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While Xander knocked the dust off his clothes and washed
his face in the changing rooms, Spike took to the tunnels, ran to the house and
burst through the door into the kitchen. As he’d hoped, everyone was gathered
around the table.
“Spike!” Willow fussed. “You’re all dusty.”
“I know, not important.” Spike put his hands flat on
the table and looked at each one of them in turn. “I’m sure Gunn’s told
you Xander’s telling the story of his capture tonight. If you can’t handle
it, if you’re going to weep through the whole story, don’t be there.”
“But…” Willow started.
Spike stared her down with his ‘don’t think I
won’t fuck you up if you do’ face. “Stay in the kitchen and bake
comfort cookies or something. It’s going to be hard enough on him without a
pity party. Tell Dawn when she gets in.” With that, he retreated back to the
basement to clean himself up.
A few minutes later, a less dusty Xander came in to find a
few spoons still in mid air. “Is
there something wrong?”
“No. No,” Gunn covered. “Oz just realized he was
supposed to set the Tivo for something.”
“Yeah,” Oz said, getting up. “I’ll go do that.”
Midra bustled up and sat a bowl of ice cream before him.
“Do ya want nuts or sprinkles on that?”
Xander picked up his spoon and grinned. “What do you
“Both and a dash of M&M’s.”
Xander turned to Gunn. “You’ve got a great lady
“Don’t I know it.”
Spike made a cleaner, more sedate entrance and settled in a chair.
“I’m not even going to ask if you want any,” Midra told him.
Spike pulled a
pout. “What did I do wrong now?”
“Don’t even try to make me look the villain in front of
Xander. I just know very well you don’t like ice cream.”
“Spike!” Xander cried, exaggerating his shock. “You
don’t like ice cream? Not even chocolate?”
Spike slouched, laced his fingers behind his head, and
stretched his legs out. “Nah. I don’t like cold food. It just lays in there
and takes forever to melt.”
After the ice cream was eaten, Willow took Xander aside.
“Giles e-mailed me. He wants you to call him, when you’re ready.”
“Giles,” Xander said with a smile. “It’s only now I
see how much patience he had with all of us and how much he cared.”
“He still does care, Xander.” Willow put her hand on
her old friend’s arm. “He also told me to ask you if you want your
Xander startled. “My… backpack?” The few possessions
Xander had were in that backpack. He’d figured it was looted from the hotel or
lost when he turned up missing.
“The hotel sent it to him as your employer. His name and
the headquarters address was listed as the emergency contact when you
registered. Plus, I think he made a few threats.”
Xander paused. He’d started to rebuild a life after
Sunnydale and had bought the bright blue pack in a camping store. It had acted
as carry on during his trip to London, then to Africa. He’d carried that
battered blue pack on all his adventures. As many nights in his early captivity
he’d wished for the simple comforts offered by its contents, he couldn’t
even remember what was in it now. He had left it behind the day he was kidnapped
as he went to market because he was staying in a real hotel with real security
and it would be nice to travel light for an outing.
“You don’t have to answer now, Xander,” Willow said
softly, breaking into his thoughts.
“Yeah. I’d like it. And... tell him I’ll call him
The evening passed quickly with Xander taking a tour of
Willow and Midra’s herb garden and another lively discussion of what movies
and television shows he’d missed. Dawn returned home before dinner. Her
contribution was to gather a stack of DVDs suitable for watching on the smaller
TV without surround sound in his room.
During dinner, Spike could see the nervousness building
around the edges of the group. Xander kept falling quiet, and Willow kept biting
her lip and glancing at Xander. Dawn babbled about her day less than usual.
“So, Red,” Spike cut into one of her stares. She
blinked and shifted her attention to Spike. “You and Bit going to make a batch
of chocolate chip cookies like you’ve been promising?”
Willow looked over to Dawn who nodded.
“Can you put walnuts in them like you used to?” Xander
asked, missing the subtext.
The rest of the meal passed in a better mood. As Midra and
Dawn gathered the plates, Gunn stood up. “I’ll be in the den when you’re
Spike watched him nod and bring up his hand to bite on the
side of a nail in on old familiar manner. It was going to be a bumpy night.
Xander went into the living room to find Gunn sitting in an
armchair with a laptop on a tray table and a small tape recorder at the ready.
“I need to get all the details right. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” Xander shrugged and dropped onto the
end of the couch closest to Gunn. “Tell me, do you charge by the hour?”
Gunn laughed. “Shit. You’re family. Don’t ask that
again. ‘sides, this for the greater good now.”
Oz walked in as he was talking and sat on the other arm
chair, followed by Spike who sat an open beer before Xander and sat down beside
him. “Go ahead when you’re ready. The ladies inform me they’ll read the
Cliff’s notes later.”
