See America

Yin Again


"Don't growl at me, Spike." The almost subharmonic rumbling tapered off, and Xander glanced to the side. Spike didn't say anything. Big shock, there, he thought; Spike hadn't said anything in a month. He took the opportunity to stare. It wasn't like Spike was going to complain. Spike looked the same. It still wigged Xander mightily to see him, to touch him, to know he was alive, or undead, or back, or whatever.

Actually, Spike looked better than when they had, for lack of a better term, gotten him. That version of Spike had been thin, haggard, and more than a little crazed. He'd come as excess baggage to the ruin that had once been Wesley and the dark shadow that had once been Gunn. The three men had shown up at the new Watcher's Council headquarters, with Spike and Gunn supporting Wes' sagging frame in the doorway. Andrew had answered the door and fainted dead away. Xander was never sure if it was just the sight of the three or the streaks of dried blood or both.

Xander himself had just returned from Africa, lean and hard and tanned, with his long, loose hair and his eyepatch - looking like a marauding pirate; the girls calling him "Captain Jack." He had dashed to catch Andrew, pushing him onto a sofa before grabbing Wes' arm. As soon as the weight had been taken from them, both Spike and Gunn had slumped to opposite sides of the doorframe in a picture of utter exhaustion and defeat. Xander settled Wes next to Andrew, then helped the others, also putting Gunn on the sofa before easing Spike into a wing chair. Expressionless, Spike had squeezed his hand, once, lightly, before closing his eyes and turning his face to the rich oxblood leather of the chair.

A thunder of footsteps on the wide staircase heralded the arrival of the Slayer posse, and Xander found himself standing partially in front of the chair that held Spike, hovering almost protectively. Giles fell to his knees before Wes, checking him for injuries, and Xander managed to catch Buffy before she could fling herself onto Spike.

"There's something wrong with him," he told her in a low, urgent voice.

Buffy's eyes widened, and she slowed her approach. She reached down to brush her fingers lightly over the shoulder of his duster. "Are you OK?" she whispered.

Spike didn't move or react at all, and she turned to look at Xander. He stared down at her hand. It was covered in a red and black dust: dried blood and ash.

They had all done what they normally did - Scoobies and Slayers alike. They gathered up the wounded and began to set things to rights. Somehow, Xander had wound up with charge of Spike; Giles and Dawn had taken Wes, and Buffy and Willow led Gunn to the kitchen. A revived Andrew set about making tea and coffee and bemoaned the fact that they didn't have any blood on hand as they no longer had a resident vampire. Xander, after easing a compliant and silent Spike out of his clothes and into his suite's shower, neatly solved that problem by dispassionately slicing his own forearm over a coffee mug, closing the cut with three butterfly tapes once the mug was full. His look dared anyone to comment before he turned and disappeared up the stairs.

He found Spike exactly where he'd left him, under the steaming water, not moving. With a sigh, Xander popped the detachable showerhead off the wall and proceeded to wash Spike like the world's tallest, skinniest dog. He wrapped the still form is his own terry cloth robe, sat him down on his bed and handed him the mug. Spike drank, then heaved a shuddering sigh before handing it back. He didn't look up at the knock on the door.

"I brought you some clothes for him...Andrew's. They should fit." Buffy looked uncharacteristically nervous, shifting from one foot to the other in the hall.

"Thanks," Xander said. "What did Gunn say?"

"Nothing yet. He's got a stab wound in his chest - it's about half healed. Wes is catatonic."

Xander glanced back at Spike. "Yeah, it seems to be going around. I'll bring him down in a minute."

She nodded and he closed the door softly after trading her the mug for the proffered clothing.

Stepping back to the bed, he shook out the black jeans and tee shirt. "Black and black; your reputation precedes you." He sighed at Spike's lack of response and reached for the robe's tie. He stopped moving as Spike lifted a hand to brush his finger along the tape holding the cut on Xander's arm together. Xander's eye met Spike's flat, blue ones. Spike blinked slowly.

"You're welcome," he said. "Now get dressed."

Ten minutes later, they were downstairs in one of the smaller libraries. Xander had settled Spike on the sofa next to Wes, and Gunn was seated in a side chair. Giles, Buffy, Willow and Dawn completed the loose circle. Wes looked the same. But Gunn looked better - his skin not quite so grey after two mugs of brandy-laced coffee.

Xander broke the silence. "What happened?" he asked Gunn.

Gunn's eyes were flat as he looked up at Xander. "There ain't no good way to say this," he began, then turned to face Buffy. "Angel's dead." He watched as she folded into Giles' arms, a stricken expression on her face. Gunn turned to face Willow. "Fred's gone, too. And Harmony. And Wolfram and Hart, at least the L.A. branch."

"My Lord," Giles said, stroking Buffy's hair as he kept her from falling to the floor. "What happened?"

Gunn gestured absently toward Wesley. "He did."

"Wes killed Angel?" Willow's tone was incredulous. Gunn nodded. "And Fred?" she asked, her voice going to a higher register.

Gunn dropped his eyes to the floor. "No, I killed Fred."

Everyone stared at Gunn with varying degrees of uncertainty until he straightened, resolve coming over his face. He gave Giles a hard look. "You remember when Angel called you, wanting to borrow her?" He gestured at Willow, and Giles nodded. "That was for Fred. I let an artifact into the country that killed her, let her be taken over by some badass goddess with a thing for blue hair and leather, Illyria."

"The Illyria?" Giles gasped.

"Yeah," Gunn said. "The one and only. She hollowed Fred out, took her body. We would have...I would have done anything to get her back. We searched and searched for any info we could find, but everything said her soul was gone." He rubbed his hands over his face and took a deep, shuddering breath. "There was nothing of Fred left, just a few odd memories. That's when Angel told us about the mindwipe."

"Mindwipe?" Xander said.

Gunn looked up at Xander. "It was part of the deal for taking over Wolfram and Hart. We all got offered something. For Angel, it involved all of us forgetting something, somebody. He...erased our memories."

"Dude," Xander said. "That's fucked up."

Gunn nodded and almost smiled. "Yeah it is," he agreed. Anyway, he thought that if we restored Fred's memory, it might get her back. The rest of us wanted our memories back, too. He...Angel was pretty far gone by then, so he agreed." He stopped talking and ran his hands over his face again. Xander wanted to go to him, to support him, but he also didn't want to leave Spike's side, not that Spike would notice; he'd neither moved nor flinched since he'd sat obediently down. Xander looked at Willow and then cut his eyes to Gunn. She got the hint and slid onto the arm of Gunn's chair, taking one of his hands in hers. He clung to it like a lifeline.

"It worked - kind of," he said, looking around the room. "She was in there, but Illyria was, too. Illyria was stronger - she used Fred's knowledge. She wanted to open a portal, go to another dimension, and she used Fred to convince Wes to help. Once he realized it was Illyria, not Fred, he lost it. He killed her. Then he staked Angel for making him do it, and then he used some kind of spell to incinerate the Wolfram and Hart Building. At 10:00 on a Monday morning." Gunn paused to let the implications of that sink in.

"Monday morning?" Willow said. "That means..."

"The maximum number of people would be at work," Xander finished for her. He turned to Gunn. "Where was he?" he said, gesturing toward Wes.

