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Unbreakable


by
Fanbot


13 Meet the Indian

They were silent on the walk home. Spike easily kept up with the ground-eating pace Xander set. Occasionally, the man would kick a rock that the moon highlighted on the smooth road.

When they reached the porch, Spike pulled a key from his pocket. “We need to get you one made,” he said as he unlocked the door.

Xander stopped him from opening the door with a hand on his arm. “Spike. Do you want…” He dropped his hand. “Never mind.”

“What, Xander?”

“I’m… still a bit wired. Would you want to watch some TV with me?”

“There’s nothing on this late, but Nibblet picked out some good shows.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

Spike opened the door and ushered Xander in. “Did you ever see ‘Firefly?’”

They parted ways at the second floor landing so Xander could clean up and Spike change out of his jeans into his lounging pants. When he stepped out into the hall, the door to Willow’s room opened, and she poked her head out.

“Spike?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah, Red. It’s me.” He crossed to where she stood in the open door, clutching her bath robe closed. Spike could smell the musk of sex that mingled her scent with her husband’s.

“I heard some of what he said… How is he?” she asked quietly.

“He’ll heal. He went through a lot of shit that would have destroyed a lesser man. I’m still not sure how he remained unbroken.”

“Okay. You need anything?”

“Not now. We need to make him his own key.”

“Of course. I’ll do it tomorrow. Thanks, Spike. Good night.”

“Night, Red.”

Spike let himself into Xander’s room and found Xander standing nude in the middle of the room, toweling off  his hair. Spike’s eye was drawn to a silvered scar high on the inside of his left thigh next to where his furred balls hung.

“See something you like?” Xander asked, peeking out from under his towel.

Spike shrugged and turned his attention to the stack of DVD’s by the television. “Here’s the show.” Spike put aside the thought of a bite scar there and what it might mean.

Xander paused. What was Spike looking at? He glanced down and saw the scar he tried not to think about. A pang went through him. “Spike,” Xander said close beside his friend. “It was…”

“Something you’ll tell me about if and when you want to.”

“Yeah… sometime. So, what’s so special about this show?”

They spent a pleasant couple of hours watching the crew of Serenity until Xander nodded off. Spike watched the grimaces that flickered across Xander’s features as he slept with sadness. Long ago in the basement of doom the boy had more often smiled in his sleep. Quietly, he pulled the blanket up to cover him and turned off the show before leaving the room.


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


Xander awoke abruptly and to the same feeling of loss. This time, he knew what he sought. He thought he had asked Spike to stay, but he guessed the vampire had no interest. He dressed and made his way downstairs.

“Good morning, Xander!” Midra cheerily greeting him in the kitchen.

“Morning. What’s up today?”

“Waffles if you want.”

“Waffles? Damn, it’s too bad Gunn met you first.”

Midra laughed. “We were meant to be. All the fates say so.”

“You’re very lucky, both of you.”

“I did a reading of the bones. You won’t be lonely for always,” Midra said as she poured waffle mix in a bowl.

Xander had learned a lot in his time in Africa and did not dismiss her words. “Really? What’s she look like?”

“Ah! You know they don’ work like that. Just keep your mind and eyes open.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Don’t you disrespect me, boy!” she said with a smile.

Xander held up his hands in surrender. “Never. I swear.” He watched her deftly mix the batter. “It’s comforting. The thought there’s someone for me.”

“There is.”

“Where is everybody today?”

Dawn and Willow went to run errands. Oz went toward the city. Gunn’s in the office. I think Spike’s still in the garage.”

“In the garage?”

“He takes spells of working on that bike of his. He was out there when I went to get something from the car at dawn.”

Xander wolfed down the hot waffles and rewarded Midra with a quick hug. “Want me to help clean up?”

“You go do whatever calls you to do.” She smiled after him as he headed out he back door toward the garage.

Xander pushed open the garage door to the cool open area. Two of the cars were gone and the sound of a ratchet came from behind Spike’s car. Louis Armstrong played quietly on a radio. “Hello?”

“Over here.”

Spike sat on a milk crate bolting the frame together. Xander smirked at the normally tidy vampire who was now grease-smudged. “Nice bike.”

“Will be. You should have seen her when I got her. She was covered in rust and vines.” Spike patted a fender fondly.

“What is it? It’s old, isn’t it?”

“She’s a 1941 Indian Chief. I’ve had a bitch of a time finding some parts. Fortunately, Gunn is as wicked a blacksmith as he is a lawyer. He reproduced that fender beside you from looking at the rusted remains of the original and pictures off the net.”

“Sweet.” Xander pulled a crate up beside Spike’s and reached out to steady the part Spike was working on.

“Thanks, mate.”

Xander watched him work for a while, admiring Spike’s skillful touch. “Midra said you’ve been out here for a while.’

“After you went to sleep, I was still wired. When there’s no Slayers upstairs, I like to come out here and work. I don’t have to sleep much.”

Xander handed Spike a screwdriver when he pointed at it. “When I was first captive, sleeping was all I wanted to do.” Spike nodded, letting Xander tell his story as he wished. “Of course, that was a two edged sword.”

As he watched Spike work with tools and grease, he let his story continue to pour out:

The truck stopped at dusk and the short figure reappeared. Again, the world went dark.

He woke up an unknown time later. Slowly, he opened his eye and looked around. He was on the floor a cave and some thirty other people were crammed in with him. “You’re awake. That’s something,” came a voice from beside him.

“Yeah,” Xander slowly sat up and looked at the woman who held a little boy on her lap. “Something. How long have I been out?”

“I don’t know. We woke up in here, too. And we all have jewelry.” She held up her hands to display iron bands around each wrist.

Xander wore a matching pair. “Damn. Slavers.”

“I’m Sarah. This is my boy, Jason.”

“Xander Harris.”

No one knew anything about where they were or how they’d come to be there. Everyone had a similar story to his. Capture, then awakening in the cave with wrist bands. Their belongings and some of their clothing were gone, along with all shoes and jewelry.

