pink pig slippers. “Morning. They’re all fine Xander, just *beautiful*. Dad said I could keep only one more – reckons that even if he is a butcher, they’d still cost a fortune to feed if I kept them all, still… How’s work?”

“Hey you… um fine… busy… um… Can I request one of them too – I know a council permit will have to be paid for three dogs on the premises, but… I’ll pay you for it, him, her…”

“You big dumb arse! You will *not* pay me. This is the next generation super team of sledding. Anyway, did Jerry and Carrie still want one?”

“Yeah… They um…”

“Tell Carrie to bring the boys over in three or four weeks, by then they’ll be interactive and all personality. I’ll be asking a grand each for them, but tell Carrie, for her it’s half that. Papers and inoculations will all be in order.”

“Sure, sure. Look I’d better get home and do some stuff. Alright that I leave Spike and Poppie here? I should be back by three.”

“Yeah fine… Mr Workaholic! But if you could be back on time today… I’ve got a date tonight and… well eau d’ dog not really a turn on.”

Xander smiled at her then moved to pat Poppie, reassuring her that she was still loved by master, and unclipped her harness. “First date then?”

“Second actually – but last time it was bowling – hardly the romantic evening ey?” She grinned broadly and winked. “Tonight, it’s my pick, so it’s a movie then the piano bar by the Uni. He’s studying geophysics and is a real honey… well so far anyway, we’re taking it kinda slow.”

Xander thought of Spike and his first few encounters in Spike’s new vampire guise. “Slow can be good.”

Gracie blushed a little then slapped Xander lightly on the arm, “Why is it always the gay guys that get this stuff? Anyway… Thanks. See you around three… Oh look, aren’t they just adorable? He’s such a good father.”

Spike had taken a resting position opposite Chloe, their noses together, with the newborns encircled by familial fur and smells. Poppie had taken point nearby along with sister Bella. Xander felt quite emotional and simply said “Yeah… three… thanks.”

The day went well for the construction company, despite it being Saturday and the fact that Jerry was supposed to be home at twelve. Xander stayed on and ironed out a few of the logistical issues with crane hire and a heavy machinery contractor, and all seemed on track.

Xander picked up the dogs as planned after swinging by the supermarket to obtain barbeque meat and a few other supplies (including flowers for both Carrie and Gracie). Spike was less than keen to leave Chloe and the little ones but knew the imperative regards the sunset – just not about the coming dinner party.

Consequently as soon as the change came (around 6.35pm) Spike’s first words were, “Right well… What do you want me to wear since it’s your shindig? Got the choice of black jeans or blue jeans; and a black t-shirt with burgundy over-shirt or black t-shirt with blue over-shirt. And who said I wanted to go anyway!” By the time Spike had finished his rather huffy diatribe, Xander was already in the bathroom and yelled back, “Check in the brown carry bag, might find a thing or two in there.”

Spike heard the shower go on and was even more affronted that he was not invited. He spat some residual fur from his mouth in the general direction of the voice and addressed a quizzical Poppie. “Bloody master of the pack, master of the gaudy clothing more like it. Well, let’s see what Xander, the snappy dresser, would have me in, [then yelled so as to be heard over the shower] *and it better not be some monkey bloody suit or I’m stayin’ home!*”

A very nude Spike kept mumbling to himself as he located said bag in the study by Xander’s briefcase. He petulantly yanked it from its resting place and (followed by Poppie) flung it from the bedroom door onto the bed. What fell out made him take an unneeded breath. The latest style black jeans, a belt with a buckle that looked like a spike through a ring, a white silk over shirt, and a leather jacket – not quite as long as his old duster but long enough to touch just below his knees, lined with black satin lining. He stared at the pieces in wonder then marched into the bathroom flung the door of the shower open and claimed Xander’s mouth with a passionate kiss, then slapped him for good measure.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“For bein’ a prat is what! How ‘m I s’posed to keep me master vampire ‘indignancy’ with you doin’ the ‘thoughtful loving pledged’ on me all the time!... They’re gorgeous, mind you, will look a darn sight better with me inside ‘em.” With that Spike crouched down in front of Xander, water running in rivulets over pale skin, and gradually arched and in the process rubbed his way up the soaped form of his lover until they were face to face and groin to groin.

