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Unbreakable


by
Fanbot


21 Anthony's Story

Xander glanced over at the computer and chewed his lip for a minute. Spike wanted to know about Anthony and Xander saw no reason to not tell him. “Anthony would have loved the Internet. It’s got anything you want to hear or see. Any painting, any book almost.” Xander laughed. “He would have me describe technological things they mentioned in the novels we read. He wanted to know how they worked.” He shifted and sat at Spike’s feet with his back against the wall. “Sometimes I felt like I was trying to tell a blind man about color.”

“You said he’d been captive for forty years?”

“Yeah. They barely had television back then.” Spike knew this was wrong, but let it pass.

Xander stared at the laptop until Spike was afraid that was all he’d get this time. He risked a little prompting. “From what you say he was native African and educated. Was his learning after he became a vampire?”

“No. Before. He didn’t talk about his life much, but I pieced it together over the years. Anthony grew up in the home of an English land owner. He was the Nanny’s son and almost same age as the gentleman’s twins. Almost by accident, he got the same education they did. What lessons he didn’t manage to overhear, the boys shared with him. When they were sent to university, he went with them as their manservant.”

“He was very fortunate,” Spike put in softly.

“He was. He really was. When ‘the young gentlemen,’ as he always called them, graduated, Anthony was sent back to Africa. There he served as a clerk for the land owner. When he turned twenty-five, DeAmeron showed up.”

“I’m gathering it wasn’t a snatch and turn.”

“A what?”

“You need a minion, so you find a strong looking person and turn them without a ‘hello’ or ‘how are you,’” Spike explained.

“No. Not like that. Anthony was… seduced.”

“I’ve heard DeAmeron was slick like that. Never met the man myself. Angelus didn’t like him, at all, which made me wish I could’ve.”

“I didn’t get to talk to him, but I saw him once. He was a very attractive man.” The use of the past tense was not lost on Spike. “Did you ever see the Frank Langella Dracula movie?”

“Piece of dreck.”

“Mostly, yeah, but make Langella a bit taller and a bit… less angular and you’ve got DeAmeron. From what Anthony told me, DeAmeron told him stories of places he could visit. He pointed out how little future there was for a black man in the world.” Xander crossed his arms, pausing in his story. Then he blew out a breath and said almost under his breath, “Then he slept with him.”

Spike wasn’t very surprised. “When did he tell him he was a vampire?”

Xander shrugged. “I don’t know. He said they traveled together for a year before DeAmeron sired him. I… I don’t know the circumstances. Anthony may have been joking, but he implied it was quite… romantic.”

Spike chuckled. “I’ve heard stories of humans being willingly turned. Usually it all turns out bad.”

“Apparently, they were quite happy together.” Xander fiddled absently with the stack of books, evening up their corners. “Can I ask you something, Spike?”

“Sure.”

“Were you turned willingly? I mean, you and Drusilla were together for a long long time.”

Spike expected a question about how vampires sired someone, not why. “Oh, me. Let’s say we were of very short acquaintance and she caught me while… vunerable to suggestion.”

“So she chose you?”

“Well, the voices in her head did at least,” Spike chuckled. “You have to admit, I make a fine choice in any case.”

“None finer,” Xander mocked and looked away again.

Spike didn’t want him to close up. “So how did Anthony wind up a slaver’s pet?” he asked softly.

“He heard about the death of the land owner and wanted to go back and see the young gentlemen once more. DeAmeron had some kind of business to tend to so he didn’t go. Anthony figures there was someone on the ship watching for his kind. A soon as he stepped on land, he was magiked asleep. He woke up in the caverns much like I did.”

“That sucks.”

“Hell, yeah. Because he was a vampire, they threw him right into the kill, or be killed, fights. It was hard on him at first. He didn’t change much when he was turned from what I understand. Not like you.”

Spike coughed. “I’ve always been bad. I woke up evil with Drusilla smiling down at me. My demon turned me mean right off. Of course, I had a loony for a sire and a maniac for a mentor. DeAmeron was a gentleman by all accounts.”

“Nature verses nurture?”

“Probably.” Spike turned the conversation back to Anthony. “What did he do?”

“So he had to learn how to fight. Obviously, he was the best. He then set his sights on escape. After he found all the chinks in their security, they cursed him.” Xander sighed. “At least I got to go to other arenas once in a while.”

“Really? We thought it was all in one place.”

“Oh, hell no. I was taken to five other arenas. Three in caves, two in big buildings, and another in the middle of fucking nowhere. They knocked us out all the time so all I ever saw was the inside of the truck and the arenas.”

“This is the kind of information we need,” Spike smiled.

“Good.” Xander stood, went to his table and took an apple from the bowl. He bit into it angrily. “I’ve got a son of a bitch I want to kill real slow.”

