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Unbreakable


by
Fanbot


9
Shopping Bags

Spike returned to the quiet house just after two in the morning. He listened and located everyone sleeping in their beds but Dawn and Xander. With his arms loaded with packages he made his way quietly up the stairs. He could hear the television in Xander’s room long before he reached the door, but it was low enough it would bother no one in the house.

He stopped outside the door and peeked through the crack. Xander sat cross-legged at  the foot of the bed. Dawn was stretched out beside him, face down in a pillow and very much asleep. Strangely, Xander’s hair was braided in many braids of varied sizes and styles. Spike noted the metal arm bands were gone and as he watched, Xander rubbed the pale area on one wrist. What made Spike smile was the way Xander was absently petting Dawn’s hair as if she were a cat. It was less than a minute before Xander’s eye flicked to him. With a distracted wave, Xander motioned Spike in and returned his attention to the movie.

Spike pushed the door open with his foot and moved to stand by Xander’s side of the bed. On the screen, Hellboy snagged a box of kittens while fighting off a snarling, multi-eyed, tentacled monster.  Spike watched the movie with him for a few minutes until Hellboy saved the kittens and Xander paused it.

"Hey, Spike. That’s quite a haul,” he said softly.

“Yeah, and it’s getting’ heavy, thanks for offerin’ to help.” Spike let all the packages fall with a rattle and a clatter. Dawn pushed herself up with an “eep.”

“Nice, Spike. Being mean to little girls.”

“I am evil,” Spike said just as Dawn said “I’m not a little girl,” and punched Xander’s arm.

Xander pouted and slumped. Dawn rubbed her eyes and looked at the pile of bags. “Oh! Shopping! And you didn’t take me with.”

“This is boring stuff, Pet. Man things.” Spike hung his coat by the door and flung himself down on the bed. “I can’t take looking at those purple pants any more.”

“You never say anything when Charles wears them,” Dawn said as she craned her neck toward the bounty.

“They go better with his skin tone.”

“Boots off the bed, dead head.” Xander said and shoved at Spike’s crossed ankles. “Willow will hold me responsible.”

Dawn hopped off the bed, ran around it and started digging in the bags. She tossed her finds up on the bed. “T-shirt, t-shirt, jeans, shorts, undies. Hey! How did you know Xander’s a boxers man?”

“Lived with him before, didn’t I? How do you know?”

Dawn made a face. “Laundry duty.”

“Sitting right here!” Xander protested, but was ignored.

“Shaving cream, toothpaste…” She came up with a small white box. “What’s this?”

Spike snatched at away. “None of your business. Quit digging.”

“Eh. It’s just boring anyway.” Dawn stood and stretched.

“Like I told you.” Spike tucked the box away behind him.

“Want to finish the movie?” Xander asked.

“Nah. I think I’ll go to bed.” She gave Xander a big hug. “It was great to talk to you. I missed you,” she said softly into his hair.

“You too, Dawn. So very much. Good night.”

“Night, Niblet.” Spike said as she turned to leave.

“Night, Spike. You two behave. Don’t turn up the TV or I’ll hear you. I’m right under you, you know.”

“I’ll try to keep myself from jumping on the bed while I’m at it.” Spike said dryly.

She made a face at him and left.

Xander looked thoughtfully at the vampire as he bent to unlace his boots. “Wot?”

Xander pointed at the pile of  personal products. “These are all my brands. You remembered.”

Spike shrugged. “I mooched enough of them didn’t I? Only the cheapest for Mr. Harris.”

“No, not the cheapest. The best I could afford when I had money.”

“Wanted you to be comfortable. Feel at home.” He nodded toward the bathroom.  “All the stuff in there was left by Angel or smells like flowers.”

“Angel’s stayed here?”

“Yeah. Ponce keeps a low profile these days. He’s got a werewolf of a girlfriend and has quit brooding quite so much now that he’s getting it regular.”

“Good.” Xander picked up a t-shirt and admired the soft fabric and dark blue color. “This is nice, Spike. I appreciate it.”

“Your money. I sold off a couple of the semi-precious stones to a jewelry maker I know. I… I didn’t think you should be forced out to the wide world of shopping until you wanted to go.”

“Thanks.” Xander put the products back in the bag and set it on the floor.

Spike settled back on the bed again. “This movie is better loud. Shoulda watched it in the theatre.”

“We were talking. She told me about her green hair, school, and this Michael guy. I look forward to meeting him.”

“He seems a nice enough fella.”

“She caught me up on the Summer’s slice of the world. She and Buffy.”

Spike nodded, picked up one of the t-shirts and started peeling the stickers off it. “Before you ask, we had it out a coupla years back. Buffy and me. We met up. Talked, shagged all night, broke some furniture, and parted on even terms.”

“Um. TMI, Spike.”

“Like you weren’t burning to know.”

Xander shrugged. “Yeah. I was. So you two can be in the same place without wanting to kill each other?”

“Or shag like mad.”

“Spike, please don’t say shag again.”

Spike chuckled. “Hit play, Whelp. I like this one. By the way, I like the new look.”

“Huh?” Xander hand flew to his hair. “Well, Willow was up here and we were talking about the foreign movie nights we’d have with Buffy. It was tradition to braid someone’s hair. Mine is longest, and I couldn’t say no to the girls.”

“It’s damn hard, innit?” Spike had allowed himself to be subjected to the same treatment, but damned if he’d own up to it.

Xander picked up the remote and settled against the headboard next to Spike. He hit play and started picking the tiny rubber bands out of a braid. It was not long before Spike had joined him in the unbraiding. They laughed at the movie and gave fighting advice to the heroes. By the time “Hellboy” was over, Xander’s hair was undone.

He turned off the TV. “What else did you get into tonight, Spike? It shouldn’t have taken you that long to shop.”

Spike looked him in the eye. “You want to know it all?”

“If you want to tell. I won’t pry.”

“I first went to the jeweler and sold the gems. Then I placed an order with her. I went hunting and fed. Then I went shopping. I had a few drinks, ate a blooming onion, danced with a pretty lady, then went to pick up my order.”

“That’s a full night.” Xander toyed with the pile of tiny bands.

“You aren’t going to ask what I ordered?”