After a couple of hours, a blue-skinned demon showed up and instructed them in poor English how to behave in order to get food. Of course there were those who protested and shouted at the demon. More than a few panicked, not believing what they saw. Damn it, he was hungry. Xander stood up, brushed off his hands and went to stand where he’d been instructed.

Finally, others fell in line behind him and calmed the rest. The demon met his eye and nodded sharply once. Xander knew he’d done right. They all got a bowl of questionable content. Xander gave it a sniff and determined it to be better than a lot of the things he’d had to eat in the last year. He found a corner to sit and eat. Nothing more happened, and eventually he curled up to sleep, accompanied by the sounds of crying and raging.

The next day after his capture, the demons came into the holding pen. He’d been doing his best to comfort the others and help tend the wounded. The iron bands around his wrists with chafed and hurt. His body ached from sleeping on the stone floor.

“The Fyarl demons came back. As much as I wanted it to be true, I knew none of them were a middle aged Watcher. They started separating the men from the women. I don’t know what came over me, but I had to step in when they went to take Jason from Sarah.”

Spike knew. He knew the white hat impulses in this man could not be squashed.

“Leave them alone!” Part of him knew he could not change things, but a bigger part couldn’t just let this happen. Xander shoved the demon who was pulling the screaming child’s arm. The beast turned to him and made a gurgling noise like he was about to spit. Xander remembered what he’d read about their hardening mucus and ducked out of the way. He was able to get another good kick in before a second one grabbed his arms. He found himself pulled aside along with three big men.

“Big bullies!” Xander taunted. “Can’t fight me fair and square!”

“What are you doing? Shut up!” The man in a once-nice business suit told him.

“Unless you got a silver dagger, I’ve got nothing to fight with but words.”

“You know what these things are?”

“Fyarl demons. Silver kills them.”

“Fat lot of good that does us.”

“Tell me about it.”

He and three other healthy looking men were taken into a little room and left alone for several hours. Xander demanded they all turn out their pockets and searched for anything that might help them escape. Apart from a roll of Tums, a rubber band, and a five dollar bill, they had been picked clean. If he had been Spock he could have made a phaser beam and saved them. Xander set to examining the bars and the bands instead. This place had been there many years, and he could find no clear flaw, but he looked over and over the joins.

“Give up! You’re driving me nuts!” The man in a Budweiser t-shirt said after a while.

“Nope. Not gonna. I’ve been in tough situations before. True, Buffy always bailed me out, and sometimes Willow. Well, once it was Spike, but anyway, I’m alive, I’m not giving up.” He watched others from the main cell being dragged past, screaming. At least two came back being carried. They were pale, limp, and bleeding from their necks.

“They got a vampire here somewhere, guys.”

“What the hell do you know?” Budweiser got to his feet and loomed over Xander.

“I grew up with them. Get any kind of wood through their heart, set them on fire, or decapitate them and they’re dead.”

“Yeah, right. And If I clap real loud a fairy will get his wings!”

Xander shrugged. “Then you explain that.”

A third woman was carried past, her lulling neck torn open.

Budweiser blanched and sat back down.

One by one Xander’s forced companions were taken from the cell. Only Mr. Budweiser was seen again. As he was led past, the big man turned wide eyes to Xander. “God damnit, you were right,” he muttered.

Then it was Xander’s turn. He stood and stepped out as the green demon came for him. “Right. My turn at an interview. So what’s the big boss like? What’s his favorite sport?” The demon snarled at him in a manner that clearly translated as “shut up.” “Golf, huh?”

He was taken down a long rough tunnel and to a heavy door set in the stone. The goon leading him knocked once before opening the door and shoving him in.

Xander gained his balance and looked around as the door closed behind him. The stone walls were covered with a bright mix of cloth hangings and tapestries. The floor was layered with rugs. It appeared to be an attempt to make the room warm, but instead Xander felt he’d been eaten by a giant who had been chewing on bits of string. The only furnishings were a heavy table with a padded chair by it near the door and a massive carved chair that could only be a throne. There were a few books, papers, and a cup of writing implements on the table.

Xander looked wearily around. As nice as the carpet felt to his feet and as inviting as the chair was, he remained standing. There was no way he was here alone. “Hello? You placed an ad for a doughnut boy?”

If he hadn’t been expecting it, the sudden appearance of his host would have startled him. Xander stood steady and looked over the man before him. He was much taller than Xander, maybe by four inches. His skin was so dark as to reflect back the lamp light. His hair hung in heavy dreadlocks to his waist and jewels winked in the length. He wore the bright red, heavily detailed robes of a chief. His brown eyes were intelligent.

Xander nodded to himself. This had to be the vampire. “I’m afraid I’ve misplaced my resume. Maybe I can get my staff to fax one over,” he quipped.

“What need would I have of seeing the resume of a… doughnut boy?” His voice was as deep and rich as the colors in his robes. He spoke in clear, clipped English that reminded him of Giles.

“It’s not just doughnuts, you see. I can serve beer, deliver pizzas.” He pointed and winked. “And I once made a fair amount of money dancing, but we won’t speak of that.”

Xander tried to read the man before him but it was impossible. What the hell. He was probably going to be killed soon anyway. He screwed his most winning grin in place and waited.

Just when he was readying  a new line of quippage, the man spoke. “You are not as afraid as others.”

Xander shrugged. “I’ve been around, seen a lot.”

“But not this!” Suddenly the man was in game face and had raised his arms to make himself look even taller.

Xander grabbed up a pencil from the cup. “Actually, I have. And that ‘make myself look big’ stuff only works with kittens.”

The vampire hesitated, and Xander pressed on. “Yeah , that’s right, I know all about vampires! I’ve had William the Bloody do my laundry and Angelus buy me a beer!”


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


“I never did your laundry.” Spike cut into his story.

“It was bluster, Spike. There was no getting out of there anyway.”

“And it was Angel bought you a beer, not Angelus.” As much as Spike admired Xander’s strength in his story, he couldn’t let these slights pass. He saw some of the growing tension drop from Xander’s shoulders and considered his interruption a success.

“Anyway…”




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


The vampire scoffed. “What do you know of the Scourge of Europe?”

