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Xander woke up abruptly, at first uncertain where he was. Growing up, he had perfected the slow wake up and had even catalogued fifteen separate stages of lollygagging. Now the transition from the oblivion of sleep and lucid dreaming to reality was a sharp edge with none of the fine layers it once held. Africa was too dangerous and hot a place to lounge in bed of a morning, then the first week of captivity had driven away the already lessened ability to awaken slowly.
So he was suddenly awake and alone for the first time in years. There were no other captives or fighters nearby. There were no guards at the door. There was no bed warmer in his room. There was no Spike. The first one of these he looked for was Spike. Why? Xander rolled to his back and watched the ceiling fan turn. Far off in the house, he could hear a television babbling, and water running. Outside he heard birdsong and a lawn mower. He was alone, safe, clean, and warm. It felt wonderful.
During his captivity, his only true escape had been in his own mind. He’d once read an article on controlling one’s dreams in one of the new age magazines Giles sold while he should have been looking for a demon in a dusty book. Through trail and error he had mastered it. Xander now closed his eyes and sifted through his night’s dreams. He had been dreaming of Spike, trying to remember everything about the vampire’s fighting style in preparation of today’s practice. He couldn’t wait to show the smug vamp what he now knew. That was it. His first of the morning thoughts had nothing to do with the comfort he’d gained from having Spike beside him the night before. Or had they? Xander sat up. So what if they had?
He glanced at the clock. He’d slept for almost seven hours, which was strange for him. In captivity, he’d only slept about five hours in a stretch at most. His body was probably giving him what he needed. Xander shrugged it off. At least he’d not slept through his sparring session with Spike.
He relieved himself and enjoyed a good minty tooth brushing. He took a minute and cleared off a shelf in the bathroom of all the random bottles and containers, putting them away in a cabinet. He lined up all the new things Spike had bought for him. The last thing he’d expected was for Spike to remember such trivial things. Maybe he felt he should earn some of what he was being paid.
Xander dressed in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt from the new clothes and made his way downstairs, taking a glace at the closed door to Spike’s room as he passed it. Surely the vamp was already up. He found no one until he came to the living room. Gunn sat on the edge of the couch and folding towels as he watched TV.
“Morning!” he said cheerily. “How are you today?”
“I’m good, thanks, Gunn. Where is everyone?”
“Let’s see. Oz is mowing the grass. Willow’s puttering in the herb garden. Dawn’s gone off with her fella again. I think Midra’s in the kitchen getting lunch ready.”
“Um, what about Spike?”
“I don’t know. He did tell me he’d be in the barn when you got your lazy ass up.” Gunn made air quotes around the last phrase.
“Thanks,” Xander said with a smile and turned to go.
“Xander?” Gunn’s voice was serious. He paused in his task with a blue towel in his hands.
“I need to talk to you soon, man. I mean, about what happened and where. The legal wheels need to turn.”
Xander nodded. “I know. Look. Let’s talk tonight. Let everyone know who wants to hear… I’m not telling it twice, okay?”
“Sure. Just when you’re ready.”
“I’ll be ready tonight.” Xander’s stomach had knotted, but he knew he had to eat something before meeting Spike. He glanced at a clock and it struck him as funny how time suddenly meant something again. In the caves where he’d lived, others pretty much kept the time; he moved when he was told to move, and ate when he felt hungry. Maybe he needed Spike to buy him a watch.
He went into the cheery kitchen. Midra was chopping celery on a cutting board. Out of the window he could see Oz pouring gasoline into the mower. “Good mornin’ Xander. I pray no evil spirits vexed your sleep?”
Xander had to smile at her use of the phrase most would think quaint. In Africa it was a real concern. “I called up dreams of Spike fighting to help me in sparring against him today.”
Midra nodded. “So none would dare come near your dream paths. That is good. Are you hungry? I’ll have lunch on the table in an hour.”
“I’m meeting him at one. Can I get something quick?”
“Poke your head in the pantry and help yourself.”
For a minute Xander could only take in the wealth of food stacked in neatly labeled, bright packages. Overwhelmed, he picked up a loaf of Wonder bread and just held it. After five minutes, Midra came to his rescue. Gently, she took the bread from him. “Sit down, I’ll make you a peanut butter, strawberry jam, and banana sandwich. Willow said that was one of your favorites.”
“That would be great. Sorry, Midra.”
“Don’t you be sorry about anything!” Midra scolded as she efficiently made his sandwich. “You’ve been through hell, and that gives you a golden ticket. Well, for a while anyway. When I got here, I gained twenty pounds and wanted to spend all my time out window shopping.”
Xander laughed. “Thanks. It’s… overwhelming. I’ve gone from sleeping with one eye half open and not being able to move about without tripping over a demon or chained chattel to being able to walk out of here clear to Mississippi if I wanted to.”
“Yes. It’s safe. That’s the nicest part.” Midra laid neatly sliced bananas on the bread.
Xander looked out the window at where Willow was showing Oz something in her basket, both smiling. “… and my friends… all well.”