“If I need to know, you’ll tell me.”

“Well, it’s for you.”

Xander perked up. “Something special for me?”

Spike fished the little white box out from behind him. “I don’t know if you’ll want them, but… here.”

Xander opened the box and took out two leather bracelets. They were a dark burgundy, as wide as the metal ones, and snapped closed. “Thanks.”

“I thought maybe, after wearing the metal so long, you may feel more comfortable with something on.”

Xander smiled at Spike. “Yeah. Yeah. These I can take off.”

“I hope the color is okay. It’s all she had on hand.”

“I like it. What are the symbols inside them?”

“They’re not enchanted, but Jen added the glyphs when I told her who it was for. We’ve been friends a long time and she knows some of what goes on.”

Xander opened a band and looked it over. “I don’t know all of these.”

“I don’t remember the order, but they’re family, freedom, health, and love. She said that goes on your right arm. The other one says safety, protection, power, and strength.”

Xander snapped one in place, then the other. “Thank you, Spike. I didn’t even think of something like this. I’d never tell the girls, but I have been noticing the absence of the bands.”

“Some of those we’ve rescued have torn fabric and wrapped their wrists.”

“Huh.” Xander felt suddenly uncomfortable. If anyone else had given him a present, he would have hugged them. “Um, that was a good movie.”

“It is. Wait until you see all of  ‘The Lord of the Rings.’”

“So I’ve been told. Hey, do you still want to spar tomorrow?”

Spike stood up. “Wouldn’t miss it. Meet me in the barn at noon.”

“It’s a date!”

Spike collected his coat and boots and left. Absently, Xander picked up the bag of clothes and went through it. He held them up and all looked to be the right size.

A bright yellow bag from a specialty store was tucked away in the bottom of one of the Wal-Mart bags. Curious, Xander opened it.

Out spilled a Hawaiian shirt so bright it made him blink. It had everything one could want in a garish pattern. Hula girls held sequined pineapples under palm trees beside blue woody station wagons with surf boards strapped to the top. Xander had to get Spike to take him shopping there.





10
Sparring

Xander woke up abruptly, at first uncertain where he was. Growing up, he had perfected the slow wake up and had even catalogued fifteen separate stages of  lollygagging. Now the transition from the oblivion of sleep and lucid dreaming to reality was a sharp edge with none of the fine layers it once held. Africa was too dangerous and hot a place to lounge in bed of a morning, then the first week of captivity had driven away the already lessened ability to awaken slowly.

So he was suddenly awake and alone for the first time in years. There were no other captives or fighters nearby. There were no guards at the door. There was no bed warmer in his room. There was no Spike. The first one of these he looked for was Spike. Why? Xander rolled to his back and watched the ceiling fan turn. Far off in the house, he could hear a television babbling, and water running. Outside he heard birdsong and a lawn mower. He was alone, safe, clean, and warm. It felt wonderful.

During his captivity, his only true escape had been in his own mind. He’d once read an article on controlling one’s dreams in one of the new age magazines Giles sold while he should have been looking for a demon in a dusty book. Through trail and error he had mastered it. Xander now closed his eyes and sifted through his night’s dreams. He had been dreaming of Spike, trying to remember everything about the vampire’s fighting style in preparation of today’s practice. He couldn’t wait to show the smug vamp what he now knew. That was it. His first of the morning thoughts had nothing to do with the comfort he’d gained from having Spike beside him the night before. Or had they? Xander sat up. So what if they had?

He glanced at the clock. He’d slept for almost seven hours, which was strange for him. In captivity, he’d only slept about five hours in a stretch at most. His body was probably giving him what he needed. Xander shrugged it off. At least he’d not slept through his sparring session with Spike.

He relieved himself and enjoyed a good minty tooth brushing. He took a minute and cleared off a shelf in the bathroom of all the random bottles and containers, putting them away in a cabinet. He lined up all the new things Spike had bought for him. The last thing he’d expected was for Spike to remember such trivial things. Maybe he felt he should earn some of what he was being paid.

Xander dressed in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt from the new clothes and made his way downstairs, taking a glace at the closed door to Spike’s room as he passed it. Surely the vamp was already up. He found no one until he came to the living room. Gunn sat on the edge of the couch and folding towels as he watched TV.

“Morning!” he said cheerily. “How are you today?”

“I’m good, thanks, Gunn. Where is everyone?”

“Let’s see. Oz is mowing the grass. Willow’s puttering in the herb garden. Dawn’s gone off with her fella again. I think Midra’s in the kitchen getting lunch ready.”

“Um, what about Spike?”

“I don’t know. He did tell me he’d be in the barn when you got your lazy ass up.” Gunn made air quotes around the last phrase.

“Thanks,” Xander said with a smile and turned to go.

“Xander?” Gunn’s voice was serious. He paused in his task with a blue towel in his hands.

“Yeah?”

“I need to talk to you soon, man. I mean, about what happened and where. The legal wheels need to turn.”

Xander nodded. “I know. Look. Let’s talk tonight. Let everyone know who wants to hear… I’m not telling it twice, okay?”

“Sure. Just when you’re ready.”

“I’ll be ready tonight.” Xander’s stomach had knotted, but he knew he had to eat something before meeting Spike. He glanced at a clock and it struck him as funny how time suddenly meant something again. In the caves where he’d lived, others pretty much kept the time; he moved when he was told to move, and ate when he felt hungry. Maybe he needed Spike to buy him a watch.

He went into the cheery kitchen. Midra was chopping celery on a cutting board. Out of the window he could see Oz pouring gasoline into the mower. “Good mornin’ Xander. I pray no evil spirits vexed your sleep?”

Xander had to smile at her use of the phrase most would think quaint. In Africa it was a real concern. “I called up dreams of Spike fighting to help me in sparring against him today.”

Midra nodded. “So none would dare come near your dream paths. That is good. Are you hungry? I’ll have lunch on the table in an hour.”

“I’m meeting him at one. Can I get something quick?”

“Poke your head in the pantry and help yourself.”

For a minute Xander could only take in the wealth of food stacked in neatly labeled, bright packages. Overwhelmed, he picked up a loaf of Wonder bread and just held it. After five minutes, Midra came to his rescue.  Gently, she took the bread from him. “Sit down, I’ll make you a peanut butter, strawberry jam, and banana sandwich. Willow said that was one of your favorites.”

