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Unbreakable


by
Fanbot


37
Inventory

Spike was enjoying Xander’s laughter at his stories of drunken blues singers when they stepped into Jen’s quiet shop. When Xander suddenly stopped, his mirth evaporating, Spike snapped to protector mode and put himself between Xander and the interior of the shop.

Jen stood behind the counter and was saying something to a couple of customers. The woman was about Spike’s height, but nicely curvy, and the man was tall and thin, with a straight back and almost knobby joints. When he turned his head to talk to his companion, Spike could see his profile with a classic nose and sharp chin. Reading no danger from the couple who stood with their arms around one another, Spike glanced at Xander. He stood very still, but his heart galloped and he stared at the man, his face expressionless.

“I’ll be right with you,” called Jen and returned her attention to the couple. The man turned and smiled at them before whispering something to the woman. Spike caught the words “pretty men.” She, too, glanced back and smiled in a friendly way. Money was exchanged and they left through the front door, completely absorbed in one anther and not sparing another glance at the newcomers.

“What’s wrong?” Spike asked quietly.

“That guy.”

“You know him?”

“He…” Xander closed his eye and made himself relax. “He was built so much like Anthony. Tall and thin and… the nose… damn it.”

“It’s not a common body type,” Spike said and laid a comforting hand on Xander’s shoulder.

Xander shook his head and then shook himself, shedding the bad mood. “Sorry. It caught me off guard.”

“No problem, Xander.”

Spike turned his attention back to Jen who had busied herself putting away a tray of jewelry, letting the men pull themselves together.

She smiled at them, her short pony tail bobbing as she nodded at Xander. “You need something.”

“Um, yeah. My special order. The thing…”

Jen placed a canvas bag which clicked and shifted on the counter between them. “No, you need something from in here.”

Puzzled, Xander looked to Spike who nodded. She’d never given him any reason to not trust her. In fact, he’d seen her little positive nudges and influences on more than one occasion. Spike kept meaning to sit down with Willow and talk about their possibly magical neighbor, but, like the runes on Xander’s bracelet, he always forgot once he left the shop.

Xander started to open the top and peer in, but Jen stopped him. “Reach in and find what’s right. Don’t look.”

Xander gave an uncomfortable laugh. “It won’t bite me, will it?”

Jen just crossed her arms and grinned impishly. “It might be you need a good biting, but you won’t find it in there.”

Spike met her twinkling eyes and raised his scarred brow. “Go on, Xander,” Spike said to his hesitant companion who was so focused on the bag he’d missed the exchange. “I’ve not known her to be wrong.”

“It’s just that the last time I stuck my hand in a bag without looking I came out with a handful of dingo dung.”

“No dung. I promise.” Xander sighed and reached in. When he started to pull his hand out right away, Jen stopped him. “Take a minute, feel around, find what you need.”

Trusting, Xander nodded, took a deep breath, and felt around. After a minute of chewing his lip and producing a clatter and jingle of unseen objects, he stopped and all tension left his body. Confidently, he pulled his closed hand out of the bag.

“Hold it out on your palm, let me see,” Jen said. Spike leaned in to see as well. Nestled perfectly in the palm of Xander’s broad hand was a smooth stone. It was a kind of warped, flat oval that invited you to explore it. The bright lights over the counter illuminated the clear quartz, revealing a single plane of foggy white within it, like a sheet of paper in ice. Suspended above it were thin black lines like scratchings from an ink pin.

Jen looked from the stone to Xander as he tilted it on is palm, caressing it with his thumb. “Quartz with tourmaline,” she said. “You have a long story to tell. When it’s told, give the stone back to water.” She folded Xander’s hand over his prize, hiding it away.

He smiled crookedly at her. “That’s what I need?”

“One of the things, yes. Now, about your special order.” Spike watched as Xander slipped the stone into his pocket as if he’d always carried it.

Jen presented a small green jewelry box to Xander. Carefully, he opened it. “It’s beautiful, exactly what I pictured.”

“She’ll love it, Xander,” Spike said, admiring the fine metal work and glittering jewel.

“It’s not… hokey?” Xander worried.

“Not in the least.” Spike turned his attention to Jen as Xander studied the necklace. “You know you’re invited to the party, yeah?”

“I’d love to come, but I’ve got a show in the city.”

“Selling more paintings?”

“Hope to. Hey, will you take a package to Dawn for me?”

“Sure will,” Spike smiled.

“Let me get it.”

Xander closed the box, set it on the counter, and turned his wrist band. “I feel like I wanted to ask her about something, but I can’t remember what.”

Spike smiled. “This place has that effect. It’s harmless.” He’d noticed that Xander only wore the left wrist band, the one with the glyphs of home and Spike on it, and remembered the symbol she’d added, but just shrugged.

Xander pulled the stone out of his pocket and studied it. “It’s so pretty. I wonder where it came from.”

“Argentina,” Spike answered absently.

“You know about gemstones?”

“No, it’s written on a card here.” Spike pointed to a three inch orb of the same material in the show case. Absently, he ran his fingers through a bowl of little charms.

“Smart ass,” Xander murmured and leaned over to look in the case.

“You have to be observant, Xander. Bloody hell!” Spike jerked his hand from the bowl, making it tip over and spill across the counter.

Xander sprang spike’s side. “What happened?”

Spike frowned and shook out his hand. “It’s a sodding pagan shop. Shouldn’t be crosses hiding in the pretties. Dangerous, that.”

“Let me see.” Xander took Spike’s hand and looked at it. “I don’t see anything.”

“Right there!” Spike pointed to a half inch red mark on the side of his index finger.

“Poor baby.”

Jen came out of the back room. “It’s nice to see two pretty men holding hands.”

Xander let go of Spike’s hand and started scooping up the charms. “He… hurt himself on something in the bowl.”

“Funny, there shouldn’t be anything sharp in there.” She plucked out a two inch cross of polished wood. “Unless it was this.” She tossed it to Spike who jumped back with hands raised like someone who has dropped a knife.

“Very funny,” Spike said.

