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Xander followed Oz up the stairs. As he went, he explained
that Midra and Gunn lived on the ground floor because of Gunn's leg. On the
second floor, Oz pointed out where his and Willow’s room was, the guest room
favored by Dawn, and at the end of the hall, the door the Spike’s chosen room.
At the other end were two more guest rooms guest rooms. On the third floor, Oz
pointed out the “library annex” / Midra’s sewing room across the hall from
a large, sunny guest suite under the eves of the house.
It was some twenty feet wide, and painted in warm creams
and accented with crimson and rich purples. He glanced around at he king sized
bed, wardrobe, comfortable lounge chair under the window, and many touches of
home. A bright vase of fresh flowers sat on the dresser, a sign propped on the
table by a dish of candy read “Welcome Home Xander,” and the bed was turned
down with a mint on the pillow. Oz pointed out that the bathroom was attached to
an on-demand water heater of its own and he really could have the shower of his
“If I take too long, just fan the scent of the steak in
here, and I’ll be out in no time,” Xander smiled.
“No hurry, Xander. I
only bought the one set of clothes. I’ll see what Gunn can loan you.”
For a second, Xander wondered how Oz knew he wanted clean
clothes, even though he’d only worn these in the van. Werewolf. Oz wanted
Africa gone, too. Xander felt himself relax another notch. He put his hand on
Oz’s wiry shoulder. “Thank you. Hey, Oz. It’s great to see you.”
“Yeah, you too. I’ll leave them on your bed. If
there’s anything else you want, prowl in the drawers. I think there’s a
spare one of everything. Willow likes to play hostess.
The bathroom was large with two windows, a huge tub, and a
shower stall. It was a heaven to Xander, with clean blue and white tiles, and a
whimsical motif of dolphins. He picked up the bar of soap on the sink and
breathed deeply. America. Indoor plumbing. Endless hot water. Heaven. Home.
Xander wasted no time in stripping off the too-tight
t-shirt and dropping the pants. He suddenly realized he’d left the flip-flops
in the van. It had been so long since he’d worn shoes, he’d not missed them.
He tossed the hated show pouch in the trash can and stood, naked and still
stinking of the hold of the ship before a floor-length mirror. He inventoried
every scar, all those visible, and those they’d magiked off when they still
thought him pretty.
Stray sunbeams crept in the high window and played with the
gems in his hair. He wanted to rip them out and fling them far into the ocean,
but they were all he had. All he owned. He’d plant these stone seeds and build
a new life. Hopefully, Spike would help him. He deliberately turned his back on
African Xander, and stepped into the shower.
Xander sighed as he stepped into the hot spray. It was half
an hour before he could override his ingrained caution and close his eyes for
more than a minute at a time as he scrubbed at his body with any soap that came
to hand. It was another fifteen before he could keep them closed for ten
minutes. It was five minutes more before he let himself slide down the wall to
sit in the spray and thank every god he knew of that Spike had found him and
brought him home.
Downstairs, Spike wandered into the kitchen where Dawn and
Willow were writing out a shopping list. As they checked the quantity of baking
potatoes, he added the name of Xander’s favorite beer to the paper before
quietly slipping away.
An hour later, the return of the triumphant shoppers drew
everyone to the kitchen. Tasks were distributed and the meal preparation was
well underway. Gunn came in from helping Midra with the females and told
them about the gems. They were trophies and it was best to not ask about them.
Another hour later, Xander appeared in the dining room.
He’d pulled his hair back into a rough braid so it was contained and he could
ignore it. Gunn’s yellow t-shirt with a faded dragon decal on it and a soft
green flannel shirt topped off dark purple draw string pants.
“Just in time!” Willow cried as she opened the oven to
pull out the potatoes.
“Still have the same fashion sense, I see,” Spike
“Nah, can’t blame me. Oz picked it out. I know wolves
are color blind, but really!”
Gunn limped in with Midra on his arm. “Hey! Those are all
my most comfortablist, lounge about the house clothes. I don’t share with just
Oz shrugged. “You’d take fashion tips from a man who
used to dye his hair every week?”
Midra had left the two females sleeping in the detached
guest house with a Council member, and the rest of them crowded around the long
plank table. Xander and Spike enjoyed their steaks and the rest had more
reasonable lunch-like food.
