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Unbreakable


by
Fanbot


5 A Shower, a Meal & a Ritual

Xander followed Oz up the stairs. As he went, he explained that Midra and Gunn lived on the ground floor because of Gunn's leg. On the second floor, Oz pointed out where his and Willow’s room was, the guest room favored by Dawn, and at the end of the hall, the door of Spike’s chosen room. At the other end were two more guest rooms guest rooms. On the third floor, Oz pointed out the “library annex” / Midra’s sewing room across the hall from a large, sunny guest suite under the eves of the house.


Xander's Bedroom

It was some twenty feet wide, and painted in warm creams and accented with crimson and rich purples. He glanced around at he king sized bed, wardrobe, comfortable lounge chair under the window, and many touches of home. A bright vase of fresh flowers sat on the dresser, a sign propped on the table by a dish of candy read “Welcome Home Xander,” and the bed was turned down with a mint on the pillow. Oz pointed out that the bathroom was attached to an on-demand water heater of its own and he really could have the shower of his dreams.

“If I take too long, just fan the scent of the steak in here, and I’ll be out in no time,” Xander smiled.

“No hurry, Xander.  I only bought the one set of clothes. I’ll see what Gunn can loan you.”

For a second, Xander wondered how Oz knew he wanted clean clothes, even though he’d only worn these in the van. Werewolf. Oz wanted Africa gone, too. Xander felt himself relax another notch. He put his hand on Oz’s wiry shoulder. “Thank you. Hey, Oz. It’s great to see you.”

“Yeah, you too. I’ll leave them on your bed. If there’s anything else you want, prowl in the drawers. I think there’s a spare one of everything. Willow likes to play hostess.

The bathroom was large with two windows, a huge tub, and a shower stall. It was a heaven to Xander, with clean blue and white tiles, and a whimsical motif of dolphins. He picked up the bar of soap on the sink and breathed deeply. America. Indoor plumbing. Endless hot water. Heaven. Home.

Xander wasted no time in stripping off the too-tight t-shirt and dropping the pants. He suddenly realized he’d left the flip-flops in the van. It had been so long since he’d worn shoes, he’d not missed them. He tossed the hated show pouch in the trash can and stood, naked and still stinking of the hold of the ship before a floor-length mirror. He inventoried every scar, all those visible, and those they’d magiked off when they still thought him pretty.

Stray sunbeams crept in the high window and played with the gems in his hair. He wanted to rip them out and fling them far into the ocean, but they were all he had. All he owned. He’d plant these stone seeds and build a new life. Hopefully, Spike would help him. He deliberately turned his back on African Xander, and stepped into the shower.

Xander sighed as he stepped into the hot spray. It was half an hour before he could override his ingrained caution and close his eyes for more than a minute at a time as he scrubbed at his body with any soap that came to hand. It was another fifteen before he could keep them closed for ten minutes. It was five minutes more before he let himself slide down the wall to sit in the spray and thank every god he knew of that Spike had found him and brought him home. 

Downstairs, Spike wandered into the kitchen where Dawn and Willow were writing out a shopping list. As they checked the quantity of baking potatoes, he added the name of Xander’s favorite beer to the paper before quietly slipping away.

An hour later, the return of the triumphant shoppers drew everyone to the kitchen. Tasks were distributed and the meal preparation was well underway. Gunn  came in from helping Midra with the females and told them about the gems. They were trophies and it was best to not ask about them.

Another hour later, Xander appeared in the dining room. He’d pulled his hair back into a rough braid so it was contained and he could ignore it. Gunn’s yellow t-shirt with a faded dragon decal on it and a soft green flannel shirt topped off dark purple draw string pants.

“Just in time!” Willow cried as she opened the oven to pull out the potatoes.

“Still have the same fashion sense, I see,” Spike quipped.

“Nah, can’t blame me. Oz picked it out. I know wolves are color blind, but really!”

Gunn limped in with Midra on his arm. “Hey! Those are all my most comfortablist, lounge about the house clothes. I don’t share with just anyone.”

Oz shrugged. “You’d take fashion tips from a man who used to dye his hair every week?”

Midra had left the two females sleeping in the detached guest house with a Council member, and the rest of them crowded around the long plank table. Xander and Spike enjoyed their steaks and the rest had more reasonable lunch-like food.

With the aid of Oz and, surprisingly, Spike, the conversation stayed light throughout the meal. Gunn and Dawn had them all laughing at the reenactment of  highlights of the past five year’s television seasons in ten minutes or less. Xander had to cry “no spoilers” when they wanted to tell him about the last “Star Wars” movie. Oz filled him in on the sad state of pop music today with loud and pointed comments from Spike and more than a few counterpoints from Dawn.

Over ice cream, the best story was told. Xander’s favorite was the story of the intense reunion, courtship, and marriage of Willow Rosenberg and Daniel Osborne.

Finally, they’d all cleaned their plates and polished off their ice cream. Xander stood and kissed all the cooks, including Gunn when he foolishly bragged about having peeled the carrots. That earned Xander a play glower from Midra, who was quite possessive of her Charles.

“Thank you all,” he said, stilling the conversations and cleaning. “I know you want to know my story, and I respect you not asking. I will tell it, but it will be in my own way, my own time. I’d put aside my dreams of rescue years ago. Now, you’ve physically gotten me out of there, and I must pull my self the rest of the way. I think I can. I hope I can.”  Before they could descend on him with hugs and tears, he turned his back and strode from the room.

Spike drained the rest of his beer, sat the bottle solidly on the table, and followed without meeting anyone’s puzzled looks.

“Where’s he going?” Gunn asked.

“Xander spoke to him before we went upstairs,” Oz supplied.

Only Midra was unconcerned. She spoke in her sharp accent. “They are both Warriors. There are some things, honor things, that only a Warrior may help another one do.”

“I’m a warrior, too,” Gunn pouted.

Midra stooped to kiss the top of his head as she went past with her hands full of dishes. “You’re my warrior and I’m not sharing.”

“Aw, thanks baby. Hey, wait, ew!”

“And ya got a dirty mind!” she called over her shoulder from the sink, breaking the tension with the laughter she caused.

Spike stopped in his second floor room and grabbed up the little bundle of items he’d gathered. He didn’t let himself pause or speculate, but joined Xander upstairs.

He found Xander naked, lighting the last of the three oil lamps that sat around the room. Spike knew they were pretty much decorative, but functional. He couldn’t help but size up Xander’s transformed body. The years he had done construction work had made him strong, but the past years had layered on the muscle. These were muscles born of hard work and fighting, not work benches and posing. Spike saw the scars, too, and would not speculate about his mental ones. He pushed down another wave of anger at the slavers. He had always hated slavers. Xander had removed the eye patch, and Spike could see by the even darkness of his skin around the scar that he rarely wore one. “Lock the door,” Xander said. Spike did so and stood ready for almost anything, but uncertain what was expected. “Clear the floor, please.”