Things would have become more heated but for Poppie who decided she too needed bathing and joined them in the cubicle. Xander groaned and looked to the ceiling as if begging for help. He knew they would be late as it was, now it would be even later by the time they shampooed and dried Poppie too (since she was already wet).

Eventually satisfied that the female husky was dried and brushed (after the compulsory shake in the closed shower recess), Xander made his way to join Spike who was standing looking down at the clothes.

Spike had his hands in his jeans pockets pushing the leather jacked back, his wet hair tousled, and he was looking down at the belt buckle, “Wish I could see what I looked like… Xan these must have cost you a fortune.”

Xander stood transfixed at the door, wrapped in a towel and inhaled at the sight. Spike was… well… literally breathtaking. Xander moved to slide his hands around Spike’s slim waist, “Worth every cent. Ghod Spike you look gorgeous!”

Spike gave his most wicked of smiles and moved in to deliberately brush the belt buckle against Xander’s towel, baritone voice low as he all but whispered into his lover's ear, “Thought that was the point Luv.”

Little Xander strained to push the towel up in response and Xander realised they would never make the dinner invitation if he didn’t move now. “I… we’d better get ready… I’ll take a photo on the phone before we leave…”

Spike rubbed against Xander again, “Well you just keep this,” he rubbed again, “ready for me when we get home.” With that he pulled away and went to ‘fix’ his hair while Xander dressed. Xander was heard to say under his breath as Spike disappeared into the bathroom in a swirl of black, “No fear of that…”

Xander was dressed by the time Spike emerged. The vampire's hair had been combed straight back though an unruly blonde curl seemed to insist on falling onto his forehead, giving the blonde a boyish quality that made Xander grin. Spike dutifully stood with a very fluffy, sweet smelling Poppie while Xander took a quick photo. Spike smiled shyly as he inspected the image with a measure of wonder, “Guess that’ll do.”

The street outside Jerry’s home was lined with cars, something Xander had not expected, it seemed the barbeque was a somewhat larger event than he had been led to believe. He recognized the sleek BMW of one of their bosses, along with a number of the other key employees and contractors already engaged for the new venture.

Xander forewent clipping Poppie to a lead, knowing that she would stick close to Spike by instinct. It was Spike he was worried about as the vampire said under his breath, “Bloody hell, Queen due to arrive or sommit?”

The boys answered the door with an excited yell in unison of, “Mo..m! Xander’s here!!!”

Carrie came bustling out of the kitchen, one oven mit still on. “Xander! Oh I worried you might not come. Jerry’s out the back.” She spied the figure standing a little way behind Xander with Poppie at heel. “You must be William. Come in… come in.”

Spike reverted to his Victorian manners instantly, smiled a little and said, as he handed her a large bunch of flowers, “With pleasure, Mrs McCutchin, most gracious of you to invite me.”

Carrie was struck by the manners, the accent, and the look! It was perhaps the one time she might have accused her hairdresser David of understatement. The man in front of her looked like he could have walked directly off the catwalk or be the lead from some romantic blockbuster movie. A little lost for words and trying not to stare, she swallowed hard and waved them through, “Call me Carrie, please.” William smiled back, crystal blue eyes seeming to sparkle as he stepped into the well lit entrance hall and replied, “Carrie it is then.”

She led the three toward the crowd at the rear of the house, the boys, Tristan and Carl, tagging behind, eager to play with Poppie. The young dog sensed the boys’ excitement but stayed close to her changed father as they were guided onto the patio where the party was in full swing.

Xander found the drinks table and retrieved a beer for both Spike and himself before squatting down to eye level with Poppie and indicating to Tristan to come forward. “I think Poppie would love a game, hey Poppie?” The young dog wagged her tail enthusiastically as master gave her permission to take a romp in the back yard with the young humans.