With the aid of Oz and, surprisingly, Spike, the
conversation stayed light throughout the meal. Gunn and Dawn had them all
laughing at the reenactment of highlights
of the past five year’s television seasons in ten minutes or less. Xander had
to cry “no spoilers” when they wanted to tell him about the last “Star
Wars” movie. Oz filled him in on the sad state of pop music today with loud
and pointed comments from Spike and more than a few counterpoints from Dawn.
Over ice cream, the best story was told. Xander’s
favorite was the story of the intense reunion, courtship, and marriage of Willow
Rosenberg and Daniel Osborne.
Finally, they’d all cleaned their plates and polished off
their ice cream. Xander stood and kissed all the cooks, including Gunn when he
foolishly bragged about having peeled the carrots. That earned Xander a play
glower from Midra, who was quite possessive of her Charles.
“Thank you all,” he said, stilling the conversations
and cleaning. “I know you want to know my story, and I respect you not asking.
I will tell it, but it will be in my own way, my own time. I’d put aside my
dreams of rescue years ago. Now, you’ve physically gotten me out of there, and
I must pull my self the rest of the way. I think I can. I hope I can.”
Before they could descend on him with hugs and tears, he turned his back
and strode from the room.
Spike drained the rest of his beer, sat the bottle solidly
on the table, and followed without meeting anyone’s puzzled looks.
“Where’s he going?” Gunn asked.
“Xander spoke to him before we went upstairs,” Oz
Only Midra was unconcerned. She spoke in her sharp accent.
“They are both Warriors. There are some things, honor things, that only a
Warrior may help another one do.”
“I’m a warrior, too,” Gunn pouted.
Midra stooped to kiss the top of his head as she went past
with her hands full of dishes. “You’re my warrior and I’m not sharing.”
“Aw, thanks baby. Hey, wait, ew!”
“And ya got a dirty mind!” she called over her shoulder
from the sink, breaking the tension with the laughter she caused.
Spike stopped in his second floor room and grabbed up the
little bundle of items he’d gathered. He didn’t let himself pause or
speculate, but joined Xander upstairs.
He found Xander naked, lighting the last of the three oil
lamps that sat around the room. Spike knew they were pretty much decorative, but
functional. He couldn’t help but size up Xander’s transformed body. The
years he had done construction work had made him strong, but the past years had
layered on the muscle. These were muscles born of hard work and fighting, not
work benches and posing. Spike saw the scars, too, and would not speculate about
his mental ones. He pushed down another wave of anger at the slavers. He had
always hated slavers. Xander had removed the eye patch, and Spike could see by
the even darkness of his skin around the scar that he rarely wore one. “Lock
the door,” Xander said. Spike did so and stood ready for almost anything, but
uncertain what was expected. “Clear the floor, please.”
Spike rolled the round rug with it’s pseudo Victorian
pattern and pushed it aside, clearing a wide expanse of hardwood floor. He
watched as Xander took out the tie from his long hair and shook it loose. The
gems anchored within the dark waves winked in the light. Then he knelt on his
toes and knees on the floor facing the tightly curtained window. “Kneel
here,” Xander pointed at a space three feet in front of him. Spike did. “Put
the candle here,” he pointed in front of him, “and light it.” Spike did
so. “Place the knife here,” he pointed with his left hand to that side of
the candle. Spike took out his favorite illegally long, razor sharp knife and
flicked out the blade. “Place the container here,” he pointed with his right
hand to that side of the candle. Spike sat down a little wooden box with a
pentacle worked into it. He’d bought it in Los Angeles as a gift to Willow,
but with the excitement of finding Xander, it had seemed unimportant. “Place
the cloth between you and the candle.” Spike laid down a fourteen inch square
of blue cloth he’d filched from Midra’s sewing room.
Xander tested the edge of the knife, opened the little box,
looked through the candle flame at the cloth, and looked Spike in the eye. “I
find you and these things worthy. Will you aid me in the beginning of the
cleansing of the past?”