Spike rolled the round rug with it’s pseudo Victorian pattern and pushed it aside, clearing a wide expanse of hardwood floor. He watched as Xander took out the tie from his long hair and shook it loose. The gems anchored within the dark waves winked in the light. Then he knelt on his toes and knees on the floor facing the tightly curtained window. “Kneel here,” Xander pointed at a space three feet in front of him. Spike did. “Put the candle here,” he pointed in front of him, “and light it.” Spike did so. “Place the knife here,” he pointed with his left hand to that side of the candle. Spike took out his favorite illegally long, razor sharp knife and flicked out the blade. “Place the container here,” he pointed with his right hand to that side of the candle. Spike sat down a little wooden box with a pentacle worked into it. He’d bought it in Los Angeles as a gift to Willow, but with the excitement of finding Xander, it had seemed unimportant. “Place the cloth between you and the candle.” Spike laid down a fourteen inch square of blue cloth he’d filched from Midra’s sewing room.

Xander tested the edge of the knife, opened the little box, looked through the candle flame at the cloth, and looked Spike in the eye. “I find you and these things worthy. Will you aid me in the beginning of the cleansing of the past?”

“I will,” Spike answered, feeling the hairs on his arms stand at the slight stirring of magic. Briefly, he wondered what Willow would say about someone other than herself casting spells under what was basically her roof.

Downstairs, Willow looked sharply up from where she was wiping the table. Oz noticed the movement and went  to her, worried. She closed her eyes briefly and opened them with a smile. “He’s started a cleansing spell. I think Xander’s going to be fine.”

“Spike, I request you take the cloth with your right hand, and sit behind me, ” Xander said, looking into the candle flame. He did so, kneeling as he had before. “Spread the cloth to your right.” Spike did, using only that hand. Xander picked up the knife with his left hand and intoned a short spell as he passed it through the flame three times. He then held it over his shoulder, handle first, to Spike. “Take this in your left hand.” Then he picked up the box lid with his right hand. This and then the box, he passed through the flame three times as he chanted. These items he placed back by the candle.

“Spike, see this one?” Xander pointed to a large pearl that hung by his neck on the left side.

“Yeah.”

“It’s last. Find a jewel low down in my hair,” he instructed, “and take hold of it.” 

Spike located a tiny teardrop ruby and took it between two fingers.

“Cut it out, and remove all the hair from it. Put the hair on the cloth.” Spike didn’t hesitate, but quickly freed the jewel and its setting from Xander’s locks. Xander held his left hand up over his shoulder. “Hand me the jewel.” Spike dropped it into his palm.

Xander looked at and recited something in his African dialect, then paused and translated. “Golpic demon. He fought well, but left a mate and spawn behind.” Xander passed gem over the flame. “Forgive me,” he said as it winked in the light, and he transferred it to his right hand. He dropped it into the box.

“Another,” he said.

Several hours passed as the ritual continued. Rubies, diamonds, amethysts, all manner of wealth were freed from their hair knots. A part of Spike’s magpie mind couldn’t help but appraise the gems. This was soon forgotten as Xander told the stories of the kills he’d made to earn his wealth. Some stories he did not translate. Some he did not ask forgiveness. As the gems hung closer to his skull, the stories grew longer and more detailed. Xander’s voice grew hoarse, but he did not waver or stop. The night was well on, the mound of hair large, and the candle short when Xander held up his hand a last time.

Spike spoke for the first time since the beginning. “There’s just the one left,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” Xander slumped a little. “Find the strand it’s on and cut it off at my scalp. Make it as long as you can and give me all of it.”

Spike’s nimble fingers gently closed on the pearl, and worked Xander’s now-ragged hair. He separated out the thick lock it was knotted on and did as Xander directed. He placed it in Xander’s shaking hand. “Sit in front of me, Spike? Let me see you?”

Spike rose gracefully and moved to sit before Xander. He watched as the weary man caressed the pearl. “Anthony,” he said. “Anthony was... my friend.” Spike watched Xander’s thick and strong, yet nimble fingers gather all the hair into his fist, and pass the pearl over the flame. “Anthony. I love you, too. Forgive me.” Xander blew out the candle, but did not put the pearl in the box. “Spike, please put the lid on the box and take it from me.”

“Which hand, mate?”

“It doesn’t matter now. Stay where you are but…  put it away.” Xander tiredly waved a hand. Spike again noticed the heavy wrist bands and inwardly winced at what they represented. He’d been subjected to such a thing in his existence, too.

Spike took the now-full box, put the lid on, and placed it behind himself. He watched as Xander moved, rising from his knees and resettling cross legged. The vampire winced, knowing how much pain the man must be in. Xander took the hair from his fist and started braiding it. Spike watched his skilled, thick fingers work, carefully braiding his own hair into a tight, small, strong braid.

“Am I really free, Spike?” he asked, quietly, not looking up from his work.

“You’re out of slavery and your own man again. You’re in the United States of America, land of the free.” Spike tapped one of the bands. “Gunn can get these off of you in no time. Physically, I have to say yes. Otherwise,” Spike tilted his head. “You have to break your bonds yourself, mate.”

Xander finished braiding the length of hair and put it around his neck. He brought the ends together and wove them intricately into one. Finally Xander’s work was complete and he dropped his hands tiredly. “Trim the ends, Spike?”

Spike picked up the knife, carefully cut off the last few inches of stray hair, and added them to the pile. Xander stared unseeing at the blackened candle wick and fingered the pearl where it rested in the hollow of his throat.

“I’m so tired, Spike. So fucking tired.” Xander’s eye closed and he slowly slumped forward. Spike caught him and held him as he cried.





6 Morning & Magic Glass

Spike held his friend as he quietly sobbed. Big hands bunched in his shirt and pulled him close. Spike did not object. He knew how to sooth, how to comfort. Drusilla would sometimes weep over her losses like this. Even without a soul and crazy as a loon, she would mourn for her family and herself.

When Xander moved his legs and gasped in pain, Spike picked him up without hesitation and carried him to the bed. He grabbed up the warm quilt at the foot of the bed and draped it over Xander’s shuddering body. Then he held the bigger man, petting him, stroking his hair, and murmuring soft, supportive words.

Finally, Xander’s breathing evened and the rocking stopped. He rolled away from Spike at last, taking the blanket with him. Spike hesitated, then sat up on the bed. “Don’t go,” Xander croaked.

“I’m not leaving. Just fiddling a bit.” Spike felt Xander’s eye on him as he moved to that side of the bed. “Did Oz forget to tell you about the mini fridge?” Spike knelt by what Xander had taken for a clunky and ugly bedside cabinet, drew out a bottle of water and opened it. Gratefully, Xander raised himself up and drained the cold, fresh liquid. He'd never thought the taste of plastic could be so wonderful. When he lowered the bottle, Spike had another ready. Once he’d drained that one, he lay back down and watched Spike move around the room.

“Don’t leave, Spike,” he said again as Spike blew out all but one of the lanterns and carefully folded the ends of the cloth around the hair to tie it into a bundle.

Spike paused and cocked his head at Xander. “Don’t leave your room, or don’t leave the house?”

“Oz told me you will do jobs then vanish until needed again.” 

“Sometimes, yeah. Keeps up the ‘mysterious creature of the night’ image.”

Xander’s eye closed and his voice slurred. “I have a job for you.”

Spike returned to his bedside and put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re too knackered to deal now. I won’t leave this house, I promise, and later I’ll return to your room, okay? Call out if you need anything. I’ll hear you.”

Xander nodded into his pillow and fell deeply asleep.

