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Chapter 3

They’d traveled for a good half hour before the van slowed and went over a series of speed bumps. From the angle, Xander guessed they were going into an underground garage.

He listened as both front doors opened and the people climbed out. As the rear doors rattled open, he used the sound to cover his last strong pull on the chain. His muscles bunched and strained, and the weak link he’d been worrying since he found it parted in his hands. He sat with his hands between his knees, clutching and hiding the broken ends.

The black man appeared with a huge smile. “All right girls and boy, time to change rides.”

Xander still felt he knew this man from somewhere, but all thoughts of him vanished when another, much smaller man stepped into view. A small smile quirked the driver’s narrow lips as he climbed up in the van. “Hey, man,” he said as he went to the females and knelt before them.

Xander blinked in disbelief and watched as he took out a key and unlocked their chains. “Hello, ladies. We have to change vans and put some clothes on you, but you’re safe now,” he said gently.

Xander knew the females did not speak English, so he translated, effortlessly speaking in the dialect he’d heard them using earlier. They listened with wide eyes as the fighter spoke to them. Fighters weren’t allowed to speak to pleasure girls. They could rent them, use them, strike them, and generally do as they pleased, as long as they did not hold a conversation with them. He tried a weak smile and added to Oz’s instructions. “I know this man. He’s a good soul. I am very sure we’re in the best possible hands.”

They continued to clutch one another and rubbed their freed limbs in wonderment.  They ducked their heads in submission to Xander then to the slim red headed man who tossed the chains to a corner.

“Thanks,” Oz said as he turned to undo Xander’s chains. Xander opened his hands, let the broken chain fall free, stood, and pulled the remaining chains from his wrist cuffs and threw them aside himself.

He looked down at his long ago friend and was rewarded with as big a grin as Oz ever shared. “Cool,” Oz said. “We have to move. There’s time for a quick bathroom stop and a change of clothes.”

Xander jumped down from the van, knowing he was finally a free man again, and put aside the confusion that came with that. They were still running.

After Xander helped the females out of the van, Oz followed. “Xander, this is Gunn.”

Xander took the presented hand in a long-unused handshake. “One of Angel’s crew,” he said, finally placing the man. He’d seen a couple of photos of him.

“Was.” Gunn smiled and shook out his freed hand. “Nice grip, man. Leave me some fingers next time.”

With Xander translating and showing the females how to use a modern toilet, they moved swiftly to a different van. This one was as beat up and rusty as the other one sleek and new. Oz handed out sets of simple sweat pants, t-shirts, and flip flops. The females looked in wonder at the garments when Oz through Xander instructed them to change clothes.

“I had to guess at your size,” Oz said apologetically. “I only had those tiny pictures to go by. Had it been anyone but Spike, I’d have thought it a joke.”

Xander took the clothes and fingered the new cotton. He slipped on the black draw string pants and unfolded the t-shirt. A missed tag caught his eye. “Wal-Mart,” he said softly.

“Yeah. Bigger and more evil than ever.”

The t-shirt was snug, but it felt good to be clothed again.

Gunn did his best to look away from the attractive, healthy females as they changed.

Once everyone was dressed, Gunn clapped his hands. “Right. There’s food in the van. And we’ve got a ways to go to get to the safe house. Any one else need to potty?”

Xander settled the females in the back seat, presenting them with bottled water, bags of nuts, crackers, fruit, and other simple foods. They looked disbelieving at the bounty. Xander knew how they felt. “Oz,” he said softly, “come here and tell them this is all for them. I don’t think they believe me.”

Oz slipped into the seat in front of them and leaned over it. He pointed to the food, then to them. “This is for you.” Xander translated. “Eat as much as you want, but do not make yourselves sick. There will be more when you want it.”

The demon girl listened to the translation, then threw herself to her knees, took Oz’s hand in hers, pressed her forehead to it and spoke in a quick, breathless voice. The human girl soon had his other hand and was doing the same.

He turned a puzzled brow to Xander who smiled. “They are thanking their gods for such a generous and kind master.”

“But I’m not…”

“Let’s sort it out later. Right now, they most want to gorge themselves with this bounty and look at their new pretty clothes.”

Oz firmly pulled his hands away and smiled at them.

Oz climbed in the driver’s seat, Xander beside him, and Gunn sat with his leg stretched out on the seat in the middle.

“Want to pick the tunes?” Oz asked as he turned the key.

“Got any… Beatles?”

“I’ve got something better, just for you.” Oz pushed a button on the CD player, and Patsy Cline started singing her music of pain.

“How did you know, Oz?”

“That’s a gift from Willow. She had me find a music store and buy it for you.”

“Willow?” Xander thrilled to hear about his old friend so soon. “How is she?”

“She’s great, man.”

Xander listened to the first song through, then jumped to his favorite track. He listened to it, filling in the few words his mind had blurred over the years, then stopped the disc. “Enough with the sad. About those Beatles?”