Confused, Xander picked up the cross and put it back in the bowl. “You know he’s…”

“Nosferatu? Sure.”

“I hate that word,” Spike muttered.

“Undead?” Jen said.

“Creature of the night?” Xander added.

“Vampyrrrrre.” Jen said in a fake European accent.

“Should be pushing up the daisies.”

“He has shuffled off the mortal coil,” Jen quoted.

“He is an Ex-human!” Xander cried.

“Bloody hell.” Spike shook his head and went to the far corner of the shop.

“Well preserved, though,” Jen said.

“When he bathes, you can’t tell he’s dead at all.”

They laughed at Spike who sneered comically back at the good natured ribbing. “Ha, bloody ha.”

“So, let’s settle your bill,” Jen said.

Spike rejoined them, but refrained from playing with anything on the counter. 

Xander paid the bill and picked up his packages. “I’ll make sure Dawn gets her gift.”

“Thank you.”

“Any other tidbits for us, Jen?” Spike asked.

She studied them both in turn. “It’s good to have reached a plateau. Just don’t be afraid to climb on up when the time is right.”

Xander gave a puzzled frown. “Hiking advice?”

“Life advice. And, Xander, remember that the heaviest luggage is that you carry on your heart.”

Xander was still puzzling over Jen’s words when they buckled in the car. “What is she, Spike? A witch?”

“I’m not sure. I keep meaning to ask Willow about her, but I always forget.”

“But you think she’s harmless?”

“I’ve seen lots of little good things she’s done around here. What music you want on the way back?”

“Something light. Pop, maybe.”

They talked about the upcoming party for a little while, then a comfortable silence fell between them. Spike let the thirty year old music wash over him, not really listening, until the chorus of one song

“Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you,” sang Toto. “There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa.”

Spike reached to turn it off, but Xander stopped him. He took glances at Xander as he mouthed some of the lyrics and fingered the quartz.

Finally, the song ended to be followed by the electronic instrumental theme to a buddy cop movie from the ‘80’s.

“I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become. I miss the rains down in Africa,” Xander quoted quietly. 

“I think they say ‘bless the rains,’” Spike corrected.

“I’ve never heard it that way. Doesn’t matter, I don’t bless or miss them.”

Spike didn’t know what to reply to that, so he said nothing, letting Xander find his own space.

“My back pack arrived today,” Xander said after the song had changed to a song about turning Japanese.

“Yeah?” He immediately connected it with Jen’s baggage remarks, but figured Xander had already forgotten them.

“Will you go through it with me?”

“I can’t think of anything I’d like to do better. Oh, wait, that would be fun. And so would… hummm… I can think of a lot of things I’d like to do better, but Natalie Portman  won’t return my calls.” Spike grinned at Xander who sighed at him. “Of course I will, Xander.”

“Thanks.”

A half an hour later, the two were settled on the floor in Xander’s room with the box before them. After ten minutes, Spike nudged Xander. “Are you asleep over there?”

“I… I spent a year living out of my backpack, the only constant I had was what’s in that pack. Giles kept it all this time. The first… months probably, I would entertain myself by inventorying what was in there, and… wishing for the simple comforts. Now…”

“You can’t remember what’s in it?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, then it’s all new! Shall I do the honors?” Spike pulled out his pocket knife and opened it.

“No. Let me.”  Xander took the sharp blade and carefully slit open the neatly applied tape. 

On top of everything was a crisp white envelope with Xander’s name written in a familiar hand. He sat back and opened it. This was where he found Giles’ hand writing. It was a little more wobbly than of old, but still careful and elegant.

“Dear Xander,

I acquired all your belongings from the hotel where you were staying shortly after your disappearance. I sorted through it looking for clues to your whereabouts and possible bad magicks. Finding none, I removed all perishables and sealed it away. Any paperwork I mailed to your mother.

I am so very happy to be able to return it to you. Bless you Xander, and welcome back to the states.

I hope the opportunity arises for me to visit you soon.

Stay safe, and give my love to all,

Giles”

Next came several neatly wrapped items, labeled with the names of their friends. Spike raised up to his knees. “Oo, oo! Where’s mine?”

Xander pulled out a small box and passed it to him. “Is it always such a big deal when Giles sends a package?”

“Bloody right!” Spike said, running a thumbnail under the tape and opening the little box.

Xander set aside the other packages and pulled out a wad of crumbled newspapers. A memory of long ago enjoying the exotic newspapers that Magic Box shipments were always wrapped in surfaced. It vanished when the blue back pack was revealed.

Spike started to offer Xander one of the sweets from his box, but the smile faded when he saw Xander’s expression. He put the candy aside and joined Xander in looking down into the box. “That’s one of those zipper bags they sell on TV, innit?”

“Keeps things fresh,” Xander said absently, quoting an infomercial they’d both stared at.

“Well? We can always do this later.” Spike asked after a few minutes.

“No. You open it.”


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


"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers 
Of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars 
That guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words 
Or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say  
Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you
It's gonna take a lot 
To drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men 
Or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time 
To do the things we never had
Ooooh-hoooo
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless 
Longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises 
Like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside 
Frightened of this thing that I've become
It's gonna take a lot 
To drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men 
Or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time 
To do the things we never had
Ooooh-hoooo
Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you
It's gonna take a lot 
To drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men 
Or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do 
The things we never had 

Ooooh-hoooo




38
The Things He Carried

Another envelope lay atop the final layer of packages. Spike took it out and handed it to Xander. “Giles and his record keeping,” Spike said fondly.

Xander untucked the flap and read it. “Well?” Spike asked when Xander neatly put it away and set it aside.

“The little package is my journal, and his notes on trying to find me. He says he read back over them all and thinks… I may have known about the slavers before hand.” 

“What?”

“Oh, he didn’t put it like that.” Spike watched Xander pull the crystal from his pocket and turn it over and over. “With hindsight, knowing what he now knows, he thinks I may have been very close to them before I was captured. In fact, he wonders if I was taken specifically.”

