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Another envelope lay atop the final layer of packages.
Spike took it out and handed it to Xander. “Giles and his record keeping,”
Spike said fondly.
Xander untucked the flap and read it. “Well?” Spike
asked when Xander neatly put it away and set it aside.
“The little package is my journal, and his notes on
trying to find me. He says he read back over them all and thinks… I may have
known about the slavers before hand.”
“Oh, he didn’t put it like that.” Spike watched
Xander pull the crystal from his pocket and turn it over and over. “With
hindsight, knowing what he now knows, he thinks I may have been very close to
them before I was captured. In fact, he wonders if I was taken specifically.”
“There’s no way.” Spike felt a sudden anger at Giles
for dropping this on the already guilt ridden Xander.
“Maybe there was. I… I had two leads on slayers that I
thought were false because… because they disappeared before I got there. At
the time, I thought it was because the villagers didn’t want their protectors
“Look, you can’t blame yourself…”
“I don’t, Spike. I didn’t know anything! I went where
they told me and did what they said. If anything, I’m mad at the council. How
long after I was taken did they discover the slave ring?”
“It was investigating your disappearance that lead them
“They should have been investigating the Slayers
vanishing. I wanted to, but I was told others would tend to it. Plus… I wanted
to go home.”
Spike reached out and squeezed Xander’s knee. “I
can’t blame you there, mate. Africa is the most evil place I’ve been.”
Xander looked at Spike with a slight smile. “I keep
forgetting you went there.”
“Yeah, I’ve done the cargo hold thing plenty of
times. ‘Tain’t fun.”
“Let’s open the main package, Spike.”
Spike took out the bulky object and fumbled with the
zipper. The scent of dust and faint spices hit them when the bag gasped in the
cool air of the room after being packed away so long. As he pulled out the
backpack, a white sheet of paper came with it and landed before Xander.
He picked it up and smiled at it as Spike took out one last
package from the box and put all the packing back in it. “What ya got?”
“Inventory list. Giles is always so meticulous.” Xander
read over it as Spike put the packing box aside. “This says it’s package two
Spike picked up the thick padded envelope he’d found
under the backpack. “Here’s three of three.”
“This says package one was bedding and tarp. I can see
why he wouldn’t want to pay shipping on a tatty blanket.” Xander frowned,
feeling a sudden, unreasonable desire to hold the ugly brown blanket that had
kept him warm so many nights.
“I’m sure it’s all sealed up safe and he’d send it
along if you wanted,” Spike said quietly.
“Yeah. I’m sure it’s safe. Let’s see what’s in
bag number two.” Before he could put it off any longer, Xander grabbed the
zipper tab on a small front pocket and pulled, automatically working it over a
spot where one of the teeth was broken. He pulled out a battered, thick
paperback. Xander studied the painting of sand and sun on the cover before
passing it to Spike.
“Dune? I never read this one.”
“I was enjoying it, what little I’d read. I had picked
it up for the flight back.” Xander dipped back into the pocket and frowned.
“My… tickets should have been in here.”
“It’s in packet three, I bet.” Spike pulled another
neatly folded paper from the package.
Xander took the list and looked it over. “The date at the
top is two years ago, he said he just reread it.”
“That’s when he had his stroke. He stepped down from
his active position on the council after that. He didn’t give up on you, ever,
if that’s what your thinkin’. From what I understand, he had to finally give
in and have his notes transcribed onto computer. I bet that’s what he
“Giles hates computers.”
“Bloke’s made an uneasy truce with them. If she’s
feeling geeky, Willow’s got some stories she thinks are funny about his calls
for tech help.”
Xander put aside the list and opened the main compartment
of the bag. The first thing he pulled out was a small stack of neatly folded
clothing. “Giles did my laundry,” Xander said, opening up a t-shirt.
“I don’t remember feeling the world pause on its
Xander held a faded t-shirt with the Babylon 5 logo on it
to his chest. “This won’t fit any more. I was so tickled to find it. When
Sunnydale sank we had nothing. Faith drove us to the nearest town and we took
care of our wounded. We found a thrift shop and this shirt was there. I had
blood on my clothes from… Buffy and wounded
potentials and those uber vamps.” He folded it once more and put it aside.
“Maybe Oz would like it.”
“Maybe.” Xander looked at the clothing as he talked.
“It didn’t truly hit me… the fighting, the losses, until about five days
later. Giles, Buffy, Willow, and I were having lunch… somewhere.”
“The original four,” Spike muttered.
Xander paused, considering this. “Wow, you’re right.”
He put aside the shirts and pulled out a small leather bag. “We were talking
about what had happened, finally. And about who we had lost.” Xander worked
the knot loose. “We talked about you.”