“That would be great. Sorry, Midra.”

“Don’t you be sorry about anything!” Midra scolded as she efficiently made his sandwich. “You’ve been through hell, and that gives you a golden ticket. Well, for a while anyway. When I got here, I gained twenty pounds and wanted to spend all my time out window shopping.”

Xander laughed. “Thanks. It’s… overwhelming. I’ve gone from sleeping with one eye half open and not being able to move about without tripping over a demon or chained chattel to being able to walk out of here clear to Mississippi if I wanted to.”

“Yes. It’s safe. That’s the nicest part.” Midra laid neatly sliced bananas on the bread.

Xander looked out the window at where Willow was showing Oz something in her basket, both smiling. “… and my friends… all well.”

Midra sat the sandwich and a glass of milk before him. “All very well. Spike has never looked happier.”

“Mmmph?” Xander asked around a mouthful.

“Oh, yes. He’s got a twinkle in his eye not been there since Angel turned his back on him.” Midra went back to chopping celery.

“Anmel?”

“Great pretender tired of Spike trying to cheer him up and have some fun. He wants to deny what he is and play at being human. He won’t work out with Spike and has only helped us undercover twice. And those times were because Buffy guiltied him into it. He’s bought a big house, lives with his werelady, and does business on the internet. He could help our cause a great deal, but won’t.”

Xander thought over everything Giles had written him in that last year. “After all he did with bringing down Wolfram & Hart, shouldn’t he have his choice?”

“It’s not so much that,” Midra sighed, “as Spike is his kin, his only kin. He wants to ignore his past completely. From what I hear, it’s almost as bad as his brooding phase. And Angel’s a warrior, as much as he wants to deny it. One day, it’ll bite him in the ass.”

“Spike or his denial?”

Midra snorted. “Both. Spike’s got no connection to anybody. We’ve tried to make him welcome here, but he feels like an extra wheel.”

Xander chewed and swallowed another bite, considering. “What about Drusilla?”

“I don’t know, sweets. He’s never mentioned her. Now eat up, you’ve got a date at noon, yes?”

Xander found his way to the barn. “Spike?” he called as he stepped into the cool room. Getting no answer, he picked up a staff and fell into a warm up routine. As he moved and flexed, he kept an eye on the door, watching for Spike to run in under a blanket.

He was nearly finished with the routine when he was attacked.

Instantly, his training fed him information. His attacker was small, quick, strong. They rolled over and over. Humanoid, cold, probably vampire. Xander got a foot between them and kicked hard. His assailant flew off him and landed on his feet even as Xander flipped to his.

“Not bad, whelp,” Spike said as he dove at him again. Xander dropped and swept Spike’s feet out from under him. Spike rolled away as Xander brought the end of the pole down toward him.

“You’re late,” Xander said as Spike knocked the staff away and rolled to his feet.

“No,” Spike leapt and landed close to Xander, knocking the pole from his hands. “I’ve been here. You didn’t check out the building.”

Xander punched Spike, knocking him back a couple of steps. “Didn’t think I had to.”

Spike wiped blood from his nose and licked it off his thumb. “Then that’s lesson one.”

They fell to fighting and didn’t notice when the others came in with their lunches to sit on the bleachers.  It was a swift give and take, with each one testing the other. They pulled punches, but only just enough.

Spike recovered from a hard blow to the ribs and stood for a second rubbing them. Xander stood half crouched, not letting his attention waver from Spike. The man was a damn good fighter. Perhaps one of the best Spike had ever faced. If only Buffy had seen the potential in her friend long ago. Spike had thought about pointing it out to her, but she would never have listened.

“Giving up?” Xander growled.

“To you? Not hardly.” Spike leapt high in the air, twisting mid-flight. He had intended on landing behind Xander, but the man turned, spinning away, so Spike instead landed to face Xander as he grabbed Spike’s shirt.

“Vampires can fly. I know that one.” Xander picked Spike up by his shirt and threw him toward the one beam of sunlight that streamed in through the small high window. Spike snatched his hand out of it and knew Xander had aimed to miss.

Spike flipped to his feet and chuckled. “Had a vamp for a teacher? I have to pull out some really old tricks, then.”

Xander kept his attention on Spike. He tried to be ready for anything. Spike’s style was a collection of whatever worked and he knew the vampire fought as dirty as possible. He pushed down a pang of sorrow as he thought of his teacher’s style that had a solid groundings in boxing and fencing.

Spike saw his opponent waver and leapt again. This time, he did not come down. He easily grabbed one of the rafters and pulled himself up on it.

“I thought bats went to roost at dawn!” Xander called from below him, even as he moved toward the weapons rack.

Spike stood lightly on the narrow beam, listening as Xander drew out one of the practice swords, then ran along it. He heard Xander move to stay below him. Then he suddenly doubled back. Moving as swiftly as he could, Spike leapt and landed just behind Xander. He wrapped an arm around Xander’s neck, but the man threw his weight backwards, toppling them both and landing on top of Spike. Had he needed his breath, Xander would have winded him.

As it was, Spike found his arm being twisted as Xander grabbed hold of it and rolled. He felt the shoulder joint pop, sending a brief jolt of pain through him. It was quickly followed by a kick to the ribs. He grabbed for the offending foot, but Xander was out of arm’s reach. He came to his feet with a snarl. 

“You’ve gone all bumpy, that’s bad form, mister,” Xander taunted, holding his practice sword at the ready.

Spike didn’t answer, just shifted, sliding over to the weapons rack and taking out a sword for himself.

“My money’s on Xander,” Gunn said quietly to Midra.

“You think so? The boy’s got fire, but Spike’s got a decade on him.”

Gunn smiled and took his woman’s hand without looking away from the two circling men. “Looser gives the winner a full body massage.”

She pumped his hand once. “Done.”

Xander fell into the variation of the fencer’s ready pose he’d been taught. Spike held his weapon loose and ready in his left hand and circled Xander. He wondered if  Spike realized he was still in vamp face. Xander feinted at him, a move Spike easily blocked.