“There’s no way.” Spike felt a sudden anger at Giles for dropping this on the already guilt ridden Xander.

“Maybe there was. I… I had two leads on slayers that I thought were false because… because they disappeared before I got there. At the time, I thought it was because the villagers didn’t want their protectors taken.”

“Look, you can’t blame yourself…”

“I don’t, Spike. I didn’t know anything! I went where they told me and did what they said. If anything, I’m mad at the council. How long after I was taken did they discover the slave ring?”

“It was investigating your disappearance that lead them to it.”

“They should have been investigating the Slayers vanishing. I wanted to, but I was told others would tend to it. Plus… I wanted to go home.”

Spike reached out and squeezed Xander’s knee. “I can’t blame you there, mate. Africa is the most evil place I’ve been.”

Xander looked at Spike with a slight smile. “I keep forgetting you went there.”

“Yeah, I’ve done the cargo hold thing plenty of  times. ‘Tain’t fun.”

“Let’s open the main package, Spike.”

Spike took out the bulky object and fumbled with the zipper. The scent of dust and faint spices hit them when the bag gasped in the cool air of the room after being packed away so long. As he pulled out the backpack, a white sheet of paper came with it and landed before Xander.

He picked it up and smiled at it as Spike took out one last package from the box and put all the packing back in it. “What ya got?”

“Inventory list. Giles is always so meticulous.” Xander read over it as Spike put the packing box aside. “This says it’s package two of three.”

Spike picked up the thick padded envelope he’d found under the backpack. “Here’s three of three.”

“This says package one was bedding and tarp. I can see why he wouldn’t want to pay shipping on a tatty blanket.” Xander frowned, feeling a sudden, unreasonable desire to hold the ugly brown blanket that had kept him warm so many nights.

“I’m sure it’s all sealed up safe and he’d send it along if you wanted,” Spike said quietly.

“Yeah. I’m sure it’s safe. Let’s see what’s in bag number two.” Before he could put it off any longer, Xander grabbed the zipper tab on a small front pocket and pulled, automatically working it over a spot where one of the teeth was broken. He pulled out a battered, thick paperback. Xander studied the painting of sand and sun on the cover before passing it to Spike.

Dune? I never read this one.”

“I was enjoying it, what little I’d read. I had picked it up for the flight back.” Xander dipped back into the pocket and frowned. “My… tickets should have been in here.”

“It’s in packet three, I bet.” Spike pulled another neatly folded paper from the package.

Xander took the list and looked it over. “The date at the top is two years ago, he said he just reread it.”

“That’s when he had his stroke. He stepped down from his active position on the council after that. He didn’t give up on you, ever, if that’s what you're thinkin’. From what I understand, he had to finally give in and have his notes transcribed onto computer. I bet that’s what he reread.”

“Giles hates computers.”

“Bloke’s made an uneasy truce with them. If she’s feeling geeky, Willow’s got some stories she thinks are funny about his calls for tech help.”

Xander put aside the list and opened the main compartment of the bag. The first thing he pulled out was a small stack of neatly folded clothing. “Giles did my laundry,” Xander said, opening up a t-shirt.

“I don’t remember feeling the world pause on its axis.”

Xander held a faded t-shirt with the Babylon 5 logo on it to his chest. “This won’t fit any more. I was so tickled to find it. When Sunnydale sank we had nothing. Faith drove us to the nearest town and we took care of our wounded. We found a thrift shop and this shirt was there. I had blood on my clothes from… Buffy and wounded potentials and those uber vamps.” He folded it once more and put it aside.

“Maybe Oz would like it.”

“Maybe.” Xander looked at the clothing as he talked. “It didn’t truly hit me… the fighting, the losses, until about five days later. Giles, Buffy, Willow, and I were having lunch… somewhere.”

“The original four,” Spike muttered.

“Four what?”

“Scoobies.”

Xander paused, considering this. “Wow, you’re right.” He put aside the shirts and pulled out a small leather bag. “We were talking about what had happened, finally. And about who we had lost.” Xander worked the knot loose. “We talked about you.”

“Yeah?” Spike asked.

“We did.”

Xander said nothing more, and Spike didn’t push. As much as he wanted to know what the young man had thought of him, this was about Xander. He gently dumped the contents of the bag on the rug. It was a magpie assortment of shiny and brightly colored things and a white folded sheet of paper. With amusement, Spike captured a marble that tried to escape.

Xander took the marble from him and studied the clear orb with a blue swirl in it. “I found this by the road outside of Sunnydale. We stopped outside the crater and for some reason I looked down just before I got back on the bus. It was half buried in the dust. I carried it in my pocket for the longest time.”

Xander put it down and picked up a brown cowry shell. “The little brother of one of the Slayers told me very solemnly that his people used these for money, and he would trade me this for a shiny round coin so I wouldn’t be without money.” Xander smiled at the memory. “Fortunately, I had a quarter in my pocket. It was one of those state quarters with an astronaut on it. He was delighted.”

Next he picked up a small carving of a dog like creature. “The shaman in one village got me stoned. The next morning he told me he talked with the hyena in me. He told me she said she liked being home.”

“Hyena?”

“Yeah, in high school I was possessed by a hyena sprit because of a crazed zookeeper. I don’t know how he knew that.”

“And here I thought painting glasses on the school statues back in my day was fun,” Spike muttered.

“It was yet another wacky Sunnydale fieldtrip.”

Xander picked through the pile, sharing stories and fingering the trinkets. “Something’s missing,” Xander said at last, poking around to see if it was hidden. “It was a coin-like thing. Flat, silver colored with scratches on it. I found it on the street somewhere. I carried it for a couple of months.”

Spike picked up the folded paper. “I take it this is an invoice?”

“Yeah, see what it says.”

Unawares, Xander picked up his newest stone from all his treasures and worried it as Spike looked from list to pile. “Here it is… ‘one disc, silver, strong residual magicks, blah blah blah, retained for further study.’ And he’s drawn a picture.” Spike passed the paper to Xander.

“Magicks? I wonder what kind.”