Midra sat the sandwich and a glass of milk before him. “All very well. Spike has never looked happier.”
“Mmmph?” Xander asked around a mouthful.
“Oh, yes. He’s got a twinkle in his eye not been there since Angel turned his back on him.” Midra went back to chopping celery.
“Great pretender tired of Spike trying to cheer him up and have some fun. He wants to deny what he is and play at being human. He won’t work out with Spike and has only helped us undercover twice. And those times were because Buffy guiltied him into it. He’s bought a big house, lives with his werelady, and does business on the internet. He could help our cause a great deal, but won’t.”
Xander thought over everything Giles had written him in that last year. “After all he did with bringing down Wolfram & Hart, shouldn’t he have his choice?”
“It’s not so much that,” Midra sighed, “as Spike is his kin, his only kin. He wants to ignore his past completely. From what I hear, it’s almost as bad as his brooding phase. And Angel’s a warrior, as much as he wants to deny it. One day, it’ll bite him in the ass.”
“Spike or his denial?”
Midra snorted. “Both. Spike’s got no connection to anybody. We’ve tried to make him welcome here, but he feels like an extra wheel.”
Xander chewed and swallowed another bite, considering. “What about Drusilla?”
“I don’t know, sweets. He’s never mentioned her. Now eat up, you’ve got a date at noon, yes?”
Xander found his way to the barn. “Spike?” he called as he stepped into the cool room. Getting no answer, he picked up a staff and fell into a warm up routine. As he moved and flexed, he kept an eye on the door, watching for Spike to run in under a blanket.
He was nearly finished with the routine when he was attacked.
Instantly, his training fed him information. His attacker was small, quick, strong. They rolled over and over. Humanoid, cold, probably vampire. Xander got a foot between them and kicked hard. His assailant flew off him and landed on his feet even as Xander flipped to his.
“Not bad, whelp,” Spike said as he dove at him again. Xander dropped and swept Spike’s feet out from under him. Spike rolled away as Xander brought the end of the pole down toward him.
“You’re late,” Xander said as Spike knocked the staff away and rolled to his feet.
“No,” Spike leapt and landed close to Xander, knocking the pole from his hands. “I’ve been here. You didn’t check out the building.”
Xander punched Spike, knocking him back a couple of steps. “Didn’t think I had to.”
Spike wiped blood from his nose and licked it off his thumb. “Then that’s lesson one.”
They fell to fighting and didn’t notice when the others came in with their lunches to sit on the bleachers. It was a swift give and take, with each one testing the other. They pulled punches, but only just enough.
Spike recovered from a hard blow to the ribs and stood for a second rubbing them. Xander stood half crouched, not letting his attention waver from Spike. The man was a damn good fighter. Perhaps one of the best Spike had ever faced. If only Buffy had seen the potential in her friend long ago. Spike had thought about pointing it out to her, but she would never have listened.
“Giving up?” Xander growled.
“To you? Not hardly.” Spike leapt high in the air, twisting mid-flight. He had intended on landing behind Xander, but the man turned, spinning away, so Spike instead landed to face Xander as he grabbed Spike’s shirt.
“Vampires can fly. I know that one.” Xander picked Spike up by his shirt and threw him toward the one beam of sunlight that streamed in through the small high window. Spike snatched his hand out of it and knew Xander had aimed to miss.
Spike flipped to his feet and chuckled. “Had a vamp for a teacher? I have to pull out some really old tricks, then.”
Xander kept his attention on Spike. He tried to be ready for anything. Spike’s style was a collection of whatever worked and he knew the vampire fought as dirty as possible. He pushed down a pang of sorrow as he thought of his teacher’s style that had a solid groundings in boxing and fencing.
Spike saw his opponent waver and leapt again. This time, he did not come down. He easily grabbed one of the rafters and pulled himself up on it.
“I thought bats went to roost at dawn!” Xander called from below him, even as he moved toward the weapons rack.
Spike stood lightly on the narrow beam, listening as Xander drew out one of the practice swords, then ran along it. He heard Xander move to stay below him. Then he suddenly doubled back. Moving as swiftly as he could, Spike leapt and landed just behind Xander. He wrapped an arm around Xander’s neck, but the man threw his weight backwards, toppling them both and landing on top of Spike. Had he needed his breath, Xander would have winded him.
As it was, Spike found his arm being twisted as Xander grabbed hold of it and rolled. He felt the shoulder joint pop, sending a brief jolt of pain through him. It was quickly followed by a kick to the ribs. He grabbed for the offending foot, but Xander was out of arm’s reach. He came to his feet with a snarl.
“You’ve gone all bumpy, that’s bad form, mister,” Xander taunted, holding his practice sword at the ready.
Spike didn’t answer, just shifted, sliding over to the weapons rack and taking out a sword for himself.
“My money’s on Xander,” Gunn said quietly to Midra.
“You think so? The boy’s got fire, but Spike’s got a decade on him.”
Gunn smiled and took his woman’s hand without looking away from the two circling men. “Looser gives the winner a full body massage.”
She pumped his hand once. “Done.”
