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Chapter 22

Spike was pleased to see Xander snap out of his blue mood brought on by talking about Anthony. As much as he wanted to know more about the mysterious vampire who had apparently been so close to his friend, he wanted Xander to go on living, too.

Xander pulled on a plain blue t-shirt and ran a brush through his hair too quickly. “Damn,” he cursed when it caught and snagged.

“Slow down,” Spike chuckled. “It’s only waffles.”

“No it’s...” Xander sighed and closed his eye for a second. “It’s Giles. I want to see Giles.”

“I know. He wants to see you, too.”

Xander started brushing his hair carefully. “I wonder what his news is.”

“Either the pretty shopkeeper in the village finally went out with him or it has something to do with his book.” Spike finished lacing his boots and stood up. “Do you want me to braid it? I can get it done quicker than you.”

“I think you just can’t resist my lovely locks, but I am hungry and want to get down there before Gunn finishes off the peach preserves again.”

“That’s right,” Spike said as he pushed Xander to a chair and sat him down. “You keep telling yourself I can’t keep my hands off you if it makes you feel better.”

Xander fell silent and let himself enjoy being touched. Spike’s hands were deft and sure. “I would hire pleasers… um… pleasure slaves and just have them tend my hair sometimes. At first they thought I was strange because I would hire someone and then not have sex with them, just hold them or have them braid my hair. When they learned I never abused anyone and paid what was fair, they fought for the privilege to come to my quarters. Sometimes literally.”

Spike caught the shadings of self-depreciation and surprise at this attention in Xander’s words. “You’re a good man, after all. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Xander shrugged. “All this was after Anthony died, that is. He taught me how to braid it right.”

Spike could well understand anyone falling for this strong, intelligent man. He carefully said nothing to mock the emotion in Xander’s voice.

“We vampires are very sensual creatures.”

“Don’t you mean sensuous?”

Spike smiled. “That, too. Touch, sight, smell, hearing, all very keen.”

“But not taste,” Xander observed.

“No. Taste is dulled. That’s why I like spicy and textured foods and why some vampires don’t eat at all.”

“You’re unusual in that you eat, aren’t you?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Angel doesn’t. Anthony didn’t. The few other fighters I got to know a bit never did. Why is that?”

“You sure are asking a lot about me lately.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about things and no real way to research them. Do you mind?”

“No. To be blunt, it’s the whole getting rid of the food later part that puts most of them off.”


Spike laughed. “You asked, I told. Most are snobs about leaving behind the burdens of having a human body,” he said in a pompous manner. “I could care less one way or another.”

Spike handed the end of the long, tight braid to Xander, who stood and picked up a rubber band from the dresser to tie it off. He looked into the standing mirror to admire Spike’s work. “This looks great, Spike. I can never get it this even.”

“Dru loved for me to spend hours playing with her hair. We would get trapped in some little, dark corner and sometimes it was only thing that would calm her and keep her still. Now let’s go capture some sweets for ourselves.”

They all laughed and joked through breakfast. Everyone was buzzing with anticipation of Giles’ news.

Willow glanced at the clock and got to her feet. “Time to dial the Giles.” She paused by Xander’s chair and leaned over to speak quietly in his ear. “You want to come in and say hi first?”

Xander breathed in the green apple scent of his friend’s hair. “That’d be good.”

Willow patted his shoulder. “Wait here, people,” she said to the crowd. “I’ll send for you in a minute.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at Xander who shook his head slightly. Spike knew he would be okay talking to his old friend.

In the study, Willow positioned Xander outside the camera’s sight. Xander watched his friend’s confident fingers fly over the keyboard. She looked up at him with a grin and tapped a final key. “Hey, Giles! How’s everything?”

“All is well, Willow.” Xander’s throat tightened at the sound of his friend’s voice. “Where is everyone else?”

“I thought you might want to talk to one of them alone.” She smiled and motioned Xander to the chair.

He sat down and saw Giles on the flat screen monitor. A small screen within the picture showed himself. He barely noticed as Willow slipped out and closed the door behind herself.  “Hey, Giles,” he said softly.

“Xander,” the older man said, his voice full of wonder and affection. “It is you.”

“Well, me from another dimension, maybe. I’m not quite like I was.”

Giles smiled and Xander suddenly noticed evidence of Giles' stroke; how the left side of his lips did not lift as much as the right and how gray his hair now was. “Nor am I, dear boy. It is so damned good to see you. I feared…” There was a slight slurring in the once crisp voice.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found,” Xander quoted.

Giles chuckled. “By Spike of all people.”

“It shocked the hell out of me to see my savior was a pompous, fancied up vampire.”

“He does fall uncomfortably well into the German cover, I must say.” Giles fell silent, just looking at the face of his one-time ward, fighting companion, clown, carpenter.

“So… you quit the council.”

Giles sighed. “I couldn’t take the pace and the losses any more, Xander. I remained on the board as a consultant. I made sure they never stopped looking for you.”

“I appreciate that, very much.”