“If you need any help with that, I’m your man. Well, vamp.”

Xander studied Spike, seeing the earnestness in his expression. “What’s your beef with him?”

“He takes good men and women like you and enslaves them. What more reason do I need?”

“Nothing.” Xander sat down again and stared out the window. “Anthony was a good man, even if he was a vampire, Spike. The killing and the captivity drove him a little mad, I think, but as we started to talk, he… I think he came back to himself. Like he was before.”

“Sometimes all it takes is good company,” Spike murmured.

They sat companionably as Xander finished his apple and tossed the core into the trash can in a neat arc. Spike had many questions, but let his friend continue at his own pace.

“Were you a snarky guy, Spike? The website said you were a scholar.”

“Most often the demon’s nature will have it’s way. I have known a number of vamps who remained… rather human,” Spike said without really answering. “Then again, I normally didn’t get to know folks before they were sired.”

“Have you sired many vamps, Spike?”

Spike looked away out the window. Xander braced himself for a high number. He wasn’t sure why he’d asked.  “I don’t know how many I… created while under the power of the first. They just kept coming out of the dirt in that basement.”

Xander shifted uncomfortably at being reminded of the dark time they both shared. “You never did otherwise?”

Spike shrugged. “Not that many, honestly. Drusilla always enjoyed it, so I let her make the minions. Later, when I came back to Sunnyhell, it was easier to just recruit fledges.”

“Huh.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Sometimes they’d have Anthony sire vamps for the fighting. They never had many around at anyone time.”

“Oh. Is there any evil these people don’t get into?”

“No. I don’t want to tell Oz, but they’d stage werewolf fights like back alley dog fights.”

“Bastards,” Spike spit.

Xander continued softly. “There are more horrors in this world than Sunnydale ever hinted at, Spike.”

Spike stood up, put the stack of books on the floor and put his arm around Xander. “I’m sorry you had to see them, mate.”

“Thanks, Spike,” Xander sniffled, leaning into Spike’s support.

A knock at the door a few minutes later startled them both. “It’s Willow,” Spike muttered, not moving.

“Come in,” Xander called.

“Xander, would you like…” Willow trailed off as he opened the door and saw the two shirtless men sitting together.

“What?” Xander asked.

Spike snickered and moved back to  the end of the couch.

“I can go…”

“Will?” Xander blinked and looked over at a smirking Spike. “Oh, no! Willow we’re not… I mean…”

“Xander here was telling tales of the dark and awful times, Red. I was doing my job.”

“Oh, Sure. I’m sorry.” Willow sputtered. “I mean, there’s nothing wrong if you guys… well… I thought…”

Xander blushed. “You came to ask me something?”

“Oh! Yes! In half an hour Giles wants to tell us all something on the web cam! Would you like some breakfast first?”

“Breakfast? Hell, yes!”

“Do you still like waffles?”

“I do indeed!”

Willow smiled and left. Xander bounced to his feet and started digging for a shirt. Spike grabbed up his own shirt and found his boots.





22 Giles

Spike was pleased to see Xander snap out of his blue mood brought on by talking about Anthony. As much as he wanted to know more about the mysterious vampire who had apparently been so close to his friend, he wanted Xander to go on living, too.

Xander pulled on a plain blue t-shirt and ran a brush through his hair too quickly. “Damn,” he cursed when it caught and snagged.

“Slow down,” Spike chuckled. “It’s only waffles.”

“No it’s...” Xander sighed and closed his eye for a second. “It’s Giles. I want to see Giles.”

“I know. He wants to see you, too.”

Xander started brushing his hair carefully. “I wonder what his news is.”

“Either the pretty shopkeeper in the village finally went out with him or it has something to do with his book.” Spike finished lacing his boots and stood up. “Do you want me to braid it? I can get it done quicker than you.”

“I think you just can’t resist my lovely locks, but I am hungry and want to get down there before Gunn finishes off the peach preserves again.”

“That’s right,” Spike said as he pushed Xander to a chair and sat him down. “You keep telling yourself I can’t keep my hands off you if it makes you feel better.”

Xander fell silent and let himself enjoy being touched. Spike’s hands were deft and sure. “I would hire pleasers… um… pleasure slaves and just have them tend my hair sometimes. At first they thought I was strange because I would hire someone and then not have sex with them, just hold them or have them braid my hair. When they learned I never abused anyone and paid what was fair, they fought for the privilege to come to my quarters. Sometimes literally.”

Spike caught the shadings of self-depreciation and surprise at this attention in Xander’s words. “You’re a good man, after all. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Xander shrugged. “All this was after Anthony died, that is. He taught me how to braid it right.”

Spike could well understand anyone falling for this strong, intelligent man. He carefully said nothing to mock the emotion in Xander’s voice.

“We vampires are very sensual creatures.”

“Don’t you mean sensuous?”