He tried a few more things, deliberately letting his shoulder drop to leave a small opening. He let Spike try to get on his blind side. Finally, Spike took the opening. Xander parried and switched hands as he did so. He brought his sword up and around, blocking Spike’s attack and cutting through his jeans as he went.

Spike recovered and took a step back, eyeing Xander with even more respect. They circled and fought, testing one another. At one point Spike twisted and brought his sword dangerously close to Xander’s crotch. Xander leapt away and took up the stave he’d been warming up with. He held defensively, but when Spike shifted to compensate, Xander flipped it, making it come down point-first toward the right side of Spike’s chest. Spike brought his sword up and deflected it hard enough to shatter the stave and bend his sword.

They both stood still, dusty, bleeding, and breathing hard. Spike shook off the fangs and panted at Xander’s ready sword point. “Had enough, whelp?”

“You’re asking me?” The sweat dripped off him and for a minute Spike thought he saw a flicker of wildness in his eye. Then he dropped his sword point and pushed his hair off his forehead.  “Yeah. I think I messed up your jeans bad enough.”

Spike frowned down at the slice in his jeans and the already healing cut underneath. “Yeah? Well your hair’s a right mess.”

Xander barked a coughing laugh. “Yeah, that’s the worst you did.”

“Broke a stave and bent a sword, too! Now I got to replace them!” Gunn called out. “You get to pay up soon, woman.”

Midra snorted. “Like I wouldn’t do that anyway.”

Xander looked over at the crowd on the benches and shook his head. He dropped all tension and held out his hand to Spike. “Shouldn’t we be getting a cut of the box office?”

Spike shook the sweaty hand to end the bout. “Naw. I tried that. One of their favorite pastimes is to watch a round of vampire-kick-the-Slayer.”

Xander rested his  hands on his knees as sweat dripped from his face. Willow waved cheerfully at him and went back to eating chips. “What’s to stop the action from crashing down on them?”

“Willow’s magicked up a barrier.”

“Oh.”

“Are you guys through throwing one another about?” Willow asked.

The two exchanged looks. “Sure. I need to cool down and I want Spike to show me one of the moves he pulled, but I think the main event is over,” Xander said.

“Then finish up and come in for ice cream. I got homemade chocolate!”

Gunn tossed Xander a bottle of water and joined them as the others gathered their litter. “That was some fighting, man. I’ve not seen anyone but Angel give Spike here that much of a run for his money. Well, maybe Illyria, but she was special.”

Xander saw Spike stiffen out of the corner of his eye. “He was going easy on me. I’m going to feel it later.”

“Yeah. I try to keep up my moves, but it’s harder every year. Good show, guys!” Gunn hobbled after the others.

“Best finish up, mate,” Spike muttered, running a hand over his hair.

“Spike?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know exactly what happened between you and Angel, but I want you to know I’m glad you’re here.”

Spike squinted out into the bright sun. “I’m glad I can be here for you, too.”

Xander stripped off his shirt, went to a table and grabbed up a towel. He ran it over his face and torso as he drained the water. He shook out his arms and turned back to Spike to find him still staring at the sun. “What is it, Spike?”

Spike shook his head and blinked away the sunspots in his eyes. “Nothin’.”

“I want to add another stipulation to our contract.”

“What’s that, whelp?”

“You talk to me when you need to.”

“Fair enough.” Spike grinned. “Now what move so impressed you that you need a replay?”


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


They knocked around for another half hour before Xander declared himself hungry and called it quits.

“You’re a bloody good fighter now, whelp.”

“Thanks. I had a bloody good teacher.”

“Vampire?”

“Yeah, he was.” Xander hid his face by wiping off the sweat. He didn’t want to think about Anthony right now. His teacher and friend was too close. They had spent many hours together training and talking. Fighting with Spike had brought back those memories. “Where’s your blanket?” Xander asked as he headed for the door.

“On my bed,” Spike said as if explaining something to a child.

“Then how did you get here without going dusty?”

Spike chuckled. “Oz is a poor tour guide. There’s tunnels, mate. They connect the house, the barn, and the garage.”

“Wow! That’s very cool. Bat caves.”

“You want a tour?”

Xander hesitated. “No thanks, Spike. I’ve seen enough tunnels to last me a life time. Maybe some rainy day.”

“Oh. Sorry, Xan.”

“Eh, forget about it. I’m trying to.” He hesitated. “Tonight after dinner I’m going to tell Gunn what he needs to know about my capture.”

“You want to go into it so soon, mate?” Spike tilted his head at his friend.

“Not really. But I’ve set myself on the rip off the band aid course of therapy and I’m sticking to it. Besides, Gunn has to do legal stuff. Oh God, I hope there’s not a media circus! Southern California man kept in chains. How tabloid is that!”

“Don’t worry about it. Keeping things hushed up is one of the things Gunn does best. Now go clean up so you don’t track dust in the lady’s clean house and I’ll see you inside.”





11
The Taking

While Xander knocked the dust off his clothes and washed his face in the changing rooms, Spike took to the tunnels, ran to the house and burst through the door into the kitchen. As he’d hoped, everyone was gathered around the table.

“Spike!” Willow fussed. “You’re all dusty.”

“I know, not important.” Spike put his hands flat on the table and looked at each one of them in turn. “I’m sure Gunn’s told you Xander’s telling the story of his capture tonight. If you can’t handle it, if you’re going to weep through the whole story, don’t be there.”

“But…” Willow started.

Spike stared her down with his ‘don’t think I won’t fuck you up if you do’ face. “Stay in the kitchen and bake comfort cookies or something. It’s going to be hard enough on him without a pity party. Tell Dawn when she gets in.” With that, he retreated back to the basement to clean himself up.

A few minutes later, a less dusty Xander came in to find a few spoons still in mid air.  “Is there something wrong?”

“No. No,” Gunn covered. “Oz just realized he was supposed to set the Tivo for something.”

“Yeah,” Oz said, getting up. “I’ll go do that.”

Midra bustled up and sat a bowl of ice cream before him. “Do ya want nuts or sprinkles on that?”

Xander picked up his spoon and grinned. “What do you think?”

“Both and a dash of M&M’s.”

Xander turned to Gunn. “You’ve got a great lady here.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Spike made a cleaner, more sedate entrance and settled in a chair. “I’m not even going to ask if you want any,” Midra told him.