Spike stood and watched Xander sleep. The man had loved and lost someone, that was clear. He’d become a killing machine to be respected, and he trusted his former roomie and tormentor with his private rituals. Did this signal another apocalypse? He pulled himself away, put the used spell components on the dresser for later clean up, and blew out the remaining lamp. He hesitated over the box, then decided to take it with him. From what Xander had said, he never wanted to see them again, yet needed to keep them. He could always bring it back.

Spike closed the door behind him and went to the small second floor room he liked to use when he stayed over. He heated a packet of blood from his own mini-fridge in the small microwave and rapidly drained it. Even after a meal of human food, he still needed blood. He wasn’t too surprised when his hands started shaking. Xander’s inner strength amazed him. He had been forced to transform from a gentle, caring soul to one who could kill without passion if commanded, but Spike could see that he’d not changed inside. The man had kept everything tamped down to survive. He’d kept each reward jewel as a reminder, an albatross of the lives he’d taken. And now the bottle was uncorked. Spike knew in his soul what Xander wanted from him. Hell, he’d stick around even if Xander didn’t ask him. He knew the Xander of old and respected him. Spike just hoped he was strong enough to do it. Five years is a very long time to stay unbroken.

It was ten o’clock by the time he’d taken a quick shower and changed. Three pairs of eyes followed him as he reached the foot of the stairs and crossed to his favorite chair. “Anything good on, or shall we pay-per-view?” he asked as if he hadn’t just spent most of the day closeted with one of their best long-lost friends. He allowed the TV Guide flung by Dawn to connect with his head. “Watch it. Fella could get a paper cut.”

“Tell!” Dawn demanded. Willow silently echoed her, and Oz just held his wife, supporting her, but not pressuring Spike.

“Xander spent five years being unbroken. He’s going to have to break before he can mend.”

Willow let her anger turn to tears. “I remember Midra. She was only a slave for a year and a half. It took her a long time to get over it.”

“She still hasn’t completely,” Oz said quietly.

“You never do,” Spike put in, looking emptily at the TV. Willow started to ask him how he could know, but Dawn was moving before she could say anything. She sat on the floor beside Spike and put her head in his lap as she had long ago through lonely nights in that dark summer when Buffy had been dead. His hand moved to her unnaturally green hair and stroked it, comforting her, and taking as much offered comfort as he could allow.

They sat like this as the TV babbled about celebrity marriages and Willow cried herself out. Finally, Spike sniffed in a “it’s just allergies, never mind me” way and tugged at Dawn’s hair. “So, what’s the story, my green haired goblin?”

“Oh, that. I… um… I met Lorne.”

“Lorne?” Spike fondly remembered the demon with red eyes, horns, and green hair and skin. Lorne was always respectful to him, even when he was incorporeal. They had once spent a night drinking and swapping Angel stories. “I thought he went into hiding.”

“He did. Both Gunn and Angel have tried to get me to tell them where he is, but I never will. I won’t tell you, either, so don’t ask.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Niblet. So why go green?”

“He was down and lonely. He didn’t think anyone could ever find him attractive. So…”

“Show of solidarity?”

“Yeah.”

“If you talk to the velvet frog again, tell him I say hey. But be careful, Niblet,” Spike said. “I know too well the slippery slope of hair treatment.”

All eyes turned to Oz, he of the oft-changing hair, who returned the looks with a steady, knowing gaze. “Stick with black or shades of red,” he said wisely.

“I’ll keep that in mind. No bleaching.”

Spike wagged a finger at her. “It stings, pet. Like hell it does.”

“So why did you for so long?" 

“It reminded me of Dru.”

“Dru?” Willow asked. “She didn’t dye her hair.”

“No,” Spike sighed. “My black plum could make it hurt… oh so good.”

“Ew,” Dawn said. “No bleaching for sure.”

“If you must try it put seven or eight packets of Sweet-n-Low in it, it doesn’t sting quite so much.”

Spike sat in companionable conversation for a little while. He listened to the others talk about plans to return the demon girl to her clan later that night and the human to her family back in Africa. 

The very mention of Africa suddenly dropped the weight of the last couple of days on Spike’s shoulders and he drooped. Only Dawn noticed. She put her hand up on his knee beside her cheek where it rested on his thigh.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.

“I’ve not slept in a long time, Niblet. It just caught up with me.” He petted her hair reassuringly.

Dawn squeezed his knee and asked timidly, “Will he be all right?”

“In time, yeah. And… I think he wants me to stay near.”

Dawn sat up and rose to her knees. “So you’ll be hanging around for a while?”

This drew Willow and Oz’s attention from the movie. Spike sighed. “Looks like.”

“Yay! You’ll be around for my birthday!”

“I always send you pretties, don’t I?” Spike asked fondly, cupping her cheek.

“Yes. But it’s not the same as having another chance to try to get you to wear a pointy hat.”

Spike dropped his head back on the chair and moaned dramatically. “You were eleven. It was for three seconds. Let it go.”

Dawn’s bright smile lit the room for Spike. “Nope. Even when I turn a hundred and ten, I’ll be after you with a pointy hat every birthday.”

Spike smiled. “It’s a date.” He stood, stretched, and made a decision. He felt drawn to stay near Xander, saw no reason to hide it and stir up speculations and worries. “I’m crashing in the comfy chair in Xander’s room. Don’t know how he’ll be feeling when he wakes up.”

The light mood vanished. “It’s bad isn’t it?” Willow asked. “Even though he seemed so cheerful as he ate.”

“He was a captive, a slave for five years, Red. He’s changed. They changed him. I think he’s stronger now, in many ways, but that doesn’t make him any less…wounded.”

“So what do we do? Act like he’s been on vacation?” Willow chewed her lip with worry.

"I respect him." He searched for something they'd understand. "Like he fought the end of the world for five bloody years. Every day closing the Hellmouth. You need to know about him...come to me, right? I’ll get your info.” He gave a sharp nod and turned, cutting off the questioning. “Night."

Willow stood and stopped him. “Spike.”

“Yeah, Red?” He turned half back around. Willow stepped close and wrapped her arms around him. He hesitated, then returned the hug. Except for Dawn, he was rarely touched. He figured it was habit, he being the Big Bad, a vampire, and all.

“Thank you, Spike. Thank you for doing the things you do for all of us.”

“Pay’s good,” he covered his surprise, his voice catching.

Willow ignored him. “Thank you for finding Xander and bringing him out. Thank you for all you’ve done for him, and all you probably will. Just know that as much as you’re there for him, we’re here, too. For both of you.”

He looked up to catch a nod of agreement from the solemn Oz and a smile from Dawn over Willow’s shoulder. “Thanks, Luv. That means a lot, it does.”

Willow pulled away and wiped her face. “Let me pile up a tray of food. If I know my Xander, he’ll wake up hungry.”

“Yeah, that’d be good. He’s as big as horse now, he’ll probably eat like two of ‘em.” He dashed the back of his hand over his eyes.

Spike paused at the second floor landing and nipped into Willow and Oz’s bathroom. He took the pair of hair trimming scissors and comb he knew were kept there and continued upstairs.

Xander woke up abruptly. Someone had touched him. His body tensed, ready to fight, but the room was still and silent. When he opened his eye and found his vision filled with smooth white instead of rough rock or thatching, his first thought was he’d been blinded. His eye was drawn to the slowly turning ceiling fan, and it all flooded back. The rescue, freedom, his friends, Spike.