Xander was soon noticed by Jerry, who was suitably attired in a barbeque apron with beer in one hand and tongs in the other. Waving his colleague over Jerry soon included him in the conversation with, “Xander! Great to see you! Come talk to Bert and John while I turn these steaks.” Xander quickly introduced William then the talk turned to work matters. This left Spike a little at a loss. He certainly knew a few of the other people in the crowd but could hardly start a conversation with ‘last time we met I was a dog’, so settled for the sort of strategy he had known as a vampire, quietly cool and observant.

He spoke briefly to a few people then moved to lean on one of the down posts, beer in hand and cigarette in the other, blessing his night vision as he watched Poppie and the boys play their usual ‘catch my tail’ game on the lawn of the generously proportioned backyard.

“I’m glad you’re here.” The quiet voice of David broke his contemplation. Spike put the beer on the rail and turned at the same time pulling his cigarettes and lighter from a jacket pocket. “Yeah, well couldn’t let the boy down could I?”

“I really admire Xander for being so comfortable with his openness about his gender preference, I kind of put David off coming this evening.”

“Your call pet, you do what you need to do. Just remember…” Spike stopped mid sentence to light a cigarette, offering one to Chris who waved it away, “… You love a person not a gender. Xan there is a right champ for accepting me for who I am, the rest seems to come natural-like. Folks pick up on that.”

“Still, I think you two are really brave… and meant for each other. You… um… you look great by the way, the outfit I mean… really suits you.”

Spike cocked an eyebrow a little about to answer with a smart quip, but realized the young man’s immediate embarrassment at having commented so blew a line of smoke and casually replied, “Taa pet. Xan’s choice o’ course. Can’t have me lookin’ like a tramp for his workmates now can he. Now why don’t you go work the room while I get the three in the garden up for some food.”

Spike called Poppie in and the children followed, all three grinning and panting with exhaustion. Carrie had her hands full with a tray of all manner of salads and baked potatoes for the smorgasbord table where guests were already helping themselves. She smiled as she heard the boys’ excited banter as they huffed up the steps to the main throng.

“… and then she caught my tail but Carl was too quick and got the towel back. She’s really fast at turning.”

“That right, well she’s a chip off the ol’ block in that department.”

Tristan nodded profusely, “Yeah Spike’s even faster. Are we really going to get one of his pups? That would be great! Then we can have tail races every day ey!”

Poppie stuck close to father in the sea of legs. She was tall enough to see over the table at all sorts of delicacies but knew better than to touch any of them, waiting instead for the food father passed to her (and the titbits the boys kept ‘sneaking’ her).

Carrie, along with a number of the other partners, had done a fine job and the tables were all but groaning with food. Plate in hand, Spike saw that Xander was still deep in conversation with the developing firm’s CEO so took another. He piled the first plate high with what he knew to be Xander’s favourites and silently handed it to him, then went back to the table to take a few things for himself. He avoided the salads and breads, satisfied with a few marinated chicken wings and ribs.

Returning to his pledged’s side, he suddenly found himself included in the conversation by a large fifty something male, dressed rather uncomfortably casually. It was obvious that a suit was really his thing. “Bob’s the name, VP of Ledcor Group here in Calgary… So William, your friend Xander here tells me you’re a writer. You with a publishing house or freelance?”

Spike flashed a look to Xander who shrugged and looked a little apologetic.

“Definitely freelance, poetry used to be my thing but not really in vogue these days is it. Tend to just do shorter pieces of writin’.”

“Ever thought of corporate reports or advertising? We’re always looking for folks who can do something decent… where did you study?”

“Oxford, England, Classics… long time ago now.”

“Hell Xander didn’t tell me he’s an academic! Should have guessed by the artistic look. So you’ve travelled I take it. What’re you doing in Calgary?”

“Xander ‘n I go way back to his Sunnydale days, hooked up in BC sort of by chance and ended up here.”

“Well blow me down… you c’n lose family but never good friends, ey… So living with Harris I imagine you’re up with the current project the boys are working on for our corporation?”

“I’m fairly ofe yeah.”

“And? What’s the verdict from the man of classics? We really were looking for a building that would make a statement that says past and future.”