Gunn looked up. "Right in the middle of the lobby. It was just luck that me and Spike found him and dragged him out. At least Spike was physically OK, but he hasn't said one word since Angel dusted. We're all that's left, us and Lorne, but he stayed in L.A."

The room was silent for a long moment. Xander looked around, trying to figure out what to say next, what to do next. He was saved from having to think of something by, of all people, Wes.

"Buffy," Wes croaked, not looking up from the floor.

Buffy raised her face from Giles' shoulder and wiped at her eyes before crossing the floor to stand in front of Wes' slumped form. He didn't look up at her.

"Kill me," he said.

"What?" Buffy's voice was quiet, and it wavered.

"Kill me," Wes repeated. "Isn't that what you do? Kill the monsters?"

For once, Buffy was speechless.

"You aren't a monster, Wesley." Wilow spoke from her perch on the arm of Gunn's chair as she released his hand and leaned forward.

"I'm a murderer," he said flatly.

"Get in line," Xander said, his voice mild.

"I'm not going to kill you, Wes," Buffy said. "I don't kill humans." She dropped to her knees and looked at him until his bloodshot eyes met hers. "I... don't understand any of this. I don't know if I ever will. But, I'm not going to kill you." Wes slumped in defeat as Buffy stood up and walked across the room. Dawn fell in beside her, looping an arm around her sister's shoulders, and the two women walked slowly up the stairs.

Xander looked at the dumbstruck group, then clapped his hands. Several people jumped.

"OK," Xander said. "Giles, you're dealing with Wes; Willow, you've got Gunn." He turned to the side chair. "Gunn, how long since either of you have eaten?"

Gunn thought for a minute. "Four days."

Xander turned back to Willow. "Give them some soup, but not a lot. You overfeed them and it's mop duty for Andrew. Start slow."

Gunn looked up wonderingly. "How do you know this stuff, man?"

Xander smiled a small, sad smile that came nowhere near his eyes. "I've been in Africa for six months. I've seen shit you don't even want to know about. I've done shit you don't even want to know about." He turned toward Andrew, then back to Gunn. "What about Spike? What's he been eating?"

"Last four days, nothing. Before that, pig, cow, otter. There was a "no human" company policy," Gunn replied.

"Fuck that," Xander said. "Have you looked at him? He's bony and he looks like crap." Turning, he caught Andrew's eye. "Andy, find a source for human blood. I think he likes O positive, if you can get it. I'm counting on you, buddy." Andrew's face lit up and he straightened, sketching a small salute before heading toward the kitchen. Willow went with him. Giles helped Wes off the couch and led him upstairs to get cleaned up.

Gunn glanced up at Xander. "You want to tell me about Africa sometime?"

Xander ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Parts of it? Yeah. All of it? Not really." He let his thoughts wander back to the alien continent that had taken him in at his lowest point and shown him the true meaning of both suffering and joy; the place that had reshaped his mind and body and beliefs. Africa was where he'd finally laid Anya to rest, where he had become cleansed and dirty and parts of him had died while others were reborn.

Gunn was still looking at him. "Hell of a place, huh?" he asked gently.

"You have no idea, man." Xander slumped down on the couch next to Spike. He reached over and lifted one of Spike's arms, letting it fall again. Spike's eyes flickered toward him, and his lip curled into a tiny smirk. "So, he's still in there," Xander said to Gunn.

Gunn leaned forward in his chair and braced his forearms on his knees. "Yeah, he's in there. He's just fucked up. We all are."

Xander hesitated, then drew in a breath. "Who stabbed you?"

Gunn ran his hand over the mostly-healed wound. "Wes."

"Four days ago?" Xander asked.

"Couple weeks."

"Any particular reason?" Xander asked.

"Artifact thing - he found out I let it into the country. He missed all the vital organs. I kind of wish he hadn't." Gunn didn't drop his eyes from Xander's face, and Xander could see the pain there.

"Looks like ol' Bloodbreath here's the only one of you without a death wish," he said lightly. "Look," he said, his voice dropping. "What I said earlier to Wes, about getting in line? I was serious. You guys aren't the only people in this house who've killed somebody, and Wes isn't the only one who did it on purpose, either. We've got resources - we'll get him some help, I promise."

Gunn nodded. "Thanks. I don't know if he'll ever be the same. Hell, I don't know that any of us will."

Xander smiled, and this time it touched his eyes just a little. "You're right, man - you won't be the same. That's kind of the point. There's not a person in this house that's the same as they were a year ago, or a month ago, but we're all trying to do the same thing - the right thing, with what we've got."

Gunn looked back at the floor, the back up at Xander. He nodded. "I think I can do that," he said. "I hope I can."

"Good," Xander said. Just then, Andrew and Willow entered the room with trays of mugs full of soup and coffee. Xander stood and stretched. He took Willow's tray and set it on the table.

"Xander, I found a source for human blood. Did you know it's in the phone book? How creepy is that? Well, anyway, I called and they said they can do it, they'll start delivering this afternoon and they'll come every other day and bring enough for him to have six pints a day. Did you know that's how much a vampire is supposed to drink? I think the guy had a chart, which comes back around to creepy again. OK, so, it'll be here by five." Andrew finally had to stop to breathe. Xander was grateful.

He clapped Andrew on the back. "Good work, Andy." He reached down and pulled Spike into a standing position. "I'm gonna take poseable Ken here upstairs and put him to bed." He turned toward the door, and Spike trailed behind him. They passed Giles on the stairs.

"How's Wes?" Xander asked.

Giles sighed. "The same. I got him to wash, and his injuries are superficial, but he's..."

"Catatonic again?"

"Yes." Giles pulled off his glasses and polished them on his shirt. "I guess I'll take him some soup."

"Sounds good," Xander said. "I'll settle Spike and come down to talk to you later." The two men exchanged nods and each went their separate ways.

Xander led Spike back to his suite of rooms. "I think I've got some sweatpants that shrunk or something you can sleep in..." His voice trailed off when he realized he was speaking to an empty room. He walked toward his bedroom and found Spike's boots, the black jeans and tee shirt in a heap on the floor. "Sleep tight," he told the lump under his covers.

Three days. Three days of fresh human blood and sleeping in Xander's bed. Not sleeping with Xander, mind you - that would be too bizarre. It was just weird enough that Xander hadn't objected to Spike's newfound practice of climbing into the warm covers as soon after the other man left them as Spike could manage. He'd stay there, sleeping, healing until the setting of the sun woke him. The practice of staying up in the daylight hours, helped by the special glass at Wolfram and Hart fell away, fell back into the instinctive pattern of day sleeping. It felt right.

Spike had not yet spoken. He supposed that he could, he just didn't want to. At odd moments he wondered if he would eventually forget how. Was talking a skill you lost, if you stayed silent long enough? He thought back to the last sound he'd made, a broken howl as Angel's dust had settled over him, the disintegration of the large body revealing Wesley, wild-eyed and insane, clutching a stake. They had been arguing, as usual, Spike taking Angel to task for the mindwipe, when Wes had simply entered the room and struck.

Spike felt the panic rising and let his mind skip to their escape from the firm, he and Gunn dragging Wes out of the ruins of the lobby, past walls of fire, panes of glass spiderwebbed from the heat, through the clouds of ash and soot. Spike thought about Harmony, about the way she had looked - her pink sweater on fire as she ran down the stairs, her body crumbling to dust on the landing. The smell of warm blood brought him out of his reverie.