Xander watched out the window in dazed amazement as the sun came up, reveling San Francisco  in all its concrete glory. Some fifteen minutes out, once they were clear of the city, Oz interrupted his daze. “I forgot your prize pack, sorry man.”

“No problem,” Xander mumbled, still enjoying the billboards, trees, and pretty free people in open top cars.

Gunn tore his attention from the now shyly smiling and still-eating girls to hand a bag up to Xander. In addition to fruits and nuts, a new box of Twinkies and two Hershey bars cuddled with a still-cool bottle of Coca-Cola. Xander took out a chocolate bar and held it in his hands as if it were the holy grail. He didn’t even notice when a tear hit his wrist.

Oz saw it, but said nothing.

“This wealth could buy you a whole night with a girl like them,” Xander said softly. “The whole bag could get you three girls and someone killed.”  Oz knew to say nothing. “How long has it been, Oz?”

“Since the riot where you vanished? Five years. They searched for a long time. Finally... well... you’ll be happy to know there is still a code on the books for you.”

“What’s that?”

“Code doughnut.”

Xander chuckled. “How long have you been back in the fold?”

“About four years.”

Xander met the steady brown eyes that flicked his way from the road. Calm, smart Oz. Xander had kept him in the stable of memories that kept him sane. There were times that the he could keep him from panicking by telling himself to be “cool like Oz.” No man was perfect, and he did remember that horrible Halloween in the frat house, but the way the small man strode through life, meeting it in a matter-of-fact way had always impressed Xander. He knew he could ask of his friend what he needed to know. “Tell me the news, Oz. Please. Give me all the bad that people will hem and haw about.”

Oz glanced over at Xander and nodded. “Rip the band aid. I get it.” Oz took a breath and centered himself.  “Chronologically. Just before you were captured, the council got word about the LA office of Wolfram & Hart being taken down. They knew Spike had been working with Angel and no survivors were reported.”

“I got a little bit of that… just before.”

“That was a hell of a thing, literally,” Gunn put in. “We lost Wesley. Angel, Spike and I barely got out. Illyria sacrificed herself to save us. To save everything, really.”

“Who’s Illyria.?”

“Ah, it’s along story. I’ll tell you over a bottle of something that bites one night.”

Xander honored Gunn’s dismissive tone and changed the topic. “So that really was Spike,” Xander asked finally.

“Which voice did he use?” Oz asked.


“Ralph von Hoffman.”

“What’s with that? The… poofyness?” Xander asked.

“Good actor, man.”

Oz and Gunn gave Xander a few details about his rescuer, but clearly respected the vampire’s privacy. After the LA deal went down, Spike and company sought out the Watcher’s council and convinced them to help in the possible mystical backlash. He wound up working undercover in RRWW as Spike called it.  “But he won’t tell us what it means,” Oz added.

Xander remembered with a chill. Spike had laughed at the phrase in one of the old comics he’d bought at a yard sale. It was about a secret agent who was in RRWW. Rescue, Recovery, and Wet Works.

“What else, Oz?” Xander asked. “Five years can’t pass without bad things happening.”

“Your dad. I’m sorry, man, but last year he died in a car wreck.”

“Was he drunk?”

“Double the legal limit.”

“Bastard,” Xander said quietly. “I always knew he’d go that way if his liver didn’t explode first. Was anyone else hurt?”

“No. He managed to find the one sign post in a fifteen mile stretch of desert.”

“Isn’t that the Harris luck? And my Mom?”

“She’s living with her sister in Texas, last we heard.”

“Good.” Oz let Xander digest that information and ask for more when he was ready. Xander shuffled through the music until he found something new. “What else?” He asked after a couple of songs. “Give me something good.”

“Willow and I are married.”

“What happened to ‘gay now?’”

Oz shrugged. “Souls mean more than bodies. About for years ago… here’s the next bad bit, sorry… Willow’s folks died in a plane crash.” Xander looked unseeing out the window. He’d not known her folks very well, considering how much time he’d spent with Willow. He’d interacted with the cook more than he had the Rosenbergs. As his friend got older, they’d seemed to have less and less to do with her.

Oz continued his story. “I was in the states on Council business and came to see her. We wound up talking all night. Again. Willow was pretty torn up, as you can imagine. Kennedy didn’t like that she talked to me and not her. She left Willow four months later. Gave her some line about needing to find some happiness.”

“I never did really like her. Too… caustic,” Xander confessed.

“Caustic is a good word. I came to visit again when I heard and I never left.”

“I’m very happy for you two.”

“Buffy and Dawn are still in Rome. Dawn is about to start her second year on her Masters in Languages and Mythology.”

“At least someone got something out of all our researching.”

“Giles is living on his family property in Kent. He had a stroke about two years ago and doesn’t get around as much as he did.”

“Damn. That must be frustrating for him.” Xander’s heart ached for his mentor and friend.

“He’s writing now. Last I heard, he’d found a publisher for his novel.”

“A novel? I thought he’d write stuffy histories.”

“Horror novel. It’s got a werewolf in it,” Oz grinned.

On to Chapter 4

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