yanagi_wa (yanagi_wa) wrote in bloodclaim,
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Ulterior Motives 29

Sorry for taking so long to post this.

Title: Ulterior Motives

Chapter: 29/?

Word count: 9058

Rating:Mature

Disclaimer:Except for the few original characters, all characters in this story are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, who have kindly allowed me to play with them. These fan fictions were written for fun, not profit. However, this story does belong to me. Please don’t snitch it.

Warnings:Probably a little of everything. Fighting, Spanking, Bondage, Blood, Gore, Bad Language,

Parings: Spike/Xander

Beta: aayesha_r (due to last minute rewriting, all remaining mistakes are mine.)




Xander finished his tea and sighed. The stuff was noxious; even the Lindt chocolates couldn't kill the taste. Not that he'd turn them down. Never turn down chocolates, that was Xander's opinion. He sighed again and rolled over.

He wondered when he and Spike were going to have their talk. And who was going to do the screaming. He was afraid it would be him, but then again, Spike had promised Mr. And Mrs. Pena that he'd take good care of him. He sighed for the third time. He was beginning to wish Spike would just get it over with.

“Pet? You done with your tea? Lunch will be ready in a little while.” Spike crawled on the bed with Xander and rubbed his arm.

“I'm done. But I really don't like it. It tastes like moldy socks smell. And even chocolate won't cover it. How much longer do I have to drink it and when can I get out of bed? It's been three days.” Xander knew he sounded petulant, but he couldn't help it. He was getting more and more restless as time went on. He wasn't allowed out of bed except to go to the bathroom, shower, shave, and take one measly walk down the hall. It was making him crazy.

“You can walk in your garden tomorrow. After the healer sees you. Until he gives his permission, you stay in bed. Ya wanna watch a movie or something?”

“No, I don't wanna watch a movie. I want to get up and do something.” Xander's unconscious mimicry made Spike wince.

“Well, you can't. Not until the healer gives his permission. So stuff it. Movie or no?”

Xander sulked, but grumbled, “Movie. Is there anything I haven't seen four times?”

“Yeah. I got Bud to go get you some new ones.” He shuffled through the pile and then offered Xander the only ones he was sure Xander hadn't seen. Xander picked one, and Spike stuffed it into the DVD player and pushed play.

Xander settled comfortably against Spike and relaxed. So far Spike hadn't done anything about their talk; he'd made sure Xander didn't either, and that was what had Xander so worried.

“Spike, about our talk....”

“Not now. Not until the healer clears you. Then we'll talk. Now, shush, this is a good part.”

Spike refused to say another word and threatened to turn off the TV if Xander insisted. Xander settled back again, grumbling.

Spike was laughing in his ear. “Good boy. I know you're getting restless; it's a sign that you're healing. But I'm not takin' chances on you havin' a relapse.”

Xander nodded his understanding. “Ok, I'll be good. But once the healer clears me, I'm working out with Master Bruce and walking in my... wait a sec, my garden? Wha’? How, who... I mean. Huh?”

Spike smiled at Xander's confusion. “It's been moved here. Most of it was in containers, and the rest was in planter boxes. I had the containers moved whole, and the rest taken down and moved. Some of the plants didn't survive, and I'm really sorry about that. But the orchids and the African violets are all fine.”

Xander wriggled happily. “Most of the plants that didn't survive are probably annuals; they don't like having their roots fiddled with. It's Ok. I... wow... you moved my gardens? Wow.”

“Yes, I had your gardens moved and expanded. I think you'll like the Zen garden and the enlarged lily pond. All the orchids are in an Orchidarium. That one took some doing, I'll tell you. All the gardeners had no idea what to do. So I hired a human, weird guy, so he built this geodesic dome right in the middle of the gardens, and it's got humidifiers and all kinds of stuff. I like it.”

Xander gave Spike a tender look that lifted his heart. “That's good.” He sighed and rolled over, away from Spike. He was still pissed at him, but it was hard to stay that way, especially when Spike was trying so hard.

“Still mad at me, pet?” Spike sounded so dismal that Xander almost relented. Almost.

“Yeah, I'm still mad. I only asked one thing of you. One. And you wouldn't grant me it. Doesn't seem right somehow. Especially when I gave you everything I could.” He rolled back to pin Spike with a glare. “I don't want to talk about it right now. I thought I did, but I don't. Can I please be alone now?”

Spike eased out of the bed and went to the door. “As soon as the healer comes, I'll send him in. If he says you're up to it, you can walk in your garden. I'll have Master Bruce come to see you after you get back.”

“Maybe you should have him talk to the healer, too.” Xander was going to make sure that he was well and up to it before he took up the Art again. He had some major training to do, and he wasn't about to make himself sick again. He wanted more training in Krav Magau and more swordsmanship. He hoped he'd be up to the training when Spike got done with him

“I will. You going to sleep now?”

Xander sighed. “No, I'd like to, but I'm all slept out. When's the healer going to be here? Did he give a time?”

“No, just this afternoon. I'll see if I can't call him. Ok?” Spike sighed as Xander just nodded. It seemed like Xander was having trouble remembering he was mad. He'd be warm and loving one second then cold and distant the next. It was driving Spike nuts. He wanted to just grab Xander and give him a good shake, but that was a very bad idea, and he knew it.

Timmins stuck his head in the door to announce the healer then made himself very scarce; he really didn't want to be around when Xander found out whether he could be up or not. If he couldn't the sulking was likely to get loud; if he could; well, all Timmins could think was the farther away the better. Xander was likely to explode either way, if Spike got on his protective kick.