“Had it been anyone but Spike, I would have suspected the pictures were faked.” Xander winced inwardly. He’d forgotten the photographs Spike had taken of him in chains on the slave ship. “It was lucky you were brought here to be sold.”

Xander shook his head. “There was no luck there. I paid for the privilege to be sold off that particular ship.”

Giles blinked and looked like he wished for glasses to polish. “How does that work? Couldn’t you buy your own freedom?”

“And take their profit? No,” Xander answered flatly.

“I’m so sorry, Xander. So very terribly sorry.”

“What ever for?”

“For sending you to Africa. I had other, better-trained--”

“Giles, Giles,” Xander cut him off. “They were more needed elsewhere. And I wanted to go, to get as far away from… everything as I could, remember? I didn’t want to be gone six years, but it happens.”

“I know, but…” Giles was dabbing his face with a familiar handkerchief.

“Giles. Watcher man! Listen. I don’t blame you. I never blamed you in the least. I’ve missed you and… I love you.”

“Xander…” Giles’ British mask slipped. “I love you, too, Xander. Welcome home.”

“You’ll get your too-firm hug whenever I see you. Okay?”

“That will be very nice. I… I sent out your pack the other day. I don’t get around as well as I once did… and it was my first opportunity.”

“I’d forgotten about that.” Xander pictured his battered blue backpack that had accompanied him across Africa for a year. “How… how did you wind up with it?”

“The address on the ID tag was for my rooms at council headquarters. You had no other one to use, remember? I made sure the hotel returned it to me intact. I went through it looking for clues as to where you may have… disappeared. That, and I took out any food or anything that may have started to smell. I sent your paperwork to your parents. Otherwise, it’s all there.”

Xander chuckled. “I can’t even remember what’s in there. My first months of captivity, I would wish for that pack and all the simple conveniences it held; clean clothes, a book to read, my little radio…”

“It should arrive soon. I’ve put a few things in the box for everyone as well, if you don’t mind distributing them.”

“I will. Thank you for looking out for my mother, Giles. She told me how you kept her informed.”

“I was glad to. She’s a good woman. If there is anything I can ever do for you, Xander, do not hesitate to ask me.”

“Same here, Giles. Same here.” Xander realized he had tears running down his own cheeks. He grabbed a tissue form a box nearby. “You had some news?”

“Yes! I want to tell everyone at once. I… Thank you for talking to me, Xander.”

“I feel bad I put it off, but…”

“It’s fine, my good man. Just fine.”

“I’ll get Willow to put a camera on the laptop she gave me last night and we’ll talk some more.”

“What happened to the good old fashioned telephone?” Giles mourned.

“We can talk that way, too. Whatever you want.” Xander sighed. “I wish I could hug you.”

“That would be most welcome, Xander.” Giles smiled his crooked, but still charming smile. “Why don’t you fetch the others before we start messaging little hearts to one another?”

“Yeah, that would be best,” Xander blew him a kiss and called the others in.

There was much laughing and jockeying for position around the office computer and Gunn’s laptop that he turned on in the living room.

“If you are all quite settled?” Giles’ familiar stern tone cut through the chatter. After a few pokes and giggles, everyone was satisfied they were nicely in frame in their own window.

“What is it, Giles?” Xander asked, noticing the bunny ear fingers Spike was holding up behind his head.

“I would like to announce that my novel ‘The Dark Beyond the Moon’ has been purchased by Doubleday books.”

In the celebratory chaos that followed, a vase was knocked over, a cookie dropped to the carpet and crushed, a chair tipped over, many hugs, and much laugher rang out.

Giles sat alone in his far away home, enjoying the happiness of his friends while wishing he were there among them. A chorus of “Ew!” rang over the speaker when Xander leaned in to give the camera a pretend open-mouth smooch. The call finally ended with promises of copies for everyone and an extra smile from Xander.

Giles pulled the blanket back around his shoulders and hugged himself. As much as he had prayed for it, he was still amazed that Xander Harris was alive and apparently still sane. A year after his disappearance, there had been a lead pointing to the slave rings. He had investigated it as best he could at the time. It was his actions as head of the council that had established the on-going investigations that he hoped would bring down the ring.

With a sigh, he levered himself to his feet. He couldn’t stay seated so long any more. He hobbled to the mantel piece and looked at the picture framed there. Willow had gotten a camera for her birthday and wanted to try out the timer. She had set it on the balcony at the library and shooed them into place. He stood indulgently behind his newly acquired pack of would-be demon hunters. Buffy had a bright, pretty-girl smile on cheeks that were not yet gaunt with worry. Willow beamed as she slung an arm around Xander. Xander had been caught with is mouth open as he cracked yet another joke. Giles studied the warm brown eyes partly hidden behind too-long hair.

He still held a position of consultant to the council and, as such, read the reports sent there. He knew some of the horrors the man had faced. Giles clenched his fist at he thought. His only comfort was Spike who had made a promise to land a blow in his name on the body of the man responsible for it all.

On to Chapter 23

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