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Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mrs. or Mr. Pearl?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. Our boy’s all growed up!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Yeah, Spike?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, Xander. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t do it.”

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

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

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

“That would be fun to watch.”

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

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

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

“Like you wouldn’t?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“What did he do then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You think so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not contagious or anything.”

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“Did you have a say in the matter?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You may have a wait.”

“We’ll see.”

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

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

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

Spike’s concern turned to puzzlement.

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

“We have saws for that,” Oz said.

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

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

“What?” he asked miserably.

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

On to Chapter 17

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