As if in answer to his thoughts, there was a movement beside him. The side of his leg was touched again. Xander turned his head to find a fully-clothed Spike sprawled mostly face-down beside him, with one leg drawn up, and apparently sound asleep. Spike’s face was lax and his mouth half-open. This wasn’t the first time he’d watched Spike sleep. How many lifetimes ago were the basement days, anyway? The vampire looked much as he always had, as should be expected, but Xander thought he perhaps a little rounder about the face. Maybe pig’s blood was fattening. Spike’s long hair was starting to escape its braid and Xander’s hands itched to comb and re-braid it.

Then Spike’s face tensed, and his leg twitched. Spike’s knee nudged Xander again. “Aw, like a puppy,” Xander thought. As soon as a smile stretched his lips at the image, Spike gasped and fought his way to his hands and knees.

“Leave me alone, Pavayne!” he shouted. Spike’s eyes darted around and finally focused on Xander. “Oh, sorry,” he said, sat back on his heels, and rubbed a hand over his face.

“Some big bad after you?” Xander asked, not unkindly.

“Think of Jack the Ripper, Pinhead, and Dr. Crippen rolled into one.”

“Ugh.”

“Exactly.” Spike dropped his hand. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“No, I’d just woken up. What are you doing in my bed, anyway, Spike?”

“It’s a king-sized and you were only using a bit of it. ‘sides, that comfy chair is comfy for reading, but it’s too short for sleeping.” Xander just looked levelly up at him. “What? I wasn’t under the covers, even!”

Xander let the smile he’d been suppressing blossom. “I’m kidding you, Spike. I don’t mind.” Xander sat up and stretched. From the light around the window it was still early morning. “I’m going to shower. Now that my hair… now that I can use water that’s hot and almost completely free of mud and piss.”

“Yeah, California’s still up to it’s green, healthy ways. Don’t know why I stick around this state.” Spike flopped back down on the bed as Xander got up. “There’s food when you’re done. Willow made me bring it up,” he said into the pillow.

Xander glanced at the tray piled with little boxes of cereal, fruit and, apparently, muffins. He grinned and looked back to Spike. The vampire was now taking up the whole bed and had tossed the Xander-warmed blanket half over himself. “Puppy,” Xander thought.

The day before, Xander had stood almost unthinking and scrubbed his body over and over. He’d used a bar of soap and thrown away the ruined blue mesh sponge he’d used to scrape as much of Africa from his skin as he could. This time, he focused on his hair. He squinted at the cheery array of many colored bottles that lined the shelf along the shower and almost glowed in the stray sunbeams that filtered through trees outside and the frosted glass of the window. Who knew hair care could be so beautiful? He picked one that claimed to be able to clean away any residue, poured a generous palmful, and stepped under the hot spray of water.

As he massaged his scalp and worked out knots and tangles, he thought. Last night Xander, one-time Zeppo and all around loser, had in front of  Spike, one-time tormentor and sometimes Big Bad, cried like a child and Spike had not ridiculed him. In fact, Spike had held him and comforted him, then returned to his room and slept beside him. What did this all add up to?

Xander lathered, rinsed and repeated until his scalp was just short of bloody, and he had determined that what he’d sensed in Spike long ago was real. Spike’s soul was still in place, and his heart was sincere. When he finally turned off the water, he’d decided that the impulsive request he’d made to Spike the night before was real and true. He knew Spike was his anchor, and prayed the vampire knew it, too.

Xander came out of the bathroom an unmeasured time later.

What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. Spike sat on the reclining couch, his long legs stretched out and one arm up on the back, with his head resting in his hand. In the other hand he held a paperback, angled so the sunlight pouring through the window shone fully on the open pages. Disinterestedly, Spike turned a page, not even looking up at the naked man gaping at him. “’bout time. The power company called, they want to know when they can open the locks and start generating power from the water supply again.”

Dumbfounded, Xander walked over to Spike and touched his sun-warmed hair. “How?..”

“Oi! You’re dripping on my book!” Spike ducked away from under Xander’s bulky form. Xander’s hand lingered in the very real sunbeam, then slowly fell.

“You’re human!”

“What? No! God forbid.”

“But…” Xander raised a hand and pressed it to Spike’s neck below his ear.

Spike sighed and rolled his eyes, but allowed Xander to feel his lack of pulse. “It’s called necro tinted glass. Something Wolfram & Hart worked up. I helped rescue a wealthy demon git and he repaid me with it. I don’t have a home, so Oz installed it here. It's in the bathroom, too. Are you through pawing me, wild boy?”

Xander dropped his hand but didn’t quite blush. “That’s neat. That’s really neat.”

Spike grinned at his old companion. “Innit? Ready for brekkies? There’s juice in the fridge.”





7 Breakfast, Nudity & Mr. Swishy

“Boy, am I ever! Did I see Fruit Loops?” Xander knelt down and pulled a couple of bottles of juice and one of milk from the mini fridge.

Spike shook his head and followed Xander to the table. He sat back and watched, amused, as the man tore into a tiny brightly colored box and upended it. “Sugar…” he sighed. Xander ate for five minutes before he noticed Spike was just watching. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“I nipped down to my room for some O pos. while you drained half the state’s water supply.”

“Oh.” He ate half of a ripe banana and looked around the room for the first time with rested eye. He finished off the chocolate chip muffin, tore into a ripe, fresh apple, and picked up the book Spike had lain face-down on the table. On the cover, a muscular, long-haired man in a loin cloth is running to the rescue of a half-clothed woman who is being menaced by an ape.  “Tarzan! You’re reading Tarzan? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Spike grinned and shrugged. “It’s a classic, and I’ve not read it in ages. Plus, well, being in the room with a naked, long-haired muscle man who eats with both hands does inspire,” he chuckled.

Xander looked sideways at him. “So what was with all the swishing on the ship?”

Spike sat up defensively. “Acting. And I’m damn good at it!”

Xander smirked. “Sure, you just let out what comes naturally.”

Spike glowered at him. “Bloody savage.”

“Poof!” Xander said with a puff of air to accent it, and grinned.

Spike tried to hold his glower, but just could not. He laughed and leaned back in his chair. “You are looking a little ragged.”

Xander fingered a waist-length lock that was now drying across his back. He shook his head and delighted in the lack of weight from the gems. Still, his look was extreme even for California. “I guess so.”

“I can trim your hair for you.”

“And he’s a hairdresser. What other secrets do you have? Did I miss your and Angel’s wedding?”

“No," Spike snapped. "No wedding the poof."

Xander clapped his hands in delight. “So I didn’t miss it! Moonlight ceremony on the beach? Will anyone wear white?” he shrilled.

“Git,” Spike said fondly, happy to see the doughnut boy’s humor had somehow survived.

“Why would I let you, of all people, trim my hair?”

“I kept Drusilla looking beautiful for over a hundred years. And I do my own.”

“That explains so very much,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, that would be good, but if you give me a mullet, I will very personally kill you very slowly.”

“I don’t doubt that for an instant,” Spike said seriously. “When you’re done murdering breakfast, we’ll get to it.”

Xander ate until only crumbs and cereal packets were left. “I think I have an 8 o’clock appointment with Mr. Swishy?”

“Oh, yes, that was for the mullet and the bleaching, was it not?” Spike said in his German accent, pulling the comb and scissors out of his back pocket.