Spike smiled. “That, too. Touch, sight, smell, hearing, all very keen.”

“But not taste,” Xander observed.

“No. Taste is dulled. That’s why I like spicy and textured foods and why some vampires don’t eat at all.”

“You’re unusual in that you eat, aren’t you?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Angel doesn’t. Anthony didn’t. The few other fighters I got to know a bit never did. Why is that?”

“You sure are asking a lot about me lately.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about things and no real way to research them. Do you mind?”

“No. To be blunt, it’s the whole getting rid of the food later part that puts most of them off.”

“Ew!”

Spike laughed. “You asked, I told. Most are snobs about leaving behind the burdens of having a human body,” he said in a pompous manner. “I could care less one way or another.”

Spike handed the end of the long, tight braid to Xander, who stood and picked up a rubber band from the dresser to tie it off. He looked into the standing mirror to admire Spike’s work. “This looks great, Spike. I can never get it this even.”

“Dru loved for me to spend hours playing with her hair. We would get trapped in some little, dark corner and sometimes it was only thing that would calm her and keep her still. Now let’s go capture some sweets for ourselves.”

They all laughed and joked through breakfast. Everyone was buzzing with anticipation of Giles’ news.

Willow glanced at the clock and got to her feet. “Time to dial the Giles.” She paused by Xander’s chair and leaned over to speak quietly in his ear. “You want to come in and say hi first?”

Xander breathed in the green apple scent of his friend’s hair. “That’d be good.”

Willow patted his shoulder. “Wait here, people,” she said to the crowd. “I’ll send for you in a minute.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at Xander who shook his head slightly. Spike knew he would be okay talking to his old friend.

In the study, Willow positioned Xander outside the camera’s sight. Xander watched his friend’s confident fingers fly over the keyboard. She looked up at him with a grin and tapped a final key. “Hey, Giles! How’s everything?”

“All is well, Willow.” Xander’s throat tightened at the sound of his friend’s voice. “Where is everyone else?”

“I thought you might want to talk to one of them alone.” She smiled and motioned Xander to the chair.

He sat down and saw Giles on the flat screen monitor. A small screen within the picture showed himself. He barely noticed as Willow slipped out and closed the door behind herself.  “Hey, Giles,” he said softly.

“Xander,” the older man said, his voice full of wonder and affection. “It is you.”

“Well, me from another dimension, maybe. I’m not quite like I was.”

Giles smiled and Xander suddenly noticed evidence of Giles' stroke; how the left side of his lips did not lift as much as the right and how gray his hair now was. “Nor am I, dear boy. It is so damned good to see you. I feared…” There was a slight slurring in the once crisp voice.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found,” Xander quoted.

Giles chuckled. “By Spike of all people.”

“It shocked the hell out of me to see my savior was a pompous, fancied up vampire.”

“He does fall uncomfortably well into the German cover, I must say.” Giles fell silent, just looking at the face of his one-time ward, fighting companion, clown, carpenter.

“So… you quit the council.”

Giles sighed. “I couldn’t take the pace and the losses any more, Xander. I remained on the board as a consultant. I made sure they never stopped looking for you.”

“I appreciate that, very much.”

“Had it been anyone but Spike, I would have suspected the pictures were faked.” Xander winced inwardly. He’d forgotten the photographs Spike had taken of him in chains on the slave ship. “It was lucky you were brought here to be sold.”

Xander shook his head. “There was no luck there. I paid for the privilege to be sold off that particular ship.”

Giles blinked and looked like he wished for glasses to polish. “How does that work? Couldn’t you buy your own freedom?”

“And take their profit? No,” Xander answered flatly.

“I’m so sorry, Xander. So very terribly sorry.”

“What ever for?”

“For sending you to Africa. I had other, better-trained--”

“Giles, Giles,” Xander cut him off. “They were more needed elsewhere. And I wanted to go, to get as far away from… everything as I could, remember? I didn’t want to be gone six years, but it happens.”

“I know, but…” Giles was dabbing his face with a familiar handkerchief.

“Giles. Watcher man! Listen. I don’t blame you. I never blamed you in the least. I’ve missed you and… I love you.”

“Xander…” Giles’ British mask slipped. “I love you, too, Xander. Welcome home.”

“You’ll get your too-firm hug whenever I see you. Okay?”

“That will be very nice. I… I sent out your pack the other day. I don’t get around as well as I once did… and it was my first opportunity.”

“I’d forgotten about that.” Xander pictured his battered blue backpack that had accompanied him across Africa for a year. “How… how did you wind up with it?”

“The address on the ID tag was for my rooms at council headquarters. You had no other one to use, remember? I made sure the hotel returned it to me intact. I went through it looking for clues as to where you may have… disappeared. That, and I took out any food or anything that may have started to smell. I sent your paperwork to your parents. Otherwise, it’s all there.”

