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Xander lay dozing. He was tired and wanted to sleep, but he
could not stop listening for Spike and replaying his stupidity of the night
before. He thought it would be no big deal to just go through the list and mark
off people’s fates. After all, his conversations with Spike had stirred up so
many bad feelings, he didn’t think he could feel worse.
But he did feel worse, and rapidly. There were so many
people he’d forgotten about. Even the ones he didn’t recognize gave him a
pang because he couldn’t help. He had set the bottle on the dresser,
dismissing it. After an hour, he’d poured himself a small drink. After another
hour, he had moved the bottle to the table. He wasn’t sure when he’d done
away with the little glass and started drinking from the bottle. It was stupid.
When young, he’d never allowed himself to drink anything stronger than beer.
In Africa, well, who cared what he did or what fermented thing he drank?
The last things he remembered were nesting on the floor
because that is where Anthony liked him to sleep sometimes, then Spike joining
him. The vampire had felt so good against him, and Xander so wanted to forget
the list and the ghosts of all the people he’d thought about that night. In
Africa, his best escape was sex. Spike was there, with him in bed, then he was
alone. He had a vague memory of seeing Willow and Dawn, then he woke up on the
floor alone in his nest feeling sick and very hung over.
Spike wasn’t there to hold his hair for him when he
needed it. When Willow finally came up to look in on him, she was short with him
until she determined he remembered nothing of what had transpired between them,
then she left the house. When he ventured downstairs, Gunn was apologetic to the
point of being annoying, and Dawn slipped out the front door as he came
So he’d spent the day with Oz, walking up to the Gazebo
and discussing what need to be done there. All Oz could tell Xander was that
they’d heard shouting, Spike tore through the house like a tornado, and Gunn
was lucky to be alive. They both knew Willow well enough that she’d confront
Xander when she was ready.
Oz had helped his escape from the tension in the house by
going on a drive to show him where the local building supply places were. They
bought Xander some proper steel toed boots, ate out at Oz’s favorite pizza
place, and came home late to find Dawn and Willow waiting for them. At a stern
look from his wife, Oz left Xander with a supportive nod and went upstairs.
“Sit down, Xander,” Willow said levelly. Dawn
wouldn’t look at him.
Xander sat, his heart tight in his chest. “I’m sorry,
Willow, Dawn, I…”
“You don’t remember what you did, do you?” Willow
Xander looked away, staring at the dark TV screen. “Apart
from making myself miserable, drinking too much, and somehow pissing off Spike?
Willow sighed and sat beside Dawn. “When we came in, you
were crying. Dawn sat beside you to comfort you. When she put her arms around
you, you dragged her down into your lap and buried your face in her neck.
You then shoved aside your blankets, and, well, you were all… naked,
and said you were glad they sent you such a pretty pleaser, and tried to
Xander closed his eye. “I’m sorry. God, I’m so
sorry.” He buried his face in his hands.
“When I tried to pull you off her, you dragged me down,
too. You groped me! So I cast a sleep spell on you and left you where you
Xander didn’t even try to stop the tears that ran from
his eye. “I… things were different, over there. I…”
“You had women sent to you whenever you wanted? Were they
captives like you?” Willow snapped.
Xander could only nod. “I… I never mistreated any of
the pleasers, I swear. Last night…”
“You were drunk, Alexander Harris!” Willow sobbed. “I
know you changed o... over there, but, Xander, you were drunk!”
“You don’t know what it was like, Willow,” Xander
pleaded. “You can’t have any idea. Yeah, I drank and I hired pleasers,”
his voice rose until he was shouting, “because I was held captive in a fucking
cave and forced to kill people!”
Willow shouted back, “Well, you’re not there now, you
can’t…” Dawn put her hand on Willow’s arm and she stopped herself and
took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It’s just I don’t even know you any
more, Xander. I… you spend all you time with Spike. I’ve gotten my best
friend back, but not really.”
“Oh, Willow,” Xander came over to the couch and knelt
beside her. “I’m back, I’m just not… here yet.”
She let him pull her into a hug. “I know,” she
whispered. “I know, I just… missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too.” He opened his eye and met Dawn’s
dark gaze. He held out his free hand and she took it. “Both of you.” He
sighed. “My experiences in the last five years changed me and I hate what
I’ve become. I’ve done things I hope you never hear about. Spike… Spike is
helping me so much. I should never have looked at that list without him around.
