I want to thank everyone who helped beta this, everyone who left feedback about it on LiveJournal,
and in particular, [info]sexymermaid who made me join a beta group. Her support and positive image in the LJ community is a bright star

It's five years past "Not Fade Away." Spike works freelance for the Watcher's council. Xander went missing for a long time, until Spike found him. Now, Spike must help Xander recover from long, hard years in captivity.

Rated NC-17, Adult



1 Found

Spike ran a hand over his hair, checking that not too much was astray from his tightly-bound braid, and blew out a great lung-full of air. This was his last chance to back out. He hated dealing with the slavers and the scum. The demons and humans here were the lowest of all. Even Angelus scorned them back in the day. But the pay was more than he could turn down.

The Watcher’s council had heard rumor of an untamable slave being brought in by ship this evening. The irony of  slave ships still coming to America from Africa was not lost on Spike. Giles was thinking Slayer. Spike was thinking get in, take a look, get out, report back, collect enough to live on for half a year.

Spike pulled on his “Big Bad” persona and crossed the unmarked barrier between the bad part of the town and the even worse part. He missed the swish of a leather coat and the easy stride he once had, but it was to his benefit when he listened to anyone try to tell that to him. The few that talked to him, that was. Spike was considered dead, and he’d gotten a clean slate. He doubted few would recognize him now. The “final battle” with the legions of hell had left him with a slight permanent limp and a lengthening of the scar that once hid in his eyebrow. He’d stopped bleaching and cutting his hair long ago and its dark brown length now was pulled tight against his skull and down his back in a fighter’s braid.

His new coat had been taken from a lawyer at the Rome branch of W & H. It was a good fit, falling off his shoulders and tailored in to fit his waist when belted, then the fuller skirt of it fell to mid-calf.  He’d paid enough attention to fashion to know this look wouldn’t last long, for most were simply not slim enough to pull it off, but while it was hot, he liked this coat. Pressed black pants with a narrow gray stripe tapered down to well-polished low-heeled boots. He carried a silver-topped ebony cane. Who’s the dandy highway man now?

His air of having every right to be there carried him far. He did his best not to breathe in the stench of the place, inhaling only when he needed to speak. Everywhere was the activity of cages and chains of humans, beasts, and unidentifiable beings moving from one place to another. The set up had the air of a clandestine street fair. He’d seen thousands such illicit events in his long existence and knew how to quickly reach the heart of it.

There, closest to the hold of the ship itself, was the security he was looking for. As expected, he was challenged. Doing his best not to fidget, he went through the courtly dance of  sign/countersign, name drop, name drop, money flash to get into the ship itself. Once the trail of the lies was passed, Spike willingly surrendered his few concealed weapons as well as his cane, exaggerated his limp, then was led up the gang plank and met by one of the top men. Oh, not the top man, Spike didn’t really want that, but this over-dressed thug would do nicely.

In his well-learned German accent, Spike blithely lied his way into seeing all the top stock. He was mostly interested in the girls, him being on the lookout for Slayers and what all, but it didn’t hurt to be thorough. Once he stepped into the area of the hold that had been curtained off, he knew his instincts had been right. 

A line of seven males stood in a row, each one well-muscled, healthy, and very bound. Spike did his best not to stare at the third one from the end. The flash of brown eye would have stopped his heart had he been human. He drew in a deep breath as he considered the first one in line. He looked without seeing at the brown, muscled body before him. Out of the myriad of stinks within the hold the one he sought soared over the others. 

He thought hard at the man in chains and slowly worked his way down the line. He’d never in a million years expected to call a code doughnut, and didn’t want his cover blown. Of course, it could be that his target wouldn’t recognize him. He was so far from the denim-wearing mooch he’d once been. Okay, so still wore jeans when not under cover, but he supported himself now. He absently spoke to the thug as he looked over the stock. He let little tidbits build his well-memorized story. It was easy to dismiss the non-humans as his boss had just bought a new estate in the Keys and wanted a human or two to pretty up the place and maybe provide some… entertainment.

He paused at the bronzed figure that stood tall third from the end. As he had with two others, he folded his arms and paused. The clear brown eye met his steadily.