The healer sighed. “Master Spike. I'd really like to see... er... your...” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. It was more than his blood was worth to call Xander by the wrong title.

“Xander, call me Xander. Get your voo-doo over with so I can go for a walk. I'm going to...” He stilled under twin glares. “Fine, fine. Just do your thing, will you?”

Healer Azor examined Xander carefully and announced that he was fine for light exercise. “And I do mean light. Not what Master Bruce says is light. I'd like to talk to him before I leave.”

Spike just called Timmins to take Healer Azor to see Master Bruce. He turned to Xander and announced, “Well, come on. I want to show you the gardens and see what you want changed. You can change anything you want, you know.”

Xander just got up and headed for the bathroom. He needed a shower, and his hair stank.

“Where ya goin'?”

“Shower, I stink.” Xander grabbed a towel and tossed it over the top of the shower. He turned on the water and adjusted the temperature. He'd just gaped at the bathroom the first time he'd seen it. It wasn't huge by any stretch of the imagination, as long as you were eight feet tall. The bath tub was a spa bath big enough for three people, and the shower was one of the ones built of glass blocks with an overlapping door instead of a curtain or rolling door. It had six shower heads with enough settings to please any geek. Xander loved it.

He showered, washed his hair, and stepped out. He slipped on the wet floor because he'd forgotten to put down a mat. Spike grabbed him and held on until he got his feet under himself again.

“Thanks. Towel? I think I'll need two, or maybe three.” He took the towels from Spike and wrapped one around his waist, draped another over his shoulders, and started drying his hair with the third. “You think I ought to cut my hair? It's getting really long. I like it, but... it's a bit hard to take care of.”

Spike shook his head. “I like it. If you like it, we'll just have to figure out how to take care of it. What do you need?”

“Well, first I need these war locks out again. They're all messy, and then I need someone to comb it out right. If I do it, there's always a knot right at the back of my neck.” Xander held the comb in one hand and looked at Spike a bit doubtfully.

“I can do that. Took care of my Dark Princess for years, didn't I? She had hair down to here for over half a century.” Spike gestured with one hand near his waist. “Here, give me that.”

Xander handed over the comb and settled on a small stool Spike pulled out of the towel closet. He pulled the towel around his shoulders tighter and waited. Spike took Xander's hair and parted it down the center and across the back. He told Xander to hold the two top sections out of the way for a moment. He ran the comb through Xander's hair until he had most of the tangles out of it then had Xander let go of the sections he was holding. He combed the tangles out of that. He unbraided the war locks and combed them into the mass of hair, smoothing it carefully. After that he parted out a thick lock of hair on each side of Xander's face right at the temples. He braided this into war locks, threading in beads at random.

“I like the look. What do you think?”

Xander looked in the hand mirror Spike handed him and nodded his head. “Looks good. And it'll keep my hair from blowing into my face. I need a clip. Or a whatever you call it. One of those ponytail tie thingies.”

Spike had no idea what Xander was talking about, but he was sure Timmins would, or could find out. He made a mental note to get some for Xander.

“Ok, pet. I'll tell Timmins.”

Xander groaned. “Timmins. He's so gonna ream me a new one.”

Spike didn't bother to ask what Xander meant. “Couldn't tell you. And that's between you and him; I'm stayin' out of it. Don't want scorched blood, or toast. Or starched shorts for that matter.”

Xander snickered. “Starched shorts? What are you talking about?”

Spike's disgruntled expression made Xander laughed harder. “Timmins. 'E starched me boxers. Stiff. Had to wad 'em up in both hands to wear 'em.” The indignation in his voice made Xander laugh even harder.

When he finished laughing, he dried his eyes on a tissue from the box on the counter. “And why didn't you just put them in the basket and make him do them over?”

“Are you completely insane? Don't want to lose him. And he'd go. Nearly went when he realized that you'd gone. I like 'im.”

Xander sighed. “Oh, well, in that case, it's probably a good thing that you just wore them. I wouldn't want to have to go find him. Now. Garden.”

“Ok, come on, I'll show you where it is.”

Spike led Xander into the bedroom where they found Xander's clothing laid out on the bed. Timmins was standing near the door.

“Master Xander, when you get back, I'd like a small word with you. If you don't mind.”

Xander gave Timmins a rather hunted look but said, “I do mind, but that's Ok. I'll listen to whatever you have to say. Ok?”

Timmins gave a sniff and a rather stiff nod then left with a straight spine and a firm step.

“Shit! I'm so dead. He'll be all kind and sad and guilt trippy and make me feel like shit. You know he will.” Xander snorted at Spike's skeptical look. “Yeah, right. You sure he's not Jewish?” Spike shook his head. “Or a Jesuit?” Spike shook his head again. “Or... never mind.”

“Why Jewish, pet? I'm sure he's not.”

“Well, Willow's mom was the queen of the guilt trip and Willow always said it was a Jewish thing. Or was it a mom thing?”

Spike nodded his understanding. “I think it's more a mom thing than Jewish and Timmins is really a mother hen.”

“Sure. And you're so not.” Xander scoffed at Spike, a tender expression on his face. Then he stiffened. “Show me my gardens.”

So Spike led Xander into his new garden.

It still had the same entry way, his Granny’s Garden, and the new gates were made of brick with marble finials and tops. Xander eyed them with delight; the mason had been an expert.

“Very nice. How old is the vamp that did that?”

