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Chapter 36

Xander felt a lot better then he had in a long time as he crossed through the dry tunnels to the house. He paused at the stairs to the garage, debating watching Spike fix his bike, but his hunger won out.

“Xander!” Midra greeted him. “I know you’re back in the real world now. You have  a phone message and a package.”

Xander blinked. “I do? Wow. What’s the message?”

Midra theatrically peered into the other room and moved close to whisper in Xander’s ear. “Jen says she has your special order ready.”

“My what? Oh, gods, just in time. Dawn’s birthday is tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“Sure is. And your package is in the table in the hall.”

“Thanks, Midra. How about a sandwich?”

“No, thanks, I just ate, but you can make yourself one.” Xander paused and looked at her, not sure if she was teasing or not. She casually leaned against the counter, watching a frown slowly form. “I’m kidding you, Xander. Beef or chicken?”

Xander blushed and ducked his head. “Chicken would be good.”

“Stop being on eggshells. We all love you here.”

Xander sighed. “Yeah, but only about half of you understand me.” He met her warm brown eyes. “Do you think a house meeting could be called tonight?”

“That package is from Giles, and that means gifts from afar. If you want to open it first, I recommend you hide it away. I’m the only one knows it’s here. If nothing else, you can hand out the presents.”

“I’ll do that now.” He turned away and paused. “Thank you, Midra.”

“We’ve both done time. Me not near so much as you, but we have to stick together.”

“I think that’s the problem. Some people… they don’t understand I’m not who I once was.”

“I’ll let everyone know about the meeting. How about after dinner?”

“Perfect. Thanks.”

A large cardboard box, scuffed from much handling, lay on the table in the hallway. Xander ran his finger over the foreign postage marks and the computer printed label. He remembered Giles neatly hand writing labels for shipping packages from the Magic Box. For a second he hated that Giles had to finally give in and use a computer after holding out for so long. A long-faded pang at the memory of Jenny Calendar and her progressive views on computers followed as he picked up the box to carry it upstairs. 

He knew it contained his backpack, the blue one he carried through almost a year in the wilds of Africa. The first one he’d bought at a high-end camping store before his trip had not even stood up under the handling of airport personnel. He had pulled it off the baggage return with a torn strap and the thing had rapidly gone downhill. He had been forced within the week to buy a new one that the Watcher he met up with recommended. The now-battered blue bag had been his one constant in that year of adventure.

Xander set the box on the table, then hesitated. It somehow wasn’t a table thing. He placed it in the center of the rug where Spike had helped him shed the weight of his jewels and then sat down beside it. Unconsciously, he drew up his knees and stared at the sealed box.

He jumped when Midra called his name softly from the door. He looked back at her with tears welling in his eye. Midra sat close beside him, not touching him.

“I don’t want to open it,” Xander whispered. “That’s a piece of Africa in there.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Yes, I do. It’s not just my stuff. I bet Dawn’s birthday present form Giles is in there.

Midra contemplated the box with him. “It’s from before the bad stuff, though. You did have some good times, didn’t you? Even with the effort of helping slayers?”

“Oh, yes. I made some friends. I saw and did some cool things.”

“Then it’s a piece of the good Africa. Of the open air and sunshine Africa, right?”

Xander studied the box again and it was suddenly not so menacing. “You’re right, Midra.”

“Plus, you don’t have to open it right now. Or alone. You can lock yourself away with Spike later.”

Xander nodded, which was echoed by a rumble from his stomach. “Yeah. I learned the hard way to not do things alone yet.”

Midra smiled and patted his leg. “Then come downstairs and eat your sandwich before someone else claims it. It’s been known to happen.”

Xander smiled shyly at her and nodded. “Good plan.”

Xander tucked in to the sandwich, sharing a bowl of fruit pieces with Midra. He watched her pick out a grape with her fingers, then chose a piece of orange for himself. “You know, it’s still strange to eat with a fork.”

Midra laughed. “There’s less to wash this way.”

“Midra, can I ask…” Xander delayed his question by taking a big bite.

“Xander, you can ask me about anything. We’re all family here in this house.”

Xander finished his bite and washed it down before he asked. “I don’t know anything about your time in the caves. If it’s rude for me to ask, or you don’t want to…”

Midra cut him off by laying her hand over his. “It’s okay. It was years ago for me, and I was only there about six months.” She patted his hand and selected another grape. “I have a little bit of healing ability, so I was put in charge of caring for the pleasers.”

“That would explain why I never saw you.”

“I saw you once.”

Xander paused in his chewing. "Yet you didn't tell them you'd seen me?"

Midra shook her head. "The few pictures they have of you, you are grinning like a fool and dressed in bright colors. When I saw you, you were asleep in a table. It was when you had your operation, the implant. It wasn't until you'd been here a week that I connected you with that man. I'm sorry.”