Spike pulled  a pout. “What did I do wrong now?”

“Don’t even try to make me look the villain in front of Xander. I just know very well you don’t like ice cream.”

“Spike!” Xander cried, exaggerating his shock. “You don’t like ice cream? Not even chocolate?”

Spike slouched, laced his fingers behind his head, and stretched his legs out. “Nah. I don’t like cold food. It just lays in there and takes forever to melt.”

“Ew!"

After the ice cream was eaten, Willow took Xander aside. “Giles e-mailed me. He wants you to call him, when you’re ready.”

“Giles,” Xander said with a smile. “It’s only now I see how much patience he had with all of us and how much he cared.”

“He still does care, Xander.” Willow put her hand on her old friend’s arm. “He also told me to ask you if you want your backpack.”

Xander startled. “My… backpack?” The few possessions Xander had were in that backpack. He’d figured it was looted from the hotel or lost when he turned up missing.

“The hotel sent it to him as your employer. His name and the headquarters address was listed as the emergency contact when you registered. Plus, I think he made a few threats.”

Xander paused. He’d started to rebuild a life after Sunnydale and had bought the bright blue pack in a camping store. It had acted as carry on during his trip to London, then to Africa. He’d carried that battered blue pack on all his adventures. As many nights in his early captivity he’d wished for the simple comforts offered by its contents, he couldn’t even remember what was in it now. He had left it behind the day he was kidnapped as he went to market because he was staying in a real hotel with real security and it would be nice to travel light for an outing.

“You don’t have to answer now, Xander,” Willow said softly, breaking into his thoughts.

“Yeah. I’d like it. And... tell him I’ll call him soon.”

The evening passed quickly with Xander taking a tour of Willow and Midra’s herb garden and another lively discussion of what movies and television shows he’d missed. Dawn returned home before dinner. Her contribution was to gather a stack of DVDs suitable for watching on the smaller TV without surround sound in his room.

During dinner, Spike could see the nervousness building around the edges of the group. Xander kept falling quiet, and Willow kept biting her lip and glancing at Xander. Dawn babbled about her day less than usual.

“So, Red,” Spike cut into one of her stares. She blinked and shifted her attention to Spike. “You and Bit going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies like you’ve been promising?”

Willow looked over to Dawn who nodded.

“Can you put walnuts in them like you used to?” Xander asked, missing the subtext.

“Sure can!”

The rest of the meal passed in a better mood. As Midra and Dawn gathered the plates, Gunn stood up. “I’ll be in the den when you’re ready, Xander.”

Spike watched him nod and bring up his hand to bite on the side of a nail in on old familiar manner. It was going to be a bumpy night.

Xander went into the living room to find Gunn sitting in an armchair with a laptop on a tray table and a small tape recorder at the ready. “I need to get all the details right. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” Xander shrugged and dropped onto the end of the couch closest to Gunn. “Tell me, do you charge by the hour?”

Gunn laughed. “Shit. You’re family. Don’t ask that again. ‘sides, this for the greater good now.”

Oz walked in as he was talking and sat on the other arm chair, followed by Spike who sat an open beer before Xander and sat down beside him. “Go ahead when you’re ready. The ladies inform me they’ll read the Cliff’s notes later.”

Xander was more glad than he realized that it was only him and the men. He took a swallow of the beer. “What do you want to know?”

Gunn tapped a few keys on his computer and switched on the recorder. “Eventually, everything you can tell us that will bring the mother fuckers down. Tonight, let’s focus on the details of your capture.” Gunn looked at the screen and read off a date and location he knew well. “You were first reported missing when you didn’t call in before your flight. Then you missed it.”

Xander took a deep breath and let it out. Spike heard his heart speed up as he remembered.

He felt good. He’d rounded up three Slayers this month, and he was headed home in two days. He had just shopped the last market before the rainy season hit and mailed off a package to home. Trinkets for everyone.

Not so long ago, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere without his collection of Babylon 5 collectors plates on the wall, his comics neatly in their bags, and a selection of  T-shirts. After Sunnydale sank along with said collections, he rapidly adjusted to living out of a backpack. Hell, he’d had to buy the backpack. Now his dusty once-blue pack was more of a companion than anyone. After the last year of traveling around the inhospitable paths of the dark continent, he knew what possessions mattered; a good warm blanket, comfortable shoes, a bowl, a sharp knife, a floppy hat, and when lucky; a book to read.

“I went shopping and had just dropped off a package of gifts.”

“It arrived,” Oz said quietly. “I’ve been told about it.” Xander nodded at the odd comfort of this small event.

He smiled at the lady who had sold him a colorful scarf for Buffy earlier. The lady smiled back, waved a red scarf at him, and tried to sell him another one “in case he’d forgotten someone.” He shook his head and headed out of the market. He passed the last stall when it happened.

“One minute, everything was fine. Then there was panic. I don’t remember hearing any gunshots or an explosion.” He spoke like it was a theory he’d been trying to work out.

There was a sudden collective cry and the crowd surged around him. The air that had carried some atmosphere of celebration, abruptly turned sour and sharp with the tang of fear.

He tried to push his way to shelter, but the crowd carried him along like a flood-swollen river. Surprisingly, he found himself pushed into the scarf seller’s booth. When had he been turned around? He grabbed one of the poles and swung himself out of the pull of the crowd. He tripped over something in the booth and looked down to find the once-smiling seller lying on the ground. She still clutched the scarf  she had waved at him. The red of it blended with the blood that ran from her head.

He crouched behind the flimsy shelter with her. He had no fear of the dead. At least this one he knew would not rise again. The poles rocked and swayed. After what seemed like hours, the flood of running feet stopped. He applied one of his best skills. He hid. Rules one and two for Hellmouth children. If you can, run, if you can’t, hide.

He heard the guttural sounds of demon speak before he saw them. He wasn’t sure of what kind they were, but  didn’t look to find out. He heard screams and things being smashed all around him. Where were the police? What was going on here?  He clutched the biggest piece of wood he could get his hands on and waited.

“There were just suddenly people running everywhere and shouting. Somehow I got turned around and was swept back into the market. I… I hid in a booth, but there were demons.”

