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Oz snuggled up behind his still-drowsing wife and kissed
the back of her neck.
“Oh, James,” Willow said, pressing back against him,
playing a running private joke, and naming a movie star she’d once called
Oz nipped her neck and growled a little. “Not James,”
he said through his teeth.
“No. No. I said… Rains. Supposed to rain.” She
giggled, rolled over, and kissed his nose.
He growled again, nipped at her and rolled over on top of
She smiled and bared her throat to him. “Of course, my
love. Always yours.”
He kissed her neck and shifted down to lay with his head on
her chest. Theirs was a comfortable marriage, full of humor and security. Every morning they took a few minutes to
“Spike didn’t come back last night, did he?” Willow
“No. I didn’t hear him. I hope he hasn’t done a
“I doubt it. He knows Xander needs him.”
“True. I hope Xander knows he can come to any one of
“I’m sure he does. I wish you’d let me go to him last
night.” Oz had heard him crying, yet kept Willow from investigating.
“If he needs us, he’ll come. He’s not one to run from
trouble any more.”
Willow sighed and ran her fingers through Oz’s short red
hair. “He’s the same and yet he’s not. You should have seen him with that
tree branch. I almost wet myself.”
“I’ve watched him fight, I can believe it.”
“I just wish we could catch a break and get the bastard
who did this to him.”
“We will, sweetheart. Xander himself has been giving us
lots of data.”
“Speaking of data, I’m going to give Xander my old
Oz shifted and looked up at her. “Just make sure all the
pictures are off it.”
Willow giggled. “I’m going to reformat it and give him
a blank slate.”
“Good. And when do I get to take pictures of you in that
Xander heard Willow’s laughter as he passed their door.
He smiled warmly and moved on to leave them their privacy.
No one was downstairs, so he grabbed an apple, some juice,
and a pop tart and headed out to the barn. He used his new key and let himself
in the empty building, climbed the ladder to the loft, and pushed open the doors
that were once used to hoist up hay bales. He sat on an old sofa that partly
made up a sitting area and looked out over the lawn to the misty trees.
He had eaten his snack and was enjoying the sun’s morning
warmth when he heard a noise below him. Silently, he dropped to his knees and
scurried to the edge of the loft. He peeked over the side and watched as a door
below him opened. Spike stepped through with a package under his arm. He was
wearing black jeans and a long sleeved black shirt. Xander wondered briefly why
he didn’t wear his coat anymore and made a mental note to ask. Xander grinned,
and without hesitation, dropped the fifteen feet to land behind Spike.
He knocked the startled and suddenly gamefaced vampire to the ground.
Spike rolled, leaped to his feet, and crouched as his
opponent did the same. Instead of an assassin, he found Xander, his hair free
and wild, matching his crouch. “What’s this, whelp?”
Xander quirked an eyebrow. “Payback, perhaps?” Xander
charged and Spike dodged.
They grappled, almost playfully, for fifteen minutes, then
Spike stood off a little distance after recovering from a nice rolling toss.
“What’s the matter? Still mad? Didn’t you find my note?”
“Yeah. I did.” Xander paused, wanting to ask about what
poem it came from, but during a fight didn’t seem right.
Spike tongued the back of his teeth. “Couldn’t you get
anyone to read it to you?”
“Old joke, Spike. Almost as old as you!” Xander grinned
and charged again, sending them both to the floor. Spike tried some of his more
slippery moves, only to find himself countered again and again. They rolled into
the weapons rack, and sent staffs and stakes flying. Xander wound up on top of
Spike and was the first to grab up a stake and press it to Spike’s chest,
deliberately off-target by a good four inches.
“Yield!” Spike called. Xander dropped the plastic stake
and grinned down at his friend.
“Got you, didn’t I?” A triumphant Xander put his
hands on Spike’s shoulders and pinned him. His hair fell around them like a
“Yes, you’ve got me” Spike said. The air seemed warm
and he resisted the urge to grab Xander’s hair with both hands and pull him
down for a sarcastic kiss. “Now, are you going to let me up or are you
enjoying yourself up there?”