“Quite a few of the pieces here have a trace of magic to them, according to the list. Of course, when you carry something and work it…” Spike frowned at the stone Xander still turned over and over in his other hand. “You tend to carry things around that you find, don’t you?”

Xander shrugged. “I guess so.”

“What were you carrying when you were kidnapped?”

“Huh?”

“You tend to find things and carry them until something new comes along.” Spike pointed to pile of objects. “What was your worry stone of the week?”

Xander frowned… “I didn’t have it long… There was nothing in my pockets when I woke up…” Xander closed his eye and sat the stone down. Spike watched silently as Xander rubbed his fingertips together, then reached in his pocket as if looking for something. Xander opened his eye. “It was like a dog tag! It was… damn… it had a symbol on it that… wheeeere did I see it?” He snapped his fingers. “It was the symbol of one of the rival slavers!”

Spike grabbed a pen off the table and handed it and the invoice to Xander. “Can you draw it?”

Xander nodded and sketched the few simple lines that sort of looked like an antelope’s head. “It was like this.”

“I bet you found another magical bit and it drew them to you.”

“You think so, Spike?”

“Maybe.” Spike looked at the picture Xander had drawn, and again at the drawing of the missing piece. “I think Giles will find this interesting.”

They were interrupted  by a soft tap at the door. “Come in!” Xander called.

Midra pushed the door open and bustled in with a tray. “I figured you were too absorbed in your package to come down, so I brought dinner up.”

“You’re the best, Midra.” Xander said as she set it on the table.

“Don’t get used to it.” She paused at the door. “You want the meeting canceled?”

Xander paused. “No. We’ll be down within the hour, I’d say. Thanks.”

Xander stood, picked up the tray and sat it between them on the floor. Two big cappuccino mugs sat under saucer lids, accompanied by a napkin-covered plate of cornbread, and a glass of milk. Xander took the lid off one cup and scowled. “It looks like tomato soup, but I’m guessing this is yours.” He passed the cup to Spike and moved the other one to his side of the tray. “This looks better! Stew and cornbread.”

Spike picked up a big piece of cornbread and crumbled it into his blood. “Midra makes the best cornbread.”

Xander made a face at him, and scooped the pile of treasures into the bag. He continued to unpack the bag and tell stories as he absently ate.  He found another t-shirt and was surprised when a wooden carving the size of his hand rolled out. Spike picked it up and burst out laughing. “What did you get up to you didn’t tell me about?”

Xander blushed at the sight of the carved monkey with a phallus bigger then he was. “Grandmother type gave it to me,” he muttered. “She said it would help me have strong sons and healthy children. I guess she was wrong on that point.”

Spike put the ridiculous carving aside. “Is that what you want, Xander?”

Xander shrugged. “One time, yeah. Now… Now it’s not an option, is it?”

“They might be able to remove the implant, Xander.”

Xander barked a laugh. “Wouldn’t be a very good trade off at this point, would it? There’s all kinds of things I can’t catch, and if by some weird twist of fate I hook up with a girl, I can’t accidentally knock her up. Sounds pretty sweet.”

“Xander, I…”

Xander shook his head. “Sorry, Spike. I… it’s just that I haven’t thought about these things for so very long. I’m not the boy who carried this pack.”

“You weren’t a boy for a long time before that.”

Startled, Xander met Spike’s blue eye and searched for sarcasm. Finding none, Xander looked away. “Damned Hellmouth.”

“There’s one more package.”

“No. I’ve done enough memory poking for one night. Let’s go face down the lions and throw them gifts when they roar.”


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


As soon as Xander came into the living room where everyone was gathered, Gunn started apologizing again, Dawn hugged a pillow to herself, and Willow put on her worried face.

“No!” Xander said, cutting through the chaos. “Sit down, everyone.” Spike put the box he carried down beside Xander where he stood in front of  the blank TV and went to lean against the wall behind everyone else. Xander didn’t look at anyone until they were all settled. “Thanks for being here. I’ve got some things to say and to share. We’ve done our apologies. I’ve said I’m sorry to those I slighted and it’s been said to me. Does anyone else in the room fell like they need to give or get an apology from anyone about anything?” He studied each in turn and received negative responses from all around.

“Good.” He stood solidly before them, feet apart and at ease like one who was used to talking at gatherings. Only his right hand was busy, turning the new stone over and over slowly. “I’m not the boy I was. I spent five years in cold, damp caves fighting for my life. True, I was lucky enough to have someone who cared for me and I for him, but he was killed.”

Xander ignored the shocked breath from Dawn and answering murmur from Willow. ”Yes, I was with a guy.”

“It doesn’t matter, Xander,” Dawn said quickly.

“No. It doesn’t,” Xander said, cutting her off. “Anthony was intelligent, funny at times, a wonderful protector and a vampire.”

This time there were several catches in breath. Xander had wondered how much Midra had shared and was pleased when he realized she was keeping his secrets. “He didn’t have a soul, but he had plenty of humanity. We’ve all seen this phenomenon in action.” Spike scowled in reply to the pointed look Xander gave him. “If it weren’t for Anthony, I would have died in the first month. After he was murdered, my life changed. I changed.”

“In the caves, I was cold, lonely, and bored most of the time. What was there to do? Drink, fuck, and fight. Well, and read, but there is just so much of that one can do. So, yeah, I would drink when troubled. I guess fortunately for me, my supply was limited. And I did remember too much abuse from my dear old drunken dad.”

“So the other night, when I stupidly thought I could face up to seeing the names and faces of so many I’d killed or seen killed by myself, I drank. If there hadn’t been any alcohol in the room, I would have found some. So that’s no one’s fault. And I was lonely. So, when you ladies, my good friends, came up, I was too far gone to see anything but pretty bodies. If it makes you feel better, I even tried to get fresh with Spike.”

When several of them turned to look at Spike, he just stood with his arms crossed and nodded.

“Which is why all the shouting and running off on Spike’s part. I know I’ve been a hermit a lot of the time, hiding up in my room, but I spent five years not being able to leave a room without an escort. For years my life was pretty much limited to a nine by nine room when I wasn’t in the arena training to kill or killing. So excuse me if my social graces aren’t what they once were. If I’m uncertain about a situation, I will leave, and we’ll sort it out in time, got it?”