“How did you know it was a vamp?”

“Tuck pointing like that takes years to master, and no one has used that style of coping in seventy years or more. Had to be a vamp.”

“He's about three hundred. Very good, and I'm keepin' him on. Good worker.”

Xander walked through the gates and into the Victorian Rose Garden . All the potted roses were there, all in bloom and smelling sweetly. Xander walked between the pots and the raised beds, smelling the roses and exclaiming over the design.

The Rose Garden was the nexus of the complex and each path led to a different garden room, each with its own design. There were the Asian gardens with a huge koi pond and a meandering stream that further divided the area into a Zen garden of raked gravel and sand with huge boulders dotted in it. There was a Japanese-style garden with bamboo, ferns, and winding paths that made it seem larger than it really was. A Tea Garden with a small quaint Tea House hid in the far end, backed by the wall which was painted in a huge Sumi-e style landscape. Xander exclaimed happily at that. The Apothecary Garden was the smallest of them and was the transition between the Asian gardens and the geodesic dome that contained the Orchidarium and the tropical garden. Xander explained to Spike that the dome was called a Climatron and was exactly like the one in St. Louis. He admired the banana tree and its attendant vanilla orchid then went on to laugh at the antics of the koi who had access from the small stream between the tiny pond in the Climatron and the main stream. The wandering main path cut between raised planting beds and huge pots full of nasturtiums and into the Victorian garden with a reflecting pond and on to the Italianate garden. Xander was nearly delirious with happiness.

He turned to Spike and smiled. “Thank you for the gardens. They're lovely and I saw the gardeners hovering. I need to meet them all soon. But not just now. I think I'm tired. I'll explore more, tomorrow maybe?”

Spike nodded suppressing a shiver at Xander's rather chilly attitude. “Sure, pet. You wanna see your workshop?”

Xander's warm smile gave Spike a spark of hope, but when Xander quashed it, he sighed again. Spike turned to lead Xander out of the garden and through a short hall. The hall opened into a large room with every wood working device available and every tool; it looked like Spike had walked into a wood working store and bought one of everything.

Xander blurted this out as a flabbergasted question. “Yeah, I did. Why? Somethin' missin'? If there is all you have to do is ask for it.”

“There's no wood. I need wood too, you know.”

“Through here.” Spike led Xander into a side room filled with racks of every size, each one full of blocks, panels, and billets of every kind of wood in existence.

Xander looked around in wonder. He knew this was Spike's way of trying to show his love. Xander didn't doubt Spike's love for a moment, but he wasn't taking Spike off the hook until after his punishment and maybe not for a while after that. It was just really hard to crush that hopeful look time after time. He knew he was being wishy-washy, but he also knew that, if he didn't get through to Spike, his life would be miserable. He couldn't, wouldn't, put up with being afraid every second that one wrong word would start Spike up again. He didn't mind being Spike's Companion, but he wasn't going to be a slave or a pet, spell or no spell. So he had to stick to his guns, as hard as that was.

He was also worried about his punishment; he was sure Spike had it perfectly planned. He knew exactly how he was going to do it, Xander was sure of that. He was also quite sure he wasn't going to like it one bit. He'd spent some time worrying about it while he was lying in his bed.

Spike realized that Xander was brooding about the same time as Xander did. “What 'cha thinkin', pet?”

Xander sighed. “That all this is really nice, but it still doesn't make me happy. I... I was going to wait on this, but...” Xander waved a hand in a vague all-encompassing gesture. “all this has changed my mind.” Xander led an unresisting Spike back into the gardens where he settled in one of the small, intimate seating areas. “Sit.”

Spike sat unhappily; he knew what was coming, and he wasn't sure he was ready for it yet. But avoiding it would only make the problem worse. “Ok, pet. Have your say. Then it's my turn.”

“Ok. That's fair enough.” Xander took a deep breath as he composed his thoughts. “I won't be hit with a belt. I can't. It...” He sighed softly.

Spike sighed too and reached out to take Xander's hand. “I understand. I should have known better without Timmins raking me over hot coals about it. I'm truly sorry. Go on.”

“Memories, you know? I can't stand them. And I'm not going to be a pet or a thrall. I... I deserve to be a Companion. Don't I?”

Spike blinked at Xander for a moment. “I thought you were strictly no biting?”

“No, not no biting, more like no dying. And I'm really feeling the lack of your blood. Doesn’t seem fair. I get blood, you don't. So... what am I getting myself into?”

Spike took a deep breath and tried to contain himself. It worked, but just barely. “Ok. Being a Companion is the next step in being Claimed. You give me a few drops of your blood every day, I do the same. We have sex. Not much different from what we were doing Before. But it's more commitment on both sides. I... I want this, pet.”

“Ok, I see. I think I'd like to wait on this for after we get this punishment over with.”

Spike sighed. “Ok, the healer said you'll be completely well in about a week. Or as soon as you put on the weight you lost. Whichever comes first.”

Xander nodded his understanding. “I like the shop; it's really nice. Do I have an office?”

“Yes, and we're sharing a secretary; there's no reason for both of us to have our own. I'm delegating like mad or I'd be mad. Sylvia said she could handle both of us. That Ok?”

Xander grimaced slightly. “Depends on the work load. But, as long as she thinks she can handle it, I'm fine.”

“Good, good. We go through here up a flight of stairs. They're spiral, I'm afraid. We couldn't fit anything else in that couldn't be seen from the gardens.”

Xander looked the cast iron circular staircase over with a builder's eye. “Nice. Great work. Repro or original?”