Spike opened his eyes to find Buffy standing in front of his chair, holding a mug as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. He realized that he had his knees drawn up, that he was almost curled into the seat of the chair. He straightened and took the mug, nodding at Buffy. She sank down to sit cross-legged on the floor at his feet while he drank. He purposely changed into his demon face to drink, but she didn't react. Finishing the blood, he shook off his gameface and set the mug on the side table. He lifted one eyebrow as he looked down at Buffy. Non-verbal communication wasn't so hard.

"I'm going back to Italy," she said, looking down at her clasped hands. "I don't want to stay here."

Spike shrugged and waited.

"I don't think I loved Angel anymore," she said, looking back up into Spike's eyes. "But I think that I could have again, given enough time."

Spike raised the eyebrow again and then looked down at himself before meeting her eyes once more.

"You?" she said. " about you. You saved the world. And you never let me down."

Spike smirked at her a little, but couldn't meet her eyes. He knew that he'd let her down in plenty of ways, but he also knew that she was trying to be nice; just like she'd been at the lip of the Hellmouth, while the sunlight had boiled through his body.

"Do you love me?" she asked, and Spike was struck by the pain in her eyes. He smiled gently at her and nodded, then slowly shook his head.

Buffy frowned, then her face cleared. "You love me, but you aren't in love with me." Spike nodded, then shrugged again. "Shit happens?" Buffy quipped. He gave her a small smile. She stood up from the floor and held out a hand to him. He took it and allowed her to pull him to his feet. They stood a foot apart, looking at one another. Finally, Spike opened his arms, and Buffy folded herself to his chest, squeezing him tightly.

"As soon as you start talking again," she said, "call me, OK?" Spike nodded, knowing she would feel the motion of his cheek against her hair. He watched as she left the room, marveling at how little her departure hurt him. Funny how priorities changed when the world went pear-shaped. Spike picked up his mug and headed for the kitchen.

At sunset the next day, Xander walked up to his own room, walked to the side of his own bed and shook Spike awake.

"Get up, Silent Bob," he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "We've got people to see."

Spike struggled into a sitting position, keeping the covers pulled up to mid-chest and blinking like a cat. Xander couldn't help but smile. Spike with bedhead was the eighth natural wonder of the world.

"We're going to go over to the infirmary and see Wes, you OK with that?"

Spike nodded and tried to smooth his hair with one hand.

Xander hesitated, looking at Spike to make sure he was fully awake. "There's someone else in the infirmary. It's Dana; I think you remember her."

Xander cringed when Spike instinctively flinched, moving so that his arms were crossed over his chest, each hand gripping the opposite wrist, the thumbs rubbing across the places that would be scarred, had he been human.

"I'm not trying to freak you out," Xander explained, "but it's a small infirmary and I didn't want you to get a nasty surprise when you saw her."

Spike uncrossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at Xander.

"It's very bizarre, you know, how much I understand you. Dana's doing better. Is that who you were asking about?"

Spike nodded, then made a "come on" gesture with one hand.

"She's less crazy. She's still not what anyone would call normal, but she's improving." Xander looked up at the ceiling, then back at Spike. "She's really sorry for what she did to you. I think she might like to talk to you."

Spike looked doubtful.

"We don't let her near the bone saws, if that helps," Xander said.

Spike lifted one hand in a two-fingered salute.

The walk to the infirmary took about ten minutes. Full dark had fallen by the time Spike was showered and ready to go, but the Watcher's Council campus was well-lit. The infirmary was housed in an old, red-brick building which also held the Council's administrative offices. Spike followed Xander to the third floor.

"Hey, Mr. Harris, how are you tonight?" The young man behind the reception desk wore scrubs and a bright smile.

"I'm good, Deke. This is Spike." Xander watched as the two men exchanged nods of greeting.

"You here for Dana or Mr. Wyndham-Price?" Deke asked.

"Both, actually," Xander said, stepping around the desk and toward the short hallway.

"She's in the TV room, and Mr. Wyndham-Price is in Room 6," Deke said, before sitting down and going back to his magazine. "Leslie was here with her earlier, so she's pretty mellow."

Xander waved his thanks and led Spike down the hall. "One of the Slayers visits Dana every day - they're helping her get control of the powers, the dreams. She's made a lot of progress." He didn't miss Spike rubbing his right wrist with his left hand. They stopped at a door marked with a metal "6". Spike took a deep breath and walked in, closing the door behind him. Xander continued on to the end of the hall.

The TV room could have passed for any upper-class suburban living room, except for the fact that the furniture was bolted to the floor and the lamps were bolted to the tables. With really strong bolts. Dana was tucked up in the corner of a sofa with a throw blanket over her legs. She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and her dark hair had recently been cut into a short bob that suited her features. She was pale, but healthy.

"Hey," Xander said from the doorway.

"Hey," she said, frowning. "Did you know there's a vampire on this floor?"

"It's OK," he said. "I brought him, he's a friend."

"Angel?" she asked.

He walked to the sofa and waited for her to nod before he sat. Dana pulled her feet up to give him extra room. "Dana, Angel's dead. I brought Spike with me. He's visiting Wes."

Dana's expression didn't change as she processed the information. "Spike, he's...OK?" she asked, dark eyes searching Xander's face.

"He's OK-ish," Xander said, "but, not because of you. Some bad shit happened in L.A."

"Yeah," Dana replied softly. "That seems to be the place for it."

"No kidding," Xander responded. "Spike sort of clammed up, which I can't believe. He's not talking yet. Do you want to see him?"

Dana was silent for a long time. "Yes," she finally said.

"OK," Xander said. "I'll bring him in after he gets through...not talking to Wes, I guess."

"Have you told him about Africa? About Sona?" Dana said.

"No." Xander sighed and looked down at his hands. "I haven't told anyone but Giles and Buffy and you. It's not...I can't...shit, it's hard to talk about."

Dana shrugged, but didn't answer. After a few seconds, she returned her attention to the TV, and Xander stared at his hands until he saw a flutter of motion near the door. Looking up, he saw the edge of Spike's duster.

"You ready?" he asked Dana.

She flicked the remote to silence the television and sat up straight, her fingers clutching the throw blanket in her lap. "Yeah," she said.

Xander stood and got a plastic folding chair from against the wall, setting it across from Dana, leaving some space between the chair and the sofa. "Come on in, Spike," he called.

Spike walked in slowly, carefully. His body held none of his usual swagger or strut, and he moved smoothly, as if trying not to spook a skittish horse. He slid gracefully into the chair and clasped his hands together, leaning his elbows on his knees before looking at Dana.

She stared back without blinking for a moment, then looked down at his leather-covered arms. Spike noticed her gaze and pushed his right sleeve up with his left hand, turning his arm to display the unmarked skin there. Dana's hand reached out, but stopped a few inches from Spike's arm. After a second of hesitation, he gently took her hand and placed it on his wrist, not moving as she tested the skin with her fingertips.