“Plenty. Angel’s hair sticks up and Spike likes cereal in his blood.”

The creature’s arms dropped. “Spike? The warrior who won his soul?”

“Oh yeah. That Spike. The Big Bad himself. Doing my laundry.”


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


“He’d heard of me?” Spike searched his mind for who this mysterious vamp could be.

Xander nodded. “You’re quite respected down there. Legend really. You’re the only demon to win back his soul and survive longer than a week afterwards in over two hundred years. Not that many made it out of the cave, even.”

“You’re shitting me!” A legend? For something other than bloodshed? Amazing.

“Spike, let me tell the story.”


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


The vampire’s features smoothed back to human. “Have a seat.”

“What? I drop names and suddenly I’m in the in crowd?”

“There have been rumors about the fall of the Scourge. I wonder if perhaps you do know something.”

Spike interrupted Xander’s tale. “Fall! Bloody never did! I’m still…”

“Spike!” Xander glared at the repeated interruption.

Spike held up his hands in surrender and let Xander tell his tale. Truth be told, he was mad at himself for interrupting now that he was getting the information he’d been wanting. If he read all the signs right, this vampire was Xander’s Anthony.





14 Meet Anthony

Xander eyed the tall vampire and weighed his options, which were to make the vampire mad by saying no or to have a seat and maybe learn something. Maybe this guy could get him free, though Xander doubted that.

“What’s in it for me? You drain me of information then drain me of blood?”

“Food? Drink? You entertain me, human. That’s hard to do these days.”

Xander shrugged. He’d played Zeppo for worse reasons than to save his life. While he wanted to leave that behind, it was a useful persona to keep around. Besides, he really was hungry.


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


“So he had food brought in and we talked for hours.”

“Talked? About what?”

“America. California. How I knew about vampires. The Slayer. Stuff like that.”

Spike realized he’d been leaning forward, eager to hear Xander’s story, and made himself lean back. “Oh. Of course.”

Xander laughed. “And about you. Nothing bad.” Spike gave him a doubtful look. “Really. He was keen to know about your soul and I told him about your sacrifice to save the world.”

“Oh. Well then.” Spike found himself glad to learn the boy had not thought bad of him for some time.  “What happened after that? He obviously didn’t eat you.”

“He called a guard, said some things to him, and I was taken to a cell by myself with a cot and a blanket. I slept very well that night.”

“Huh.” Spike was dying to know more, but didn’t dare push. He picked up a  tattered box and started taking out pieces of the motor.

Time passed as they worked quietly on the bike, with Spike laying out the parts and Xander handing him tools. 

Finally, Xander picked up his story. “My training started the next day. To fight. There was a huge natural cavern where the floor had been leveled and lights installed. There was a big sandy area and several smaller rings. Basically, they would shove two of us captives in a ring and watch to see who had better skills. I got pretty beat up the first few times until I managed to convince the other men we needed to work together.”

“Survival of the fittest approach? That never works except in death matches.”

“I know,” Xander said quietly.

“Peaches got drawn into one of those in L.A. once. I wish I could have watched…”

“Angel’s a good fighter. I realize how good now.”

“Yeah. Yeah, he is.” Spike bit down a pang of loss as he remembered what it was like to fight along side of Angelus.

“So we’d train one another. There were ten of us.” Spike took mental notes of the names Xander listed and their descriptions. “We were never allowed to talk or socialize. We’d fight, then we’d be separated. I came to realize I was getting special treatment.”

“How’s that?”

“I had a cell to myself, the rest of them had a dorm type room. They asked me why and I had no clue. Actually, I didn’t find it all that special. After I got used to the constant echoes of people crying and screaming, the chill of the cave, the lack of baths, the crappy food, and the exhaustion of training, I was damned lonely and bored.”

Spike nodded. He knew isolation and boredom. Memories of being locked away for a month and barely fed by Angelus, and his weeks at the Initiative, bubbled to the top.

“I was lucky. The more things I saw, Spike, the luckier I knew I was.” Spike nodded, cleaning an already clean valve. “Some people were used as human ponies. They had to pull the feeding and cleaning carts around. Some were kept as pets. Once in a while I saw the fat cat who ran the place, or so I assumed he was.”

Spike looked up from his work. “What’s he look like?”

“He’s a big man, dark skinned, large nose, goatee. He had a gold ring with a stone in it on every finger. And he has a tattoo of some kind of glyph on the side of his neck. He always had a pretty woman on a leash with him.” Xander’s voice was hard. “Each one had bruises.”

With a start, Spike realized he’d seen this man once on the ship. At the time he’d assumed he was another buyer. “That’s good news, Xander. I’ve seen that pompous ass. This means he travels on that ship once in a while and we can get to him.”

Xander nodded, his face grim. “Good. I want a piece of him.”

“Every scrap of information brings us one step closer.”

Spike fitted a piston into the body of the motor and tested its movement. Xander slowly clicked a ratchet wrench around and around. Normally, Spike would have taken it from him or snapped to stop the annoying sound, but he let Xander be. Spike noticed Xander seemed to cope better when he had something to fiddle with.

Xander finally broke the silence. “Days were pretty routine. Sleep, eat, train, sit. Every eight days they’d take me to a cavern with a hot springs and hole high in the ceiling. I could wash and stand in the sun for a while.” Xander sighed. “I was about to go mad.”

“No one to talk to,” Spike sympathized.

“That is a favorite thing of theirs, not allowing talking among the prisoners. After maybe four months of being trained, they brought a woman to my cell. I guess they liked how I was progressing. I… held her. Spike, it was so good to just have non-violent contact with someone.” Xander blushed. “She wanted to do more… and I didn’t stop her.”

“Xander, there’s nothing wrong with that. Besides, it may have gotten her in trouble if you hadn’t.”

Xander nodded. “So I learned later. But I did get her in trouble. I started to talk to her. To babble like I do. She pushed out of bed and kept shaking her head no. I didn’t understand. I just wanted to... talk to somebody.” Xander dropped the wrench and put his face in his hands. “The guard came and dragged her out of there. ‘No talking!’ he said and hit her. Hard. I don’t know why they didn’t hurt me. I was the one talking.”