“Original. Came from a burnt out home in Czeckoslovakia. I actually remember the house. From my Scourge of Europe days.”

“Oh, was it a nice house?” Xander started up the stairs, looking back over his shoulder at Spike.

“No, nasty place. Dark and gloomy. Too dark and gloomy even for Brood Boy. And that's sayin' something.”

Xander laughed at Spike over his shoulder. “You're right. But I like it. The railing is brass;” Xander picked at the paint. “why is it painted?”

Spike used one fingernail to scratch off a bit more of the paint; it was beautiful golden brass underneath the flat black paint. “No idea. I think it came in that way. I'll have some of the minions polish it off, shall I?”

“Please. And what about the fledges and minions? Seems I haven't seen any around. They're usually hovering, groveling, and generally getting in my way.”

“That's 'cause they're not sure where you stand yet. They don't want to curry favor with you if you're on the outs with me. Wouldn't do to be caught in another power struggle. But we'll talk about all that later.” Spike followed Xander down the short, beautifully appointed hall and reached over his shoulder to open the door at the end. “Here. This door leads directly into your office.” Spike let Xander go first. “And that door leads into your private loo, that one to the shared waiting room where Sylvia will keep all the riff-raff waiting.” He led Xander through into the waiting room, waved at Sylvia, and pointed to another door. “That leads into my office, and the last one, right across from Sylvia's desk lets into the other entrance to the offices. It's just down the hall from the entrance to the Manse. Like it?”

Xander just gulped and nodded. “It's huge; it's beautiful. I love Art Deco It's so... so...” Xander waved a hand.

“Twenties? I like it, too. It was like this when I moved in. And, I think it's all original. Don't have any idea where it came from.”

Sylvia cleared her throat. “Movie sets. The old master, not Angelus, the one before him, liked the style and bought a lot of this from that props auction that one of the major studios had about fifteen years ago. That, she pointed to a black bust of a hawk, “is The Falcon.”

Xander reached out to touch it with a reverent hand. “I thought some Japanese guy bought it. Or something.”

“No, the one we have is the one that Bogie himself held. The one that the Japanese man has is the studio publicity one. It's the one that traveled all over with the movie display. It's documented.”

Xander jerked his hand back like the statuette was hot. “Oh! Oh, wow. And it's... ours?”

Spike just smiled and nodded. “Wanna move it into your office?”

Xander shook his head. “No, I'll just forget to dust it then it'll be buried under parchments and... stuff. On that note. Is there anything for me to do?”

Sylvia shook her head. “No. No one has asked since Master Spike threatened to bite the next person who sent in anything on your No-no List.”

Spike smirked at Xander then nodded to Sylvia. “Is there a list?”

“No, sir. I think everyone has finally gotten the idea that both of you mean business. It doesn't hurt that I fanged up at the last one and asked him if he'd eaten garlic in the last two days.”

Spike blinked then snickered. Xander whooped with laughter. The idea of Sylvia threatening to bite someone was funny. She was the quintessential secretary, very prim and proper. Xander wiped his eyes and went back into his office to explore it.

“The other thing I need is a work room. Someplace to store the things I'm translating until I can get around to them. Climate controlled to protect the more fragile ones. And a long table with a light box for detecting forgeries, and... well, I'm not sure.”

Spike just shrugged. “Why don't you make it your first project to design your workroom. You know exactly what you want in it. Do a floor plan and such. I'll get a crew on it as soon as you know what you want. Ok?”

“Sure. Thanks. You want me to do anything for a while?” Xander already had his nose buried in his work.

Spike just said, “No, but don't over do. You'll get back home in exactly two hours, and you'll be havin' a snack and a nap. No argument.”

“Ok. I won't.” Xander looked up from what he was doing. “I promise. I want to get better and get everything over with so we can get back to what passes for normal with us.” He smiled a bit then turned back to his work.

Spike went back to their quarters which he'd started thinking of as home. It felt good to actually have a place he wanted to call home. As long as Xander was there. Now all he had to do was get Xander to forgive him which didn't look like happening any time soon. He sighed and rubbed his face. He was going to have to have his talk with Xander soon.

He was still trying to decide when to speak to Xander -- when he was well, or now -- when Timmins came in with tea.

“Here. Stop pacing; you'll wear out the carpet. I want a small word with the Young Master before you talk to him. Take your time with him. I know he's making you sweat, but he's sweating, too. Not good for either one of you. I'll have a word with the healer. I really think he's being over-cautious. Relax.”

Spike didn't remember Timmins ever being so firm with him, but he found that he didn't mind. He accepted the tea and told Timmins that if Xander wasn't back home in two hours, he was to go get him. And that he could have his talk as soon as Xander came in. Timmins replied that he'd have his talk as he was helping Xander change for bed. “He will be taking a nap, right?” Spike's grin told it all.

Xander returned to the quarters a few minutes before he was expected and told Spike that he'd finished his list and a blue print for his workroom. He handed the folder to Spike and went into their bedroom.

“Spike, I'm hungry again. Is Timmins in the kitchen?”

Spike laughed softly at the yelp that followed this. Timmins had been somewhere in the suite.

Timmins had stepped out of the closet when Xander called him. He explained that he was doing an inventory of the clothing that Xander had brought back with him, just now having time to unpack the backpack.

“Oh, Ok. You just scared the bejeezus out of me, looming out of the dark like that.”

“I meant to loom. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Do you have so little trust? Has your life been so bad here? Did I fail to protect you when I could?”