“I will,” Spike answered, feeling the hairs on his arms
stand at the slight stirring of magic. Briefly, he wondered what Willow would
say about someone other than herself casting spells under what was basically her
Downstairs, Willow looked sharply up from where she was
wiping the table. Oz noticed the movement and went to her, worried. She closed her eyes briefly and opened them
with a smile. “He’s started a cleansing spell. I think Xander’s going to
“Spike, I request you take the cloth with your right
hand, and sit behind me, ” Xander said, looking into the candle flame. He did
so, kneeling as he had before. “Spread the cloth to your right.” Spike did,
using only that hand. Xander picked up the knife with his left hand and intoned
a short spell as he passed it through the flame three times. He then held it
over his shoulder, handle first, to Spike. “Take this in your left hand.”
Then he picked up the box lid with his right hand. This and then the box, he
passed through the flame three times as he chanted. These items he placed back
by the candle.
“Spike, see this one?” Xander pointed to a large pearl
that hung by his neck on the left side.
“It’s last. Find a jewel low down in my hair,” he
instructed, “and take hold of it.”
Spike located a tiny teardrop ruby and took it between two fingers.
“Cut it out, and remove all the hair from it. Put the
hair on the cloth.” Spike didn’t hesitate, but quickly freed the jewel and
its setting from Xander’s locks. Xander held his left hand up over his
shoulder. “Hand me the jewel.” Spike dropped it into his palm.
Xander looked at and recited something in his African
dialect, then paused and translated. “Golpic demon. He fought well, but left a
mate and spawn behind.” Xander passed gem over the flame. “Forgive me,” he
said as it winked in the light, and he transferred it to his right hand. He
dropped it into the box.
“Another,” he said.
Several hours passed as the ritual continued. Rubies,
diamonds, amethysts, all manner of wealth were freed from their hair knots. A
part of Spike’s magpie mind couldn’t help but appraise the gems. This was
soon forgotten as Xander told the stories of the kills he’d made to earn his
wealth. Some stories he did not translate. Some he did not ask forgiveness. As
the gems hung closer to his skull, the stories grew longer and more detailed.
Xander’s voice grew hoarse, but he did not waver or stop. The night was well
on, the mound of hair large, and the candle short when Xander held up his hand a
Spike spoke for the first time since the beginning.
“There’s just the one left,” he said quietly.
“Oh.” Xander slumped a little. “Find the strand
it’s on and cut it off at my scalp. Make it as long as you can and give me all
Spike’s nimble fingers gently closed on the pearl, and
worked Xander’s now-ragged hair. He separated out the thick lock it was
knotted on and did as Xander directed. He placed it in Xander’s shaking hand.
“Sit in front of me, Spike? Let me see you?”
Spike rose gracefully and moved to sit before Xander. He
watched as the weary man caressed the pearl. “Anthony,” he said. “Anthony
was... my friend.” Spike watched Xander’s thick and strong, yet nimble
fingers gather all the hair into his fist, and pass the pearl over the flame.
“Anthony. I love you, too. Forgive me.” Xander blew out the candle, but did
not put the pearl in the box. “Spike, please put the lid on the box and take
it from me.”
“Which hand, mate?”
“It doesn’t matter now. Stay where you are but…
put it away.” Xander tiredly waved a hand. Spike again noticed the
heavy wrist bands and inwardly winced at what they represented. He’d been
subjected to such a thing in his existence, too.
Spike took the now-full box, put the lid on, and placed it
behind himself. He watched as Xander moved, rising from his knees and resettling
cross legged. The vampire winced, knowing how much pain the man must be in.
Xander took the hair from his fist and started braiding it. Spike watched his
skilled, thick fingers work, carefully braiding his own hair into a tight,
small, strong braid.
“Am I really free, Spike?” He asked, quietly, not
looking up from his work.
“You’re out of slavery and your own man again. You’re
in the United States of America, land of the free.” Spike tapped one of the
bands. “Gunn can get these off of you in no time. Physically, I have to say
yes. Otherwise,” Spike tilted his head. “You have to break your bonds
Xander finished braiding the length of hair and put it
around his neck. He brought the ends together and wove them intricately into
one. Finally Xander’s work was complete and he dropped his hands tiredly.
“Trim the ends, Spike?”
Spike picked up the knife, carefully cut off the last few
inches of stray hair, and added them to the pile. Xander stared unseeing at the
blackened candle wick and fingered the pearl where it rested in the hollow of
“I’m so tired, Spike. So fucking tired.” Xander’s eye closed and he slowly slumped forward. Spike caught him and held him as he cried.
On to Chapter 6
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