Xander was more glad than he realized that it was only him
and the men. He took a swallow of the beer. “What do you want to know?”
Gunn tapped a few keys on his computer and switched on the
recorder. “Eventually, everything you can tell us that will bring the mother
fuckers down. Tonight, let’s focus on the details of your capture.” Gunn
looked at the screen and read off a date and location he knew well. “You were
first reported missing when you didn’t call in before your flight. Then you
Xander took a deep breath and let it out. Spike heard his
heart speed up as he remembered.
He felt good. He’d rounded up three Slayers this
month, and he was headed home in two days. He had just shopped the last market
before the rainy season hit and mailed off a package to home. Trinkets for
Not so long ago, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere
without his collection of Babylon 5 collectors plates on the wall, his comics
neatly in their bags, and a selection of T-shirts.
After Sunnydale sank along with said collections, he rapidly adjusted to living
out of a backpack. Hell, he’d had to buy the backpack. Now his dusty once-blue
pack was more of a companion than anyone. After the last year of traveling
around the inhospitable paths of the dark continent, he knew what possessions
mattered; a good warm blanket, comfortable shoes, a bowl, a sharp knife, a
floppy hat, and when lucky; a book to read.
“I went shopping and had just dropped off a package of
“It arrived,” Oz said quietly. “I’ve been told
about it.” Xander nodded at the odd comfort of this small event.
He smiled at the lady who had sold him a colorful scarf
for Buffy earlier. The lady smiled back, waved a red scarf at him, and tried to
sell him another one “in case he’d forgotten someone.” He shook his head
and headed out of the market. He passed the last stall when it happened.
everything was fine. Then there was panic. I don’t remember hearing any
gunshots or an explosion.” He spoke like it was a theory he’d been trying to
There was a sudden collective cry and the crowd surged
around him. The air that had carried some atmosphere of celebration, abruptly
turned sour and sharp with the tang of fear.
He tried to push his way to shelter, but the crowd
carried him along like a flood-swollen river. Surprisingly, he found himself
pushed into the scarf seller’s booth. When had he been turned around? He
grabbed one of the poles and swung himself out of the pull of the crowd. He
tripped over something in the booth and looked down to find the once-smiling
seller lying on the ground. She still clutched the scarf
she had waved at him. The red of it blended with the blood that ran from
He crouched behind the flimsy shelter with her. He had
no fear of the dead. At least this one he knew would not rise again. The poles
rocked and swayed. After what seemed like hours, the flood of running feet
stopped. He applied one of his best skills. He hid. Rules one and two for
Hellmouth children. If you can, run, if you can’t, hide.
He heard the guttural sounds of demon speak before he
saw them. He wasn’t sure of what kind they were, but didn’t look to find out. He heard screams and things being
smashed all around him. Where were the police? What was going on here?
He clutched the biggest piece of wood he could get his hands on and
“There were just suddenly people running everywhere and
shouting. Somehow I got turned around and was swept back into the market. I… I
hid in a booth, but there were demons.”
When they finally found him, he swung the sharp end of
the stick with all his might at the ugly, horned face that appeared over the
edge of the ruined stall. Thick, black blood and watery fluid ran down his hand
as he felt an eyeball give way under his attack. His stomach lurched at knowing
what he’d done. The sense memories of it happening to him came back.
“Fyarl demons. I hurt one of them. Took out an eye,”
Spike watched as Xander’s hand moved to cup his own empty socket. He realized
Xander had not worn his eye patch after that first day.
The fyarl demon roared and knocked all barriers from
between them. He tried to scramble away, but was grabbed before he could move.
He was lifted in the air and felt himself flying toward another ruined stall.
His last illogical thought was that at least it was a carpet seller’s booth to
They hauled him out of the wreckage and two of them held
his arms. They dragged him one street over to where a short figure in a fancy
hooded robe stood over several other people who lay passed out or dead on the
street. It waved its hand, said something, and Xander’s world went dark.
“They dragged me out. There was a short figure in a
cloak. He said something and I was out.”
“We wondered if they used mages,” Gunn muttered.
“I saw someone die before they knocked me out,” Xander
Spike dropped his hand to the couch, letting it land next
to Xander’s leg to let him know he was there.
Gunn clicked a key. “We suspected you were taken in the
riot. The timing was too good. That day five people died and at least twenty
five went missing, including you.”
“When I came to, it was dark. I was in the back of an
army troop truck with about fifteen other men. And I was wearing the bands.”
“It would take some mojo to keep you out that long, and
while they put the arm bands on.” Gunn said.
“Yeah.” Xander twisted one of the leather bands, then
abruptly unsnapped it. He rubbed his wrist and fiddled with the leather, turning
it over and over.
“Do you know where they took you?”
“North. There was another period of unconsciousness, so I
have no idea how far we went. I later learned we were in a mountain riddled with
caves. One side exited into jungle, the other into desert.”