“You were more valuable. And I bet you learned the lesson.”

“I did. God, I did.” Xander straightened, picked up a pickle jar of nuts, and started running his fingers through it. “For maybe a month my routine didn’t change. Sleep, eat, train, sit. Then it suddenly did. It was Bud who first noticed Anthony watching us.”

“Anthony?”

“The vampire I’d met. Everyone was terrified of him. There were… balconies over the arena. Once in a while I’d see people, demons up there, but after a while I stopped looking. When Bud pointed him out, he stepped out of the shadow and looked me straight in the eye before leaving the balcony. The next day, I found myself alone in the ring. Then the vampire joined me.”


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


The tall vampire appeared at the edge of the area with two Fyarl demons flanking him. Xander gripped his dull-ended pike and met his gaze levelly. Without a word, the vampire nodded, untied his belt and let his flowing red caftan fall. He picked up a matching pike as he stepped into the ring.

“What’s this? I thought auditions were last week.” Xander taunted.

The vampire said nothing, but paused ten feet in front of Xander and bowed.

“No need to be formal,” Xander muttered, but returned the bow. Fortunately, he’d seen enough martial arts movies to expect the attack that immediately followed.

He brought his staff up and blocked the blow. He let the vampire feel him out before making a move of his own. His opponent easily jumped aside of the jab at his chest, but did so with a twist of a smile. Five more minutes of feints and attacks and Xander’s mystery guest backed off and bowed again. Wearily, Xander did the same and allowed himself to relax a bit to match the vampire’s stance.

“You fight with enthusiasm, human,” he said in his clipped English.

“Thanks. It comes from not wanting to be killed. I’ve found that to be a good motto to live by.”

The vampire chuckled. “I, too, have found that a good idea. I invite you to my quarters this evening.”

“Let me check my schedule.” Xander looked upwards for a second. “8 o’clock; eat slop. 8:30 to 9:00: stare at empty bowl. Yeah. I can fit you in.”

“Good. You will be sent for. And I will see if I can do better than… slop.”


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


Xander stood up and stretched. He wandered over to the sleek sports car and ran a hand over its curved fender. “You’ll have to take me for a ride some time.”

“Sure, sure. Anytime.”

“Hey! It’s Dawn’s birthday next week. I need to go shopping.”

“Xander! What happened?”

“Humm?” Xander asked as if he didn’t know why Spike had been polishing the same clean piece for twenty minutes.

“With the meeting!”

“Oh, that.” Xander poked his head in the car’s window and looked at the dashboard. “Will you let me drive? Of course, I’ve not driven anything in five or six years. I’d be better off starting in something slower.”

“Xander! The story?”

“Well, I was sent for. I had a very good meal. We talked about what I’d seen in my travels, American food, and he asked about my family.”

“Did he offer you a fine cigar and a glass of wine after that?” Spike asked, feeling Xander’s story was anti-climatic.

“No, even more dramatic.”

Spike’s eyes narrowed. “He didn’t hit on you did he?”

Xander laughed at the surprisingly warm rush he got at the glimpse of jealousy from Spike. “No. Not that night. He requested me to allow him to personally train me.”

“Train… For the games?”

“Yeah.” Xander swallowed. “He told me his position was such he was allowed to… keep a human or two. He’d not had one in a while and said that if I could learn enough to keep myself alive I’d live in reasonable comfort.”


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


“Wait. Me? The Zeppo fight for my life? Mister, I can barely keep from tripping over myself most mornings.”

“You have told me yourself you fought by the Slayer’s side. You have watched the Scourge in action. You have…what word did you use… dusted many of my kind and faced a myriad of demons.” Xander started to protest, wondering how deep he’d gotten himself. “The war wound you bear speaks of your courage. And you lasted a year in the roughest parts of Africa with no ill befalling you until your capture.”

“It’s all true to some degree, yeah.” Xander tiredly rubbed the scar over his empty eye socket.

The vampire steepled his long fingered hands with their scarred prominent knuckles before him. “Consider the alternative, Xander.”

“Wha… what is it?”

“I throw you back into the pool of captives and you fight your own way up, or die in the trying. The luxury you enjoy of a cell to yourself is by my request.”

Thanks.” Xander bit his lip and toyed with an apple core. Really, this guy didn’t seem so bad. He was intelligent and well placed. “Um…”

“What?” the vampire asked, amused.

“When Spike would talk of keeping a human, he always sneered and implied it was normally for… um….”

“Sexual reasons?”

“Yeah. That.”


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


Spike burst out laughing. “The birds, maybe.”

“You said I was a nummy treat!”

“To eat! If I said anything else it was to watch you squirm.”

Xander sighed and rolled his eyes. “Anyway.”


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


“Am I that unbecoming?”

Xander couldn’t look at his host. Truth be told he was intrigued by his tall, lean build, strong features, and graceful way of moving. But he knew it was probably something all old vampires had in common. “No. It’s that… How old are you?”

“Seventy five man and vampire. I’ve been here forty years.”

“Oh, well. That’s respectable.”

“Too big an age difference?” he asked dryly with what Xander was coming to recognize as amusement.

“No. It’s just that I like women.”

“I see. Well, to put you off the hook, it would not be a requirement. However, being under my care would protect you from the attentions of others.”

“You put it that way…” Xander looked him in the eye, meeting the deep brown steadily with his own one good eye. “Yeah. I want to live. I’ll learn to fight and I’ll be what I need to be a winner. I want to someday get out of here and kill the son of a bitch who runs this place.”

The vampire laughed and leaned forward. “My dear human, how do you know I’m not the son of a bitch who runs this place?”

Xander froze, his blood running cold. “Um. You said you were allowed to keep a human?” he said tentatively, hoping to save his ass.

“I could have been lying.”

“Cause, yeah, vampires are evil and they do that.”

The vampire sighed. “Alas, I am not the son of a bitch who runs this place. If I were, my accommodations would be much more roomy than this.” Abruptly, he stood. “Is there any small boon I can grant you to show my good will?”