Spike shifted feet, he hadn’t expected to have to critique the project but felt he could hardly let Xander down in front of one of the men who would fund their next few years. “Externally it’s striking – the black marble Doric columns at the entrance serve a nice juxtaposition to the glass of the rest of the structure.”

“Hah! You know your stuff… so what about the internals… as a neutral eye… what do you think?”

Spike was becoming increasingly uncomfortable but saw that Xander was otherwise occupied so swallowed hard and considered his answer before giving an honest opinion based on all the drawings he had observed Xander pondering over the last few weeks. “I do like the atrium look, and the circular walkways, not quite Guggenheim or London City Hall, but a nice touch. If I might say, from the drawings it seems to lack some interest in the middle though – you know, just a thought rather than a sculpture, a Faucult pendulum like the one in the Science Museum in London, combined with perhaps an interactive water feature… something folks can wonder at that also draws the eye to the ceiling. ‘twas the charm of Crystal Palace back in the day.”

“Good lord, you really have been paying attention! Mind if I steal you away one afternoon and we can meet with the architect on this?”

Spike shifted from foot to foot and felt decidedly uncomfortable. The comment had been genuine – he’d made it before to Xander, but he hadn’t really meant to talk so much. “’m no artist… just travelled and seen a bit is all, and figured… I really should check with Xan… it’s his territory …”

“Never you mind Xander or Jerry – they’re our construction gurus, what you’ve just come up with here on the spot is the missing aesthetic… brilliant! I’ll have my PA email you – we’ll pay the usual consultancy fee of course. What say you? He waved the man over. “Give your friend here a bit of encouragement, I think he’s on to something. *Wonderful* eye for possibility when it comes to us making a unique statement in Calgary. You’ve been holding back on us… William here is quite the scholar and gentleman”

“That’s S..William… Sir... um, Mr Hilderbrandt. Always full of surprises.” Xander sent Spike a bit of an apologetic shrug, but love through their pledge link.

“Son, call me Bob for heaven’s sake. Let’s get some other opinions on this.” Bob waved to the host and the person he was talking to. “Jerry… *Jerry*, *Frank*, over here.” The two made their way through the crowd.

“I’m sure you all know William, Xander’s friend,” Jerry shot a quizzical look at Xander who pointedly closed his good eye and mouthed ‘later’. “Now he has come up with a doozie of an idea for our central atrium space and I want you fellas to hear it first.”

Chief architect, Frank, took an instant dislike to this ‘William’ assuming he was some architect from abroad come to criticise. Changes now would mean hours at the drawing board (OK, computer, but still!).

“Now hear me out Frank, I can already see you in defensive mode. This is just about that damned atrium we’ve all been arguing about. Tell you what, who’s got some paper… we need to get this down.”

Jerry was about to say something as his wife gave him a withering look, tonight was supposed to be about relaxing, not talking ‘shop’, but thought better of it. If this would enthuse the VP to let them get on with the project without further interference then it was worth five minutes, and Frank was flighty and petulant at the best of times so it might as well be now. What he didn’t understand was Xander Harris’s friend’s role in the activities but Bob was excited so he wandered over, still chewing on his Cajun chicken leg.

What ensued was a half hour discussion that took them from the patio to Jerry’s study where the pendulum was found on the net, sketches made and an interactive (for people walking past) lit water feature and pendulum added to the internal design. In the end Frank and Bob took all the credit (much to Spike’s relief) and the centre piece for the building’s atrium was set. A pendulum like no other in Canada with plans for an interactive water feature that would respond to noise or movement in a randomized symphony of water shots from below and timed display of liquid and light.

Frank the architect was genuinely pleased with the result and promised to do the final drawings over the next week. Bob beamed from ear to ear as the idea turned to practicalities, and Xander slid his hand surreptitiously into Spike’s and squeezed his congratulations. Jerry noticed but said nothing, simply pleased that the contentious central feature had been settled once and for all it seemed.

Bob stood up straight with a slight groan, “Calls for a celebration I think. Let’s join the rest and finish this evening as we started.” He led the way out, kissed his long suffering wife soundly before toasting the architect and all those there to a successful build. It was willingly endorsed, though only apparently an aesthetic matter it was not an insignificant one as the support for the pendulum would require some reinforcement that needed factoring in. Bob pleased and confident it would be a statement for a building that would (hopefully) house primarily large companies' Alberta headquarters, all whose focus was on the future of Canada in both science and technology.