Spike laid out a spare bed sheet, and sat a chair on it facing the full-length mirror. Xander surprised him when he turned it so he was facing out of the window instead. Spike shrugged and starting combing out the mass of hair. “You know,” he said after a while, “you are such an interesting monster, and an interesting monster should have an interesting hairdo.”

“Burroughs and Bugs Bunny in one day. You’re one literate guy, Spike.”

“I read a lot.” Spike said absently as he worked out a knot.

Xander chewed on his lip before saying softly, “But I am a monster now, Spike. I know how to kill, and I’m damn good at it.”

Spike paused briefly. “Do you enjoy it?”

It was a minute before Xander responded. “Sometimes. When the cause is good, the enemy truly evil or…” he trailed off.

“Or the hunt is honest,” Spike finished.

“Yeah.” He allowed himself to relax again into Spike’s admittedly skilled touch. “That’s what my proposition is about, Spike. There’s so much I’ve done. So much I’ve seen, and what I’ve become… I want to talk. I want to let it all out. Anyone else and I’d horrify them, or… they’d pity me. I’ve not had anyone to talk to in... years.”

Again a reference to loosing someone. Spike combed his hair and let him have time to sort out his thoughts.

“I’ve done monstrous things and… I want to hire you, Spike.”

“I’m no goods at counseling, mate.”

“Bullshit. I saw you that summer taking care of Dawn. You held her together.”

“Only barely.” He picked up the scissors. “How long to you want it?”

“To the middle of my back, if you can make it look good.”

Spike fingered the now-flowing strands. He knew what a badge of honor the length was. Xander had earned every inch. “It’s beautiful, Xander, and the girls will say something, but I understand.” Xander nodded once. “If I put in a few layers… not a mullet… I can make you look less savage.”

“Do it.”

Spike begin to cut. After the first few hunks fell to the floor and Xander had relaxed again, Spike prompted him. “What’s it pay?”

“You saw the gems.”

“I mean, what will you pay me?”

“I meant to pay you, Spike, they’re all I have.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Where are they, anyway?” Xander asked, glancing at the dresser where the used spell components lay.

“In a safe in my room.”

“Good. If you act as my councilor, sparring partner, gem broker, and hairdresser,” Spike could hear the smile in that last, “I will give you your choice of two of the gems.”

Spike paused in his cutting. “Xander… you do know what they are worth, don’t you?”

“There’s a blue diamond in there that’s almost three carats. Will that one buy me six months?”

Spike came around to face Xander. “That’s too much.”

“Four months?”

Spike knelt and looked Xander in the eye. “Listen to me, whelp. I’ll be all those things for you. But you won’t be my boss, or my client, except where hair care is concerned, then I expect tips. I’m free to take other jobs on your approval, and we’ll renegotiate the contract after the year that gem will buy.”

Xander blinked. He’d not expected Spike to have thought out this whole thing better then he had. “Er... what’s the catch?”

“You’ll take my advise and listen to me if I tell you you’re doing something wrong, or there’s something you need to do. I’ve been alive a hell of a lot longer than you, and I’ve been in situations… bloody bad places. I’ve seen and done more than you’ll ever know.”

“In short, let you keep me from acting like the stubborn ass I once was?”

“Basically, yeah. If you want, Charlie Gunn will draw us up a contract, he’s right good with that.”

Xander looked into Spike’s honest eyes and saw again the spark within. “Maybe. Hey, wait. If you’re not my employee, and I’m not your client, why am I paying you?”

Spike grinned. “Because you feel you have to.” Spike returned to behind Xander.

“When did you get so clever, Spike?”

“Always have been. You were just too busy hating me to see it. Plus, it’s easier to pull things off when your enemy underestimates you.”

Xander blew a raspberry. “Right. Loan sharks after your ass, unrefrigerated demon eggs…”

Spike pulled Xander’s hair sharply. “Sorry, bit of a tangle.”

Spike worked in silence as Xander watched the very green trees swaying outside his window. The world had turned and the once-normal seemed alien. And the once alien… “Hey Spike?”

“What?”

“I didn’t always, you know,” Xander said softly.

“Didn’t always what? Have the ability to defend your own sorry ass? Know that.”

“Hate you.”

“Oh.” Spike just combed Xander’s hair and made a few last cuts.

“This is where you say you didn’t always hate me, Spike.”

“Why the bloody hell would I say that?”

“Sheesh, Spike. I thought you read a lot. It always happens in the books that two long-separated enemies get back together and, once they finally talk, realize  they could have been close friends long ago.”

“I don’t read comic books, Spock.” Spike felt Xander slump just a little and knew he’d taken it too far. “But. And I’ll only say this once. I did and do respect you. The shit the Hellmouth flung at you, you took with a grin. And now… Christ. You’ve been put through hell for five fucking years, and you still can joke.” He put his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “You’re a hell of a man, Xander Harris. I admire you.”

“Thanks,” Xander whispered.

“Plus,” Spike perked up, “you look damn good, if I say so my self.”

Xander reached up and ran his rough hands through his hair. Spike watched it catch on the heavy iron still welded around his wrists. “Thanks! It feels great.”

“Aren’t you going to take a look?”

“Nah. I thrust you. Now,” Xander said, as he stood up and shook his head like a dog. Bits of hair floated down through the sunlight to the sheet. “I’m going to wash off the itchy hair bits.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Expect rolling blackouts. I’ll call the power company.”

He fully expected another long shower, but Xander was back out before Spike had finished cleaning up the hair cutting scene.

Xander crossed to the window and looked down at the neatly mown lawn.

“Are you trying to give one of the girls an eye full?”

“Huh? No.” He looked down at himself and gave a short laugh. “I’m so used to being naked. I don’t notice. Does it bother you?”

“Pfft. As if.” Spike continued to bundle the sheet as Xander watched him, his eye distant. Xander’s hand wandered to the pearl.

“Anthony was taller than you, maybe an inch taller than me.” Spike said nothing, but let Xander talk. “And he was skinny. Not like you’re skinny. You’re… lean. He looked like you could break him with one hand. But he was strong. God, he was strong. And he was a dark as you are pale. He liked to wear these bright robes like chieftains wore. He said it made him look bigger.”

A knock sounded at the door, and Spike inwardly cursed. “It’s Willow.” Xander dropped his reverie and headed for the door. “Xander, what was I just saying about nudity and the girls?”

“Oops. Just a second!” he called.

“Um, no hurry,” Willow’s uncertain voice said.

Xander grabbed up the purple pants and pulled them on. Spike picked up his book and retreated to the chair. Xander opened the door and ushered his friend inside. “Good morning, Mrs. Osborne!”

Willow giggled. “I hope I’m not intruding, but I wanted to bring you your clothes. I washed them so they’re not as new and stiff. And I wanted to make sure you had everything you needed… Did you get enough to eat?”

“I did, and I may be a bit ill from it,” Xander said as he took the clothes.

“I know I am from watching,” Spike muttered.

“But, you enjoyed it,  right?” Willow asked, very much the uncertain kid Xander loved long ago.

“Of course!”

Willow looked him over. “Oh! Your hair is shorter! And… it looks nice.”

“Spike cut it. I have this theory that he’s probably also good at interior decorating. His crypt looked nice there at the end, after all.”

“Hey!” Spike protested.

Willow noticed the sheet that was now crumpled to one side. “Is that one of my good sheets?”