Everyone nodded. “The jewels I wore were given to me for killing others. Many demons, some humans. It’s blood money, and I want to use it to get the bastards who run the slave ring.” Gunn nodded. “If I make you uncomfortable, I realize I could buy my own house and live wherever I want, but…” Xander paused and swallowed. “I love it here. It feels like home. I… don’t know how to fit in just yet, but I think I can get there with your help and understanding.”

“Xander?” Dawn asked, making Xander look up. “Can I give you a hug?”

Xander smiled. “I’d very much like that, Dawn.” Soon, Xander was surrounded by supporting hands and friendly kisses. Only Spike held back.

After several  minutes of mush, Spike broke it up. “Oi! What’s in the box? Is it prezzies?”

“Presents?” Dawn squealed. “Did Giles’ box come?”

Xander shot him a grateful look and untangled himself from the girls. “Yes, it did. Sit down and we’ll sort it out. Spike, you want to play Santa’s helper?” 





39
Party & Blood

Dawn’s party was held on the beachfront restaurant’s porch. Xander looked around, confused, as he climbed from Spike’s car where it was parked in the deep shade of a shelter much like the one at Jen’s shop. “Why does this place seem familiar?”

“This is where you ran to that first time,” Spike supplied. “Now help me unload this stuff.”

“The shading arrangement certainly is convenient.”

“Ya think?” Spike asked and pushed a box of decorations into Xander’s arms.

The owners of the restaurant introduced themselves to Xander and greeted Spike warmly. After checking on the ice cream, and stowing the cake in the cooler, Spike sprawled in a chair and propped his leg on a table. “How about getting us a couple of beers, mate? This party business is right tiring.”

Xander paused in unwrapping a roll of streamers. “You haven’t done anything! We’ve got decorations to put up.”

“Were those our orders?”

Xander frowned. “We were told to deliver them.”

“Right. And I guarantee if we put something up, the ladies will only tisk tisk and say we did them wrong. Then they will redo them.”

“But if we do nothing…”

“Xander! Which is the less work-like of two evils?” Spike interlaced his hands behind his head and leaned back.

Xander put the streamers back in the box and nodded. “Right. Two cold drinks coming up!”


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


When Dawn and her boyfriend arrived, the porch was festooned with glittery streamers and bobbing balloons, which Xander and Spike had to put up at Willow’s direction after all. “At least we didn’t have to do it twice,” Spike said when Xander glared at him.

Michael was of a height with Dawn, and had an easy manner about him. He smiled easily and made Dawn smile, too. “Who does he remind me of?” Xander asked Spike where he held court in the deepest shadow.

“Two words. Letterman’s jacket.”

“Eep!” Michael really did look like the young man who had come into possession of an enchanted jacket, making every woman who saw him, including Dawn, fall in obsessive love with him.

“Yeah, funny innit. He’s a good man. Believe me, with this crew, if you had so much as taken a penny candy when you were three we’d know about it.”

“Eep, again.”

Spike chuckled. “Have a seat and let them come to us.” Xander opened a fresh Coke and sat down. It wasn’t long before Gunn and Oz joined them in the cozy, cool corner.

Soon the porch was filled with strangers. Xander was shortly overwhelmed with all the local friends who had showed up to wish Dawn a happy birthday and say a few words to her before she went back to Europe. His problem was they also wanted to meet the new, reclusive, and attractive neighbor.

After an hour or so, the well-wishers ate their cake and drifted away, leaving “family” and Michael.

Dawn came over to their corner and stood with her hands on her hips until the men left off their passionate debate of CGI viruses practical special effects.

“Yes, Nibblet?” Spike finally said, right after making what he felt was a strong point and not letting Gunn reply.

“I hate to break up your social circle, but I want to play volleyball and we need a couple of strong hitters,” Dawn said, looking pointedly at Xander and Oz.

Oz shrugged. “I’m in.”

“I can’t do much good with my bad leg, sweetheart,” Gunn said.

“Can you referee?”

“That I can do.”

“Xander?” Dawn asked as the other two got up.

“Um… I’ll get my party shirt all sandy.” Xander plucked at the sequined hula girl and pineapple shirt Spike had given him.

“Then take it off.”

“But Spike will be left all alone up here.”

“Please?” Dawn pouted.

“Go on, Nibblet, I’ll reason with him.” Spike said.

With a final pout and flounce, Dawn turned and ran down to the beach.

“Thanks for getting me out of…” Xander began.

“Hand over the shirt and I can watch fine from here.”

“What?”

Spike sighed. “Xander, go play volleyball. It’s a beautiful day and your best friends want to play with you. I know you’ve got one of those wife beaters on under that shirt, so you won’t be naked. Get!”

“But I…”

“What?”

“I might hurt somebody?”

“Xander. It’s not a contact sport. Get your shirt off and get out there before I throw you out.”

Xander could see the resolve in Spike’s eyes and finally caved.

It wasn’t long before Xander had thrown himself into the game and was laughing along with the rest of them. Spike sat back and enjoyed the pleasure of his friends.

After a couple of hours, the sun was setting and everyone returned to the porch for hamburgers, more cake, and the opening of family presents.

One after another, they gave her their gifts, all were thoughtful or amusing. Last of all, Xander handed Dawn a small neatly wrapped package. She had been pestering Xander for clues for days. “Is this what came from Jen’s?” she asked.

“Perhaps.”

Eagerly, Dawn unwrapped the package and opened the jewel box squealed. “It’s beautiful!”

“I was afraid it was too cheesy.”

“No, it’s perfect.” Dawn leaned over and gave Xander a big hug.

“Can I see?” Willow asked. The box held a little, gold, hand-crafted pen shaped like a key with four small green stones set into the bow. “These aren’t emeralds, are they?”