If you want me to leave your house, I will. All I can do is say I’m sorry.”
“Oh, Xander, I don’t want you to leave. Please.”
They shared a good, weepy hug and then sat awkwardly
together. Dawn sniffed loudly, picked up the tissue box and passed it around.
“Hey, at least you called us pretty,” she said.
Xander wiped his nose and turned to her. “I have to
apologize for movie night, too, Dawn. I… there was someone who looked a lot
like you when I first met you,” Xander pushed a lock of hair from her face.
“She… she was a captive, too. It was seeing her that shocked me out of what
I was doing. Seeing her pretty brown eyes was what made me have to get out of
“And you did,” Dawn said wonderingly. “It’s like
you were meant to be there so Spike could find you.”
“Yeah, I’m so very lucky. And I’ve learned my lesson
about drinking, that’s for sure.”
Willow pulled back and took his face in her hands. “I’m
watching you from here on out, mister!”
“You and Spike both. If he forgives me, too.” He risked
a hug for them both. His friends hugged him back, and he untangled himself from
the soft female arms as quickly as he gracefully could. “I need a shower and
some sleep. Good night, guys.”
He thought his trials for
the night were over, but Midra stepped out of the sewing room as he
reached the top of the stairs. “Tomorrow I teach you to do your own laundry,
if you are going to keep wallowing your blankets on the floor like that.”
Xander ducked his head, suddenly very tired. Was there
anyone in the house not mad at him? “I’m sorry. I can do my laundry. Hell, I
used to live in a laundry room.”
He didn’t expect to feel Midra’s strong hand on his
cheek, guiding his head up. “Xander. I am joking. You do what you need to get
Xander gave her a little smile. “Thanks.”
“And try to keep your vampire off Charles. I’ve already
let him have it with both barrels and he feels like a right dog for giving you
“I don’t blame him, Midra. I shouldn’t have taken
“I do blame him. He did not think. Let him take you to
that comic shop and make it up to you, okay?”
“Now go get some sleep.” Midra dropped her hand and
headed for the stairs.
“Midra, do you know where Spike went?”
Midra looked back. “That vamp was within a hair’s
breath of breaking Charles’s neck. I’m
sure he went to blow off some steam.”
“I don’t know. I pissed him off, too, somehow. “
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back. I think only the true
death could part him from you now.”
When Xander finally heard the soft creak of the first
flight of stairs, then the click of the door to Spike’s room, he relaxed.
True, the vampire had promised to return the next night at the latest, but
Xander was glad he hadn’t gotten himself too badly beat up. Or maybe he had.
Xander sat up, thinking to go downstairs and investigate,
then hesitated. If Spike wanted to talk to him tonight, he’d come up. Xander
lay back down and listened to the subtle sounds from below. The house popped
quietly, but no more was heard. Spike was probably changing clothes.
After half an hour, Xander was wondering just why Spike had
not come up to see him. That he was still mad was the only answer Xander could
come up with that fit. Well, he wasn’t going to get any rest worrying about
it. Xander threw back the covers and pulled on his sweat pants and t-shirt.
Quietly he padded downstairs and to Spike’s door.
Light shone under the door and Xander could hear the click
of a keyboard from inside. Softly, he tapped on the door.
Spike didn’t stop his typing. He’d followed Xander’s
progress through the halls. He had hoped to wait until tomorrow to talk to the
man, to let the experience fade somewhat, but apparently Xander needed the
support. “Come in, Xander.”
Xander quietly opened the door, went in, and closed the
door behind himself. “Have a seat,” Spike said, not looking up or pausing in
his typing, “I want to finish this thought.”
The only place to sit besides the chair at he desk was the
bed, so he sat on the edge and looked anywhere but at the bit of computer screen
visible over Spike’s shoulder. He caught a glimpse of a little icon and
remembered Spike briefly showing him Live Journal. What a vampire like Spike
could blog about, Xander didn’t really want to know. An open thermos and a mug
sat beside the microwave, and Xander could smell warm blood. Spike’s black
coat was thrown over the back of the chair sat and a suitcase sat in the corner.
After a few minutes, Spike closed out the program he was using and turned
around, resting his arm on the back of the chair.
“What’s up, Xander? It’s late.”
“I… I couldn’t sleep. You said you were going to go
pick a fight, so I…” Xander shrugged and looked away.