“I found it in the cupboard,” Spike said defensively.

“Spike! You should have asked! I’ve got old ones for such things,” she scolded as she picked it up, being careful to not spill the loose hair.

“Oh, Doc Savage here will buy you another.”

Xander crossed his arms, unknowingly striking  a pose much like your typical pulp novel cover, and looked over at Spike. “Doc Savage was bald.”

“You could be, too, mister,” Spike growled.

Willow laughed. “At least you two are playing nicely.”

“Willow,” Xander said as he took the sheet from her and put it back on the floor. “Can you help me with something?”

She took his sudden mood change in stride. “Of course. Anything I can.”

“I should have asked, but last night, I cast a spell. It wasn’t polite…”

Willow laid a finger across his lips. “It’s allowed, Xander. I allowed it. I felt your cleansing spell last night, and it makes me happy you want to move on so soon. Whatever helps you heal.”

Xander wrapped his big arms around his tiny friend. Spike watched, amused as she flushed and fought down a wave of arousal. He couldn’t blame her. After all, she was being pressed to the romance novel cover version of the boy she’d been madly in love with for several years. Spike was sure the long soft hair draping her face didn’t help. “I love you, Willow,” he said and let her go.

“You, too, Xander. I love you, too.”

They grinned at each other until Spike blew a raspberry, “Should I leave the room, or can I stay and watch?”

“Spike!” Willow yelped, jumping back. “I’m not! We’re… I’m married!" 

“And this isn’t one of your Tarzan novels I’m reading.”

Xander laughed as Willow turned beet red.  “Ignore him, Wills. Look, ” Xander said, turning serious, “can you help with the clean up?” He pointed to the spell components. “and make sure the gems are clean? Spike has them." 

“Of course, Xander. Anything. You, oh evil vampire, get to bring down the breakfast tray.” She stuck her tongue out at an amused Spike and left, taking the components and hair-covered sheet with her.

Once she’d left, with a promise from Xander that he’d come down soon, Xander turned to Spike. “What was that about, Spike?”

“What?" 

“The get-a-room remark?” 

“You’ve got a room, I just offered to leave.” 

Xander sat on the bed near Spike and looked down at his hands. “I’m a monster, Spike. I’ve been shaped and trained to kill. I’m so muscle bound…  Why would anybody find that attractive?”

“Have you ever looked at the covers to romance novels?”

“Mom read them all the time.”

“That’s you, whelp. You could be the Fabio of the new millennia.”

“No. I don’t think that’s... that this is attractive.” He pointed to his own broad chest.

“Okay, then what is?” he couldn’t resist asking.

“Swimmers, bikers, athletes with clean, lean muscles.”

Spike wondered if Xander realized he’d just described him. More likely, he was thinking about his lost Anthony. He took a risk. “Skinny like?”

Xander looked up sharply at Spike, but found no mockery. Sadly, he let his eyes drop. So it was about the past. “Yeah. Weird, huh? I’ve got a skinny guy kink.”

“Not so very. I’ve found that big men often like littler, leaner… partners.” He waited a couple of beats to see if Xander knew where he was going. “Did ya see how stick figure Dru is? And why do you think Angelus allowed Drusilla to keep me?”

Xander had to allow his head to wrap around this before meeting Spike’s eyes. “You mean he…?”

“And I, and we, yeah. Only once, shortly after I was sired... But the rest of the time he loved to watch me with Drusilla. Angelus was all the time watching me… And I liked to watch him. Even when I wasn’t with Dru, I could feel his eyes on me, but the bastard wouldn’t touch me again. He just said he’d done it ta prove who was top dog, that he didn’t like ta fuck boys....Bastard. If he hadn’t ta been so uptight, we could’ve had some grand times. Why else would I hate him so much?”

Xander shook his head. “I never would have guessed that.”

“I called him poof often enough, didn’t I?”

Xander shrugged. “I mean about you.”

Spike steadily met his eye. “It’s all about the person, not the body. Now get dressed before Willow comes up to drag you out of here.”

Xander thought about having heard the same thing in two days from different people. He did not yet know what it meant.

In the living room, they encountered Midra and Gunn. She immediately rose to her feet and bowed to Xander. She made a sign of respect and spoke to him rapidly in her native dialect. Xander answered in the same tongue, then broke into English. “Thank you, Midra. I appreciate it. Now I’m just Xander, okay? I want to leave all that behind.”

“I understand. But also know that if you need anything of that land, speak to me. I know it’s hard to shake.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

Xander cracked a patented crooked smile and hugged her.

After they left, Gunn cocked an eyebrow at his lover. “What was that about?”

“He is a strong, brave man, my love. In my culture you respect such things and do not let them go unremarked.”

“Oh,” Gunn said, trying to tamp down his unreasonable jealousy of the handsome, sound, strong man all the ladies were making over. He didn’t get far into his brood before his lap was filled with lean, spicy scented woman. His woman.

“You are a foolish man,” she said fondly and kissed his lips. “You should be glad the tribe has gained such a warrior. Our forces have been strengthened. And the pale one is strengthened by his being here, too.”

“Wha? Spike? What are you talking about?”

“He didn’t collect his money and run as he always does. He came back here and waited.”

Gunn drew back and looked up at Midra. “Spike and Xander are… nah. I mean, I know he stayed in Xander’s room…”

She smacked him playfully on the arm. “Your mind goes there far to easily. They have connections they made years ago. In Sunnydale. Since Angel pushed Spike away, he’s been without a focus, without grounding. For all his strengths, Spike needs a balance. A yen to his yang.”

“I just hope no one starts yenning for my yang.” Gunn muttered, playing up his implied role as homophobe when it really didn’t bother him in the least.

“I’m the only one here gets access to that,” Midra declared and pushed up off his lap. “Now stay out from under foot. I’ve got work to do.”





8 A Tour, Zeb, and a Job

Spike and Xander found Oz and Willow in the kitchen.

Oz  leaned back from the table, an empty plate in front of him. Xander smiled at his faded blue t-shirt that read “Never moon a werewolf.”

“Want a sandwich?” Willow asked. ”Or breakfast. I can do breakfast.”

Xander turned a chair around and straddled it. He looked around the cheery kitchen, noticing the witchy touches here and there with a small smile. “Eggs and bacon,” he finally said. “I would love buttery scrambled eggs and crispy bacon.”

“Give the man a slab ‘o suet to go with that,” Spike sneered as he joined them. “You’re going to be back to American paunch in no time, mate.”

Willow smacked Spike in the back of the head as she passed him on her way to the fridge. “Leave him alone. That’s an order.” She paused and kissed Xander’s head as Spike comically rubbed his injury and glowered. “He can have whatever he wants.”

Xander grinned at Spike like the favored child he was at the moment. “Then I want Seven of Nine in my bedroom tonight after dinner.”

“Sorry, dude,” Oz said. “No more ‘Star Trek’.”

“What?” Xander gaped, exaggerating.

“You missed most of ‘Enterprise,’ and for the first time in ages… no new ‘Star Trek.’”

“Damn.” Xander pillowed his head on his arms.

Gunn came in to see him like this. “What’s wrong?”

“Git’s in mourning over “Star Wars,” Spike said.

“Trek!” came a trio of corrections.

“What the bloody ever.”

Gunn sat and reached over a hand to rest it on Xander’s arm. “Don’t worry. We got all episodes in DVD, wide screen, surround sound splendor!”