Click for full size image

“No, it’s pre... er... peridot.” Xander said. “One time I talked to Tara about when she saw Dawn… as energy.” He looked at Willow apologetically for bringing up her long lost lover, but the redhead just smiled sadly and nodded. “She said it was a pretty, bright green energy. Jen said she thought this stone would be best. I didn’t tell her why, just what.”

“Thank you, Xander. I’ll wear it proudly.”

“Don’t forget  the other package, Xander.” Spike put in.

“Which? Oh, the one from Jen. She was sorry she couldn’t come, but she had a show in the city. She sent this.” Xander found the small, flat box.

“A present form Jen! I didn’t expect that! I hope it’s her art, but she wouldn’t just give it to me, would she?” Dawn opened the box and squealed again. “It is! So cool!” Dawn held up the two small paintings of a red and a green fish creature. She passed the paintings around and opened the small card. “She says it’s her chance to spread her fame to Europe,” Dawn giggled.

Click for full size image

Spike got to his feet. “Enough of this! It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good fire!”

“Marshmallows!” Xander and Dawn called at the same time.

After much whooping and jumping, with Xander demonstrating some moves he’d picked up in Africa, then Willow and Midra doing a blessing on them all, Xander found himself sitting beside Dawn on one side of the fire with marshmallows between them.

“Somehow, I always knew you’d come back,” Dawn said quietly. “I never left you out of my prayers.”

“Thanks, Dawnie. You were one of the people who kept me going.” He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “But I must admit that in my mind you looked like you did the last time I saw you in that crowded lobby.”

Dawn laughed. “That was a dive of a hotel, wasn’t it?”

“It sure was. I must say, you’ve grown up a lot, and I’m proud of you. I never even started on my college degree, and here you are starting on a masters.”

“Eh. I have a knack for languages is all.”

“Knack,” Xander scoffed. “How many do you know now?”

“Twice as many as Giles.”

“That’s my girl. I’m proud of you.”

“I’m proud of you, too.”

“Why of me?” Xander asked, poking at a log.

“I can’t begin to imagine what you went through, but you survived, and you’re working on getting back to the real world.”

“Spike’s being a big help.”

“Don’t let him go, Xander. Don’t let him get away.”

Xander laughed. “I’ve paid him for a year, he’s not going anywhere.”

Dawn tossed a few twigs into the fire and watched them catch. “In that horrible summer when Buffy was dead, I got to know Spike better then any of us knew him. Maybe better than anyone has. We spent a lot of long nights talking.”

“I’ve learned there is more to Spike that I ever suspected,” Xander stared at a bed of glowing embers.

“Just… for me, promise you will allow yourself to see Spike and all he has to offer, okay? Don’t let him run away if he tries. That’s long been his way of dealing with things.”

“I will, Dawnie, I will.”

Dawn hugged her friend. “I’ll miss you, Xander,” she said into his long hair.

“I’ll miss you, too. We’ll talk, lots.”

“Hey! Who’s this getting some action by the fire?” Spike said, squatting down beside them.

Xander pulled Dawn into his arms and dipped her away form the fire. Dawn squealed and giggled. “Mine!” Xander grunted, and blew a raspberry on Dawn’s bare neck.

“I think Michael would have a thing or two to say about that.”

Xander drew his brow down and stuck out his jaw. “Who dat? Who want girl?”

Spike raised his eyebrow and pointed to where Michael had come around the fire and was standing, smiling. “Dat? Dat little man!” Xander picked up Dawn, tossed her over his shoulder, and stomped over to Michael. He ignored Dawn’s fists on his back. “Why you need girl?”

“I love her.”

Xander grunted. “And?”

“I want to keep her.”

“Oh, then what I get?”

Michael shrugged. “Marshmallows?”

“No hungry.”

“Grog?”

“Beer bad.”

“Vampire?” Michael said pointing at Spike.

Xander looked over at Spike. “Vampire? What I do with vampire?”

“I have no idea. Play chess?”

Xander hauled Dawn off his shoulder and pushed her into Michael’s arms. “Okay. You take girl. She skinny anyway.”

“Hey!” Dawn giggled.

Xander nodded and stomped to Spike. “You, vampire. Teach me chess.”

Spike crossed his arms as if daring Xander to pick him up, too. “Boring game, mate, what say we gather some firewood and keep the tribe safe.”

“Firewood good quest. We go.”

Xander stomped off into the dark with an amused Spike following.

“Damn,” Xander said after Spike caught up a little ways down the brightly moon lit beach. “I should have taken off my pretty party shirt.”

“It would be a shame to ruin it,” Spike said dryly.

“I like it,” Xander pouted. “It’s the ultimate tacky shirt. I’m proud of you for having the courage to buy it for me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Spike! You didn’t steal it!”

“No, I gave a young man a twenty to buy it for me.”

“I don’t see any drift wood.”

“I was told there’s a deadwood tree a little ways down.”

“I like Dawn’s fella. Too bad she has to leave him.”

“In three month’s he’s finishing his degree here and joining her,” Spike said.

“I’m glad to hear that. It sucks to be alone.”

“I know,” Spike said under his breath.

“It's a great party! Thank you for kicking me off the porch, Spike.”

Spike shrugged. “Truth was, I needed to catch up on my e-mail. I wrote a letter to Giles about the magic bits you picked up.”

“Do you think that will help us find the location of the caves?”

“I hope so.”

“Spike? Will you stay with me again tonight?”

“Yeah, mate. Won’t leave you alone unless you want it.”

A little further on, they found the tree. Spike used his supernatural strength to break off branches other beach fire harvesters could not get, as Xander steadily stacked them up.

Spike heard Xander’s sudden intake of breath. “What is it?” Spike asked, coming to his side as he dropped his arm full of wood.

“I cut myself,” Xander answered calmly. Spike glanced down and could see the shine of a broken bottle in the moonlight. “Here,” Xander held out his hand where a line of blood was just starting to well up on the heel. “Don’t waste it.”

Spike’s first reaction was to warn Xander of the intimacy of such a gesture. He met Xander’s eye as the rich smell of fresh blood hit him. “Xander…”

“I know,” Xander said forcefully as the first drop fell. “Help me out.”