Tristan and Carl went unwillingly to bed around ten, insisting that Poppie be present for the story reading. As a consequence Spike wandered up to sit in on the recitation, glad to be out of the limelight as he calmly stroked Poppie’s fur and listened to Carrie read a two chapters of “Hank the Cowdog”.

Wandering down the stairs together Carrie noted that Poppie constantly looked to Spike and walked so close that she might have been on a tight lead. “She really is devoted to you William. No one would credit she’s Xander’s dog.”

“Oh he’s still the master alright. We,” he ruffled Poppie’s fur as they reacked the botton of the stairs, “just have a connection.”

“That you do. You know they say dogs and children can sense a good soul.”

Spike smile shyly at her, “That right?”

“You make Xander very happy William, I can see that – no sixth sense required. I’m glad you agreed to come. And it seems you made quite the impression on Bob. Not an easy thing to do, he still thinks my name is Carol!” She winked at him and took his arm to rejoin the party.

The remainder of the evening went easily, Spike still choosing to keep his distance somewhat. Too many questions made him nervous though when asked about dog sledding and the Mail Run at one stage he did respond with an authority that had even Jerry raising an eyebrow.

Dan was the head of the crane hire company they had engaged and a keen dog sledder in his youth. “Of course it’s all up to the musher don’t you think, you know, to pick the right line and know the strengths and weaknesses of his or her dogs.”

“True the musher has the controls but ’s more like a coach of a football team, proper football I’m talkin’ about. See once the team’s workin’ as a unit the musher just has to direct play, the dogs at the front are like the captain and vice-captain. It’s up to them to lead the rest with the direction of the musher. The dogs *want* to run, any musher who pushes their team to hard is just like the idiot coach who yells at the team all the time, in the end they’ll just stop playin’. Now Gracie there, she is a heck of a coach and a lady if I don’t mind sayin’.”

“No arguments here buddy. So, you done the Milk Run yourself? Me personally a six timer.”

Spike smiled wide at Dan, genuinely impressed. “Well done. Only my first time last year, did the final dash solo with snowboard.”

“Hey good for you. Oops look out here comes the missus, looks like were off. Nice meetin’ you William… keep up the sledding, never know, we might end up in a race together.”

“Cheers mate.”

Xander, Poppie and Spike were amongst the last to leave and congratulated Carrie particularly on a very successful night.

Jerry slapped Xander on the back and shook William’s hand, “Not a small amount due to you William. Great stuff with Bob, he’s a hard man to impress! Hope we’ll be seeing more of you. Say Xan, we’re heading up to the mountains in a few weeks, how about we make it a ‘team builder’, you know hire out three or four cabins and invite the core group for some fishing, hiking, that sort of thing. Dogs and kids invited of course."

Xander flashed a worried look at Spike but smiled to Jerry, “Sounds like fun. Well better get home, gotta go check on the pups in the morning. Oh and before I forget. Gracie said to come over next weekend or so with Carrie and the boys – let them see the litter and maybe decide on who they are going to adopt into your home.”

Jerry snorted and smiled, “Makes it sound like we’re gaining another child! Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to call Gracie.”

Xander, Spike and a very tired Poppie arrived home shortly after one am, Xander letting the two out before he put the car in the garage.

Rounding the landing he heard Poppie’s high pitched whimper and saw Spike standing stock still staring at something on the ground. “Don’t come any nearer pet.”

“What is it, Spike?”

Spike bent down and picked up the paper bound object and note as Xander ignored the warning and approached.

Inside the newspaper was a severed human hand and a stake. The note read, “With Greetings - J.G. Winchester IV, Master of Calgary and surrounds.”

“What sort of sicko would do that?”

“The vampire sort. Come on let’s get inside. I’ll bury this in the morning.”

“How did he know you were here?”

“He doesn’t know *I’m* here or he wouldn’t dare. I’ll deal with this anon. Now let’s get some sleep."

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