“Maybe… something to read?”

The vampire nodded and went to a chest that sat to one side. “Romance? Mystery? Adventure?”

Xander couldn’t help it and allowed himself to be drawn to the trove. A stack of well-worn paperbacks lay within. Most were modern. “Um… I’ve heard of Clive Cussler.”

The vampire picked up the silver paperback with a sunken ship on the cover and handed it to Xander. “I am allowed first choice of the…pickings.”

Xander looked for a full minute at the treasure before the meaning of the vampire’s words sunk in. “Pickings. From the captives’ belongings.” he said quietly.

“From the captives,” the vampire nodded.  “Many of those who get first pick go for the gems and clothing. I like the books.”

Xander held the book respectfully, knowing it once belonged to a hapless traveler like himself. “Yeah. Thanks.”

The vampire closed the chest and stood. “I will have you escorted back to your bed. We will start training tomorrow.”

Xander sagged, not knowing exactly where life was taking him, and followed the vampire to the door. “Thanks.”

The vampire paused with his hand on the knob and looked over his shoulder. “Thank you,  for tonight’s company if nothing else. I live a dull existence, Xander,” he said softly, then straightened. “Just remember, you are now my property.” He moved to open the door.

“Excuse me, who do I belong to?”

“Forgive my seldom-used manners. You are property of…” he spoke a series of clicks and glottal sounds Xander recognized as some African dialect. “Also known as Anthony, sired by Lord Markus DeAmeron.”


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


“Xander, are you sure you said DeAmeron?”

“Positive.”

Spike gave a low whistle. “He was older than Angel by a bit. British aristocrat by all accounts. Your new pal is of royal blood.”

Xander hung his head. “Was, Spike. Was.”

“I’m sorry, mate.”

“It’s okay.” Xander ran a hand over his face. “Anyway, he kept his promise. Starting the next day he trained me. I was provided with some luxuries including more books to read and better food. I knew I had it lucky. Well, as lucky as a captive slave could be.”





15 Footnmouth

“I didn’t have much contact with the other men after that. Only when Anthony couldn’t train with me because of other business or if he wanted me to practice against a human. I forget why, but one day he took me with him as he went to their quarters. Four men shared a cell and they didn’t have many luxuries.” Xander chewed the side of a nail. “They looked at me with hatred, Spike. I had done my best to make things better when we worked together. It weighed on me.

“So after three months, I requested an audience with Anthony.”

“Didn’t you talk much?” Spike asked as he fiddled with the motor. “You seemed all chatty at first.”

“No. Up to that point we had just talked twice. He had me escorted to his quarters and fed me again.”


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


Xander was uneasy being alone with this powerful vampire again, but the food looked too good to pass up. Once Anthony motioned for him to eat, he sat with steepled fingers and watched Xander eat with unmatched enthusiasm. Half way through the meal, he interrupted Xander’s happy food thoughts. “So, Xander. What is it you wish to speak to me about?”

“Oh,” Xander swallowed his mouthful and wiped his mouth. “Sorry. It’s just this is so much better than what I normally get.”

Anthony eyed the simple meal of fresh fruits, a slim cut of meat, and a heel of bread. “I do not pay attention to what the fighters eat.”

“That’s kind of my point. If I’m out of line, I’ll just take my banana and leave.” Xander picked up the fruit in question. “That is, if I’m allowed to take the banana.”

“I have no need of human food.”

Relieved, Xander sat the banana back on the tray and took a small bite of the meat. “I understand that. Angel never ate anything. Oddly enough, Spike did. He liked to put Wheetabix in his blood.” Seeing Anthony’s raised eyebrow, Xander cleared his throat. “So. To my point. We are in hell.” Xander paused to gauge the vampire’s reaction. When he only nodded, Xander continued. “We’ve all been kidnapped. Taken from family and friends. Put in holes in the ground and fed things the demons tending us apparently do not want. I know you may not care and I know you’re not the one in charge. I’ve figured out a bit how things flow around here, but maybe you can do something.”

“What have you figured out about ‘the flow’ around here?” Anthony asked.

Xander bit off some bread and spoke around it. “People come in, but they don’t all stay. I believe you see them all and determine who goes where.” Anthony nodded. “I think this is the clearing house. And you keep those you judge will have a fighting chance in the ring.” Anthony nodded again.

“You are very observant.”

“Thanks. And… I know you’ve provided a bit better for me. The zoo keepers are afraid of you, so they do what you say. Thanks for that. And the books. I appreciate what a privilege it is to be in a room by myself, but without the books you’ve loaned me, I’d be crazy by now.” Another nod and perhaps a quirk of a smile from Anthony. “So if the guys could have a little more consideration they - we may fight better. All hope of escape has been thrashed out of us after seeing that woman slowly killed for trying.” Xander suppressed a shudder at the memory of seeing the vampire before him slowly disembowel a woman who had made it to the surface with his bare hands. “Hey, heck of a technique you’ve got there.”

“You have nothing to fear from me, Xander.”

Xander met his gaze levelly. “Yes, I do. No disrespect, but I don’t know you from the devil. As soon as I stop amusing you or get badly hurt, you’re just as likely to eat me. I don’t know how many… other kinds of slaves are here, but you seem to have say over the fighters.”

“You are correct.”

“Make the keepers give us our due. Give us... I don’t know, warmer blankets. Food that isn’t half rotten more nights. Little things. If we can maybe earn them somehow.”

Anthony stared at the bold human who dare invade his personal space and demand things. And he felt something solid within him yield.

“What?” Xander said quietly, not daring to even eat.

“I am thinking about what you have said. You may finish your meal.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

Anthony dropped his hands to his lap and smiled. “Let me ease your mind and tell you I am not going to kill you for your presumptions.”

“Okay. Good then,” Xander said and went back to eating, still uneasy about the eyes upon him. When Anthony abruptly stood, he couldn’t help but tense.

The vampire paced away from him and stood gazing at a watercolor of the English country side that hung on one cloth draped wall. “I should thank you, Xander. You make me realize I’ve been in a rut for… I’m not sure how long. I will look into what you say.”