“Yeah?” Spike asked.
Xander said nothing more, and Spike didn’t push. As much
as he wanted to know what the young man had thought of him, this was about
Xander. He gently dumped the contents of the bag on the rug. It was a magpie
assortment of shiny and brightly colored things and a white folded sheet of
paper. With amusement, Spike captured a marble that tried to escape.
Xander took the marble from him and studied the clear orb
with a blue swirl in it. “I found this by the road outside of Sunnydale. We
stopped outside the crater and for some reason I looked down just before I got
back on the bus. It was half buried in the dust. I carried it in my pocket for
the longest time.”
Xander put it down and picked up a brown cowry shell.
“The little brother of one of the Slayers told me very solemnly that his
people used these for money, and he would trade me this for a shiny round coin
so I wouldn’t be without money.” Xander smiled at the memory.
“Fortunately, I had a quarter in my pocket. It was one of those state quarters
with an astronaut on it. He was delighted.”
Next he picked up a small carving of a dog like creature.
“The shaman in one village got me stoned. The next morning he told me he
talked with the hyena in me. He told me she said she liked being home.”
“Yeah, in high school I was possessed by a hyena sprit
because of a crazed zookeeper. I don’t know how he knew that.”
“And here I thought painting glasses on the school
statues back in my day was fun,” Spike muttered.
“It was yet another wacky Sunnydale fieldtrip.”
Xander picked through the pile, sharing stories and
fingering the trinkets. “Something’s missing,” Xander said at last, poking
around to see if it was hidden. “It was a coin-like thing. Flat, silver
colored with scratches on it. I found it on the street somewhere. I carried it
for a couple of months.”
Spike picked up the folded paper. “I take it this is an
“Yeah, see what it says.”
Unawares, Xander picked up his newest stone from all his
treasures and worried it as Spike looked from list to pile. “Here it is…
‘one disc, silver, strong residual magicks, blah blah blah, retained for
further study.’ And he’s drawn a picture.” Spike passed the paper to
“Magicks? I wonder what kind.”
“Quite a few of the pieces here have a trace of magic to
them, according to the list. Of course, when you carry something and work
it…” Spike frowned at the stone Xander still turned over and over in his
other hand. “You tend to carry things around that you find, don’t you?”
Xander shrugged. “I guess so.”
“What were you carrying when you were kidnapped?”
“You tend to find things and carry them until something
new comes along.” Spike pointed to pile of objects. “What was your worry
stone of the week?”
Xander frowned… “I didn’t have it long… There was
nothing in my pockets when I woke up…” Xander closed his eye and sat the
stone down. Spike watched silently as Xander rubbed his fingertips together,
then reached in his pocket as if looking for something. Xander opened his eye.
“It was like a dog tag! It was… damn… it had a symbol on it that…
wheeeere did I see it?” He snapped his fingers. “It was the symbol of one of
the rival slavers!”
Spike grabbed a pen off the table and handed it and the
invoice to Xander. “Can you draw it?”
Xander nodded and sketched the few simple lines that sort
of looked like an antelope’s head. “It was like this.”
“I bet you found another magical bit and it drew them to
“You think so, Spike?”
“Maybe.” Spike looked at the picture Xander had drawn,
and again at the drawing of the missing piece. “I think Giles will find this
They were interrupted
by a soft tap at the door. “Come in!” Xander called.
Midra pushed the door open and bustled in with a tray. “I
figured you were too absorbed in your package to come down, so I brought dinner
“You’re the best, Midra.” Xander said as she set it
on the table.
“Don’t get used to it.” She paused at the door.
“You want the meeting canceled?”
Xander paused. “No. We’ll be down within the hour,
I’d say. Thanks.”
Xander stood, picked up the tray and sat it between them on
the floor. Two big cappuccino mugs sat under saucer lids, accompanied by a
napkin-covered plate of cornbread, and a glass of milk. Xander took the lid off
one cup and scowled. “It looks like tomato soup, but I’m guessing this is
yours.” He passed the cup to Spike and moved the other one to his side of the
tray. “This looks better! Stew and cornbread.”
Spike picked up a big piece of cornbread and crumbled it
into his blood. “Midra makes the best cornbread.”
Xander made a face at him, and scooped the pile of
treasures into the bag. He continued to unpack the bag and tell stories as he
absently ate. He found another
t-shirt and was surprised when a wooden carving the size of his hand rolled out.
Spike picked it up and burst out laughing. “What did you get up to you
didn’t tell me about?”
Xander blushed at the sight of the carved monkey with a
phallus bigger then he was. “Grandmother type gave it to me,” he muttered.
“She said it would help me have strong sons and healthy children. I guess she
was wrong on that point.”