Spike took his hand and sealed his lips around the inch and a half long gash. He licked away the line of blood and swallowed Xander’s healthy and rich blood. He pressed his tongue to the cut, pushing the sides of the gash together, holding back the flood, and suppressed the urge to suck. The scent of Xander’s skin, so close and sweaty caused him to grow hard.

“I need your t-shirt,” Xander said after a minute, his voice husky. “I don’t want to tear my party shirt.

Spike hadn’t realized he’d closed his eyes until Xander spoke. He looked him in the eye and nodded slightly. Holding Xander’s wounded hand gently in place, he helped him untuck and rip free his plain black t-shirt.

Between them, they managed to tear off a long strip of material and fold a small pad. With the make shift bandage ready, Xander looked into Spike’s eyes again. “Thanks, Spike. It’s a deep cut and…”

Spike just rolled his eyes making Xander chuckle. On Xander’s count, Spike swiftly replaced his mouth with the cloth and tied it tight. “There, very little wasted. Let’s get you back. I think it’ll need to be stitched.”

Xander held the hand above his heart. “There’s no rush now. Why don’t you grab an armful of wood?”

Spike tilted his head. “Okay, but if you go all woozy, I’m taking it and leaving you.”

Xander laughed. “Fair enough.” He watched as Spike picked up the broken bottle and threw it in an exact arch into a nearby trashcan. “An ecologically considerate vampire: how funny.” 

“My friends are on this beach all the time. I won’t always be around to play tourniquet.” Spike hefted the pile of wood Xander had gathered and set off.

“You know what always confused me in vampire fiction? That a vampire’s saliva has a healing agent in it. That makes no sense at all.”

Spike barked a laugh. “I don’t know what vamp came up with that long ago, but it’s a great way to sneak a drink from those that don’t know better.”

Spike broke the silence after several minutes. “Was that a common practice in the caves?”

“What? Vampire first aide?”

“Yeah.”

Xander studied his feet for a couple of steps. “No, but Anthony… as my protector, Anthony could, when he wanted… tend my wounds.”

“He got regular fresh meals, didn’t he?”

Xander shrugged. “He got what he wanted. I… didn’t ask. He never fed from me to the point of making me weak, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“Ever… No, too personal.” Spike said.

“Ever? Personal? Oh!” It had been arousing having Spike’s lips on him, drawing his blood. He was kind of surprised Spike went there and brought it up. “During sex,” Xander said quietly.

“Sorry. Don’t mean to stir things up.”

“Yeah, sometimes. I never understood before how someone could get hooked on it. I saw what it did to Riley, but it’s a hell of a thing. As I’m sure you know.” He trudged on a couple of steps. “After Anthony died, there where nights… I was almost like a junky. I thought about taking another vampire lover… there was a pleaser vampire.” Xander sighed. “It wasn’t until after he was gone that I understood why Anthony wouldn’t… bite me more often. ”

Both men thought of mentioning the intimacy they’d just shared, but neither felt it needed saying.

“Thanks,” Spike finally said.

“For the snack?” Xander joked.

“For the trust. And the snack.” Spike frowned, considering. “Though it’s rather like at a store where they give you one sodding tiny crumb of cheese on a toothpick, making you want a whole wedge.”

Xander grinned at Spike. “Do you want my whole wedge now?”

“I have finally discovered what I’ve long suspected.”

“What’s that?”

“You really are a nummy treat.”

“Well, keep talking pretty like that, and you may just get a slice.” Xander’s smile abruptly crumpled and he stumbled in the sand.

Spike dropped the wood and worriedly put his arm around Xander, steadying him. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yeah… I thought…” He watched Spike as the vampire checked his hand for bleeding. A thin, darker line marked the bandage.

“It’s not too bad, but I want to get you treated before it gets worse,” Spike looked from Xander’s hand to his suddenly close face.

Xander’s lips parted as if to say something, but he drew in a shaky breath instead.

“Right. You are not allowed to play resilient he-man ever again. You’re getting shocky.” Spike put one arm around Xander and held his bandaged hand up with the other.

“My hero,” Xander sighed, leaning against him.

“Idiot,” Spike muttered affectionately.

“So I taste good?”

“You do, Xander.”

“Wanna taste me again?”

Spike pushed down the desire to show Xander how much he wanted him there and now. He’d learned with Buffy how wrong it was to make the first step. If someone wanted him, they’d tell him. “When you’re ready, Xander. Not before. Now shut up and let me get you safe.”

Xander started to make another flirtatious remark, but held back. Spike was right. He’d only been out of Africa for a month and thoughts of Anthony were too near. It wasn’t fair to either of them. “It’s a date,” Xander murmured as they reached the circle of the firelight.





40
Gazebo Kiss

Over the next six months, Xander started to spend more time with the rest of the family. Most nights, however, were spent alone with Spike. They didn’t always talk, but both found the company welcome. True, there were nights Xander wanted to be alone and enjoy some… private time. Those occasions, Spike would vanish from the house and no one knew where he went. He would most often silently show up the next evening as if he had never left. Any questioning was met with a snarky or cryptic remark, so they learned to put it down to Spike’s wild nature.

Xander threw himself into restoring the gazebo, working long days on turning new railings and scraping paint. On rainy days, he would help Spike restore his motorcycle.

Twice Spike went on short errands for the council. Each time, he checked in with Xander by phone, assuring him that he would return.

While they each felt the attraction to one another, it was kept quiet; only expressed in the way they slept close at night, and spent much of their free time together. Xander wasn’t ready; he still feared the possible loss of Spike if he gave in to his desires. Spike tried to be patient, and yet show Xander he would be there when and if he was ever ready.

Between Giles and Willow, they came up with a battery of tests to determine what, if any magical abilities Xander had. They determined that he was magic sensitive, and had the odd ability to not only pick enchanted items from mundane, but when they tested the worry stone he bought from Jen, they learned he could generate small amounts of energy in an object. It was deemed an interesting, but most likely useless ability.