“Don’t tell him that!” Willow squeaked. “I’ll never get to see him!”

Xander’s head popped up. “Don’t worry, Willow. You can join us. Now what about my eggs?”

After much laughter and talk over brunch, Xander stood and patted his full stomach. “That was the best breakfast ever, Wills!”

“Thank you.”

“It’s mighty quiet around here. Where’s Dawn?”

“She went out to spend the day with a friend. She tried to cancel, but I promised I’d convince you to give her some Xander time this evening. After all, one of the reasons she came to visit was to see Michael.”

“Oh? Who is this Michael guy?” Xander asked.

“A very nice young man. He’s been thoroughly checked out by everyone.”

“Not by me. I’ll give her some time tonight. Right now, I need to be outdoors and maybe walk some of this off. Who will give me a tour?”

“I’m not in the mood to burst into flames,” Spike scoffed.

“I’ll show you,” Oz said, as he helped Willow clear the table.

“I need to go out to the forge and check on something, I’ll go that far with you,” Gunn said, as he got to his feet.

The two went out the back door, but Xander hung back to address Spike. “I want to spar soon. Is there a place?”

“Oz will show you. I need to go into town tonight for business, if that’s all right, not boss.”

“Of course it is.”

“How about tomorrow after lunch?”

“More necro tinted glass?” Xander asked.

“Hardly. Go see. Get some sun.” He chewed his lip as he watched Xander join the other men.

Willow put down a plate and sat beside Spike. “Hey, Spike. How are you?”

“He’s fine,” Spike answered absently.

Willow put her hand on his where it rested on the table. “Spike. How. Are. You?

He met her eyes levelly. They had connected in the past three years and an easy friendship was between them. “I’m good. I’m… It feels right, Red. He asked me to help him.” Spike chuckled. “Hired me, actually.” He put his other hand over hers. “But it feels good to have him back.”

She smiled broadly, which always made Spike feel warm. “Doesn’t it? The fellas will be a while. Let’s look to those gems.”


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


Outside, they came first to the converted barn. Xander gave a low whistle when he took in the large space filled with training equipment and a rack of practice weapons to one side. A single high window let in a beam of sun. Otherwise, the huge space was dim and cool. “This is sweet! It sure beats the hell out of the Magic Box backroom, huh, Oz?”

“There are showers and changing rooms over there. The girl’s is, of course, bigger.” Oz said.

Gunn lowered himself to a bench and watched with Oz as Xander picked up a staff and hefted it. Gracefully, he fell into a fighting crouch before flinging himself into a vigorous series of passes and strikes with the staff. After some five minutes, he stopped and bowed to his invisible opponent. He was startled out of his meditative reverie by Gunn clapping.

“Damn! That was fine! I can’t wait to see you beat the bleach bum up one side and down the other.”

Xander returned the staff to its place and crossed to them. “Bleach bum. I like that one. What other surprises are there?”

Oz pulled a key out of his pocket. “Toys.” He crossed to a locked door and opened it to reveal a twelve foot square room lined with racks of swords, axes, stakes, chains, crossbows, and everything imaginable a proper slayer could want to have in her arsenal.

“I’m a gladiator in a weapon store,” Xander sighed. He went to the rack of swords and pulled a simple one out. He felt it’s balance and weight. “You’ve got some sweet toys, my friends.”

“Thank you,” Gunn said. “I take special orders, but I’m back logged for Christmas.” 

Xander looked in wonder at the blade. “You made this?”

“That’s one of the better beaters. Let me show you my office next.”

Oz locked up behind them as Gunn led him to a smaller building in a clearing to one side. Xander could smell familiar scents of smoke and metal. “I thought you were a lawyer.”

“I got an evil upgrade from W & H. It cost me dearly and I hate it. Unless I can use it for the powers of good, I don’t. That last smack down left me gimpy, so I put my weapons knowledge to use and learned this.” Gunn waved Xander through the open door into a well appointed blacksmith’s shop.

“Sweet!” Xander said, peering at an ornate hilt hanging on a peg. He pushed away his memory of being taken into a much cruder blacksmith shop and the bands being welded onto his wrists. They’d been a part of him for five years now. He twisted one of them without realizing it.

“Um. Whenever you want… If you want, that is. I can take those off you.” Xander’s hand flew from the band as if it were still hot. Slowly, he lowered his eyes to his wrist.

“Can you? I don’t know if you can. They’re a part of me.”

“With Willow’s help, I can physically take them off. I’ve done it for others.”

Xander straightened and held out his clenched hands, palms up. “When?”

Gunn took Xander’s hands in his own. “It’ll be just after dark for the fire to be hot enough. How’s that?”

Xander turned his hands, opening them to clasp Gunn’s. “Please.”

Gunn grinned. “My pleasure. Hey Oz, lead the man on and I’ll start things cooking here.” Strangely, Xander was pretty sure he recognized Gunn whistling “Poor Wandering One” as he followed Oz.


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


“Spike,” Willow said as she sat on his narrow bed and poked at the glistening pile of gems. “Does he know what he has here?”

“I’m pretty damn sure he does. More than what the bank would give is what they cost him.”

“Midra said they were prize jewels.”

“Each one of those is a life, Willow. A life Xander had to take to save his own.”

Tears begin to roll down her cheeks.  “I want to get them, Spike. I want that king pin. They took my sweet Xander.”

Spike took the cloth with the gems on it from Willow and sat it aside. Gently, he wrapped his arms around her. “We will, pet. We will. Think of all the inside information we can get now. I’ll bet Xan can fill in all kinds of details. We’ll shut them down right proper.”

Willow cried herself out and pushed away. She pulled a tissue from its box and wiped at her eyes. “Let’s get done with these things.”

She determined that Xander had done a good job with the cleansing, even though three of the gems still contained inherent energy. She put eight gems aside to be sold as magical receptacles, and therefore as more valuable. “What about the pearl he wears?”

Spike had been thinking about it. When Xander had singled it out, he thought it was perhaps the stone someone would claim if they killed him. After hearing the litany of kills, he wondered if he’d had to kill his friend. “It belonged to someone close to him, Red. He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


Oz went on to show Xander a large garage. It held the van Xander had ridden in, a sleek black Jaguar, and a couple of domestic cars. Off to one side, a motorcycle lay in pieces. Xander wandered over and admired the clean lines of the classic Jag.

“That’s Spike’s,” Oz explained. “So is the bike.”

“It beats the hell out of his DeSoto, that’s for sure.”

“He managed to get it away from Wolfram and Hart before the big to-do went down. It’s got necro tinted windows like the ones upstairs.”

“So he can drive in the daylight. Sweet.”

Oz led him up a flight a stairs to the Slayer dorm which was the second story of the garage and could house up to twenty Slayers. “Isn’t that a bit much?” Xander asked.

“No, we’ve had it full a couple of times. Plus, as part of the organization, it’s been used to house California disaster victims. People who have lost their homes to fire and flooding. Do you want to see the best view on the property?”

He led them down a pebbled path. A sign post stood some fifty feet from the trail head. The sign was broken on both ends and read “zeb.”

“Zeb? Who’s Zeb?” Xander asked, peering up the overgrown path.

“There’s a big gazebo up there. A tree fell on it before we bought the property and no one has taken the time to fix it up.”