Xander chuckled. “I can’t even remember what’s in there. My first months of captivity, I would wish for that pack and all the simple conveniences it held; clean clothes, a book to read, my little radio…”

“It should arrive soon. I’ve put a few things in the box for everyone as well, if you don’t mind distributing them.”

“I will. Thank you for looking out for my mother, Giles. She told me how you kept her informed.”

“I was glad to. She’s a good woman. If there is anything I can ever do for you, Xander, do not hesitate to ask me.”

“Same here, Giles. Same here.” Xander realized he had tears running down his own cheeks. He grabbed a tissue form a box nearby. “You had some news?”

“Yes! I want to tell everyone at once. I… Thank you for talking to me, Xander.”

“I feel bad I put it off, but…”

“It’s fine, my good man. Just fine.”

“I’ll get Willow to put a camera on the laptop she gave me last night and we’ll talk some more.”

“What happened to the good old fashioned telephone?” Giles mourned.

“We can talk that way, too. Whatever you want.” Xander sighed. “I wish I could hug you.”

“That would be most welcome, Xander.” Giles smiled his crooked, but still charming smile. “Why don’t you fetch the others before we start messaging little hearts to one another?”

“Yeah, that would be best,” Xander blew him a kiss and called the others in.

There was much laughing and jockeying for position around the office computer and Gunn’s laptop that he turned on in the living room.

“If you are all quite settled?” Giles’ familiar stern tone cut through the chatter. After a few pokes and giggles, everyone was satisfied they were nicely in frame in their own window.

“What is it, Giles?” Xander asked, noticing the bunny ear fingers Spike was holding up behind his head.

“I would like to announce that my novel ‘The Dark Beyond the Moon’ has been purchased by Doubleday books.”

In the celebratory chaos that followed, a vase was knocked over, a cookie dropped to the carpet and crushed, a chair tipped over, many hugs, and much laugher rang out.

Giles sat alone in his far away home, enjoying the happiness of his friends while wishing he were there among them. A chorus of “Ew!” rang over the speaker when Xander leaned in to give the camera a pretend open-mouth smooch. The call finally ended with promises of copies for everyone and an extra smile from Xander.

Giles pulled the blanket back around his shoulders and hugged himself. As much as he had prayed for it, he was still amazed that Xander Harris was alive and apparently still sane. A year after his disappearance, there had been a lead pointing to the slave rings. He had investigated it as best he could at the time. It was his actions as head of the council that had established the on-going investigations that he hoped would bring down the ring.

With a sigh, he levered himself to his feet. He couldn’t stay seated so long any more. He hobbled to the mantel piece and looked at the picture framed there. Willow had gotten a camera for her birthday and wanted to try out the timer. She had set it on the balcony at the library and shooed them into place. He stood indulgently behind his newly acquired pack of would-be demon hunters. Buffy had a bright, pretty-girl smile on cheeks that were not yet gaunt with worry. Willow beamed as she slung an arm around Xander. Xander had been caught with is mouth open as he cracked yet another joke. Giles studied the warm brown eyes partly hidden behind too-long hair.

He still held a position of consultant to the council and, as such, read the reports sent there. He knew some of the horrors the man had faced. Giles clenched his fist at he thought. His only comfort was Spike who had made a promise to land a blow in his name on the body of the man responsible for it all.





23 A Ride in the Jag

When the impromptu celebration over the sell of Giles’ book died down, Gunn put a hand on Xander’s arm.

“Do you have a little time? It would be good to get some more paperwork out of the way.”

Xander hesitated. Even with all the fun and good news, his mind was still on Anthony and he wanted to talk to Spike some more. He looked to his friend.

Spike could see the tension in Xander’s eye and the way he held himself. “Will it take long?” he asked.

“Half an hour. Plus, I think we can set up the bank accounts so Xander can easily get his back pay once the council gets its ass in gear.”

“Back pay?” Xander asked. “Why would I get back pay?”

Gunn grinned. “Well, you’ve been doing undercover research for us for five years, haven’t you? Now, if that isn’t enough, we can sue the council, the government of Africa, and the manager of the hotel where you were staying.”

Xander could only gape. Spike chuckled. “I told you Charlie boy is the best. Let’s give the man his time, then we can continue our discussion of astronauts and cavemen.”

“Man, you did not dig that up again!” Gunn said as he sat down at his computer.

Two hours later, Xander’s head was reeling with passwords, a probable lump sum to be deposited in the next week, and the amount Spike transferred into his account from the sell of the jewels. He walked to the kitchen in a daze and sat at the table.

Midra looked him over and cast a disapproving eye toward the office. “That man of mine has no sense of scale. You should have smacked him in the head and walked out an hour ago.”