Xander shrugged and bounced just a little. He could feel
Spike’s sharp hipbones and ribs. Suddenly, he remembered straddling another
vampire he fought with like this. Quickly, he got to his feet and held out a
hand for Spike. “Something to sit on,” he mumbled.
“Something to sit on,” Spike echoed as he let Xander
help him up, hiding his disappointment with more snark. “There are more
interesting things to sit on.”
Xander got back in their game, smirked, and started picking
up to the weapons. “I know.” They tidied up the barn together. “So where
did you go?” Xander finally asked.
“To town. Let off some steam. Ate an attempted rapist.
Picked up a bike part and my book. My book! Damn it, Harris, you better not have
damaged it.” Spike stalked over to his dropped package and picked it up.
“Sorry if I did.” Xander followed him. He just glimpsed
a colorful cover before the vampire tucked it back in its bag. “What cha
“Birthday present for Niblet. I was going to hide it out
here. It’s fine. Lucky for you.”
“Sorry. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
“You got me good, I’ll give you that. You need to tell
me more about your mysterious trainer.” The more the concepts of sex and
vampires surfaced, the more certain Spike was there had been more than a
professional relationship there. Of course, the bite scar on Xander’s leg said
Xander’s smile faded. “I will.” He looked away. “He
was a good man, Spike, for all his nature.”
Spike cursed himself. He wasn’t going to bollocks it up
again. “It happens, you know.”
Xander met his eyes. “I know, Spike.”
Spike ducked his head. “Sorry I said bad things
“It’s okay. You got distracted by something shiny and
forgot to not snark.”
“Yeah. That was it.”
Xander felt the need to hug his friend, but just slapped
him on the back instead. “Wanna
see what’s for breakfast?” Spike hid the book up in the rafters as Xander
dusted himself off.
Spike and Xander opened the outside and the basement doors
into the kitchen at almost the same time, making Midra jump. “Xander! I
thought you were still upstairs asleep. Spike! When did you come back?”
“I went out to the barn to watch the sun come up.”
“Just got back,” Spike smirked.
“Well, you may as well sit down and eat while you’re
“Just a bit of tea for me, Luv,” Spike said as he sat
“You know I don’t keep tea ready. I’ll put the water
on, you make your own.”
Midra grinned. “I passed that test with flying colors.
Did better than you!”
“Why should I keep up with who the bloody hell votes on
things? Not like I vote.”
The rest of the household shortly filtered in and Xander
relaxed in the familiar banter.
After breakfast where they all talked and laughed, Willow
and Dawn dragged Xander off to the
office to introduce him to his new laptop. Spike quietly recovered his package
and went upstairs. He hid the new book and picked up a battered paperback.
Hearing that Xander was still downstairs, he went up to read in the sun.
When Xander finally broke away from the ladies, he came
back to his room with the new computer under his arm. He paused in the door when
he discovered Spike with one of his new graphic novels open before his face.
“Now who’s reading comic books?”
“I am, now shut up and let me finish.”
Xander chuckled and set his new toy on the table. “Gunn
is looking for you.”
“Oh?” Spike said without looking up.
“He’ll be in the office.”
Xander left the vampire and went into the bathroom to
shower. When he came out, the room was empty. Several of his graphic novels lay
on the chair. He sat down at he table and turned the laptop on. Willow’s
instructions swirled in his head, but he managed to connect to the Internet. He
typed in his new password, jellyfilled1, and stared at the screen. So much was
out there, where to start? He looked around the room and his eyes settled on the
folded paper he’d left by his bed. He could find where Spike’s poem came
from and one-up the vamp.
He found Google, and typed in the first line in quotes as
Willow had showed him with no results. Puzzled, he tried various phrases with
equal lack of luck. After fifteen minutes, he gave up and looked for naked
pictures of Seven of Nine.
When Willow knocked on the partly open door later, she
found Xander sprawled on the bed reading one of his new books. She sat down on
the bed beside him. “Catching up with the X-Men?”
“Uh-huh. This Weldon guy is great.”
Willow picked one up and looked at the cover. “Whedon,”
she corrected. “Hey! You need to watch the Wonder Woman movie he directed.