Squeezing his arm, she looked up and met his eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. Spike simply placed his hand atop hers and patted it. Xander felt tears sting his eye at the oddly old-fashioned gesture. He blinked, and the moment ended. Dana pulled her hand away and settled back onto the sofa. A few minutes later, the young man from the front desk came into the room with a paper pill cup and a glass of water for Dana. Xander and Spike said and waved their goodbyes and left.

As they passed the front desk, Spike stopped and pulled a pad and pen to the edge. He scribbled for a second, then showed the paper to Xander.

Who is Sona?

Xander touched the page, tracing Spike's flawless script. He then took the pad, ripped the page off and balled it up before tossing it in the trashcan. He turned to look at Spike.

"Eavesdropper," he said, frowning. He thought for a minute, then grinned. "You ask me - out loud - and I'll tell you, OK?" he said. Spike's lips twisted in disappointment, and then he shrugged. Xander tossed the pad onto the desk and led the way out.

"So, what do you want to do next?" Willow unconsciously twirled a lock of her hair around her finger, but her eyes never left Xander's face.

"I was thinking cookies," he said, pushing his empty plate toward the center of the table. Almost on cue, Andrew swept through the door from the kitchen, deposited a plate of homemade Tollhouse cookies in front of Xander, grabbed the discarded lunch plate and turned on his heel to sweep back through the still-swinging door.

"I was thinking a million dollars," Xander quipped, tilting his head in a waiting posture. "Oh, well, it was worth a shot," he said, tossing a cookie to Willow and taking one for himself.

"I meant, what do you want to do now, after Africa?" Willow said, biting into her cookie. She chewed for a moment, then swallowed before continuing. "Are you going to go back?"

"No." Xander's answer was fast and quiet. "No, no more Africa. Not for a long time."

Willow grimaced sympathetically. "So, no more field work?"

Xander considered his answer while he munched another cookie. "Field work" was the accepted euphemism for "Slayer finding" and Xander couldn't help but think about the three girls he'd sent back to Cleveland from Africa, and the two he hadn't. He realized he'd been silent too long, so he reached across and nudged Willow's knee with one hand.

"I guess I could join Watcher school with you," he said.

"That would be so much fun!" Willow was practically vibrating with excitement at the idea. "It would be like old times - back in school, except that you hate school and you're just fucking with me, aren't you?"

"Yes," Xander said. "You couldn't pay me enough to go to Watcher school. I'll go back into the field, but I think I'd like to stay in the first world for a while, if it's all the same to you."

"Well, I guess when you go; Spike can have your room full-time, huh?" Her eyes twinkled and she tried to suppress a grin.

"Hey," Xander protested. "You, who still sleeps with a teddy bear, is talking smack about the vampire's funny sleeping habit?"

"I don't sleep with a teddy bear...all the time. Just sometimes."

"Whatever gets you through the night, baby. I'm not judging," Xander said, holding up a hand for peace.

"Maybe you should take him with you," Willow suggested.

"What? Me and Helen Keller, seeing America?" Xander said, laughing.

"You could be like Penn & Teller," Willow suggested.

"Yeah, without the magic," Xander added.

"Xander, they're illusionists - they don't have any real magic..."

Xander stopped listening as Willow went off on the difference between illusion and magic, lost in thought. Did he really want to go back out into the field? Did he really want to take Spike with him? Could it work? Would the Council be interested in that sort of arrangement?

Would Spike?

Sometimes being silent was funny. OK, it wasn't funny when he wanted something and was too lazy to get up and get it himself; it was damned inconvenient when the Bit called from Rome and chattered at him and he couldn't answer back, and there were a hundred sarcastic remarks dying on his tongue every day, but all in all, it was sort of interesting.

Spike had discovered that he was pretty good at being quiet. He was also pretty good at being still. Still and quiet were good together. People forgot about you and showed more of their true selves. He'd witnessed a scathing argument between Willow and Kennedy, prompting him to take "not more than six weeks" in the house pool on when they'd finally break up for good; he'd listened as Giles had calmly explained to a fourteen-year-old Slayer that getting her period wasn't the end of the world; and he had seen the most unlikely thing of all: Xander Harris reading a book.

The book had looked like a journal with a worn leather cover. Xander had slipped into one of the deep chairs in the smallest of the house's three libraries and gently touched the spine of the book before opening it. Spike stayed silent and still in his own chair, marking his place in the collected work of John Donne in order to observe Xander more closely.

For all that he was sleeping in the other man's bed; Spike hadn't actually been spending much time with Xander. They would pass each other at the beginning and end of the day, but they were often on different paths. Back to staying up at night, Spike was grateful that the house ran on a two-shift system. There was always a Slayer or two up, and he'd spent a few early hours in silence at Wesley's bedside. In this house, where the bizarre was the norm, nobody seemed to care if he spoke or not. A couple of the youngest Slayers still jumped when he got close, but most were adjusting.

Spike watched Xander as he turned the pages of the book, obviously searching for something. Xander was still darkly tanned from his time in Africa, and Spike was often surprised at the contrast when the thin strap of the eyepatch would slip and he'd see the brilliant paleness of that protected strip of skin on Xander's face. That white line made Xander's face vulnerable in a way the patch itself never had.

Xander sighed and settled back in his chair, shifting the book on his lap. Spike watched his eye trace back and forth across the words. Xander stopped, marking his place with one long finger, and sighed deeply, looking up at the ceiling. When he looked back down, Spike could see the glitter of moisture in his eye. He actually felt bad for not letting his presence be known. Stupid soul. He let the Donne book drop to the carpet with a light thud and stood up from his chair, stretching.

"Hey, Spike," Xander said, and by the time Spike had finished his exaggerated stretch, Xander's eye was dry. Spike gave the sharp upward jerk of his head that served as silent greeting. He gestured toward the book.

"This?" Xander said. "My journal from Africa."

Spike sank cross-legged onto the floor at Xander's feet and grinned up at him.

"Story time?" Xander said, laughing a little. Spike nodded.

"Dude, you so don't want to hear these stories - not a lot of happy endings," Xander said. Spike simply looked at him.

Xander rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand, then looked down at the book. "OK, but remember, you asked," he admonished. Spike looked attentive.

"Once upon a time, a pasty, fat dumbass went to Africa," Xander began. "He didn't know dick about shit. His friend, the Good Witch of Cleveland, had done a locator spell that said there were five Slayers in Africa, at least, in the parts Americans can still legally go to. Are you bored yet?"

Spike shook his head, making a "come on" gesture with one hand.

"The dumbass got less pasty and less fat, since the sun shines for 22 hours a day in Africa, and Twinkies cost a thousand dollars each on the black market." Xander stopped and rubbed a hand over his flat abdomen. "So, one day, he found his first Slayer. Her name was Ayana, it means star. Luckily, she was very smart and passably educated, so she and the dumbass managed to communicate through a combination of Pictionary and Charades. He put her on a plane to Cleveland, and she lives in Florida with Faith and Robin now. I hear she's doing great in school."

Xander stopped and looked down at the book in his lap, then back at Spike. He sighed, and then rubbed a hand over his face. "I'll just read you this part, OK?" At Spike's nod, he began reading.

August 6 - Willow called on the AT&Witch cellphone today; there's a Slayer in a village near here. To Africans, "near" means "less than 500 miles." I'll head out in the morning.