When they finally found him, he swung the sharp end of the stick with all his might at the ugly, horned face that appeared over the edge of the ruined stall. Thick, black blood and watery fluid ran down his hand as he felt an eyeball give way under his attack. His stomach lurched at knowing what he’d done. The sense memories of it happening to him came back.

“Fyarl demons. I hurt one of them. Took out an eye,” Spike watched as Xander’s hand moved to cup his own empty socket. He realized Xander had not worn his eye patch after that first day.

The fyarl demon roared and knocked all barriers from between them. He tried to scramble away, but was grabbed before he could move. He was lifted in the air and felt himself flying toward another ruined stall. His last illogical thought was that at least it was a carpet seller’s booth to land in.

They hauled him out of the wreckage and two of them held his arms. They dragged him one street over to where a short figure in a fancy hooded robe stood over several other people who lay passed out or dead on the street. It waved its hand, said something, and Xander’s world went dark.

“They dragged me out. There was a short figure in a cloak. He said something and I was out.”

“We wondered if they used mages,” Gunn muttered.

“I saw someone die before they knocked me out,” Xander said sadly.

Spike dropped his hand to the couch, letting it land next to Xander’s leg to let him know he was there.

Gunn clicked a key. “We suspected you were taken in the riot. The timing was too good. That day five people died and at least twenty five went missing, including you.”

“When I came to, it was dark. I was in the back of an army troop truck with about fifteen other men. And I was wearing the bands.”

“It would take some mojo to keep you out that long, and while they put the arm bands on.” Gunn said.

“Yeah.” Xander twisted one of the leather bands, then abruptly unsnapped it. He rubbed his wrist and fiddled with the leather, turning it over and over.

“Do you know where they took you?”

“North. There was another period of unconsciousness, so I have no idea how far we went. I later learned we were in a mountain riddled with caves. One side exited into jungle, the other into desert.”

Gunn made notes. “Xander, can you tell me the names of anyone captured with you?”

Xander blinked, swallowed, and nodded. He spun the band faster and faster. “Buford Newton. White. He was a broker. Don’t know what happened to him. Marx. Skinny young guy. Jewish and proud of it. In college. Last seen in captivity in the… pleasure rooms. Jack Williams from Texas. Dead.” Spike picked up a throw pillow from the couch and put it in Xander’s hands. He clutched it without noting its arrival.  “Sarah and her little boy Jason. Unknown.” Xander fell silent, clutching the pillow.

“Xander,” Gunn finally said softly, “we don’t have to do this now.”

“I want to. I know of others. Not the names of all of them but…” They could all see he was looking into the past and seeing things he did not want to again.

“I have some pictures of those missing. Do you want to look?”

Xander squeezed his eyes shut for a minute. He didn’t want to revisit his sins. He didn’t want to say aloud before his friends what he’d had to do.

“If it will help you,” came Oz’s soft voice. “Think of how it will help their families to have any news at all.”

Xander opened his eyes. “What if the news is they died at my hands in the arena?”

“Then they can mourn and move on.” Oz said, not flinching.

Spike shifted closer to Xander on the couch. He silently put a hand on the broad back and rubbed in circles, lending his support. Xander closed his eyes again. “Should I, Spike?”

“It will be cutting another link to that place. Any information you give us will weaken them until we can go in and rip their guts out."

Xander sat up straighter and Spike stilled his hand but let it rest on his shoulder. “Show me. Show me everyone who’s vanished in Africa.”

Gunn brought up an image viewer and turned the screen so Xander could see it as he typed in the info.

“We’ll start with those who vanished when you did.” The first picture as of a young man grinning before the forbidden city in China.

“That’s Marx. As far as I know he’s still alive.” The next picture was of a sandy haired man standing at a grill wearing an apron and holding tongs. “I… He fought well. Last year we faced off in a death match.” The next picture was a middle aged African man. “I never saw him.” The next appeared to have been scanned from a Xeroxed flier. A broad shouldered man in a business suit sat at a desk. “Buford Newton. Bud. He’s a good fighter. He was sold off maybe two years ago. I don’t know where he is.”

Xander clutched the pillow as he went through the images of smiling people. All he could see was suffering and unhappiness. And in the case of three men, death at his own hands. They reached the last of the files and Gunn turned the computer away.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “You’ve been a big help.”

Xander abruptly stood, towering over Gunn and almost knocking over the lap table. “A big help? How? By... by killing them?” Xander threw down the pillow and ran for the door.

“Xander, wait!” Gunn called after him.

“Don’t wait up, and save us some cookies,” Spike said as he ran after the big man.

He caught up with Xander on the porch, where he stood with arms locked leaning on the railing. “I’m a murderer, Spike,” he muttered.

Spike crossed his arms and leaned against a pillar. “So tell me, what would have happened if you hadn’t killed them?”

“Death.”

“For you?”

“And them. The first time they put me in a death match, I threw my weapon aside and refused to make the killing blow. I had been told what would happen, but I’d never seen it before. I’d never been allowed to watch a death match session. They… they took the guy. He was a little shorter than me, built like a football player. They made an event out of it. All evening he hung in the ring and the victors would take a stab at him or... or take a bite. They used magic to keep him alive until I made the blow and ended it for him. They made it clear that next time it would be me hung up there.”

“So it was all self preservation? Every time you killed?”

“In the ring, yeah.”

Spike let that comment go for the moment. “Then you’re not a murderer.” He pushed off the pillar and strode down the steps. “You said you wanted to see the ocean? Come on.” Spike started walking down the driveway in the darkness, his long legs eating ground. He listened and was gratified when he heard Xander coming up behind him at a trot. Spike lengthened his own stride and Xander was soon running after him. He let him catch up as they turned onto the public road. Xander didn’t even look at him, just watched his own feet move. “It’s two miles straight ahead,” Spike said. “I’ll see you there.” Spike dropped to a walk and watched as Xander started to run harder.

Xander let his rage and grief surface and shoved the energy into his legs. He felt the hard asphalt of the road still warm under his feet as he pumped his legs. Tears blurred his eye, but the road was straight. Somehow, he knew Spike was not far behind and it comforted him. Memories of the dead and the still captive swam in his head, now mixed with happy vacation snaps. By the time the hard road melted into sand and a short flight of stairs climbed a dune, his breath burned in his lungs and sweat covered his body.