“Thank you,” Xander said, feeling some optimism for the first time in months. He ate the coveted, unbruised, ripe banana last. He was starting to worry about his host when he finally turned away from the landscape and sat again in the throne-like chair.

“You may wonder why I am here.” Xander cautiously nodded. “I was captured almost half a century ago. I cannot leave because I have been cursed; linked to this place. Any time I approach any of the exits I find myself back here. In this room.”


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


“Damn,” Spike said. “That’s an evil curse.”

“Yeah, it would be,” Xander replied.

“When I was a ghost I could go as far as the L.A. city limits and I’d find myself right back in the Wolfram & Hart building. I couldn’t touch, taste, feel, smell or run away. I can’t image having to be underground for that long.”

“Wow. I didn’t know you were a ghost.”

“I’ll tell you about it some time” Spike waved away Xander’s attention. “What did he say?”


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


“I have a position here which you have rather accurately summed up. I’m the one who chooses the showers or the gas. Left or right. Life or death. I rebelled at first, then they cursed me. I had no reason to struggle. You are the first being to sit and talk to me in far too long. You are correct in all you say. I will do what I can for those around me.”

Xander just stared at the vampire for so long he stood and approached him.

“Sorry!” Xander said. “I… I didn’t expect an answer that quick.”

“Were you hoping to negotiate over more meals?”

Xander shrugged and played with his napkin. “Beats staring at he wall.”

Anthony chuckled and  went to the chest. He pulled out a new paperback and set it on the table by Xander’s elbow. “This is the sequel to the last one. Perhaps once you’ve read it, we can discuss its strengths and weaknesses.”

“Okay. I've never been in a book club before.”

Anthony went to the door and opened it. “Have a good sleep, Xander. We will speak soon.”


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


“After that things did get better. Slowly, but they got better. For all of us fighters.” Xander twirled a wrench on his finger.

“That’s good, Xander. You did good.” Spike wondered about his twinge of jealousy at the thought of Xander spending so much time with this unknown vamp. The suspicion of  what their relationship became bothered him. He turned his attention fully to the bike and tried to be casual about getting the information he wanted.

“Yeah, I made the cages a little better padded.”

“What about your new friend? Did you chat about books?”

“We did. It started out that we would talk about the books we read. Then, the went on to other things,” he said, one of his hands went up to wrap around the pearl at his throat.

Spike attached a wire, trying to concentrate on getting it right. “What next, poetry?”

Xander chuckled. “Actually, yeah. I tell you, if my teacher’s had used some of those poems in class, I wouldn’t have flunked English.”

“Let me guess. John Donne?”

“How did you know?”

To His Mistress Going to Bed, right?”

“Yes!”

“Figures it would take poems about women undressing to get you to read.”

“Spike! I read a lot!” Xander sat up straight.

“Not while I lived with you.”

“Because I had television and wonderful things like that! I read the whole time I was in Africa.” Xander frowned at the stings.

“And then you joined a private book club.”

“Anthony kept me sane, Spike! We talked about all kinds of things!”

“Dinner, poetry, how long before he got in your pants?” the minute he said it, Spike wished he could call it back. He turned to Xander to find his friend’s eye wide. “Xander, I…”

Xander’s face darkened, he stood up, and threw down the wrench. “You don’t know a thing, Spike. Not a God damned thing.” He turned and ran for the door.

Cursing under his breath, Spike scrambled to his feet, scattering bike parts, and ran after Xander. “Wait! Xander, I’m sorry!” He stopped short of the bright sunshine outside the door. “Come back!” He watched, trapped, as Xander ran away up the path and disappeared into the woods.

With a snarl, Spike whirled and threw the screwdriver he still clutched across the room. It imbedded itself in a wooden stud and the plastic handle shattered. Disgusted with himself, Spike put his back to the wall and slid down to sit on the cold floor.


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


Xander ran. He let his feet take him up the path to the overlook. He didn’t see the trees blurring past. When he reached the table, his breath was burning in his lungs. He sat on the bench, dug his hands into his long hair and let it go.

It had been hard to think about Anthony so much. Hard to remember and talk about those early days. He thought the one person who would understand would have been Spike.


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


Half an hour later, Oz stepped into the garage carrying a tray. He looked down at Spike who still sat by the door. “Spike? I brought lunch for you and Xander. But, no Xander.”

Spike sighed and pulled himself up. “I put my foot in it, Oz.” He crossed the garage and leaned against the tool chest.

The slim redhead followed him and sat the tray on top of the chest. He sat down on the low stool Xander had vacated. “That happens.”

“That’s the problem. It shouldn’t. Not with me. He trusts me, Oz. Hell, he even hired me to hear him out. He was opening up about someone he cared for and I…” Spike flung himself away from the tools, desperately wanting to destroy something. His hands clenched and unclenched.

Oz pointed at a cardboard box by the door. “You know, that box over there looks mighty helpless.” Spike went gameface, and attacked the box. He kicked it, pummeled it, and ripped at the cloth that soon spilled out. When the box was reduced to something not even close to square and the clothing inside ripped to shreds, Spike finally stopped.

He crossed back to the tool chest and sat down on the floor with is back to it and closed his eyes. “What did I just destroy and which female will scream at me for it?”

“Old clothes destined for the thrift store. I’ll tell Willow I took it into town.”

“Thanks, mate.”

“Should I go after him?”

“No,” Spike sighed. “I should. Damned sun.”

“He’ll listen, I’m sure.”

“I’m not, Oz. He’s so fragile right now. I let myself get… I didn’t watch what I said.”

“He’ll forgive you.”

“I hope so, Oz. I hope so.”





16 Retrieval

Three hours later, after Spike had gone through the tunnels to the barn, beat up a punching bag for a while, come back, methodically cleaned up all signs of the great box massacre, and attempted to return to fixing up his motorcycle, he sensed someone behind him.

“Hey, Red,” he said without looking around.