“Is it sound?”

“Let’s go look.”

Xander pushed through the overgrowth and Oz followed. The gazebo was a big one, with enough room on the floor for a good number of couples to dance and a curved stairway up to a covered widow’s walk. The tree had been cleared away, but the damage in the roof was clear. There was rot here and there and it badly needed a coat of paint. Oz sat on a portion of the wide railing as Xander examined it.

Xander picked up a long splinter of wood, turned it over and over in his hands, and joined Oz. “This could be a really nice place,” he said, looking up at the high ceiling. “Could be a great place for shindigs.”

“Or hootenannies.” They both imagined the parties that had been and could be held there.

“If someone wants to take on the job,” Oz finally said.

Xander laughed. “I don’t know. I’ve made some book cases and helped some building buildings…” Xander shrugged and tossed the wood aside. “I never made it to community college like I planned.”

“Just think about it, Xander. There’s no way the council will let you be jobless. Besides, I’m groundskeeper. I can hire who I want. If I make you supervisor, you can hire who you need.”

Xander took a big breath and let it out. “Oz. I don’t know what to do now. I haven’t even thought about having a job, or being back in society. The government has to be told I’m back, don’t they? What all headaches will that cause?”

“We have one of the best lawyers black magic and money can create, Xander. Don’t worry about anything.”

“Gunn?’

“Yes. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but the upgrade to his skills directly cost him the life of one of his best friends.”

“Damn. No wonder he’d rather make swords.”

“He’ll get it all sorted out for you. In the mean time, you know you’re welcome at Chez Rosenberg for as long as you like, if not for always.”

“Always, Oz?” His one eye searched Oz’s face.

“Always. It’s one of the first things Willow said after she quit squealing and bouncing around the house with Dawn.”

“Always. I like that idea. Show me that view, my man.”

They followed the path as it continued to rise and walked in silence for a ways. Xander enjoyed the mild Californian sun and the fresh air. It felt like he’d been on that ship for months. He fought the urge to run.

“You can if you want to,” Oz said as if reading his thoughts.

“Can what?”

“Run. Hide. Explore the woods. Run to the sea and dive in.”

They exchanged a look in which one beast acknowledges another. “Where’s this view?”

“Whenever the path forks, just keep to the left. You’ll know it. See you shortly.”

Oz thoughtfully watched his friend as he took off with his long hair flying behind him. He continued walking up the path at a steady pace, letting Xander have his freedom and space. The world felt more right now that the missing Scooby had been found. Willow had a bounce in her step he’d not seen in a long time, and the subtle changes in Spike bore watching.

Xander ran. He let all the energy he’d built up on the ship go. The cool, green life of the forest caressed him. The packed earth of the path felt alive under his feet. It was all so unlike forced runs across the baked earth of the African veldt.  Here again were the bird calls, flowers, and scents of his childhood.

He ran until he turned a corner and found himself in a clearing on a high hilltop. He stood overlooking woods stretching out to older growth areas in the distance in one direction and sloping hills and eventually the curve of the ocean some five miles away. Xander promptly sat on the picnic table with his feet on the bench. He closed his eyes and felt the wind in his hair.

Oz joined him a little while later and sat on the table beside him. “This is cool. How much does the council own?” Xander asked.

“Some hundred and fifty acres. It backs up to preserved lands, so we’ve got a big back yard.”

“Pretty sweet for moonlight runs, huh?” In the world he’d escaped, werewolves were considered less than men. When the full moon rose, the slavers would hold the equivalent of dog fights. Condemned humans were deliberately infected to continue the sport.

Oz grinned. “That it is, but more so in the winter. I worry about hikers.”

“I thought you… got control of it.”

Oz shrugged. “I do. But sometimes, it feels good to let it go.”

“I can understand that.”

“I’ve gone out for night runs with Spike. First time, we got in a tussle, but the wolf respects him now.”

“What do you do otherwise?"

“I’ll show you on the way back.”

They sat quietly together until Xander sighed. “Let’s head back before I give in to the urge to go to the ocean.”

“Dawn’s in town for another week. We are planning a beach picnic for her birthday.”

“Cool. Show me your set up.”

Oz lead him on a different path back and the downwards slope made the trip quick. Most of the way back, they come to a big clearing in the woods.

“Look at what I have.”

Xander eyed the fifty by a hundred foot heavily fenced enclosure before them. It rose twenty-five feet in the air before arching over to a caged roof.  Inside were a couple of low trees, which were gouged with claw marks, and a platform over a low cinderblock building. It looked like nothing more than a wild cat cage at the zoo. Xander nodded his approval.

“Beats the hell out of the book cage,” Xander said.

“Yeah. No one has to take all the books out before I go in. Angel’s girlfriend Nina sometimes stays here. Not with me in there, of course…”

Xander well remembered the encounter Oz had with a lady werewolf that led to Oz and Willow’s break up long ago. He changed the subject. “Is that clover?”

“Attracts rabbits.”

Xander couldn’t tell if Oz was completely joking or not. “Let’s go see what the guys are up to.”


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


They approached the house from the far side and Xander caught a glimpse of a pale figure in black in the window of his room. He smiled to think of the vampire waiting for him, and returned his attention to Oz when he pointed out the enclosed porch they were going into and the hot tub it contained. 

“There was a hot springs in the cave,” Xander said. “Only the privileged got to use it.”

“We’ve got a few rules, but they’re posted. Willow walked in on Midra and Gunn one too many times.”

Spike slouched in his chair and flipped channels as if he’d not been waiting at the  window three minutes before. Xander rested his massive arms on the chair back and leaned on them. “Anything good on?”

Spike didn’t even look at him, but he could smell the sweat and foreign poisons that were leeching out of his system. He needed to give this man as many sparring matches as he could stand. “Nah. Never is.”

“What shows did I miss in the last five years?”

“Nothing. It was almost all reality TV.”

“What the hell is that?”

“They put real people in real situations and film them. Make them eat bugs and stuff.”

“Ew.”

“Yeah, they’ve not come up with anything new. I’ve made plenty of people eat bugs in my day.”

“Some bugs aren’t  too bad, but give me pizza any day.”

Spike inwardly winced at yet another cruelty revealed. No wonder the man wanted steak and eggs. “What do you think of the Ponerosa?”

“It’s a nice spread.” Xander came around and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Gunn is going to unband me later.”

Spike nodded, and kept his delight covered. “Charlie knows what he’s doing. When he took the bands off Midra she fell for him right then, to hear him tell it.”

Xander frowned at the antics of a beautiful woman in a swim suit rolling in a pig pen. “What are you doing in town?”

“Need to do some banking and pick up some odds and sods. Any requests?”

“I can’t think of anything,” Xander laughed dryly. “I remember nights I would lay awake and dream of a toothbrush and tooth paste, but I have so much wealth now…” he waved his hand at the surroundings.

“When you were there…”

Willow came in just then and Spike dropped his question. His curiosity would just have to wait. “Clean up, boys. It’s time for dinner soon.”

“By that I assume you mean me, Willow, as the vamp appears tidy for once.” Xander got to his feet.

“Oi! I’m clean. I don’t take three hour showers like some people,  but I’m clean!”

“Then help me set the table.”

Dawn returned from her visit full of chatter and dominated the conversation with Xander for the duration of the meal. Spike slipped away the minute it was dark enough.





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