Xander just stared at the flowers in the center of the table. Spike leaned back in a chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “He’s just won the lottery. You have to forgive his manners.”

Midra chuckled. “That’s all right. I can bring any man back from the brink.”

Spike cast a leering eye along her body. “I bet you can.”

Midra shook her head. “You’re good for a woman’s ego, Mr. Spike. Watch this,” she said as she lifted the lid on a pot. Rich aromas of beef and vegetables filled the room.

Xander’s head lifted and he snapped back to reality. “Lunch?” he asked hopefully.

“Very shortly, yes. I told you I could bring him back.”

“Food’s always been his weakness. If we wanted him to play bait, we just dropped candy bars along the trail.”

“Hey! None of the Scoobies did that!” Xander glowered at Spike.

“Did I say ‘we?’ I meant to say I.”

Xander shook his head at the twinkle in Spike’s blue eyes. “What’s this about astronauts and cavemen?”

“Oh, no.” Midra muttered and added a pinch of something to her soup.

“In a fight between astronauts and cavemen, who would win?”

“What arena?” Xander asked. “What weapons?”

“Star Trek scenario. Habitable planet, unfamiliar to both parties. Found materials. Minimal clothing.”

“Cavemen,” Xander said without hesitation.

“I knew it!” Spike cried in triumph. “You just tipped the house balance.”

A lively and friendly discussion continued through lunch. Everyone had a point of view they felt strongly about. Talk switched to Giles and his book and other matters.

Xander’s mood stayed light, but Spike began to notice longer silences between his statements. “Hey, Xan. It’s a pretty day, how about the ride I promised you in the Jag?”

“Great!” Xander said, jumping at the chance to escape the chatter of his friends. He loved them all very much, but he still wasn’t used to crowd scenes. “ Let me go put some shoes on in case you take me somewhere civilized.” He quickly got up and dashed from the table.

“What got into him?” Willow asked. “Is he that excited about your car?”

“As happy as he is to be here, you lot get to be a bit much now and then,” Spike said as he got up and put his hands deep in his pockets. “Why do you think I vanish all the time?”

“Because you are at heart a homicidal sociopath?” Gunn said with a grin.

Spike clapped a hand to his chest. “You wound me to the core. How can I stay around people who know me so well?”

Xander stampeded down the stairs and stood in the doorway. “Well? Are you ready to go?”

“I’ll meet you in the garage. I’m taking the underground route.”

“Take your jacket,” Midra called after Xander. “In case he keeps you out late.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Xander called, and grabbed his new leather jacket from beside the door.

Xander blinked in the bright sunshine and made a mental note to buy some sunglasses. He opened the door of the garage to discover Spike settling a long black coat over his shoulders. Xander smiled at this garment he’d been missing on the vampire, then realized it wasn’t the familiar battered trench coat. This one was a trimmer cut and more modern in its design. “Where’s your old coat, Spike? I’ve missed seeing it.”

“It got blown up in Rome.”

“Oh? Sounds very James Bond.”

“It was. I’ll tell you about it some day. Is there anywhere you want to go?”

“I do want to get Dawn something for her birthday. I have an idea, but I think it will have to be made and there’s no time.”

“Like what?” Spike asked as they climbed in the little car.

“A necklace.”

“I know just the place. There’s one rule when riding with me.”

“Don’t puke on the upholstery?” Xander grinned.

“Okay, two rules.” Spike said as he put on his sunglasses. “Don’t roll the windows down or you’ll find yourself in a dusty car with no one in control.” 

“Gotcha.”

Spike took off with a controlled fish-tailing out of the garage and sped down the long driveway. He laughed with glee as Xander clutched the handle above the door. However, once out in traffic, Spike proved himself to be a sure and capable driver.

“Giles doesn’t look as bad as I thought he would,” Xander observed.

“It was bad enough to knock him off his feet for a couple of months and make him take stock in his life. He’s not got it bad, really. He lives at the family home with some friendly relative or another and they’ve got enough money to get by.”

“Giles comes from money?”

“How do you think he stayed unemployed for so long after the school blew up? How do you think he bought the Magic Box, mate?”

“I never thought about it.”

“Don’t worry too much about Rupert. Now that you’re back, he’ll be much happier.”

Xander studied Spike but could see to trace of sarcasm. “He cares that much?” he asked.

Spike scoffed. “They all do. I missed the worst of it, but that was the biggest bad news everyone shared when they went to catch me up on events.” Spike glanced over at his passenger who was staring out the window. “Brought me down, too,” Spike confessed.

“Why?”

“I always pegged you for the one to outlive us all. Unless I’m mistaken, you’re the only one who hasn’t been dead or evil then brought back to the light side of the force.”

“Did you just make a Star Wars reference, Spike?”

“Bollocks,” Spike muttered. “I’ve been spending too much time with Gunn and Oz lately.”