One day, Xander came to the house for lunch to find Spike in his long coat and tailored clothes.

“What’s up, Spike? you look good.”

“I always look good. I thought you realized that.”

“Yeah, but you look like you did… Fuck. There’s a ship, isn’t there?”

“Ralph von Hoffman at your service,” Spike said in his German accent.

Xander swallowed and looked away. “I know you have to go, there’s no one else, but… be careful, Spike. Please be careful.”

“I should be able to gather better information, now that we’ve learned so much from you.”

“That’s what worries me. What if you give something away?”

Spike stepped to Xander and put a hand to his cheek, bringing his eye up to face him. “I know what I’m doing, Xander, and I promise I’ll be back.”

“I know. I just wish there was something I could do to help.” Xander put his hand over Spike’s and pressed it to his face.

“Be a translator if we need, okay? That’s important.”

“Okay. See you in a couple of days?”

“Sure will.” Spike smiled and reclaimed his hand. “I must now to be away,” he said in his German accent. “Time is important, and my boss must have what he demands.”

With a curt nod, and a snapping turn, Spike vanished through the door to the tunnels.  Xander went up to his room and stared out the window until Willow coaxed him down for dinner. Oz and Gunn were leaving for the rendezvous point, and she wanted Xander there to see them off.

“Come down, Xander, please,” Willow coaxed.

“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled and continued to stare out the window, turning his worry stone over and over.

Willow sat on the edge of the chair next to him and laid a hand on his knee. “Xander, he’ll be fine. He’s done this lots of times before.”

“I know but… what if he gives away how much he knows? What if he goes digging for more information and gets caught? I told him a lot about what went on in that ship. What if he gets mad and… I don’t know, wants to play hero? They’ll dust him without a moment’s hesitation!”

“Oh, Xander!” Willow gently wiped a tear from his eye. “He’s smart, we know that. He’s kept himself alive for over a hundred years, I think he can manage this two day trip.”

“You’re probably right. But… some of the stories he’s told me…”

“Are probably half bravado. I’ve heard his stories, too. Maybe not the same ones as you, but our Spike loves to brag and tell stories. Come down for a minute and see the guys off. Your support means a lot to them. Heck, you being here has fired them up.”

“That’s what I mean, Willow. I’m afraid of overconfidence.”

“Look, our men are risking their lives, too.”

“He’s not my…”

“Shush. If you must mope, you have to mope in company. It’s a house rule.”

“What do you do, sit around and knit?”

“It’s more productive than a worry stone, mister. I’ll teach you how.”

“I don’t…”

Willow stood and put her hands on her hips. “I have no other choice. Resolve face. Come down, see them off, and eat some dinner. You missed lunch and I will never believe you’re not hungry.”

Xander smiled at his frowning friend and stood up with a sigh. “Very well.”

Two nights later, Spike returned with two slaves he’d rescued. After warning the women of the van’s arrival, he went to find Xander sitting in the almost-finished Gazebo. Piles of gardening materials and cans of paint sat neatly stacked on the floor. A single hanging work lamp lit the scene. Spike crossed the floor and leaned on the rail next to where his friend sat. He heard Xander let out a breath as if he’d been holding it the whole time he’d been gone. They watched the fireflies in silence.

Finally, Xander turned to look at Spike who was still dressed in his fancy leather coat, polished boots, and tailored slacks, and looked him over. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Spike suppressed a grin and slipped into his German mannerisms. “No. I hope you do not mind, but I saw this lovely… what do you call it?”

“Ga-ze-bo,” Xander said clearly, playing along.

“Gazebo, yes, and I just had to see it. I’ve never seen a structure more beautiful.”

Xander looked around at the high ceiling and the railings he’d turned by hand. “Thank you.”

“You did this? Oh! It is magnificent!” Spike went to the center of the floor. He craned his head back and turned slowly to look at the softly lit rafters with their carved details.

Xander suddenly recalled a conversation he’d had with Spike about romance novel covers a year before. Spike had said he was the typical model, and Xander admitted to liking leaner men. Spike would be every bit at home on a novel cover right now. “I had some help,” he said absently.

“But I can see the master eye was yours.” Spike stopped turning and struck a pose.

Xander suddenly felt himself caught up in the role playing. Here was the handsome foreign stranger who charms a local boy. Giving in to impulse, Xander slipped off the railing and took off his shirt. “It’s a hot night, isn’t it?”

Spike blinked, and the fantasy he’d played in his head moved toward him. “Um… ya. Very hot here…” He stood still as he watched the muscles play in Xander’s arms as he reached up, pulled the tie from his hair and let it tumble about his shoulders. He wished he could put the world in slow motion.

“It is hot… you’re hot…” Xander said softly, his deep voice carrying on the still night air.

“I… I think perhaps you could distract me from this heat?” His accent had slipped, but neither one remarked on it.

Xander stepped close and brought a big, work roughened hand up to cup Spike’s pale face. He ran a thumb over the edge of his sharp cheekbone. “It’s funny, but I feel I’ve known you in another life.”

“You mean like I was meant to come here, on this night, to this place?”

“Yeah, and I was meant to do this…” Xander leaned down and gently pressed his lips to Spike’s.

Had they been able to think, they would have said the world tilted and nothing existed but the other man’s touch.

Spike started to reach up and touch Xander in turn when a small, dark figure suddenly appeared at the head of the path. It was one of the girls Spike had just brought back. The slim girl froze for a half a minute, her eyes wide, and she darted away from the light.

“Damn,” Spike said vehemently, hating her for interrupting, hating that Xander dropped his hand and looked after her like the bloody white hat he was.

Xander took a steadying breath, dizzy from the emotions swirling inside him. “Slayer?”

“Slayer and slave.”

“Let me help her,” Xander said and was off.

Seconds later, Oz and Willow appeared. Spike pointed off the direction she’d gone. “Xander’s on her path.”

They took off and Spike bent to pick up Xander’s discarded shirt. What had that been? Playing? Acting? Had it been real? He shamelessly breathed in the musky scent of Xander. Oh God, let it have been real.





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