“This one is pretty,” Spike said, reaching out to finger one of the gems in the slave’s long, thick brown hair. A tiny tightening of the lips was the only response. Perhaps Xander Harris didn’t recognize him. “Even with the eye patch.” Spike boldly ran a hand over a muscled forearm roped with veins and paused at a scar along the wrist, his eyes dating to find other scars on the massive body. “Pity he’s damaged.”

“That one won’t stay pretty. We’d magic him unscarred and he’d just get cut up again. He’s a damn good fighter, but he’s a rebel. Your boss probably won’t want him. Not for a pleasure slave.” Spike saw the brown eye darken marginally and felt a single angry, hard thump of the heart under his fingers.

"You don't know my boss, then," Spike laughed. "the brown eye flickered back to him and Spike saw a spark of curiosity in its depths. "He's a strange one. He sometimes finds flaws add character." Spike dismissed the captive and passed on to the last human in the line, giving him the same once-over he had the others. 

When done there, he tossed his head and rubbed his hands together. "Now, my favorite part. Let me have a look at the ladies."

He did not risk a look back and missed the unbreakable slave lowering his head to look at the place on his wrist the vampire had touched.


An hour passed, and Spike returned to the showing room with a small silver cell phone pressed to his ear. He found one of the slaves that he had examined had sold.

“What?… Yes, sir…” he barely looked at the still row of men. “Those are the ones? Right, hold on a sec.” Spike lowered the phone, turned to his burly host, and spoke like one who knows his requests will be followed. “He wants the one in red and the one in blue. Now can we take a better look at the males.”

The man turned and spoke a few quiet words to a near-by flunky. Spike switched his attention back to the slaves. “Pity, the biggest one’s been sold. You!” he pointed at the other dark-skinned human he’d examined. “Step out here.” The man did so, and Spike held up the little phone. There was a bright flash which caused them all to blink and one of the demons to cringe. “Okay, turn around.” He took another picture, shooed the man back into line, pushed a couple of buttons and brought the phone to his ear.

“Yes, he looks healthy. There’s another one, too. No, the third one I mentioned is gone.” Spike stepped up to Xander and repeated the photo shoot. He sent the pictures and pressed the phone to his ear again. As he chatted, he looked around the room with an undisguised air of disgust.

“I know he’s got an eye gone, but look how pretty he is…  All that hair… He’d make a nice match to the one in red you just picked out… No, they say he’s fighter grade, but reasonably well behaved…” Spike looked to his host. “Can he speak?”

The man barked at Xander, “Recite your kills!”

Xander started reeling off his impressive recorded kill list, but Spike waved him to silence before he got past two species.

The phone was back to his ear. “No, I’ve not seen to that, hold on.” Spike turned to his host who left off rolling his eyes and pulled a pleasant smile of servitude. “We need to see all of him.”

“He’s not pleasure grade, I told you.”

“I don’t care. His value is already lowered because of the eye. We’re not going to buy anything without making sure everything is in place.”

“Very well.” Xander’s eye narrowed as the tough came over to him. “Raise your arms,” he snapped. The muscles in Xander’s Africa-tanned arms bunched as he raised the heavy chains binding him. With a practiced move, the man unfastened Xander’s posing pouch and whipped it away.

Spike came over and knelt before the now-naked Xander. He snapped his fingers at a flunky and pointed at the bound slave’s crotch. Used to this sort of thing, the slim boy came over and presented Xander’s genitals to him. Spike stood and shooed the boy away. “Yes boss, they look intact.” Again he paced the small space. The host handed the pouch to the flunky who quickly redressed the tensed slave.

“Yes… yes… I agree. I will call you back shortly.” He looked over both males one more time, this time looking each of them in the eye for a brief moment. “Fine! Let us talk.”

Xander did his best to relax as Spike and the host tossed sums of money around. Spike spent all his time pointing out Xander’s flaws, and the host regaled Spike with stories of Xander’s fighting prowess and what a loss it would be to make him a decorative slave. Xander had to hide a barely-suppressed snort of laughter with a clink of chains when Spike said “Look, if my boss wants him to be nothing more than a doughnut boy, it’s not your business.” The vampire shot him a look of annoyance. More sums were bantered about and the host pulled out a cell phone of his own.

Finally, the two shook hands over a figure your average human could buy a nice house with and Spike swept from the room without a backwards glimpse.

A bright yellow ribbon was draped across his chest, and Xander was lead from the show room and to a holding pen he’d never seen.