He stopped and breathed deep of the salty air as the moonlit ocean lapped at his feet. His breathing evened out and Spike strolled up beside him as if he’d happened  to run into him while shopping. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”





12
A Talk at the Beach

Xander shook his head in fondness at Spike’s casual acceptance and followed the vampire. Spike patted a picnic bench on the porch of a closed bar and grill. Xander sat facing the ocean and Spike went around to the front of the building. Xander was puzzled until he heard the jingle of change and the whir-thump of a vending machine.

“You carry change?” Xander asked as he took the icy bottle of water Spike held out.

“Collect calls are a bitch.”

“Why not just mug the machine, Mr. Big Bad?” Xander called up an old joke.

“Why bother? Besides, I know the couple who own the place. Nice folks.”

Spike sat in silent companionship beside Xander as he drank. They watched the ocean play with a child’s sand bucket, pushing it up and down the beach. Finally Xander sighed. “I was so damn scared that day, Spike.”

“Riots are horrible, I know. The Boxer Rebellion is a good example. ‘Course at the time it was all fun to me.”

“Not helping Spike.”

“Sorry, mate. Bit ‘o my bad humor. But, yeah. Seen riots and mobs. Humans in a  collective bad mood are worse than most vamps I know. Want to talk abut it?”

Xander took another big drink. “There was a lady in a stall who I had just talked to and bought a scarf from. She was smart and funny and a good salesman. It was her booth I hid in. She was dead when I jumped in there, and still holding the scarf she’d tried to sell me. Yet all I could think about was keeping myself alive.”

Spike had seen thousands of corpses in his existence and well knew the stark contrast of life and death. “The madness of crowds.” Spike quoted, lacking anything else to say.

“What’s that?”

“A book I read when human. ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds.’ It’s all about how people go daft when acting in mass.”

“When I was a kid, I was playing in the waves and one caught me wrong. It tumbled me and flipped me underwater. I had sand in my shorts and my hair. It was like that. The riot. I was trapped in a big power I couldn’t fight, moving me and shoving me. It was years before I’d go more than waist deep in the ocean, and I don’t like crowds any more.”

“I don’t either. Used ta love them. No better place to grab a bit of blood or dosh. Did you know I was at Woodstock?”

Xander shook his head. “It looks miserable from the pictures.”

“Nah. There was an energy there, a passionate feeling.” Spike waved his hands as if trying to capture an elusive feeling with words, then let them drop back on his knees. “Bugger that, we were all stoned to the gills.”

Xander chuckled. “Why don’t you like crowds any more?”

“Too many people, pushing, making noise… And I’ve got this soul now, don’t I? Takes the fun out of it.”

Xander studied Spike’s sharp profile. “Do you regret it, Spike? Getting the soul?”

Spike took a deep breath and blew it out in a puff. “Once in a while. To be honest, yeah. Life is fun when you don’t have morals.”

“I watched some men give up their souls, Spike.”

“Fighters?”

“It’s like some of them were waiting to let go of civilization. They got a license to kill and enjoyed using it.”

Spike met Xander’s eye levelly. “The humans you killed. What about them?”

“The ones I faced in death matches? Two of them were evil, no doubts. Three, I never met. The first man. He had a soul, Spike. I could tell. He wasn’t one who fought for bloodlust. He was like me. It was his first time in the death ring and he was just trying to stay alive.” Spike could see the pain Xander carried.  “And I had to kill him.”

“You’ve got yours firmly in place,” Spike observed.

“Do I, Spike?” he asked distantly, looking away.

Spike saw him drifting into self doubt; took hold of his shoulder, gripping it firmly in comfort. Xander turned to look at him. “Hell, yeah, you do. I don’t know how you did it, but you remain a good man, Xander.”

“I have killed, lied and stolen… Even used enslaved people for sex.”

Spike’s features hardened. “Did you kill for fun? For sport?” Xander shook his head, a little horrified at the thought. “Did you only lie and steal out of need?” Xander nodded. “The people you fucked, did you abuse them or take them roughly? Leave bruises and blood?” Xander shook his head violently. “No. I bet you were gentle and said thank you every time.” He pushed Xander’s shoulder away, dismissing the notion that Xander was in any way evil. “No. You were and are a damn good man, Xander Harris. The fact you’re agonizing over it proves it. The people in that house know this, too.”

Xander nodded, knowing it was true. “I… know more that will help the cause.”

“Let it out as you need to mate. There’s no hurry.”

“Yes there is! Those people. I never knew most of their names. They were… Left handed man who fought well with a staff, or Sarah who liked having her hair brushed, or… Man who gave up while fighting so I had to kill him.” Xander dropped his head. “Seeing their faces like that…”

“I’m going to have a word with Charlie about springing that on you.” Spike said with steel in his words. ”It was hard, but think about it. Now their people will know. Questions will be answered. It’s better to be able to lay someone to rest than to wait with the faint hope year after year that they will turn up. ‘Cause in that time you just know they’re being kept from you, imprisoned. Otherwise, they’d come home.”

Xander looked at Spike who was now clutching is hands tightly together, and wondering at the determination in his voice. “You know this, don’t you?’ Xander ventured. Spike nodded. “Who?” Spike shook his head and stared out to sea. “Tell me?” Xander coaxed.

Spike looked back to Xander and saw the true caring and concern there. He had not talked about this in years. One time he’d shared with Buffy after her father missed another family birthday, but Spike knew now she’d not listened. She had not cared about him, only herself.  “My father. He was a merchant. When I was twelve he went to Egypt and never came back.”

“I’m sorry.” Xander had never heard Spike speak about his past, and the Watcher’s journals knew very little.

Spike didn’t notice the softening of his accent and the properness of his own speech. “Back then, communication was slow. It would be months and months between letters and we had no way of getting letters to him. The last one was on linen paper from a fancy hotel and he had put in a scrap of papyrus with a few glyphs on it. It was magical to me. He said he’d found a contact who could supply fine fabrics and that he’d start working his way back to England with the shipment. He said he would arrive in the spring. We never heard another word from him.”