The petite redhead looked at the untouched lunch tray with the sandwich still covered and the blood congealed in its mug, then sat down next to the vampire and watched him slowly turn a ratcheting socket wrench, making it click. “Still no Xander?” Spike shook his head. “Want to talk about it?”

Spike sighed and put down the wrench. “He was telling me about his time in the tunnels. He’s giving us some good information, too. I learned the bastard who runs the operation travels on the ship sometimes! That means he’s in our territory when he’s in California.” He looked up at Willow with an optimistic grin.

“Spike. You know what I mean. What went wrong?”

“Can’t throw you off, can I? He was opening up about... about someone he had made friends with.”

“Mrs. or Mr. Pearl?”

“Huh?”

“The pearl he wears. I know Xander. It has to mean something.”

“Yeah. The pearl.” Spike didn’t want to share any secrets Xander wanted to keep to himself. He berated himself again for his lack of caring. Damnit, he’d been learning about what he most wanted to know; the mysterious Anthony. “I don’t know why, but I… I let myself get distracted by a tricky bit on the bike and … I snarked when I shouldn’t have.”

Willow studied Spike’s profile, seeing the lines of distress on his brow. “Well, you’re evil, after all,” she joked.

Spike whipped his head to look at her, his eyes narrowed. “Not to him. Not to you.”

Willow smiled, slid to her knees next to Spike and put her arms around the slumped shoulders. “I know, Spike. I know. I’ve seen your soul, even before you had it officially reinstalled. He knows, too.”

Spike closed his eyes and allowed himself to accept some of Willow’s sweetness. “I hope so.”

Willow gave him a final squeeze and sat back on the stool. “Where did he go?”

“He took off into the woods. I’m sure he can take care of himself. The wards are working and I don’t think he’s fool enough to get himself lost.”

“Yep. Our boy’s all growed up!”

“He has, Red. He really has.” He ran his hands over his hair and looked to his friend again. “Can I admit something without damaging my reputation more?”

She smiled at him, “I’ll keep it to myself. Witchs’ promise.”

“You’re making that bit up, but I trust you as far as Oz.” He smiled a little at Willow’s pout. “I could see this Xander within the doughnut boy, long ago. A strength and courage he wasn’t aware of himself, and all the white hat qualities I mocked… I… I really admired.” Spike looked at the chrome frame of the bike where he should be reflected. “He’s always been a good man. And I’m still not sure how he kept his humor through it all, but I have to admit I’m glad.”

Willow suddenly saw something in Spike’s attitude that she wasn’t quite sure had been there before. Spike genuinely cared for Xander on more than a friendly level, and he didn’t know it himself. Maybe it was just his pleasure at having someone to take care of again. She bit her lip to keep from doing an Andrew impression and doing some mocking herself. Instead she said softly. “I agree, Spike. Xander was and is the best ever.”

Spike bobbed his head, sniffed, and picked up a couple of engine parts. “At this rate, I’ll have this baby together and can give him a ride when he comes back. If he’ll talk to me.”

“He’s pouted long enough. I’ll go get him.” She stood up. “I bet he’s at the overlook.”

“Red?”

“Yeah, Spike?”

“Take chocolate. You may have to bribe him.”

“I will. Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”

She picked up the tray, but paused on the way out the door. A tiny scrap of blue fabric with a button on it lay just under the bumper of her car and  the box she’d been after Oz to take to town for weeks was gone. She filed this away and took the tray back to the kitchen. She left it on the counter with a scrawled note of her destination, then hurriedly threw some fresh food and drinks into a backpack before setting off up the path. 

At the beginning of her hike, she fully expected to make the steep climb to the top, but when she reached the broken sign pointing to the gazebo, she heard the loud snap of a branch breaking. Cautiously, she turned up the weed-choked path to investigate.

She rounded a bend in the path to see Xander wrenching at a limb on the dead tree which lay partially on the broken  gazebo. His broad, muscular back was covered with a sheen of sweat and his long braid was no longer neat. The limb gave way with a loud crack. Xander turned with his back to her to throw it on a growing pile when Willow spoke. “We have saws for that kind of work.”  In an instant, his grip on the branch shifted to hold it like a club, and he whirled to face her with his feet braced. “Eep!” cried Willow.

Xander immediately relaxed and threw the branch aside. “Willow. I’m sorry. You startled me.”

She carefully picked her way toward the gazebo. “I guess I should be glad you weren’t piling rocks.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’ve lived around people who could break me long enough know I should whistle when I walk.”

Xander’s shoulders slumped. “Is that how you see me now, Willow? As someone who could break you?”

Willow dashed to her friend. “Oh, honey, no. I just mean the way you’re all shirtless, your hair’s wild and full of leaves, and Conan, and with the tree breaking…”

“It’s okay. Say… did you happen to bring food?” He poked her backpack.

“Yes. Come sit in the shade with me and we’ll see what I threw in here.” They settled down on a bench in the gazebo. As Xander guzzled a bottle of water, Willow looked around. “You think this place can be fixed up?”

“Sure. It will take a little while and I’ll have to hire a little muscle and maybe a bit of heavy equipment, but it can be done.” Xander opened a package of peanut butter crackers and shoved one in his mouth.

“I thought you’d be up at the overlook.”

Xander swallowed his mouthful. “I was. Then I got my head back on straight and realized I was hungry. I headed back, but couldn’t resist visiting Zeb again. I started cleaning up a few small branches and one thing led to another.”

“So you’ll take the job Oz offered you?”

“If you approve. From what I understand, you run the place.”

Willow snorted. “Yeah, right. And I’m delighted to have you around, Xander.”

“I’m delighted to be back, Willow. I really am.”

She watched Xander bite deep into an apple. “Oh, you’re bleeding!”

Xander glanced at the long deep scratch on his forearm and shrugged. “I’ve had worse.”

She was now looking him over with the trained eyes of one who has treated too many post-fight wounds. “But you’re covered in scratches and bruises!”

“They didn’t allow me to fight for a month before I was sold. They wanted me to be as pretty as possible so I’d bring a good price.” Xander took another big bite.

“Oh, Xander. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t do it.”