August 9 - Three days into the bush, and I expect I'll hit the village tomorrow. The roads suck, but the Rover is holding together. It's not exactly the Ritz-Carlton, but it sleeps OK and keeps the beasties out. I think I heard lions again last night. I wonder what the girls are doing. Anya would have hated it here.

August 11 - I met the Slayer, and I wish I hadn't. Her name is Zalika and she's in the hospital here. Hospital - it's a hut with mosquito nets instead of walls and it's full of people dying of AIDS. Africa is full of these huts, full of dying people. Zalika is one of them. She was sick before the big Slayer-power-whammy, and all it's doing is making her linger. The Slayer healing can't beat the virus, but it heals her enough to keep her alive. She's fifteen but looks ten. There's a doctor here, an American named Robbie, and he speaks some of their language. She kept repeating a phrase to me, over and over. I asked Robbie what she was saying. He told me it was, "kill me."

September 3 - Zalika died today. I couldn't do what she asked, but I felt like I had to stay with her. In the end, her body couldn't handle the stress anymore. She went out screaming. I'm starting to think that we made a mistake, sharing the Slayer power. How many others are out there - sick, dying, crazy or worse - now with extra Slayer power? Spike was right - powerful magic has powerful consequences. I see that now; I saw it on Zalika's face. I don't know if I can tell Willow about her; I don't know if she'd be able to stand it.

September 4 - Robbie and I buried Zalika today. He said a prayer, but I couldn't bow my head or shut my eye. If there's a God, he's not my God, not my friend. Robbie took me back to his tent and shared his last bottle of vodka with me, though I drank most of it. He told me about his home, his boyfriend and their dogs. I told him about the gang, edited version. I also told him about Anya, again, the edited version. He hugged me, and it's the first time anyone's done that since I came to this godforsaken place. I want to go home, but I don't have one. Tomorrow I leave for Zaire, looking for another Slayer, and I'm terrified of what I might find.

Xander closed the book softly. "I told you it didn't have a happy ending," he said, looking down at Spike. A tanned hand reached out, and Spike didn't realize he had tears on his cheek until warm fingers wiped them away.

In the end, it was easy. Xander had agonized for ten days over the decision to leave, had agonized over the decision to ask Spike to go along, had agonized over how and when to ask, but, in the end, it was easy.

Over a hand of poker, two beers and a pile of assorted money he'd simply asked. "I'm going to head out on the road again, you wanna go?"

Spike looked thoughtful for all of ten seconds, nodded, and then threw a full house onto the kitchen table and gathered his winnings with a grin. And that was it.

The girls were ecstatic when Giles decided that Xander and Spike needed sartorial assistance. For his part, Xander was reluctant to trade his tee shirts and cargo pants for suits and "business casual," but even he could admit that none of his old clothes really fit his leaner frame anymore. He drew the line at his hair, though. He allowed an overpriced stylist to shape it up, but adamantly kept most of the length, opting for a wavy, unstructured style that helped de-emphasize the patch.

Spike allowed them to send the duster off to be cleaned and repaired, re-bleached his hair and refused to give up his Docs. He did accept a variety of dress pants, all black, and a selection of new shirts, though he rejected far more than he kept. He actually looked a little touched when the duster came back from the cleaners, accompanied by a new hip-length car coat in a deep brown leather. Giles provided them with new luggage - black for Spike, gray for Xander. Dawn and Buffy sent them each a pair of finely made leather driving gloves from Italy, and Willow supplied witched cellphones that never needed charging and got reception anywhere.

A week before their departure, Spike and Xander met with Giles.

"I have a few things for you," Giles said, handing them each a leather portfolio discreetly embossed with the Watcher's Council logo.

Xander flipped his open and drew out several envelopes. One held the paperwork for a checking account. He whistled at the balance. The second envelope held a thick stack of crisp twenty-dollar bills, and the final one an American Express Platinum card in his name.

"Those are all for your expenses," Giles explained. "Xander, you are still being paid the salary we agreed upon before you went to Africa, but there's no need to use your own money. I do, however, expect you to keep track of your cash transactions, and I do not wish to see certain items on the American Express bills."

Xander grinned. "Note to self: buy porn with own money. Got it, Giles."

Giles turned to Spike, and Xander noticed that he was staring at the contents of his own portfolio with something like wonder.

"Whatcha got, Harpo?" Xander peered over Spike's shoulder and immediately began laughing. The laugh became a whoop, and he stepped away so that he could bend at the waist and brace his hand on his knees until he got control of himself. He continued giggling when he noticed Spike and Giles looking at him with very quizzical, very British expressions on their faces.

"I'm sorry," he said, lifting his patch slightly to wipe away tears of laughter. "I think it's great that you made Spike a real boy and all, though the driver's license picture is pretty bad, and him with a Gold Card kinda scares me, but why did you let Andrew pick his name?"

Giles looked nonplussed. "How did you know I let Andrew choose?"

"William B. Davis?" Xander said, expectantly, looking from one face to the other. He sighed. "Sorry - geek humor. William B. Davis is an actor. He was on The X-Files. His character was called 'The Cigarette-Smoking Man.'"

Spike growled, Xander giggled, and Giles cracked a small smile. "I must admit," he said, "that's quite good. Stop growling Spike - did you look at the employment documents? You've got a green card now, and a salary - that should soothe your fragile ego."

Spike absentmindedly flipped Giles off before digging through the rest of his paperwork, smiling happily at the salary amount.

"Where do you want to go first?" Giles asked.

"We get to pick?" Xander said.

"Willow has pinpointed Slayers across the country," Giles explained. "There's no shortage of destinations; I see no reason why you shouldn't go where you want to. Why don't the two of you sit down with Willow's map and decide on your initial itinerary?"

Spike and Xander exchanged delighted grins and Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead.

"Beer, Marcel?" Xander asked, holding a bottle out to Spike. He received a dirty look in return, but Spike also took the bottle, so Xander recorded it as a win. He slipped onto the stair next to the silent figure and propped his elbows on his knees, taking a long pull of his own beer. Their going-away party was surging and ebbing around them. The house was full of teenaged girls, which ensured that the music was awful, but Xander couldn't argue with the eye candy.

"You ready for the big adventure?" Xander asked. Spike's look made it abundantly clear that he'd rather be anywhere else. Xander grinned and relaxed. Spike's silence was kind of restful, compared to the general noisiness of the house. It fit well with Xander's own new habits. Everyone had noticed that Xander had come back from Africa a much quieter person. He no longer felt it necessary to fill silences with mindless babbling, and he spent a lot of time simply being still.

A small pack of Slayer!Teens careened around the corner, elbowing each other and giggling when they spotted the two men on the stairs. Spike and Xander exchanged a long-suffering look as they were ogled, and then as one they turned and smiled wickedly at the girls, who ran off with more giggles and a few shrieks. Spike held out his bottle and Xander clanked his against it before drinking.

"Can I just say that, in a way, I'm glad you guys are leaving?" Willow said from the doorway.

"That's flattering," Xander said, holding an arm out. Willow settled onto the step and snuggled against his side, taking his beer and downing a small sip.

"Why are you trying to get rid of us?" Xander asked, retrieving the bottle.

"You're too distracting to the student body. If I have to confiscate one more note that says 'Ginny luvs Spike' or 'Xander is so hawt,' I'm gonna hurl." She thought for a minute. "You know, I don't know which bothers me more, the squicky pedophile angle or the bad grammar."