Xander gave Timmins a horrified look. “Oh, shit. Spike didn't punish you did he? I didn't think...”

Timmins interrupted, “No, you didn't think. And that's exactly the problem. You don't think before you do stupid things. You could have died. Then where would we be? Master Spike would grieve himself sick. I wouldn't be worth anything, either. You don't just go off like that. Shame on you. We could have fixed it, if you'd stayed. I know you were angry and afraid, but Master Spike so rarely loses his temper that it was more than my existence was worth to do anything too soon, and I'll admit that things got very complicated for a while. And then, you were just gone. We hunted and hunted; Miss Tara made herself sick with tracking spells. And Master Spike. I've never seen a master vampire in such a state. Deplorable, simply awful.”

Xander listened to this sad litany with a distressed look. “I... I just... please, Timmins.” Timmins clicked his tongue and started to say something else, but a soft sob silenced him. “I'm not good a guilt trips. I'm sorry.” Xander sniffled pitifully and went into the bathroom.

Timmins followed wondering if he'd been too harsh. He'd only meant to give Xander a talking to, as he understood it was called. He didn't understand how sensitive Xander was to everything just now and how ill he still was.

“Timmins, I really won't put up with being beaten. My dad, he just about broke me, and... well, I deserve better, don't I?”

“You do, sir. I'm sorry, too. I look at everything from a vampire's point of view. My master is the most important thing to me. And then everything else. You're next in line, though. And I hate to see you and Master Spike like this.” He sighed and turned to start Xander's bath.

Xander wandered around the bathroom while the tub filled. He started stripping off his clothing and just dropping it on the floor, something he'd never done before. Timmins didn't remark on it; he just started picking it up.

“Leave it; I'll pick it up later. I'm not trying to be vindictive; I just... I've been alone and got into the habit.”

Timmins continued to pick up Xander's mess. “You get into that tub before it cools. I've got this.”

Xander wiped his face on a washcloth then got into the tub. He was having enough trouble staying mad at Spike without Timmins guilt tripping him, too. He wished Spike would just get it over with so they could make up or stay mad, or whatever they were going to do. He thought, if the punishment was bad enough, that he might stay mad for quite a while.

“Now, wash quickly then I'll get you a nice snack and you can get some rest. Alright?”

“Yeah. I need a nap. I feel all cranky, grumpy, like I did when I was little, and I had to stay in the car while Mom went into Danny's Bar. I couldn't sleep; I was too scared. And why I'm telling you this is totally beyond me.”

Timmins gritted his teeth to keep from snarling. “I don't know, either, but I appreciate it. Come now, put on your pajamas and get in bed. I'll bring your snack on a tray.”

Xander just obeyed, well aware that it was easier to do what Timmins asked instead of arguing; he invariably wound up doing what Timmins wanted.

Timmins came back quickly with a tray full of food. Xander's snack consisted of two tacos, an apple fritter, a salad, and a large glass of milk. There was also his medicinal tea. He drank that first hoping the food would kill the taste. It did; in fact, the tacos were so good that Xander forgot all about the tea.

Xander licked the last of the sauce off his fingers and eased back in bed. Suddenly he sat back up. “Oh, shit! Master Bruce. I forgot all about seeing him. Damn it! Timmins, I've got to get dressed.”

Timmins just shook his head. “Master Spike said you were to rest. I'll go tell Master Bruce that you'll come see him a bit later. I'm sure he won't mind. He was as worried about you as the rest of us were. Rest.”

Xander leaned back again. “Ok, I'll admit that I really wasn't looking forward to his tongue lashing. And he's really going to give it to me, too.”

Timmins just shook his head as he closed the door, turning off the light as he went. Xander snuggled down and slept. Timmins went in search of Master Bruce.

.

“Timmins. How's Xander?” Master Bruce had talked with Spike and Healer Azor and wanted confirmation from Timmins that Xander was on his way to health.

“He'll be ready for a mild workout in two or three days. The healer already said.” Timmins smiled a bit. “Eaves dropping is a wonderful thing. And Healer Azor also said that he was to be allowed to do anything he thought he was up to so don't push him any at all. He'll find his stride better that way. We have to keep Master Spike from coddling him too much or he'll never get better. You'll have to feel your way.” Timmins thought for a moment. “And don't rake him over the coals, I already did that. Too much fussing and he'll just get resentful. This way he'll think about what he did, instead of getting angry that we're all getting on him.”

Master Bruce nodded. “You're right. I've never met anyone with a better developed sense of guilt. I'll just let it slide?”

“I believe that will be best. I've got to go now. I have to make Xander's supper. I think you should see him tomorrow morning. Do an assessment?”

“You're right. An assessment would be good. I can see how much he's lost and figure out how to bring him back up to full strength.”

They sat drinking tea in silence for a bit then Master Bruce sighed. Timmins shook his head. They were both worried about how the punishment was going to affect both Xander and Spike.

Timmins got up, saying, “I really have to go now. I want to make Xander that casserole he likes, and it has to bake for 45 minutes.” He walked out leaving Master Bruce to finish his tea alone.

.

Xander woke to the smell of beef stroganoff casserole. “Mmmm, smells good. Where's Spike?”

Timmins dumped the tray on Xander's lap and snorted. “He's in his office. He's got a ton of paperwork that he has avoided taking care of, and now his chickens have come to roost so to speak.”

“How bad is it?” Xander scooped up a forkful of the stroganoff and moaned when the taste hit his tongue.