Xander put his hand on Spike’s back, mirroring Spike earlier gesture. “That’s rough. Did you contact the company he worked for?”

Spike scoffed. “Company? He worked for himself. I had an uncle who tried to investigate it, but the best lead he ever got was a report from the hotel who claimed he left without paying his bill and demanded payment from Uncle. My mum and I were left alone. We had money, but only just enough.” Spike thought of the pains of being less than upper class and being scorned for having only one servant. “Once in a while, we’d reread the letters he’d sent us.”

“Oh.” Xander patted Spike’s back and let his hand drop.

Spike shook off his gloom. “So it’s good to know.”

Xander’s eyes narrowed and he chewed on the side of a nail. “My dad is dead. It just struck me. My dad is dead.”

“I heard about that.” Spike braced himself for a melt down.

“I… I can’t be too sad. Is that bad of me, Spike?”

Spike shrugged. “I don’t think so. I know you weren’t close.”

“No. We weren’t. They packed up and left Sunnydale without telling me where they’d gone. It was just because I called Aunt Susie that I found out they were safely away and where they were. I… I talked to Mom once after the Hellmouth closed and all she could talk about was collecting insurance and buying new furniture. She didn’t even ask where I was.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“I… I think I let go of them right then. I always knew Dad’s drinking would be the death of him somehow.”

“But you know for sure and that makes a big difference,” Spike said.

“It does. I see that.” Xander looked again for the bucket and found it sitting still.

“After I was vamped, we went to Egypt. Drusilla wanted to eat an archeologist or some damn fool thing. Even though my pop would have been an old, old man if he were alive, I still found myself watching for him.” Spike laughed. “We did go to the hotel where he last stayed and created some merry mayhem with the staff.”

He noticed Xander didn’t join in his joke.

“There’ll be a trial, Spike. The men I killed. They’ll want to know why and how. I’ll be sent to jail and I can never spend another day in a cell.”

Spike snorted. “Horse shit.” Xander turned a surprised eye to him. “Gunn is a legal god. Wolfram and Hart opened his brain and poured in every nuance of the law. He will take care of everything.”

“He’s got my confession on tape!”

“I’d bet good money the information is being transcribed and the tape blanked as we speak.”

“But shouldn’t I, Spike? Shouldn’t I pay for my sins?”

“Sounds to me like you have been. And don’t expect your friends to judge you. We all have our evils, our regrets. Remember Willow and Warren? Giles and Ben? They love you, Xander, never doubt that.”

“Wow. We really do have a high body count between us.” Xander absently drained the bottle and started twisting the cap on and off as he looked at it from this angle. “I did try to do any good I could. When I could.  Fortunately, my... owner was a bit more fair than others.”

“I don’t doubt that, white hat.”

Xander barked a laugh. “I’d think about that. When I was alone and had no one to talk to, I’d pretend we were all sitting around the table in the library or Magic Box and I’d look at whatever was bothering me from all sides. It’s a wonder I didn’t go multiple personality.”

“That work for you?”

“Yeah. At first I’d ask myself  ‘what would Buffy do?’ then realized the answer was often that she’d call a Scooby meeting. If she couldn't kill it right off, that is.” Xander warmed to his theory and switched to rolling the bottle between his palms and occasionally waving it for emphasis. “Not everyone was at every meeting. It would change.”

“Why was that?”

“Not every problem’s the same, is it? Giles was always the voice of reason. I’d look at the facts I was given and try to remember anything I might know that would help. Willow would be the comforter and the one to make me look out for myself. Buffy would help me be merciless when I had to. Oz would help me stay calm.” Xander suddenly became aware of how much he was revealing and blushed.

Spike gave him an arched brow and smiled. “You were lucky to have such friends.”

“Yeah.” Xander scowled at the bottle he was playing with and tossed it in a neat arch into a trash can. “You were there too, sometimes,” he said quietly.

“Yeah? What use did you have of a Big Bad in that brain of yours?”

Xander looked at the beach and was disappointed to find the bucket half buried in the sand and unable to dance about. “When I was fighting, or learning to fight, I’d try to remember your style.”

“Like you could ever have style like mine,” Spike play scoffed.

“No. I could never fight like a vampire. But you do have confidence, Spike. You lead with your bluster and balls and I admire that.”

Spike tilted his head and met Xander’s steady gaze. He had always acted like everyone should admire him, but found himself surprised and very flattered when he learned someone really did. “Really, Xander?”

“Really.” Xander looked away, ducking his head. “And some nights when I was alone… I would imagine we were watching TV or you were tied to the chair nearby and snarking at me.”

“Like me tied to the chair, did you?”

“It was a way to explain why you weren’t…” Xander trailed off, regretting he didn’t have the bottle to fiddle with.

Spike wanted to snark and tease, say something about joining him in bed, but held back. “Why I wasn’t making noise in the kitchen and keeping you awake?”

“Yeah… Like you’d do to annoy me.”

They sat quietly together, watching the surf as the moon rose higher. Finally Xander sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. “Thank you, Spike. you’ve put things in perspective.”

Spike shrugged. “Just doing my job.”

Xander searched out the bucket and could only see the handle flipping back and forth in the tide. “I love the ocean. I can control my dreams, did you know that?”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I learned how to keep sane. I like to dream I can breathe under water. I love to dive deep and look up at the sunlight shining through the water. I love how the water feels rushing over my naked body as I swim.”

“Oh, yeah. That rocks.”

“You’ve dreamed that?”

“Done it, Mate. Only without the sunlight.”

“Oh.” They sat and listened to the ocean pound for a while. “Damn.”

“What?”

“I’m jealous of a vampire.”

“Hey, there’s a lot to be jealous of.”

“I know, long life, strength, yadda, yadda.”

“I mean, in me there’s a lot to be jealous of. Everyone wants to be the Spike.”

Xander snickered. “Yeah, right.”

“’s true!”

Xander smiled and it turned into a yawn. “Can we go back and see if Gunn left us any cookies?”

“Sure.”

Xander hopped off the table and instead of heading to the road as Spike expected, he went down to the beach. He dug the kid’s bucket out of the sand, rinsed it off, and set it on the steps that climbed the dune.

Spike smiled at the big hearted man who even rescued toys.





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