Some four hours later, Xander, a tiny dark skinned human in a skimpy blue wrap, and a green-skinned female in a red toga were lead off the ship for the first time in months. The unshifting ground felt wrong under Xander’s feet. The human girl cried silently, and Xander just moved as directed as they were taken to a nondescript van. A muscular black man stood by with several chains at his feet. Few words were exchanged as the slave keeper removed the heavy chains from the females and the black man replaced them with lighter, but no less strong looking ones.

“Watch this one,” the keeper said when they came to Xander. “He can be tricky.”

The man just nodded. “Boss likes them to fight.” He flashed a grin at Xander which made him think he’d seen the man somewhere before. The man opened the van’s door and his fighter-trained eye took in the weakness of the man’s left leg. Was everyone in this outfit crippled? “You have to climb in your own damn self, though. I ain’t gonna help.”

Xander watched the demon girl struggle for all of three seconds before picking her up and setting her inside. She gave a startled squeak, but shot him a grateful look as she settled on a padded bench. It was forbidden for slaves to touch one another without permission, but he was willing to risk it. He helped the human, then climbed in himself. The black man came in behind him and swiftly locked all their chains to a central rail. He said nothing more, but Xander saw him give each of the girls a secretive, comforting pat on the back as he checked their chains.

Once they were all settled with the black man in the front passenger seat and on the move, Xander took a more careful look around the van. It was a standard American model, but the back had been remodeled to function as a police van. Padded benches lined both walls and welded-in poles showed evidence of wear. A heavy metal grill and a curtain separated the back from the passenger compartment. There were no windows.

As they traveled, Xander systematically checked every link in his new chain. He’d always done this and he always would. Briefly, he wondered if his sellers had shared this information. Probably not. To be honest with himself, he was surprised they’d let him live this long. After checking the chains, he sat still and thought. He’d gotten very good at that and now that he finally had new things to think about, he really threw himself into it. He ignored the two females as they huddled together, talking a little quietly, and drawing comfort from one another. Every slave knew that any situation could quickly become worse. No matter how bad, there could always be a worse. He did not share the probable identity of their buyer. Or, at least of his or her purchasing agent.

Spike. God Damn. He’d heard his one-time roommate had been mystically resurrected, then within the same month, he heard of his probable demise. Just how long had he been a captive for enough time to pass for the stubborn vamp to cycle back to life? Then again, the accent, the almost-effeminate mannerisms? Maybe it wasn’t Spike. Maybe he’d been sold into the possession of some damn rich freak who would make him stand around all day with a potted plant on his back. He’d heard such stories.

He could hear the black man talking, but if the driver was answering, he was too quiet for Xander to hear. The low volume pop music on the radio and the road noise didn’t help. Pop music. Good old American rock and roll. It had been… years?… since he’d heard any amount of it.

Patsy Cline & Chocolate

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 he could keep 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 a long 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 four 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.

A Home, Green Hair & Beer

The conversation soon switched to trivial things. The females, overwhelmed and full of food, drifted off to sleep, Gunn read a book, Oz skillfully maneuvered the van north through heavy traffic, and Xander watched the world through the heavily tinted windows. Occasionally, Xander would savor a treat from his bag or ask details about the world he’d so missed. They decided to keep moving as long as the females were asleep.

Three hours later, the females woke up as they stopped at a security gate. Oz leaned out the window and punched in a code. The gates opened by themselves, and Xander heard the females whispering about seeing such things at one of the places they’d been sent to service.

“Whose place is this, anyway?” Xander asked as he looked at the lush tree growth they passed.

“On the deed, the Watcher’s council. In reality, Willow and Daniel Osborne.”

“Really?” Xander asked. “How’s that work?”

Gunn spoke up. “That’s a bit of my work.” Xander remembered hearing about Gunn’s instant lawyer training and wished he could have gotten all of high school that way. “As you know, Willow’s folks were quite wealthy, so they left her a tidy sum. At the same time, the Watchers Council was looking for a piece of property where they could train Slayers in America. She found this place, bought it, and donated it to the council with all these legal stipulations that allow her to live here and run the place as she sees fit, but without all those nasty taxes and utility bills.”

Xander smiled and nodded. “That’s my Willow.”

They rounded a bend and the three-story house came into view. It was colonial without being over-blown. The shady porch sported inviting rocking chairs. The wide yard around it was well cared for, with flowers and neatly-trimmed shrubs everywhere. What drew Xander’s attention the most was Willow standing at the door.