“Not that bad, it's the sorting that he hates. I think he's a bit afraid to put something in the wrong pile. Like he can't move things once he's put them somewhere.”

Xander mumbled around a mouthful. “He's always been that way. Kinda hidebound, you know?”

“Exactly.” Timmins waited silently as Xander finished eating then took the tray. “I'll bring you your tea when it's time. Would you like to watch something on TV, or go back to sleep?”

Xander plucked at the duvet for a moment. “There's a book in my office that I'd really like to read. I'll go get it. “Timmins glared at him. “Or not. It's Murphy's Compendium of Demon Tribes and Their Languages. And there's also... um... oh! The little green-covered book with a Sanskrit title. Ask Sylvia for that one. Please?” Timmins couldn't turn down Xander's puppy dog eyes any more than Spike could. He agreed to fetch the books if Xander promised to stay in bed, or at least just go from the bed to the couch. Xander promised, feeling too full to fuss any.

Timmins brought the books back for Xander, fully expecting him to be asleep, but Xander was on the couch propped up on pillows waiting for him. Timmins brought the books to Xander and made sure that the afghan over his legs was adjusted to cover him properly, but not trip him if he needed to get up.

“Thanks. I'm good for now.” Xander glanced up from the book he'd already buried his nose in. “Bell?” Timmins gave him a blank look. “I ought to have a bell or something, in case I need you.”

Timmins nodded. “Ah, yes, I'll see to that at once. But I am a vampire; I'll hear you if you so much as breathe heavily.”

“Oh, Ok. Um... you're not sitting in the hall or something, are you?”

“Of course not. I'm sitting in the room across the hall.” Timmins left before Xander registered that.

Spike came back to the rooms near Xander's bed time which was about dawn. Spike was carefully shifting Xander's 'day' to his which meant that Xander slept most of the day and was up all night.

“Hello, pet. Whatcha reading?” Xander showed Spike the book making him raise an eyebrow. “Ok, can't read it.” Spike settled on the end of the couch at Xander's feet.

“Spike? You still need to decide which accent you're going to use. It's confusing. Half the time I keep expecting to see Giles, then I look up and it's you.”

Spike knew there was more to this complaint than his accent shifting around so he let it alone. “Ok. I need you in your office for about an hour tomorrow. You up to it?”

“Sure, what do you need?”

“I've got a few things that I have no idea what they are. I need you to see if you can translate them. Then Master Bruce wants to assess you to see what you've forgotten and how weak you are.”

“Ok. Master Bruce first, then office. Ok?”

“Fine. Are you tired yet?”

Xander sighed. “Yeah, a bit. But I'd like to stay up a bit longer. If I sleep too much I'll just be awake forever tomorrow night. Or day. Or whatever.”

“Just call it day and night. Day is when we're awake and night is when we're not. I'm not staying up half the daylight hours, trying to please the Scooby Gang anymore. And my court, my rules. Come to bed soon, will you? I'm worn out with paperwork.”

“Night. I'll be in in about half an hour. I'll wait until Timmins brings my tea. The smell will linger in the bedroom for a while, and it would gag a maggot off a gut wagon.”

Spike made a disgusted face at that imagery. “Nice.” He wandered into the bedroom, dumped his clothing in the hamper, and went to bed in his shorts.

Xander kept his word and came in about half an hour later, brushed his teeth, used mouthwash, and crawled into the bed. The mouthwash didn't help the smell much, but Spike didn't say anything.

.

Xander woke confused and muzzy. “Wa', mmm, oh. Timmins?”

“Yes. Here's your tea. Drink it quickly so it doesn't taste so bad. Chocolate muffins after.”

Xander gulped the tea, looked for Spike, and drooped a bit when he wasn't there. “Spike?”

“In his office. Eat your breakfast then go see Master Bruce. Don't worry; he's not going to lecture you. I've already done that. Now eat your breakfast and get going.” Timmins left Xander to eat his breakfast of muffins, eggs, bacon, and coffee.

He dressed in a comfortable Tai Chi uniform and headed out to see Master Bruce.

.

Master Bruce looked up when Xander knocked on the door frame. “Come in. Sit here.” He pushed a zafu over to Xander.

Xander knelt and settled on it easily. “What's first?”

Master Bruce smiled. “That. How do you feel?”

“Stupid, tired, sad, a bit feverish and stupid.”

“I see. The fever is just your body fighting off the last lingering effects of the curse. So is the tiredness. The stupid and sad, you'll have to explain for yourself. The rest you'll get over in a few days. Now, I want you to do your first kata for me.”

Xander stood up, took off the soft slippers he was wearing and stepped to the center of the mat. He started the kata a bit shakily, but soon got his stride. He finished it easily and started the next without being told. He got about three-quarters of the way through before he had to quit.

“That's about all I can do for now. But I'm getting stronger every hour. I think it's because I couldn't eat. I'm hungry almost all the time now, though. But that tea. Yuck! It spoils my appetite.”

“You need it. But I'm very pleased with you. You're not as weak as I'd thought you'd be, especially doing without Master Spike's blood like you have been. You go now. Master Spike told me not to keep you too long; he needs you in the office.”

Xander knelt in front of Master Bruce. He kow-towed gracefully. “I'm so sorry I worried you, Master. I won't do it again.” He straightened up a rueful grimace on his face. “Didn't work anyway. I had to come back when he found me. All I've got left is a bit of dignity, and I'm going to lose that soon.”