Xander put his book aside and smiled at his friend. “Show
it to me, soon. Okay?’
“It’s a date. Oh! Gunn says to remind you to call your
“Eep!” Xander sat up and picked up a pillow. “I
don’t know what to say to her, Willow.”
“How about ‘Hi, Mom. I’m home.’”
“That’s better than some of the ideas I’ve had.”
“Come on. I’ll be right here with you. It’s like the
homework you never wanted to do. Just get it over with.”
“You’re right. Where’s a phone?”
They crossed the hall into the library where a few
comfortable chairs sat here and there. Willow pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to him.
“Here. You want me to stay?”
“No. Thanks, Wills. I’ll… I’ll be okay.”
Willow gave him a quick hug and left him alone.
Xander fell into one of the chairs and stared at the phone
like the alien thing it was. The last time he’d talked on one was the day
he’d been abducted. The connection from Africa to England was staticy and
Giles had been distracted by some disaster Andrew had
caused. He sighed and picked it up. Carefully, he punched the numbers and
leaned back when he heard the ringing on the other end.
“Hello?” Came the well-remembered voice.
“Hey, Mom, it’s Xander. I’m home.” His voice
cracked and he felt his throat tighten.
“Xan... Xander? Baby? Where? Where are you?”
“I’m in California, Mom. My friends… my company
“Where have you been, sweetheart? I… Did you go
native?” She asked with an uncomfortable laugh. “Mr. Giles told me how they
searched. Then we couldn’t find you after so long, we thought…”
“I was held captive, Mom. I wanted to come home, I was on
the way, but I was kidnapped and… kept.”
“Oh, my poor baby. How are you now? Are you being taken care of? Are you healthy?”
“Yes, Mom. I’m with friends. Good friends. I’ve got a
lawyer who will take care of all the legal things.”
“Good, that’s good. I’m doing well. I…” She
paused, and Xander closed his eyes, just knowing what she was going to say.
“Baby. Did they tell you about…”
“Dad,” Xander rasped. “Yeah. They did. I’m sorry,
“The big idiot. We always knew…” She was crying and
laughing at the same time.
“Yeah, we did. What are you doing now?”
He heard her sniff and blow her nose. “I’m here in
Houston with my sister. You know, Kitty? I… I got my license to sell real
estate like I always wanted to. I’m doing real good. And I lost twenty
“Oh, Mom! I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks. Oh, Xander. I always knew you’d come back.”
“I always hoped I could.”
“Um… I hate to do this, but I have to show a house in
thirty minutes, and…”
“It’s okay, Mom. We’ll talk soon. I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, Xander. I always have.”
Xander hung up the phone and sat staring at nothing. His
mother sounded happy. She wasn’t just sitting around, and he was very pleased
for her. Now he just had to talk to Giles, sign a bunch of papers and he’d be
back to being a real person. Whatever that meant.
He went to his room, dressed in his new work clothes, and
collected Oz for a business walk up to the Gazebo. He felt best in the open air
where freedom was all around him.
After dinner, where Spike teased Dawn about her birthday
gift, Gunn took Xander aside for a bit more paperwork. Afterward, Willow whisked
him off to the theatre room to watch “Wonder Woman,” eat too many snacks,
and recuperate from his busy day. When the movie was over, Xander found himself
yawning and looking for Spike.
He carried the empty popcorn bowl to the kitchen. Midra was
just closing the refrigerator. “What’s got you up so late?”
“Gunn wanted a cold drink. My man doesn’t always get
around as well as he’d like.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t you worry none about him,” Midra smiled.
“He’s never been happier. You looking for that vamp of yours?”
“Who? Oh, Spike. Yeah. I wanted to ask him something.”
Xander couldn’t stop wondering about the poem.
“He’s out tinkering on his bike again. You could always
“Nah. I got up early. It’ll keep.”
“Take your time, Xander. It’s a good thing,” Midra
said as she left the brightness of the kitchen for the dim hallway.
Xander shook his head, puzzled. The woman was sweet, but said strange things sometimes. With a yawn, he switched off the lights and went up to bed.
On to Chapter 19
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