Xander looked out at the bright day and the passing sights. Soon, his mind drifted to places long packed away.


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


“Xander?”

Xander tore his attention from the new Dan Brown novel Anthony had given him an hour before. He was sitting on the pile of pillows and blankets that had grown over the last year beside Anthony’s chair. At first, he had sat at the table, but when he would end up spending a lot of time crossing to Anthony’s chair to show him passages, he started sitting in the floor. Anthony managed to have soft things brought in an attempt to block out the cold stone floor. Xander sometimes joked that he felt like a favored pet sitting at his master’s feet.

The vampire was holding his own book with one finger in it as a marker. Xander had no idea how long he’d been the subject of study, but that, too was something he’d grown used to. They had fallen into a routine. Several evenings a week, Xander would be taken to Anthony’s cell and they would talk together or just sit comfortably and read. More often than not, Anthony would find his companion more interesting than his book and he would just watch Xander. It wasn’t uncommon for their books to be abandoned in favor of conversation. “Yes, Anthony?” Xander marked his place and set his book aside.

“It has come to my attention that you are hiring pleasers yet not having sex with them.”

Xander blushed and looked away. He spent most of his time naked or almost so and they’d discussed the topic of sex before. Still, Anthony’s direct manner caught him off guard at times. “Is that a problem? I thought we could do whatever we wanted with them.”

“You can. I just wondered if anything was wrong?”

Xander glared at him. His constantly suppressed frustrations bubbled up. “You mean apart from having been forced to live in a stinking cave away from family and friends for over a year with no hope for escape or love? You mean other than I have to hire someone just to hug me? Why, no, Anthony. My life is great!”

Anthony’s dark eyes narrowed and Xander swallowed. As good as their arrangement was, Xander still feared this powerful vampire and respected him. Once Anthony had ripped the head off one of the lesser demons who worked the tunnels for spilling something on Anthony’s boots. He braced for attack, but Anthony just sighed, passed a hand over his face, and put his book aside. “I know your pain, Xander,” he said quietly. “I envy you that you can hire a pretty one to warm your bed. I cannot.”

“Why not? You wouldn’t even have to pay for it.”

“Imagine if I did that. How long would it be before others started testing me for weakness? As it is, they question my keeping and fair treatment of you.”

“If you need to rough me up sometime, I understand,” Xander said quietly, feeling for his companion.

The brown eyes warmed. “You would do that for me, wouldn’t you?”

Xander shrugged. “I’m used to being beat  up.”

“I don’t want to harm you Xander.” Anthony regarded him levelly. “I would like to ask if I can join you in your pet bed.”

“Huh?”

“You look so comfortable down there, and I sit there when I am alone sometimes.” Anthony didn’t share that he liked the scent of his adopted human.

“Um. Sure. I don’t mind at all.”

Anthony gifted him with one of his rare smiles, picked up his book and gracefully sunk down beside him on the floor.

Over the next couple of visits, they sat close together until one evening Xander gave in to the impulse to put his head in Anthony’s lap.

“What’s this about?” Anthony asked, looking down at him.

“Well, if I’m going to be a pet, I may as well get my ears scratched.”

“If that is your line of logic, I, too, must be a pet because I am spending so much time on your level.”

“I see your point. How about this; next time, I’ll play pillow.”

“Agreed.” Anthony picked up his book with one hand and ran his hand through Xander’s lengthening hair.

It wasn’t long before they were holding one another, with a casual arm around the other as they leaned together. Sometimes Anthony liked to pull Xander back to rest against his chest and read over his shoulder. Then one evening Anthony claimed their first kiss.

They had been sitting together in the miss-matched nest of pillows and blankets when Anthony abruptly put aside his book, took Xander’s from his hand and cupped one long-fingered hand around his face. “Xander. I want this,” he said quietly and kissed him firmly. A year before, Xander would have freaked at having the lips of a tall, strong man pressed to his own. Now it felt right and natural.

After an immeasurable time, Anthony pulled away. “Oh,” Xander said, making his eye focus again on the warm brown face before him. “That was… quite nice.”

“So you would not object to more?” The rumble of Anthony’s deep voice thrilled him.

“More? More kisses?” Anthony nodded, the gems in his hair swinging. “No. I cannot honestly say I would object to more kisses.”


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


Spike glanced over at Xander where he stared vacantly out the window. Spike watched his reflection in the window as his fingers gently traced the fullness of his lower lip, then dropped to grasp the pearl which never left his throat. When a tear slipped from his eye, Spike decided to derail his train of thought. He parked the car and turned off the motor.

“We’re here,” Spike said, cutting into Xander’s thoughts.

Xander blinked and looked around. They were parked on a sheltered driveway by a row of shops. The sun glinted off the ocean not too far away. Xander sniffed and rubbed his face. “Sorry, I… I must have dozed off. Where’s here?”