He climbed out and stood gazing at his often missed friend. In a daze she walked toward her oldest pal, looking him up and down. The t-shirt Oz hoped would be loose only served to accentuate the massive muscles in Xander’s chest and arms. The wide silver slave bracelets were still welded in place about his wrists. His complexion, already naturally dark, had been baked darker still. His unbound hair flowed glossy and thick to his waist. Here and there jewels of various kinds winked in the sun. His expression was unreadable.

Timidly, Willow approached Xander and raised a shaking hand to touch his chest. “Xander?”

He could hold out no longer, and allowed his grin to escape. “Hey, Wills!”

“You’re alive!”

“That’s what they tell me.” He gave into impulse, wrapped his arms around his friend and twirled her around twice, his hair flying and the jewels glinting, before setting her down again. Willow whooped in delight and refused to let go even after the ride was over.

“Xander, Xander, Xander. My Xander,” she happily chanted. Even though some part of her mind took in the new, wild look and scent of him and knew “her” Xander really was no more. She could hardly close her arms about his chest.

“I hate to interrupt,” Gunn called, “but I think the ladies are afraid to come out.” Gunn stood by the open van doors as the two other former slaves huddled inside.

Willow pulled herself from Xander’s arms and wiped her eyes. “Oh. I forgot about them. Midra!” she called to the house.

A tall, slender black woman glided out of the house. She wore a traditional caftan and her dredlocked hair was pulled back. “Are they here?” she asked in a musical voice.

“Over here, baby!” Gunn called.

Midra smiled at Xander in passing as she quickly went to the van. She exchanged a brief hug and kiss with Gunn before climbing in the van.

“That’s Midra. She’s one of the first slaves we rescued. She works here as councilor and translator.”

Xander turned his attention back to his friend, lifting a scarred hand and soothing her twirl-mussed hair. She was older, and a few care lines marked her eyes, but she was still his beautiful Willow. “It’s so God damn good to see you, Willow.”

“You, too. Oh, God, you, too. Come on in. There’s some more people who want to see you.”

Xander surrendered Willow to her husband and followed them into the air conditioned dimness of the house. He felt a chill that didn’t entirely have to do with the temperature.

“Welcome to Rosenberg Hall,” Willow said.

Xander looked around at the dark woods on the staircase and the clean, pale walls. A wide stairway curved up from one side of the entranceway. It kind of reminded him of the long-gone Rovello Drive house.

“Nice.” He followed her meekly, half listening to the inventory of rooms, the history of the house, and how she’d managed to buy it from the former once-famous owner. It even had a small elevator. The rooms were all clean and tidy, the atmosphere safe and inviting. He could see gardens and other buildings out tall windows.

He followed her through another arch. “And  through here is the room where all the strays wind up.”

It was a large living room with a flat screen TV and worn, comfortable seating. The curtains were pulled closed and the only light came from the unfamiliar sit com on the TV. What caught his attention was the man he could see in profile. Spike sprawled on a chair with one boot up on the coffee table, and the other tucked under that thigh. The long-fingered hand that wasn’t clutching a beer was splayed on his hip, accentuating his crotch. His shirt was a faded black and his jeans torn at the knee. Except for the dark, long-haired pony tail, Spike looked so much like a scene from years before that Xander had to swallow his emotions.

Willow theatrically cleared her throat when Spike didn’t look up from the television. “You should have that looked at, Red,” he drawled.

“Spike! Look who’s here!”

Lazily, the vampire dropped his head back on the seat back and rolled it to face them as if it were the greatest effort in the world to make the move. “Hey, Whelp,” he said, then turned back to the TV.

Willow almost stomped her foot. “Spike! It’s Xander!”

Spike shrugged and sipped his beer. “I know. Found him, didn’t I?”

Xander exchanged a wink with Willow and strode over to Spike. Even though the vamp didn’t move, Xander knew he was watching his every move from the corner of his eye. He saw Spike tense as he approached and snatched the beer from his hand.

“Oi! Get your own!” Xander drained it in two long gulps, crushed the can flat, and handed it back.

He patted Spike on the head. “Thanks, fangless,” he said fondly as he turned back to Willow. “Is there anyone here who would be glad to see me?”