Spike put the ridiculous carving aside. “Is that what you
Xander shrugged. “One time, yeah. Now… Now it’s not
an option, is it?”
“They might be able to remove the implant, Xander.”
Xander barked a laugh. “Wouldn’t be a very good trade
off at this point, would it? There’s all kinds of things I can’t catch, and
if by some weird twist of fate I hook up with a girl, I can’t accidentally
knock her up. Sounds pretty sweet.”
Xander shook his head. “Sorry, Spike. I… it’s just
that I haven’t thought about these things for so very long. I’m not the boy
who carried this pack.”
“You weren’t a boy for a long time before that.”
Startled, Xander met Spike’s blue eye and searched for
sarcasm. Finding none, Xander looked away. “Damned Hellmouth.”
“There’s one more package.”
“No. I’ve done enough memory poking for one night.
Let’s go face down the lions and throw them gifts when they roar.”
As soon as Xander came into the living room where everyone
was gathered, Gunn started apologizing again, Dawn hugged a pillow to herself,
and Willow put on her worried face.
“No!” Xander said, cutting through the chaos. “Sit
down, everyone.” Spike put the box he carried down beside Xander where he
stood in front of the blank TV and
went to lean against the wall behind everyone else. Xander didn’t look at
anyone until they were all settled. “Thanks for being here. I’ve got some
things to say and to share. We’ve done our apologies. I’ve said I’m sorry
to those I slighted and it’s been said to me. Does anyone else in the room
fell like they need to give or get an apology from anyone about anything?” He
studied each in turn and received negative responses from all around.
“Good.” He stood solidly before them, feet apart and at
ease like one who was used to talking at gatherings. Only his right hand was
busy, turning the new stone over and over slowly. “I’m not the boy I was. I
spent five years in cold, damp caves fighting for my life. True, I was lucky
enough to have someone who cared for me and I for him, but he was killed.”
Xander ignored the shocked breath from Dawn and answering
murmur from Willow. ”Yes, I was with a guy.”
“It doesn’t matter, Xander,” Dawn said quickly.
“No. It doesn’t,” Xander said, cutting her off.
“Anthony was intelligent, funny at times, a wonderful protector and a
This time there were several catches in breath. Xander had
wondered how much Midra had shared and was pleased when he realized she was
keeping his secrets. “He didn’t have a soul, but he had plenty of humanity.
We’ve all seen this phenomenon in action.” Spike scowled in reply to the
pointed look Xander gave him. “If it
weren’t for Anthony, I would have died in the first month. After he was
murdered, my life changed. I changed.”
“In the caves, I was cold, lonely, and bored most of the
time. What was there to do? Drink, fuck, and fight. Well, and read, but there is
just so much of that one can do. So, yeah, I would drink when troubled. I guess
fortunately for me, my supply was limited. And I did remember too much abuse
from my dear old drunken dad.”
“So the other night, when I stupidly thought I could face
up to seeing the names and faces of so many I’d killed or seen killed by
myself, I drank. If there hadn’t been any alcohol in the room, I would have
found some. So that’s no one’s fault. And I was lonely. So, when you ladies,
my good friends, came up, I was too far gone to see anything but pretty bodies.
If it makes you feel better, I even tried to get fresh with Spike.”
When several of them turned to look at Spike, he just stood
with his arms crossed and nodded.
“Which is why all the shouting and running off on
Spike’s part. I know I’ve been a hermit a lot of the time, hiding up in my
room, but I spent five years not being able to leave a room without an escort.
For years my life was pretty much limited to a nine by nine room when I wasn’t
in the arena training to kill or killing. So excuse me if my social graces
aren’t what they once were. If I’m uncertain about a situation, I will
leave, and we’ll sort it out in time, got it?”
Everyone nodded. “The jewels I wore were given to me for
killing others. Many demons, some humans. It’s blood money, and I want to use
it to get the bastards who run the slave ring.” Gunn nodded. “If I make you
uncomfortable, I realize I could buy my own house and live wherever I want,
but…” Xander paused and swallowed. “I love it here. It feels like home.
I… don’t know how to fit in just yet, but I think I can get there with your
help and understanding.”
“Xander?” Dawn asked, making Xander look up. “Can I
give you a hug?”
Xander smiled. “I’d very much like that, Dawn.” Soon,
Xander was surrounded by supporting hands and friendly kisses. Only Spike held
After several minutes
of mush, Spike broke it up. “Oi! What’s in the box? Is it prezzies?”
“Presents?” Dawn squealed. “Did Giles’ box come?”
Xander shot him a grateful look and untangled himself from
the girls. “Yes, it did. Sit down and we’ll sort it out. Spike, you want to
play Santa’s helper?”
On to Chapter 39
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