He hadn’t mentioned Spike, so she dared go there. “Spike told me you’re giving us lots of information to take down the kingpin.”

“So he says. What else did he tell you?” Xander mumbled around his apple.

“Enough to know he still suffers from Footnmouth. He’s careless about pretty much everyone but himself. You should see him delight in making the Slayers cry. I tell you a couple of them would have dusted him if they hadn’t been using plastic stakes.”

“That would be fun to watch.”

“Xan, he knows what he did, even if he doesn’t know why. He’s back there beating himself up.”

“I thought his soul had pretty much settled in and he was over the whole evil gig. He’s been super nice to me.”

“Who, Spike? Well, yes and no. He’s been snarling at us to treat you nice.”

“Like you wouldn’t?”

“Xander… We do, we will. But he’s right in some ways, Xander. It’s all I can do to keep from grilling you about… about everything.”

Xander nodded and threw the apple core into the woods. “Like what? What did Spike say?” His hand went to the pearl and grasped it.

“He said nothing you may have told him in confidence, I swear. Just that he accidentally insulted someone you cared about.”

Xander nodded. “I told him about making the one friend I had down there and he turned it into something smarmy.”

“That’s just how he is. Haven’t you noticed? Whenever something hits him too close personally, he strikes out and pushes it away.”

Xander paused. “Why would Spike care if I had a friend? I’d think he’d be glad.”

Willow shrugged, not wanting to voice that she thought Spike was jealous. “Maybe he resents everything having to do with Africa.”

“Maybe. But Anthony was different. He kept me sane, Willow, he saved my life.”

Willow noted the name, nodded, and pulled a Hershey’s bar from the pack. “Spike told me to bribe you with chocolate.”

Xander laughed and took the brown wrapped candy. “I’m ripping limbs off a tree, what’s he up to?”

“He’s sulking in the garage and I suspect he murdered a box of clothing.”

“I guess he didn’t have a bottle to throw.”

“When Angel told him off, Spike actually destroyed a jeep.”

Xander almost choked on his chocolate. “A jeep? Was he driving? Was he hurt?”

“Nope. It was parked by the garage. It came with the place and was a fixer upper. He tore into it and ripped pieces off… It was a thing to see.”

“Wow.”

“I made him clean up every bit of it and buy me a new one. I won’t have grand scale tantrums on my turf.”

“What did he do then?”

“He disappeared for six months. I wasn’t sure we’d hear from him again.”

Xander unwrapped a piece of cheese and bit into it. “Where does he go when he’s not here?”

“Nobody knows. Sometimes he travels. There’s a voice mail number we can use to contact him and I think he has to check in with the council on a regular basis. We’ll get odd postcards in the mail sometimes. And the council sends him places.”

“Oh. You don’t think…” Xander straightened as if ready run and find Spike. Willow noted this, too.

Willow laid a hand on Xander’s arm. “He’s not going to leave until you tell him to or he’d be gone by now.”

“You think so?”

“Xander…” Willow hesitated. “Spike has never spent this much time around here before.  A week here, a few days there. Never this long.”

Xander nodded. “I… I thought if I came back after dark, he’d be gone.”

“If he wanted to be gone, he would, Xander. He was sitting right next to his car with the special windows."

“Oh. I forgot about that.” Xander cracked open the can of soda and took a big drink. “Damn that’s good. What’s for dinner?”

Willow laughed. “I don’t know. Let’s go back and we’ll find out.”

Xander threw a muscular arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “I love you, Willow. I missed you so much.”

She slid her arm around him and hugged him back. “I love you, too, Xander. I never stopped looking for you when I could.” Then she pulled back a little. “Even if you do bleed on me.”

“I’m so sorry!” Horrified, Xander moved away from his friend.

“Panic much? No worries, Xan. One of the first spells I learned for Buffy takes blood out of clothes.”

“I’m not contagious or anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“AIDS. Other nastiness. What do you think modern scientists would think if they learned a bit of magic rock planted in the right place can fend off venereal diseases?” Xander rubbed the area between the base of his penis and leg.

“Honestly? I knew there was some residual magic around you, but it was protective, so I’ve not asked about it.”

“It hurt like fire for a week and it renders the bearer sterile, but... all in all, I’d rather be alive.” He shrugged. “I don’t think I ever wanted kids, anyway.”

“Did you have a say in the matter?”

“Yes. I had to earn the money for it.”

“Oh.” Her first reaction was to be a shocked that her friend would spend money to have sex, but then right on the heels of that reaction was the thought that Xander was smart. Willow didn’t know his story. She didn’t know if  Xander had a say in the sex, either. She pulled on a brave little toaster face and smiled at him. “I’m glad you’re safe.”

Xander knew his friend well enough to read what flitted over her face. It pained him to see her pity him. Suddenly, he realized how much Spike had been shielding him. Not wanting to go there with his friend at the moment, Xander grinned and got to his feet. “Come on. I’m hungry.”

“Are you going to talk to Spike?” She tucked away the litter and zipped up the backpack which Xander promptly took from her to carry.

“I’m still a bit mad at him. I think I’ll wait until he says he’s sorry.”

“You may have a wait.”

“We’ll see.”

When they got back to the house, they came into the kitchen to find it full. Spike, Oz, and Gunn were sitting around the table, beer bottles before them.

The smell of blood hit Spike as soon as the door opened, instantly bringing him to his feet. He looked Xander’s bare chest over and took in the scratches and bruises. Xander’s hair had bits of leaves in it and was coming wild from its braid. “Was there a fight? Did something get through the wards undetected? Did you kill it?”

Xander exchanged a look with Willow. “It was already dead. I think I won.”

Spike’s concern turned to puzzlement.

Willow took pity and explained before things could get worse. “Xander started cleaning up the tree that fell on the gazebo.”

“We have saws for that,” Oz said.

“That’s what Willow told me. I’m going to go clean up.” Without another look at Spike, Xander headed upstairs.

Willow chewed her lip as she watched Spike wilt, eyes downcast. “Spike?”

“What?” he asked miserably.

“Ball’s in your court,” she said before turning to inventory dinner ingredients.





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