“No, he'll never humiliate you. Don't worry about that. He actually does love you, even if he doesn't want to admit it yet. Now you better go, or he'll give you a lecture.”

“Gone.” Xander rose, put his shoes back on and headed for the office.

.

When Xander entered Spike's office, he just snarled and handed him a handful of papers. “Which of these can you read?”

Xander flipped through them, “This one, and... this one. Um... most of them. I'll hand you back the ones I can't when I'm done, Ok?”

“Sure. And there's a guy I want you to meet. Maybe next week. He's doing some research into your reading problem.” Xander caught his breath. “And I'm not taking any argument. None.”

Xander deflated. When Spike spoke in that tone of voice he could argue until he went mute; it wouldn't do any good. “Ok,Ok. But, you know? It's a bit embarrassing that I can read all sorts of really difficult stuff, and I have real trouble with plain English Sucks that I'm so stupid.”

“Shut it!” Spike stood up and slammed the book he'd been holding down on the desk, making Sylvia jump then run in. “You’re not stupid. If it's what we think it is, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci had it. And lots of famous people have it. So stop that. No one who is stupid could read and write as many languages as you can, or learn new ones so quickly. Now take those papers an' get busy. Scat.”

Xander blinked once then just left. He wondered, not for the first time, what was wrong with him and how to fix it. He decided to give this one a pass; it wasn't worth the argument.

Sylvia followed Xander into the office and let him get settled. “I'm glad you're back. Do you need anything?”

Xander had already started shuffling through his desk. “I... let me look here a sec.” Xander rummaged some more. “Ok, I need a steno pad and a pencil. And... coffee. You know what I need.”

Sylvia did, but it was so nice just to hear his voice. “Yes, I do. I'll be back in a few with all the stuff you need. Just start sorting that mess.”

“Mmm, ’k. Got it. Oh, and file folders.”

“Right on it.”

Sylvia retreated to the outer office and on into the supplies closet. She found the things that Xander had requested including coffee, ready to be freshly made from the gleaming brass espresso maker. She smiled, the damn thing had been hard to find and exorbitantly expensive, but it was just like the one Spike had gotten Xander in Sunnydale, the one that Master Timmins kept in the house kitchen.

She re-entered the office to see Xander, nose firmly in some papers, leaning back in his chair. She was so happy to see Xander in such a familiar pose that she nearly wept. “Boss, here's your stuff and the coffee. You wouldn't believe how much trouble Master Spike and I had finding the machine. Enjoy.” She put the steno book on the desk with a mechanical pencil on top of it. “I'll bring you in several more books as soon as we get in the kind you like, and that pencil is one of the side-click ones that you asked for. Don't work too hard.”

Xander just grunted, grabbed the pad and pencil then stuck his nose back in the paper. Sylvia sighed; it looked like Sanskrit, but she was never sure. It might be some sort of Arabic instead.

Xander drank coffee, worked on translating the various petitions and requests, and grumbled. One of the petitions was written by someone who it looked like had copied the script from some book of letters, only he couldn't read the language. He finally tossed the pencil down on his desk and announced, “I give up on this one. I can't make heads or tails of it. Half the symbols are just plain wrong, and the rest don't make sense. Spike!”

Spike glanced in the door. “What, pet? Something wrong?”

“Yes, whoever wrote this couldn't spell, sort of. It's all wrong. I really can't read it. It's like this guy copied the letter out of a book. Like um... you copying a letter in Chinese. You know, like out of one of those books of letters you saw years ago?”

“Oh, yeah, Miss Amelia's Proper Correspondence for Young Ladies of Good Family. Never write a letter when you can copy off one. Give it here. I'll have Sylvia send it back and tell them to send it again in a language we can read. You doing Ok?”

“Yeah, I'm getting tired so that's the last one for today. I'm going home and get lunch then I'm taking a bath and a nap. I want to start working out again tomorrow, but don't fuss. Master Bruce said he wasn't going to let me work too hard just yet, but I need it. I'll feel better if I can get back on my old routine.”

Spike gave Xander a searching look then relented. “Ok, good enough. I'll be back at about supper time.”

“Good, we can eat together. What do you want?”

“Don't care. Whatever Timmins is fixin' you. Now git.”

Xander laughed softly. “I'm gone. But... Spike I want to have that talk tonight. I'm tired of trying to stay mad at you, and I'm tired of the suspense. Don't argue, please.”

“Ok, pet, I won't. We'll get it over with and go on, Ok?”

“Yeah, Ok.” Xander sighed. Spike watched him for a moment then sighed, too. “Seems we're both doing a lot of sighing lately.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. I'll see you at supper. Go.”

Xander got up from behind his desk and trudged to the door to his gardens. “I'm going to go through my gardens; maybe they'll make me feel better. I just feel...blank. Not really sick, just... uneasy. I don't know.” Xander trailed off, looked at Spike, then turned and went down the beautiful spiral staircase, caressing the now gleaming hand rail absently.

Spike wondered how a heart that didn't beat could hurt so much.

Xander spent nearly an hour in the gardens, walking from room to room and sitting on one bench or another to examine the flower beds and pots of different plants. He really did like the gardens, but he felt guilty about enjoying them until he and Spike were back on firm footing. He finally returned to his room, kicked his shoes into the closet, and flopped down on the couch.

Timmins just shook his head when he saw Xander; the poor thing looked so unhappy. He put Xander's lunch on a tray and took it to him. Xander just looked at it for a moment.

“Am I on house arrest or something?”