"It's... no worries, Midra. I shouldn't have thought you'd..." Xander blushed at the realization that she had seen him naked and asleep when he’d been given the implant in his crotch that kept him safe from diseases like AIDS, but made him sterile. “I thought Morgan did that operation.”


“It’s what I called him.” Xander told her the healer’s real name that was a series of clicks.

“Oh! I assisted. You’ve seen him recently? Is he good?”

“Yes, as good as anyone is there, when I left.”

“Morgan? Morgan got me out of there. I don’t know how and I’m not sure why, but it was him arranged to get me on the ship out of there.”

“He did a lot of good for me, too. Maybe we can rescue him.”

Midra sighed. “I hope we can. I hope we can shut that hole down and salt the ground.” She made a sign against evil which Xander echoed. “With all the good information you’ve provided, Charles has new leads for the first time in ages.”

They ate in silence for a couple of bites.

“I guess you saw Anthony?”

“Once, yes. He had a great amount of power about him. I didn’t know he was a vampire at the time.”

“He made you a healer?”

“At first I was insulted he didn’t find me pretty enough to be a pleaser.” Midra laughed at herself. “Then I saw the hard life they had.”

“You’re plenty pretty! I’m sure it was that your healing skills where better needed elsewhere.”

“Thank you, Xander.”

“Anthony’s dead, by the way.” Xander wrapped his fingers around the pearl at his throat.

“Oh? In the ring?”

“No. A rival killed him.”

Midra couldn’t miss the sadness in his voice. “He meant something to you?”

“Yeah, everything.”

“Then he’d be happy you could get out when he could not.”

Xander tilted his head and contemplated this new point of view. “What did you know?”

“Not much. Only what the pleasers whispered. They were all terrified of him. It was said that when a pleaser stopped being… useful, they were fed to him.”

Xander had to force himself to swallow. “Is that true?”

“Who knows? He was a vampire and cursed to stay in the caves, that was common knowledge. Others were cursed, too. He had a short temper at times and everyone walked carefully around him. So, too, I heard stories from pleasers who were requested by him, treated fairly, paid well, and returned unharmed.”

Xander shook his head and sat the remains of his sandwich on his plate. “He was a paradox at times,” he said softly. “I got to see the intelligent, educated side. And he taught me to fight.”

“He took you under his wing?”

Xander nodded. “If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have lasted.”

Midra nodded and patted his hand again. “Anything else you want to know?” Xander shook his head. “If you think of anything, ask me. Okay? Now, finish your meal, then take lunch out to Spike. That man gets wrapped up in his projects then comes in with a bad mood.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Spike glanced up when Xander came in. He had a dark smudge on his pale chin. “Good timing, mate. I’ve got a three hand job here.”

Xander set the steaming mug on a counter and knelt beside Spike. The vampire positioned his hand on a part and quickly threaded a bolt and tightened it down. “You can let go now, thanks. I was having a sodding hard a time getting that to line up. Mind your jeans.” Spike tossed him a rag. “Do I smell food?”

“You smell blood.” Xander stood up and frowned at his still-unfaded pants. “You know, It wasn’t until I got the construction job and moved out on my own that I owned new clothes.”

Spike cupped the warm mug and gratefully took a deep drink. “What was with all those loud shirts, anyway?”

Xander ducked his head. “My uncle Rory gave them to me. They were real Hawaiian shirts! He served at Pearl Harbor!”

“He was there when the Japs bombed it?”

“Naw, he served about 3 three months there in the seventies.” Spike hid a smirk by draining his liquid lunch. He watched Xander run a respectful hand over the fender he’d sanded and painted to a shine. “Then it became easier to believe people were laughing about my shirts than about me. So I found them at thrift stores.”

“Hide in plain sight?”

“Something like that. Hey, Spike, give me a ride to town?”

Spike shrugged. “I’ve got no plans. You got a goal in mind?”

“Jen’s shop. Dawn’s present is ready.”

“Let me go in, clean up, and we’ll be on our way,” Spike said as he rinsed out the mug in the stained sink.

Once in the car, Spike flipped on the satellite radio. “Want to pick the tunes?”

“Almost anything but punk, okay?”

“Oi! What’s the matter with punk?”

“Everything!” Xander crowed.

“Bloody fine, then. I’ll pick another favorite.”

“Gods. It isn’t German heavy metal is it?”

“Maybe. Open your mind,” Spike teased.

Xander braced for impact, but what came out of the finely tuned speakers was horns and a smooth voice. Xander frowned at Spike who was cheerfully tapping on the steering wheel, then read the scrolling title on the electronic read out. “Minnie the Moocher, Cab Calloway?”

“Big band! They knew how to party in those days. Big, unairconditioned rooms filled with drunken, sweaty people dancing like they meant it. The music was live, talented musicians every night. The south invented the blues, that was the place to be back then.”

Xander shook his head in wonder at yet another unsuspected facet of Spike’s personality.

On to Chapter 37

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