24 Jen's Shop

“You were somewhere far away you obviously needed to go. Don’t apologize. We’re at a shop where I bet you can get what you want for Dawn.”

Spike got out of the car and waited patiently as Xander pulled himself together before joining him. The side door of the shop was completely under shelter and no stray sunbeam crept in. “Jen knows how to carter to unique clients,” Spike explained. “I’m not the only one with sun allergies.”

Xander followed Spike into the dim interior of the shop. At once the mixture of exotic scents recalled the Magic Box and the many long hours he’d spent there. But this shop was different. The chemical odors of leather dye and paint mixed with the sandalwood and patchouli.

Spike strode into the dim shop with an air of familiarity. “Hey, Jen! I bring you a customer.”

“I’ll be right out! I have to rinse this brush,” came a voice from beyond a beaded doorway.

Xander was drawn to one of many bright paintings which hung among the merchandise. A bright green, leering man reached a long, lulling, blue tongue toward the legs of a woman. In another, a big-eyed dachshund smiled out at the viewer while dreaming of his dinner dish.

“She’s got quite a vision, doesn’t she?”

Xander frowned at a painting of two sperm shaped worm creatures in conversation. “I… I like the colors.”

Spike snorted. “You’re just uneducated.”

“Spike! I knew you couldn’t stay away for long.” Xander turned to see a petite woman with bright red hair, a striped black and white shirt, and jeans turned up in a wide cuff. Xander had to smile at her battered combat boots that were so much like Spike’s.

“Ah, Pet, you know I can’t. I love the new color,” he said, pointing at her hair. “Let me introduce you to my friend Xander.”

“Hey! Great to meet you.” Spike saw her appraising look and didn’t miss the ‘not bad’ face she flashed him. She came over, took hold of Xander’s wrist and looked at his leather bands. “They fit well, I’m glad to see.” She held his hand and looked up at him. “They were what you needed?”

Xander tried not to squirm under her frank scrutiny. “m. Yeah. You made them? They’re… very comfortable.”

“You know you got them right, Pet. You always do.” Spike poked through a bowl of amulets. “I still think your name should be spelled with a ‘dj.’”

Jen smiled at Xander’s blank look. “D. J. I. N. N,” she spelled. “as in a genie.” She dropped Xander’s hand. “You’re friend is quite the flirt.”

Xander grinned. “I know.”

“So, what can I do you for?”

“I want something for my friend Dawn, for her birthday.”

“Paint? Ink? Gems? Leather?” Jen went around behind the counter and leaned on it.

“I, uh, have an idea but I don’t know if there is time to find it.”

“Lay it on me!”

Soon, Xander and Jen were both leaning on the counter and detailing a sketch that Jen was drawing. Spike picked up one of the books and settled in the one comfortable chair. Finally, the two signed off on the design with Jen promising to do her best to meet the tight deadline.

“Thank you,” Xander said. “Wait, we haven’t talked price.”

“It’ll be so fair you’ll have to tip her heavily,” Spike said as if from long experience.

Jen shook her head. “I wish I didn’t have to do the business part. I just want to make things.” She wrote a figure on the paper that Xander knew was too reasonable.

“Looks like you’re right, Spike. See you in a couple of days, Jen. It was nice to meet you.”

“Where to now?” Spike asked, giving Jen a nod and a grin.

“Dunno.”

“Wait,” Jen called. “I need to add something to your bracelet.” Before Xander could say anything, she unsnapped the left leather cuff and took it into the back room.

Spike and Xander exchanged puzzled looks as the thump of a mallet sounded. She came back out quickly and snapped the band back around his wrist before Xander could look at what she’d done. “You two look after each other, okay?”

“That’s our plan, pet.” Spike watched Xander closely as they left the shop. Xander was looking down at the altered band as he stepped outside. He took one, two, three steps from the door before dropping his wrist instead of  checking the changes.

“What other shops are nearby?” Xander asked.

Spike had seen this minor forgetting take place before. Jen’s magic, whatever flavor it was, stayed secret to any humans who came into her shop. She did a lot of small good things as far as Spike could tell, so who was he to reveal her? “A little of everything. No where else I can go, though.”

Xander squinted out into the bright sunshine and pointed to a pharmacy across the street. “I want to get some sunglasses before we get on the road, okay?”

Spike shrugged. “Take your time. It’s a pretty day and there’s a nice bench here.”

Xander nodded, took four steps up the sidewalk, then turned and came back. “I, uh. I can’t go shopping. I don’t have any money.” He laughed. “How’s that for irony?”

“No problem.” Spike pulled  a slim wallet from inside his coat and pulled out two hundreds. “Will that do you?”

“I just want some sunglasses.”

“Something else might catch your eye. Besides, it’s your money.” Spike sprawled on the wooden bench deep in the shade by the building. He shooed Xander away. “Go. Shop.”