Spike watched them go and then stared at the crushed can. He was very glad to know there was still some puppy in the beast.

Xander’s joking question was met with a squeal of delight that made everyone’s hair stand on end. A bright green haired, tall, slight figure rocketed at him from the back of the house. If he hadn’t fondly preserved the memory of that sound from years before, Dawn Summers could easily have ended up badly broken. As it was, Xander caught her up and spun her around much as he had Willow, only four more times.

Willow had to snatch a vase out of harm’s way, but she couldn’t scold her old friend.

Finally he sat her down, but did not let go of the young woman weeping and clutching at him. “I told them you’d come back. I told them to keep code doughnut on the list.”

“Was that your idea, Dawnie?”

“Yeah. Doughnut’s not a word you say much when talking about Africa, is it?”

Xander reveled in the feel of her strong, wiry body in his arms. She’d matured, but kept the slimness. He opened his eye to see Spike leaning in the doorway, a lop-sided smile on his lips.

Dawn finally pushed away, but kept a hand on his arm. “Let me look at you, TarXAN. Wow! You’re hot!”

“Wasn’t I always?” he asked with a visit from his old crooked grin.

“Well, yeah, but now you look like something found on the internet.”

“Dawn!” Willow scolded, teasingly.

“Not that I look at such things. And those jewels are beautiful! I’m so glad I happened to be visiting when Spike called! Oh my God! I want to show you the house, and we’ve got so much to catch up on. Where have you been?”

Oz saw Xander’s back tighten, and stepped in. “It’s been along trip for him, Dawnie.” As always, Oz’s steadying presence cut through the chaos.

She blushed. “I’m sorry, Xander. I just missed you so much.”

“You, too, Dawn. We’ll talk later.”

Oz turned to his old friend. “What do you want to do now, Xander?”

“If there are no more green-haired banshees going to come out at me, and I want to hear the story about that later…” he closed his eye and brought up long-shelved I’m-free-and-back-in-the states fantasies. “I would like… as hot and long a shower as possible. A medium rare steak, beef mind you, with all the proper sides, cold beer, a big, tall glass of milk, and chocolate ice cream for dessert.”

Willow and Dawn laughed. Oz smiled warmly. 

“It will mean a trip to the store, but we can do that, no problem,” Willow said. She went to her friend and cupped his cheek, looking into his eye, she smiled. “Welcome back, Xander.” Xander kissed the palm of her hand. “Come on, Dawn, help me take inventory. Oz, can you show him the guest room?”

Oz nodded and Xander hesitated, turning back to the living room door. The vampire was gone. “Hold on a minute,” he said and returned to the other room.

Spike had resumed a variant of his sprawl, apparently watching TV, but Xander knew him well enough to know he was actually staring and thinking. 

“Spike?” he said quietly.

“Yeah, mate?”

Xander came in and sat on the coffee table, facing Spike. “There is something I need to do, a ceremony, and it takes a warrior to help me.”

Spike steadily met the clear brown eye. “Want me to help you kill the bastards that captured you? ‘cause that’s some proper killing.”

Xander shook his head and shut his eye tiredly. “No. Not that. That’s… later.” Xander opened his eye to see the vampire nodding in understanding. “It’s… I want rid of Africa. As soon as possible. Will you help me?”

“Yeah, mate. Anything you ask.”

“Join me in my room after dinner. Bring a sharp knife, a candle, red if it’s to be had, a handkerchief size piece of clean cloth, and a small box or draw string bag.” Xander cupped his hands together to show what size was need.

“This ain’t going to get kinky, is it?” Spike asked, tilting his head, and lightning the mood.

Xander didn’t hesitate, but reached out and stroked Spike’s hair, once. “I don’t know. Tabula rasa, Spike. I want to be a blank slate, and I need help to do it.”

He’d half expected Spike to flinch, turn snarky, or at worse throw it all in his face. But Spike just nodded. “Share the wealth of steak and you’re on.”

Xander grinned and stood up. “Willow! Add another rare sirloin for the vamp to your list.”

Spike stared after him. He didn’t know this man. Not at all. He’d seen the seeds of this strength, both mental and physical, and he knew plenty about slave colonies. He wanted to know how this slave had remained unbreakable, and found he wanted to get to know this new man, too.

Absently, Spike stroked his hair where Xander’s great, warm hand had touched him twice now. He had to learn what was up with that.

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