Timmins thought for a second. “Not that I'm aware. Why?”

“I'd really rather eat at the kitchen table, if you don't mind.”

Timmins just picked up the tray and led the way into the new kitchen. Xander looked around and smiled.

“Man, this is really nice. I like it. Italian?”

“Yes, very nice. All the newest appliances and look there.” Timmins pointed into a nook near the door to the dining room. Xander's espresso maker was there along with all the cups, the knocker box, the grinder, and every bottle of syrup that Xander liked. “Master Spike had that made especially. Do you like it?”

Xander nodded, his mouth full of Muffuletta, a sandwich popular in New Orleans that Xander had fallen in love with. He swallowed thickly then said, “I love it; it's really nice. And what the hell is he up to anyway. He's all lovey-dovey with me even when I freeze him out. And I'm not giving up on this. It's just really hard to stay mad at him when he looks at me like that.”

Timmins wisely didn't ask like what; he was well aware that Master Spike was giving Xander what would have been called, 'goo-goo eyes' in an earlier time. He thought it was amusing; he also thought it would be more than his existence was worth to show it.

“Miss Tara is asking after you. Would you like to see her tomorrow?”

Xander nodded eagerly. “That would be really nice. I'll look her up after I exercise and shower. Ok?”

“I'll send for her.” Timmins gave Xander a quelling look and he subsided, taking another bite out of his sandwich. “You'll be done at about 9:30, or I miss my guess. She's on vampire time, too, so it's Ok. I'll have her come at 10:00; that way, if you visit goes too long, you can have lunch together. Bud wants to see you, too, but he'll be at your exercises; Master Bruce is lining up opponents for you.”

“Good, I want to see him too. That's great. And Giles? I want to see him, too.”

“Soon. He's involved in some research with... well, we picked up a teacher of all things while we were looking for you. Master Spike doesn't want much said until we're sure of a few things. He, Mister Giles that is, is researching with Thomas Dalton to find out... things. I'm sure I don't really understand it at all. Something about a learning disability.”

Xander sighed. “I'm stupid, I know that. Slow, not exactly retarded, but not real smart, either. They tested me in grade school.”

Timmins made a disgusted sound. “Well, if you believed them, I'm sure I know where most of your problems come from. Ignore them; Hellmouth educational systems are usually in chaos anyway.”

“Oh, Ok. I guess.” Xander just gave it up. “I'm going to eat and forget about all that. I don't want to hear about it until Giles has something concrete. Can I have another sandwich?”

“Yes, I have it made up already. Let me get it.” Timmins went to the refrigerator and brought the sandwich back to Xander. Xander took it and wolfed it down, too. Then he stood up, stretched, and yawned.

“I'm taking a nap, on the couch, with the TV on. Please don't sneak in and turn it off. Ok?”

“Yes, Young Master, I won't. Get plenty of rest. Tomorrow might be harder than you expect.”

Xander chuckled a bit. “Hard? Master Bruce is going to rake me over the coals. His idea of an easy routine would wear out almost anyone. When is Spike going to start giving me his blood again?”

“He has been. I mixed some in with the olive salad in the muffuletta. And it's been in your tea every cup.”

Xander hummed softly. “Oh. I'm sleeping now.” He'd headed into the living room while he and Timmins talked, and now he flopped down on the sofa and curled up. Timmins turned the TV on, found something banal, and covered Xander with a blanket. Xander was asleep before he was done.

.

Spike finished the last of his work for the day and left a bit early, calling to Sylvia that he was leaving. He went down the circular stairs and wandered in the gardens a bit. He found it as relaxing as Xander did.

It didn't take him that long to get back home. Nor did it take him long to wake Xander up. Simply opening the door did that.

“Spike? That you?” Xander sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“No, it's the Easter Bunny! Of course it's me, you...” Spike sighed, rubbed the back of his neck, then apologized. “Sorry, didn't mean to snap at you. Come into the kitchen. We'll have our talk before both of us crack.”

“Ok. Just give me a sec; I want coffee. I'll make you one if you want.”

Xander's hopeful look made Spike's refusal die on his lips. “Sure thing, pet. Love one.”

Xander fiddled with the machine, produced two perfect cappuccinos and settled at the table.

“Ok, just spit it out. I'm not in the mood for gentle. My nerves are wound like a two-dollar watch.”

“Alright, pet. There's got to be a punishment, that's for sure. Someone fucked up royally and needs a good beating. Someone didn't listen to someone else and they should have. Someone only wanted one thing and they didn't get it.”

Xander looked at Spike with wide eyes. “Oh, Spike, stop. It's Ok.”

Spike shook his head. “No! It's not. This isn't the way... I want you to... you deserve better. I'm sorry. Really sorry. The court expects it, and they're going to get it. You deserve it, too. You get... any punishment you want. I swear I won't hold it against you. Not for a second. No matter what you do, I deserve it.”

Xander eyed Spike for a moment, sipping his coffee. “Ok, you'll let me do anything I want to you, and you won't get mad at me or hold it against me later?”

That's right, pet. Anything you want, I won't be mad. How could I? This whole mess is my fault, me and my nasty temper. I should have listened to you. I should have known Arnold couldn't be trusted as far as I could throw your truck. Which is in the garage, by the way.”

Xander nodded. “Ok, I have some plans to make. Day after tomorrow, Ok?”

“Fine. Kiss an' make up?”

“Sure. After. More coffee.”

Spike sighed; it seemed that Xander could hold a grudge when he really wanted to.
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