Xander fell into the variation of the fencer’s ready pose he’d been taught. Spike held his weapon loose and ready in his left hand and circled Xander. He wondered if Spike realized he was still in vamp face. Xander feinted at him, a move Spike easily blocked.
He tried a few more things, deliberately letting his shoulder drop to leave a small opening. He let Spike try to get o his blind side. Finally, Spike took the opening. Xander parried and switched hands as he did so. He brought his sword up and around, blocking Spike’s attack and cutting through his jeans as he went.
Spike recovered and took a step back, eyeing Xander with even more respect. They circled and fought, testing one another. At one point Spike twisted and brought his sword dangerously close to Xander’s crotch. Xander leapt away and took up the stave he’d been warming up with. He held defensively, but when Spike shifted to compensate, Xander flipped it, making it come down point-first toward the right side of Spike’s chest. Spike brought his sword up and deflected it hard enough to shatter the stave and bend his sword.
They both stood still, dusty, bleeding, and breathing hard. Spike shook off the fangs and panted at Xander’s ready sword point. “Had enough, whelp?”
“You’re asking me?” The sweat dripped off him and for a minute Spike thought he saw a flicker of wildness in his eye. Then he dropped his sword point and pushed his hair off his forehead. “Yeah. I think I messed up your jeans bad enough.”
Spike frowned down at the slice in his jeans and the already healing cut underneath. “Yeah? Well your hair’s a right mess.”
Xander barked a coughing laugh. “Yeah, that’s the worst you did.”
“Broke a stave and bent a sword, too! Now I got to replace them!” Gunn called out. “You get o pay up soon, woman.”
Midra snorted. “Like I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Xander looked over at the crowd on the benches and shook his head. He dropped all tension and held out his hand to Spike. “Shouldn’t we be getting a cut of the box office?”
Spike shook the sweaty hand to end the bout. “Naw. I tried that. One of their favorite pastimes is to watch a round of vampire-kick-the-Slayer.”
Xander rested his hands on his knees as sweat dripped form his face. Willow waved cheerfully at him and went back to eating chips. “What’s to stop the action from crashing down on them?”
“Willow’s magicked up a barrier.”
“Are you guys through throwing one another about?” Willow asked.
The two exchanged looks. “Sure. I need to cool down and I want Spike to show me one of the moves he pulled, but I think the main event is over,” Xander said.
“Then finish up and come in for ice cream. I got homemade chocolate!”
Gunn tossed Xander a bottle of water and joined them as the others gathered their litter. “That was some fighting, man. I’ve not seen anyone but Angel give Spike here that much of a run for his money. Well, maybe Illyria, but she was special.”
Xander saw Spike stiffen out of the corner of his eye. “He was going easy on me. I’m going to feel it later.”
“Yeah. I try to keep up my moves, but it’s harder every year. Good show, guys!” Gunn hobbled after the others.
“Best finish up, mate,” Spike muttered, running a hand over his hair.
“I don’t know exactly what happened between you and Angel, but I want you to know I’m glad you’re here.”
Spike squinted out into the bright sun. “I’m glad I can be here for you, too.”
Xander stripped off his shirt, went to a table and grabbed up a towel. He ran it over his face and torso as he drained the water. He shook out his arms and turned back to Spike to find him still staring at the sun. “What is it, Spike?”
Spike shook his head and blinked away the sunspots in his eyes. “Nothin’.”
“I want to add another stipulation to our contract.”
“What’s that, whelp?”
“You talk to me when you need to.”
“Fair enough.” Spike grinned. “Now what move so impressed you that you need a replay?”
They knocked around for another half hour before Xander declared himself hungry and called it quits.
“You’re a bloody good fighter now, whelp.”
“Thanks. I had a bloody good teacher.”
“Yeah, he was.” Xander hid his face by wiping off the sweat. He didn’t want to think about Anthony right now. His teacher and friend was too close. They had spent many hours together training and talking. Fighting with Spike had brought back those memories. “Where’s your blanket?” Xander asked as he headed for the door.
“On my bed,” Spike said as if explaining something to a child.
“Then how did you get here without going dusty?”
Spike chuckled. “Oz is a poor tour guide. There’s tunnels, mate. They connect the house, the barn, and the garage.”
“Wow! That’s very cool. Bat caves.”
“You want a tour?”
Xander hesitated. “No thanks, Spike. I’ve seen enough tunnels to last me a life time. Maybe some rainy day.”
“Oh. Sorry, Xan.”
“Eh, forget about it. I’m trying to.” He hesitated. “Tonight after dinner I’m going to tell Gunn what he needs to know about my capture.”
“You want to go into it so soon, mate?” Spike tilted his head at his friend.
“Not really. But I’ve set myself on the rip off the band aid course of therapy and I’m sticking to it. Besides, Gunn has to do legal stuff. Oh God, I hope there’s not a media circus! Southern California man kept in chains. How tabloid is that!”
“Don’t worry about it. Keeping things hushed up is one of the things Gunn does best. Now go clean up so you don’t track dust in the lady’s clean house and I’ll see you inside.”
On to Chapter 11
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