"Probably the grammar," Xander said. Spike nodded sagely.

The sound of raised voices drifted in from the large living room, where the party was still going on. Xander prodded Willow's knee with his. "You better go referee - cut down on the property damage."

She sighed and stood up, looking annoyed. She stepped down to the floor before turning back to Xander and giving him a hard hug. He returned it in silence, but didn't miss that as she released him, she ran a light finger along the edge of the patch.

"I wish you'd let me..." she began, but stopped when Xander's hand caught hers, bringing it to his lips for a soft kiss.

"No wishing," he said softly. "And no magic eyeballs. Too creepy."

Willow nodded and turned back toward the escalating squabble.

After a final, teary hug from Willow, Xander slipped into the passenger seat and sighed.

"Shall we?" Giles asked from behind the wheel.

"We shall," Xander agreed. Spike, as usual, did not comment.

Giles put the van in gear and pulled away from the small knot of people on the front steps.

Spike tapped Xander on the shoulder and pointed out the window.

"Hey, Giles?" Xander said, turning. "Do we have time to make a quick stop?"

Giles took his attention off of the winding driveway to follow Xander's gaze. "Of course," he said, and steered the van toward the infirmary.


"Hey, Xander; hey, Spike," the nurse at the desk said, looking up from her magazine. Both men lifted a hand in greeting, but didn't break stride. They walked down the familiar hallway, stopping outside the door to the living room. Spike tilted his head, and Xander mimicked the gesture, listening.

"It's a Makt'ethel demon. Your likeness is very well done." The voice was soft, kind of scratchy, lightly accented and unmistakably Wesley's.

"The one in the book has horns." A second voice joined in. It was Dana. "The one in my dream didn't."

Spike and Xander peeked into the room far enough to see that Wes was seated at a small table with an enormous, ancient-looking text open in front of him. He was comparing the sketch in his hand to an illustration in the book. Dana hovered over his shoulder, pointing to the book.

"The one in the book is male," Wes explained. "The one you drew is female."

Dana's posture stiffened, and she turned her head slowly toward the door. Wes, still engrossed in the book, didn't notice. Dana smiled at Spike and Xander. They smiled back before leaving as quietly as they had arrived.


An hour later, they were sprawled on uncomfortable airport chairs, under unflattering fluorescent airport lights, listening to the drone of a plastic-looking news anchor on CNNAirport.

"Airports suck," Xander said, digging in his battered leather carry-on bag. He came up with his iPod and laid it on his knee before diving back in to the bag. Spike picked up the device and began scrolling through the songs, snorting derisively at the titles. Xander snatched it back and plugged in his ear-bud headphones.

"Don't growl at me, Spike," he said. The almost subharmonic rumbling tapered off, and Xander glanced to the side. He stared at Spike for a long moment before handing over one of the ear-buds. The two men shifted closer, leaning their heads together as they seated the earphones, and Xander started the music. Spike sighed, Xander grinned, and they waited for their flight to Dallas to be called.


Spike had to admit that the seats in first class were nice. Not as nice as the Wolfram and Hart Lear had been, but then, Delta didn't include a side of evil with the peanuts, so it was a wash. He watched as Xander made himself comfortable in the window seat, shrugging off his jacket and stowing his battered carry-on under the seat. Spike was traveling lightly, as usual. Cell phone, cigarettes, lighter and a few odds and ends were in the pockets of his duster, and everything else was consigned to his luggage. He watched as Xander flipped open his laptop.

"You could have one of these, you know," Xander said. "Your credit card works."

Spike simply grinned at him, and Xander sighed.

"I know," he said. "It's so much more fun to bogart mine." He flipped the small antenna up and started checking his email.

Spike settled back into his seat, waiting for the stewardess. She'd be there in a second. As soon as he'd stepped onto the plane, the tall, shapely, dark-haired woman had taken one look at him and flashed him a smile full of promise. It was a look Spike was used to. On cue, she arrived.

"Hello, sir," she cooed. "Can I get you anything?"

Spike smiled at her and could smell the sudden burst of pheromones. It was good to know he still had it. He elbowed Xander.

"What?" Xander snapped. He noticed the attendant. "Oh, hi," he said, in a friendly tone. "This is my friend, Spike," he explained. "He doesn't talk. He likes Jack Daniels, and he thinks you're very pretty. Can I have a Coke?" He turned back to his laptop screen.

The girl paused, assimilating the information, then smiled brightly. She leaned in, affording Spike a clear view down her blouse. "So, you don't talk?" she asked. "Do you make any other kinds of noises?" Spike raised his eyes from her cleavage to her face and gave her a wicked grin. She left with a broad smile.

"How do you do that?" Xander said, not looking up from the email to Dawn that he was composing.

Spike reached across with his left hand and typed the word "practice."

The flight attendant returned and brought Xander a Coke and Spike four tiny bottles of Jack Daniels and another long look at her chest. All were appreciated. Xander snared one of Spike's bottles and mixed it with his Coke while Spike poured two more over the ice in his glass and drank them quickly.

"Spike," Xander said slowly. "Are you afraid of flying?" Spike shrugged, but knew that he looked uncomfortable. He was uncomfortable. He really disliked flying. The last time he'd been on a plane was the abortive trip to England with Angel, and that memory still stung, in a lot of ways. He leaned back in the large, comfortable seat and closed his eyes, feeling the minute vibrations in the airplane as it readied for takeoff, listening to the dozens of conversations going on around him. He reached blindly for his glass and was a little surprised when he felt Xander grab his wrist to guide him to it. Keeping his eyes closed, he drained it.

"You want another drink before takeoff?" Xander asked, closing the laptop and putting it away. Spike nodded. He opened his eyes to watch the stewardess walk toward them at Xander's signal. She twitched her hips prettily as she approached. Xander placed their order, and she pulled several more tiny bottles from her pocket with a grin, letting her hand linger on Spike's as she handed them over.

"We'll be taking off shortly. Let me know if there's anything else you need," she drawled. Both men watched her walk away.

Spike finished three more bottles before takeoff, and was thankful that Xander didn't make any comments about how hard he was clutching the armrest during the climb to cruising altitude. Xander himself seemed fine, but Spike assumed that was a side effect of having flown in Africa. He had to imagine that had been hair-raising enough to make a short flight in first class no big deal.

As soon as the plane leveled, Xander unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed over Spike's knees to the aisle. Spike watched idly as Xander walked to the front lavatory. Kid was skinny. No two ways about it. His new clothes were all two to three sizes smaller than his old stuff, and the girls had fought hard to keep him from buying the same old overlarge things. They had allowed him a few pairs of his beloved cargo pants, but in the appropriate size, and they had ruthlessly vetoed any and all brightly patterned shirts. Spike found himself admiring the fit of the pearl grey slacks and navy blue sweater Xander was wearing. He looked like an adult instead of a kid.