Gunn made notes. “Xander, can you tell me the names of
anyone captured with you?”
Xander blinked, swallowed, and nodded. He spun the band
faster and faster. “Buford Newton. White. He was a broker. Don’t know what
happened to him. Marx. Skinny young guy. Jewish and proud of it. In college.
Last seen in captivity in the… pleasure rooms. Jack Williams from Texas.
Dead.” Spike picked up a throw pillow from the couch and put it in Xander’s
hands. He clutched it without noting its arrival.
“Sarah and her little boy Jason. Unknown.” Xander fell silent,
clutching the pillow.
“Xander,” Gunn finally said softly, “we don’t have
to do this now.”
“I want to. I know of others. Not the names of all of
them but…” They could all see he was looking into the past and seeing things
he did not want to again.
“I have some pictures of those missing. Do you want to
Xander squeezed his eyes shut for a minute. He didn’t
want to revisit his sins. He didn’t want to say aloud before his friends what
he’d had to do.
“If it will help you,” came Oz’s soft voice. “Think
of how it will help their families to have any news at all.”
Xander opened his eyes. “What if the news is they died at
my hands in the arena?”
“Then they can mourn and move on.” Oz said, not
Spike shifted closer to Xander on the couch. He silently
put a hand on the broad back and rubbed in circles, lending his support. Xander
closed his eyes again. “Should I, Spike?”
“It will be cutting another link to that place. Any
information you give us will weaken them until we can go in and rip their guts
Xander sat up straighter and Spike stilled his hand but let
it rest on his shoulder. “Show me. Show me everyone who’s vanished in
Gunn brought up an image viewer and turned the screen so
Xander could see it as he typed in the info.
“We’ll start with those who vanished when you did.”
The first picture as of a young man grinning before the forbidden city in China.
“That’s Marx. As far as I know he’s still alive.”
The next picture was of a sandy haired man standing at a grill wearing an apron
and holding tongs. “I… He fought well. Last year we faced off in a death
match.” The next picture was a middle aged African man. “I never saw him.”
The next appeared to have been scanned from a Xeroxed flier. A broad shouldered
man in a business suit sat at a desk. “Buford Newton. Bud. He’s a good
fighter. He was sold off maybe two years ago. I don’t know where he is.”
Xander clutched the pillow as he went through the images of
smiling people. All he could see was suffering and unhappiness. And in the case
of three men, death at his own hands. They reached the last of the files and
Gunn turned the computer away.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “You’ve been a big
Xander abruptly stood, towering over Gunn and almost
knocking over the lap table. “A big help? How? By... by killing them?”
Xander threw down the pillow and ran for the door.
“Xander, wait!” Gunn called after him.
“Don’t wait up, and save us some cookies,” Spike said
as he ran after the big man.
He caught up with Xander on the porch, where he stood with
arms locked leaning on the railing. “I’m a murderer, Spike,” he muttered.
Spike crossed his arms and leaned against a pillar. “So
tell me, what would have happened if you hadn’t killed them?”
“And them. The first time they put me in a death match, I
threw my weapon aside and refused to make the killing blow. I had been told what
would happen, but I’d never seen it before. I’d never been allowed to watch
a death match session. They… they took the guy. He was a little shorter than
me, built like a foot ball player. They made an event out of it. All evening he
hung in the ring and the victors would take a stab at him or... or take a bite. They
used magic to keep him alive until I made the blow and ended it for him. They
made it clear that next time it would me hung up there.”
“So it was all self preservation? Every time you
“In the ring, yeah.”
Spike let that comment go for the moment. “Then you’re
not a murderer.” He pushed off the pillar and strode down the steps. “You
said you wanted to see the ocean? Come on.” Spike started walking down the
driveway in the darkness, his long legs eating ground. He listened and was
gratified when he heard Xander coming up behind him at a trot. Spike lengthened
his own stride and Xander was soon running after him. He let him catch up as
they turned onto the public road. Xander didn’t even look at him, just watched
his own feet move. “It’s two miles straight ahead,” Spike said. “I’ll
see you there.” Spike dropped to a walk and watched as Xander started to run
Xander let his rage and grief surface and shoved the energy
into his legs. He felt the hard asphalt of the road still warm under his feet as
he pumped his legs. Tears blurred his eye, but the road was straight. Somehow,
he knew Spike was not far behind and it comforted him. Memories of the dead and
the still captive swam in his head, now mixed with happy vacation snaps. By the
time the hard road melted into sand and a short flight of stairs climbed a dune,
his breath burned in his lungs and sweat covered his body.
He stopped and breathed deep of the salty air as the moonlit ocean lapped at his feet. His breathing evened out and Spike strolled up beside him as if he’d happened to run into him while shopping. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
On to Chapter 12
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