Xander put the money deep in his pocket like a kid being trusted with errand money. “Okay. Be right back.”

Spike watched Xander cross the street. He counted twelve before Jen opened the side door, came out, and sat beside him. “He’s a powerful one, isn’t he?”

Spike nodded. “Stronger than he knows.”

She looked off toward the ocean, not seeing it. “And yet there’s a flaw through him like a fracture in a gem stone. It’s much like yours.” Spike looked sharply at the slim woman he would not have considered a full meal back in the day. She didn’t acknowledge the warning in his look. “Of course, if two things break, you often find they can be best mended by putting them together.”

Spike studied her silently. “Are you sure you’re not Midra’s sister? She likes to speak in riddles, too.”

Jen beamed a smile at Spike. “She sees things, too.” She patted his leg, stood, and left him to puzzle her meaning.

Xander had intended to find some sunglasses and maybe a drink, then get back to Spike. His friend was being so patient, but it didn’t feel right to just leave him sitting alone. The Walgreen’s turned out to be filled with new brands and flavors he’d never seen and it wasn’t long before he went back to the stand beside the door and picked up a plastic basket to carry all his finds. 

He picked out some sunglasses first, then worked his way down the candy row. He knew Spike’s warnings about sweets were true, but there were things he’d dreamed of and new things he’d never seen. His attention was caught by a electronic toy in the middle of the rows. He played with it for a few minutes, then looked up. He was right in front of the condom display.

Xander swallowed, suddenly feeling like a kid sneaking looks at the dirty magazines. He glanced around the building, but the check out girl was ringing someone out, an older man in the card aisle was squinting at a card, and the pharmacist in his cage was doing something out of Xander’s sight.

Xander went over to the display, praying they hadn’t changed things too much. It didn’t take him long to locate the KY jelly. He tumbled a tube into his basket, then froze. Some things had changed.

A rectangular box some seven inches tall bore the familiar logo of the nemesis of his bachelor apartment days. Doc Johnson. In a drugstore? Xander had been planning to buy a toy on line once he had a credit card and learned how. Several nights he’d found himself feeling empty and wanting to feel something within himself again. Xander glanced around and picked up the box. The picture was clearly of a dildo that had a series of increasingly larger bumps. The label contents declared it to be “100% medical grade silicone.”

He tucked it in his basket under the York Peppermint Patties. Then he looked some more. A more traditionally shaped toy stood in the slot beside the first. Xander shrugged. He wanted what he wanted. So what if Spike saw and teased him? Spike! Xander had no idea how long he’d shopped. Tucking the second toy under his chips, he made for the check out.

Feeling guilty, Xander clutched his bags and hurried back across the street. He found Spike still sitting on the bench. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should buy a watch.”

“No worries. I was just about to call an Amber alert is all.” Spike stood up, leading with his crotch as he somehow always managed.

“Sorry,” Xander said again, hoping his purchases wouldn’t be visible through the thin plastic of the bags.

“I figured you’d be a kid in a candy store. Fish out your glasses and let’s be on our way, yeah? Want to put your bags in the boot? There’s not much room in the front.”

“Boot?”

“Trunk. Compartment in the back of a car that holds things?”

Xander made a face at Spike. “I know what a trunk is.”

Spike unlocked it and climbed in the front seat. He didn’t know exactly what all the man had bought in there, but he sure was feeling guilty about it. Spike shook his head.

Once Xander was belted in with sunglasses in place and soda in hand, Spike looked him over. “Where now?” 

“How long until dinner?”

Spike looked at the dashboard clock. “Three hours till sundown and another hour to dinner. You hungry now?”

“No. I’m good. How about just showing me where everything is? I, uh, wasn’t paying attention on the way here.”

Spike smoothly pulled the sleek car out onto the road and  back to the highway. He played tour guide, pointing out places he knew Xander would like. He stopped at a traffic light and pointed out the window. “This is the biggest comic book shop around.” Xander’s hand twitched toward the door handle. “BUT. If I don’t let Gunn and Oz do the introduction to their favorite place, I will never hear the end of it.”

Xander looked longingly at Spiderman painted on the window as they drove away. “But I’ve still got some money left,” he pouted.

Spike chuckled. “I’ve sat and waited for you once today. It’ll be open again.”

“Okay.” They drove on along a road paralleling the bright beach. Xander sighed some ten minutes later.

“Still pouting about the comic store?” Spike teased.

“Just thinking.”

“About Anthony?” Spike ventured.

“Yeah. He had infinite patience. With me. I must have babbled for hours about superheroes, plot lines, and how they could or could not have been real.”

“I wish I could have met him,” Spike said softly. “Anyone who can take that much from you… he must have cared.”

Xander swallowed. “He did. I did.”





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