As soon as Xander was out of sight, Spike leaned down and rifled through Xander's carry-on until he found the iPod and earphones. Seating the phones, he began scrolling through the device's playlists. One called "Music of Pain" yielded country tunes; "From Dawn" looked to be mostly girls with guitars, girls with angst and boys with 3-4 other boys who dressed like them; "World Music" seemed to be predominantly by musicians whose names had more than the requisite numbers of vowels in them, and "Random" was exactly as advertised. At the bottom was a playlist called "SpikeTunes." Spike scrolled through the songs - the Ramones, the Clash, the Jam, Generation X, the Hives, the Vines and the Donnas - not bad, but a little Velvet Underground wouldn't have hurt.

Spike looked up the aisle again and watched Xander chat with the pretty stewardess. He threw his head back and laughed, his dark hair brushing his shoulders. Xander had changed. Quite a lot, and most of the things Spike found himself wanting to say had to do with that very phenomenon. He wanted to find out what had happened to the close-minded, angry boy who only saw things in black and white. He wanted to know what Xander had seen and done that had affected the changes Spike now saw - the kid was both harder and softer; he was treating Spike like a friend - better than, and it was disturbing.

One of the hardest things about not talking was the pressure building inside. Not the pressure to talk, the pressure of what to say. When you'd shut the fuck up for almost a month, the first thing you said should have some sort of meaning. "Pass the salt" just wasn't going to get it, and "why are you being nice to me" seemed a little too whiny for Spike's ego to deal with.

It was like the whole stewardess thing. Spike knew for a fact he could have her bent over the inadequate sink in the forward lavatory with a wink and a smile. But was that how he wanted to break the streak of celibacy that had begun after making love with Buffy on that squeaky little cot the night before he died? True, he would have boned Harmony just after re-corporealizing. She was there and he was insanely horny and so thrilled to be solid, but she'd gone all bloody-eyed psycho before he'd even gotten his belt undone. And fucking through trousers was not currently on the list of vampiric superpowers.

So, no questioning Xander, and no random sport-fucking. Xander came down the aisle, waving another set of the tiny JD bottles. Spike let him by and took them, replenishing his drink. Xander tugged the earphone closest to him out of the vampire's ear and leaned down.

"Our very friendly air waitress is waiting for you to get up to go to the bathroom. She's planning on ambushing you then. I thought you might want to know."

Spike nodded and slipped the earphone back into place. He slumped down in his seat and closed his eyes. She was going to be waiting for a long time.

Dallas was hot. Even at 11:30 at night. Spike stood next to the pile of luggage and smoked, cool and collected, even while wearing his duster, and Xander stood in line at the taxi stand and sweated. It wasn't too bad, though it was uncomfortably reminiscent of Africa, specifically Zambia, where he had spent the hottest part of the year. Looking at the lights and the crowd of people, Xander sometimes missed the quiet of Africa. There were noises there, sure - wind and animals and the ebb and flow of native languages, but there had been times when he'd sat near the edge of the jungle and sworn that he could hear the plants growing or the fruit ripening - times when he'd managed to just be.

He was drawn back to the present by the guy behind him nudging his wheeled suitcase into the back of Xander's knee to make him move up in the line. When his turn came, he indicated the luggage, which the cabbie began loading as Spike flicked his cigarette away and climbed into the cab. Xander followed, stowing his bag on the floorboard. The cabbie got in and cranked up the air conditioning, much to Xander's relief. He leaned forward and rattled off the address of the hotel, then slumped back next to Spike, closing his eye.

"AC is good," he muttered, wiping a hand under his bangs to sweep the sweat off his forehead. Spike simply shrugged his leather-clad shoulders. Xander grunted at him. They didn't speak, and the cabbie was surprisingly quiet. At the portico of the Residence Inn, Spike again stayed with the bags and Xander went to the desk. Willow had reserved them a two bedroom set up, and Xander figured he'd have to do some adjusting to bring their sleep schedules more in line. It wasn't as if he'd miss the daylight so much, having had his fill of merciless sun while in Africa, so he shrugged it off and decided he'd do his best to wake in the late afternoon to enjoy the sunsets at least.

The room was reasonably large, and the requested blackout drapes were in place. There were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a full kitchen, and Xander decided he could live with it. The place was at least five times as large as anywhere he'd lived for the past year, barring the Council compound, but that had come with the herd of squabbling, shrieking girls. Xander picked a bedroom, unpacked quickly and then flopped down onto his bed to enjoy the silence.

Which was immediately shattered by the sounds of explosions from the television in the living room.

"Damn it, Spike!" Xander yelled, not bothering to rise from his prone position. "You are mute, not deaf! Turn the TV down."

The volume went up slightly.

Xander decided to answer this passive-aggressive outburst by getting naked. Once nude, he pulled on a pair of swim trunks and headed for the suite's door. As he reached it, the television suddenly turned off. He turned toward the sofa to see Spike giving him the looked he'd decided meant "whatthefuck?".

"Hot tub, swimming pool, distinct lack of loud-assed television," Xander explained. "Coming?"

Spike nodded and disappeared into his own bedroom.


"Should have known you'd love the hot tub," Xander said, leaning his head back against the decorative brick half-wall. They were soaking happily in a corner of the courtyard. It was past midnight, and no one else was around. The Texas night was still and hot, and the moon was high and nearly full. Xander could hear the muted sounds of the freeway and the water bubbling, and he let all of the tension flow out of his body, letting the day's travel and drama and maelstrom of feelings float away. He lifted his head when Spike kicked his foot under the water.

"Yes?" he said, glancing over. "Oh - hee!" He couldn't help giggling. The steam had managed to infiltrate his carefully slicked-back hair, and small, curling tendrils were escaping. Xander had seen Spike's hair curly before - in the days when they'd shared living space for the second time, but it had seemed unworthy of even him to ridicule Spike's hair when he was obviously insane. Now, however, was fair game. He started whistling "On the Good Ship Lollipop," between bursts of laughter. He quickly found that he was unable to whistle after being snatched underwater by his foot. He came up, spitting water and still laughing.

In The Shadow of Kilimanjaro

The local beer was called Kibo, same as the final peak of the mountain, the so-called "roof of Africa." Xander couldn't quite wrap his head around the idea of sitting in the lee of that snow-covered spire and sweating buckets and desperately needing the bitter wetness of the beer that warms in the bottle, just moments out of the small cooler plugged into the lighter of the Land Rover. He dismissed the paradox with a shrug. Much of Africa gets this reaction - slim women walking with huge blocks of porous stone balanced on their heads; a pair of elephants strolling in a leisurely fashion across a grassy plain, with the mountain's peak framed over their shoulders; the incredible density and diversity of the crops growing in carefully constructed layered gardens beneath the canopy of the primeval forest, built to funnel the shade and rain ever downward. He couldn't process the images, so he did what the Africans do: shrug and move on.

The ten-day trek out of Zambia in the Rover, which he'd decided to call Fido out of sheer perversity, had been uneventful. Uneventful for Africa, that is. Xander snorted, thinking that a mudslide, a fallen tree and a pair of stubborn water buffalo would probably rate as "events" in Sunnydale, but here they were simply hazards of the road. He carried the supplies necessary to defeat these obstacles within the battered metal walls of Fido - a box of pea gravel for traction, a small chainsaw, and three tubes of tennis balls, useful for bouncing off the sloped foreheads of the dim and smelly buffalo until they got the point and sauntered out of the way.