“You wanted to see how beat up I was?” Xander shrugged
again. “That’s sweet, mate, but I didn’t get in a fight.”
“You couldn’t find a fight to get in?” Xander joked,
smiling. “What’s wrong?”
Spike smiled back. “I found I didn’t want to.”
“You smell like Willy’s bar.”
“I went to a demon bar I know, smoked half a pack of
cigarettes, and when nothing happened after two hours, I paid my hotel bill and
“That doesn’t sound like enough fun to get rid of the
mad I caused you,” Xander ventured.
Spike shook his head. “Wasn’t you made me mad, Xander.
It was Gunn. Damn fool gave you that file and bottle and left you alone. I still
may have to call him out over it.”
“Midra already did.”
“Did she now? Well, maybe I should just stomp my foot in
his direction just to watch him cringe.”
“Do you honestly think you can scare him more than
“Nah. Probably not.”
“So… what did you get up to?”
Spike studied the back of his hand for a minute, looking
like he wished he had some polish to pick off. “Let’s get some sleep, eat a
good breakfast, let me work off the last of my restlessness with a good sparring
session tomorrow, then I’ll tell you.”
“I won’t like it, will I?”
Spike cocked his head. “I honestly don’t know.” He
stood up and opened the door. “Good night, Xander. I’ll see you at
Xander nodded. “Good night, Spike. I’m glad you came
“Hey, my bike is here. I couldn’t leave her.”
Xander made his way upstairs and fell into a heavy sleep.
Spike took a sniff of his cigarette smoke-saturated sleeve
and made a face. If he showed up at the breakfast table smelling like an
ashtray, he’d be frowned away by the ladies for certain. Spike turned off his
laptop, and went to clean up before grabbing a couple of hours sleep for
When he came out into the hall with a towel around his
hips, Willow’s door opened and the little redhead slipped out, a fluffy lime
green robe with a butterfly on the breast wrapped around her.
“So you came back?”
“Did you doubt me, luv?”
“No. Not really. It’s just that I’m used to you
disappearing before now. This is the longest you’ve ever hung around.”
Spike pouted. “Are you saying you’re tired of me?”
“No, of course not. Just…” Willow glanced upstairs.
“You ran out on Xander. He’s changed so much. The things he said to Dawn and
me yesterday, and grabbing us…”
Spike frowned. “What did he say? Why did he do?”
“He… He thought we were prostitutes or something. He
tried to kiss us and groped us. Xander would never go to a prostitute! And you
keep him upstairs all the time, with you!”
“He’s not the man you knew, Red.” Spike’s voice was
flat as he sifted through Willows barrage of emotions.
“He says that, but when he comes around to dinner, he
“Like he did in high school,” Spike interrupted.
“Boy hid his pains with jokes back then, too, didn’t
“How long did you spend in merry ole, getting over your
black-eyed day of evil?”
“I don’t understand…”
Spike stepped closer. “Several months of the coven
sitting on you and Giles watching your every move for you to mostly get over the
one day you trod on the dark side and the one man you killed.
Xander spent five years in hell, and killed over a hundred beings.
Yeah, your best friend’s changed, and there’s no one but me to get him
through the worst of it. If whoever is pulling our strings is gracious enough to
allow him to keep fighting his way out of hell, your friend will continue to
return from the brink of insanity.”
“I never get to see him!” Willow pouted, half hurt,
half angry. “When I do, he’s just as likely to run off when things get
“I don’t tell him what to do. I just let him make his
own choices and support him however I can. He spent five years with no freedom,
Red. I thought this was the best environment he could possibly be in, but maybe
I was wrong. Seems no one’s looking out for him but me…”
Willow’s eyes widened. “No! Spike, please don’t take
him away. He asked if I wanted him to leave earlier.”
“You confronted him?”
Willow looked away. “Dawn and I did. We… He made us
“How much did he remember?”
“Not much. He knows he made you mad, but not how. He
didn’t remember seeing us at all. What happened between you two? We heard
Spike sighed. “None of your business, Red. It’s between
me and Xander.”
Spike ran a hand through his wet hair. “Look, just…
continue to give him space. He… he’s like a wounded animal who has to get
used to not being kicked all the time. Stop trying to make him out to be the man
he was. He’s changed, we all have.”
“Next time you want a word with him, let me brace for
“Yeah. Night, Spike.”
On to Chapter 35
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