Ten days in the bush, ten days of mourning the little girl he'd been unable to save - the child he had sat vigil for, feeling helpless and cruel and small in his inability to give her the relief she so desperately craved. Had there been morphine, he probably could have done it - could have plunged a needle into a stick-like arm and watched her sleep, watched her drift away to finally rest. But, no. Medical supplies were scarce and closely guarded, and Xander didn't have it in him to darken the blade of his decorated Leya knife with her blood or to snap her frail neck in his tanned, scarred hands. She had died on her own, fighting to the end, and Xander doubted he'd ever forget the accusation in her eyes and the shaft of pain that look had sent through him. He wondered if that was what Giles had felt, seeing Buffy's body crumpled at the foot of the tower - that crushing failure, deep despair and cold guilt.

Ten days was not enough to mourn a life, not enough to wash him clean. It was enough, however, to let him begin to distance himself from the horror, start to feel the mental shrug - the pushing away of something that couldn't be understood that was Africa seeping into him. Africa was old. Xander knew about old. He'd seen and touched centuries-old artifacts, loved a 1200-year-old demon, stood on top of the ancient Hellmouth - he had felt age and rot and decay and timelessness. But he'd never been immersed in something so old that it had seen the birth of man, the ravages of ice ages and plate tectonics; something so old that it could collectively shrug off the unknowable and the unknown with the alacrity of having seen everything, endured everything. The shrug - Africa - had begun in him, and it let him carry on. It was enough.

Coming out of the bush into Moshi, a city teeming with life and color, had woken him up, pulled him out of himself and drawn him into its dusty streets. The porters and guides had taken one look at his safari shirt, cargo shorts, deeply tanned skin and worn eye patch and taken him for some roving ex-pat, not a tourist, and let him slip through them without the sales pitch.

At the dark bar of the Kindoroko Inn he'd found Kibo beer and small talk and a tiny measure of peace. Staying late, the locals had fallen for his cover of being a researcher, a collector of myths and stories. They had bade him sit with them and listen, saying, "Karibu," and he'd placidly eaten the ugali and the spicy braised cabbage, washing it down with more Kibo, waiting for the inevitable. In the early hours he'd heard the first rumblings of tales of a girl.

Wild. Strong. Dangerous. Deadly.

All the beer in Africa couldn't have made Xander sleep that night.

Shockingly, it isn't so hard to get a gun in Africa. The marketplace has a guy who sells them in the back of his stall, behind the fabrics and trinkets and little vials of crushed herbs and powdered horns and black, shrunken things that make Xander shudder just a little. In the back, there are wooden trunks full of carefully packed weapons, from simple handguns to things Xander knows and doesn't know in the way he does and doesn't know Army regulations and marching cadences. A little hemming and hawing, a little dropping of Council names, a lot of dropping of Council money, and he's a guy with a gun.

Xander doesn't like guns, never has. He can use one, but the patch makes it trickier than before, when he had the soldier's memories and two eyes and a different level of depth perception. It seems colder than his usual weapons - stakes and swords and daggers and axes - things that are extensions of his body. He's used to weapons that feel more personal somehow, and he laughs at himself for caring if his murder weapon is impersonal.

As it turns out, her name is Sona. She's fifteen, the same age Buffy was when she was Called. That's where the resemblance ends. Sona was unstable before the calling, but docile. Her brother sits on a bench and talks to Xander with halting English and lots of hand gestures and draws lines in the dust with the toe of his shoe. "Simple" is the word he uses, and Xander thinks it's probably a better word than "retarded" or "disabled". She was like a child, a five-year-old, her brother says - sweet sometimes, but sometimes willful and cruel, the way little kids can be.

Xander hears the stories of Sona's troubles at school and how it just got easier for her to stay at home. Her brother's eyes well with tears when he tells Xander that things changed for Sona when she turned thirteen and started to develop. The rough boys of the village didn't care that she was "simple" - that just made her a target. Xander can imagine what happened to her, and his suspicions are confirmed - the village boys, and some of the men, an uncle, more. By the time of the spell, she'd had two babies, both quickly taken away and left... somewhere. Xander can't understand the word, hopes it's "orphanage" and not "jungle".

Simply put, she was crazy, and when Xander tells this to Giles over the phone, he's startled to hear that Sona isn't the only one. He hears the story of Dana, then, and in the silence that follows, he realizes that Sona won't be so lucky. Sona won't have Spike to hurt, someone who can withstand what she can dish out long enough for the cavalry to charge in, someone who can endure until the combined resources of the Council and Wolfram and Hart can come and hit her with trank darts and sew the severed bits back on and smooth over the damages.

Sona is no Dana, and, hate it as he does, Xander is no Spike. His human frailty has never hurt quite so much as it does then. Giles' voice is soft when he asks Xander if he can do what must be done. It's softer still when he tells Xander what he did to Ben. He starts to explain himself and Xander cuts him off.

"I get it, Giles - I know why you did it. Buffy couldn't. None of us could, then."

"Can you, now?" Giles asks, and launches into an elaborate out for Xander, telling him there are operatives that can do this for him, keep his hands clean. But Xander knows the truth, knows that his hands are already filthy with the soil of this place, and that this is part of his work, part of what he accepted when he came here.

He makes Giles shut up then, and tells him what Sona's brother has told him. He tells him about the men and boys Sona has killed, that she has also killed demons - doing her job according to an ancient calling that she can't understand, but without the ability to differentiate the demons that wear human skin and give her candy before they give her pain. She kills. She maims and she tortures. All the torture groups, Xander thinks, remembering something Faith told him after Sunnydale, when everyone was big on confessing and forgiving.

Giles doesn't have to tell Xander what to do, and Xander doesn't make him say the words, he simply promises to do what must be done and to call afterwards. Before he hangs up the phone, he asks about Spike, Spike's hands. Giles tells him that the lines of communication with Angel's people have been severed, and Xander gets a creepy visual of Spike's fine-boned white hands too far away from the rest of him.

Oddly enough, he finds himself thinking of Spike a good deal while he does what must be done. While he tracks Sona through the jungle, finding carcasses that are demon and human and maybe neither. He thinks "what would Spike do?' laughing at himself all the way, wondering if he should get a T-shirt made. But it helps to think like a predator, helps him push aside the voce that tells him that life is sacred, helps him listen to the voice that talks about fields of fire and collateral damage. So, silent in the night, he finally finds her and does what must be done.

He thinks to himself that this place - Africa - is where Spike came to reclaim his soul, and, standing over Sona's body as the mountain looks down upon him, he wonders if it is where he's come to lose his.


When did the lines get so blurry? In Africa maybe? Before then? It was always so easy - black and white, bad and good, demon and human. But, somehow, the walls and lines that had seemed so strong and true had bent and bowed, slipped and crumbled. And when it was all done, when the smoke cleared, it wasn't too much of a surprise for Xander to find that sometimes humans with souls allegedly intact were not always on the shiny, happy, halo-wearing aide of the equation, and the demons and other non-primate descendants weren't always wearing the pointy tails and wielding pitchforks.

It was Dana who'd done it - rather, Spike's interaction with her. When Spike took her hand in the gentlest of grips and pressed her fingers against his arm to show her that he had healed, Xander opened his one eye and saw twice as much as he ever had, and he saw good. And for the first time, he wondered just exactly why he'd always looked at himself and looked at Spike and thought "better" the other way around.

The End

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