Never Stand Alone

by
Dustandroses



Xander got down on his hands and knees and examined the odd thing in front of him. It was grayish brown, wrinkled and hairy, with some dark wood around the top and brass fittings. It had what looked like a big padded foot and huge toenails – four of them. He was pretty sure it was a foot, from either some huge animal or a very large demon.

“Weird.”

The wood around the top looked like highly polished walnut, and was well made, whatever it was. Inside, it was fitted out with brass that lined the entire inside surface, pitted somewhat on the bottom with small round indentations. The back gave him a further clue, there was a finely stitched line running from the bottom of the padded foot to the top, where it disappeared under the wood. Whatever this was, it was from a real animal, and someone had stuffed it, and made it into this strange container.

“Huh.”

He knee-walked back around to the front and turned his head to the side, trying to figure it out. It was close to two feet tall, and almost that wide around the pad, or foot. It got thinner around the ankle (if that actually was an ankle), then got wider again as it got closer to the top. There were little hairs all over the skin, and Xander reached out and ran his fingers over them. They were scratchy and dry, but didn’t seem brittle, and they didn’t prick him or anything, just reminded him they were there.

He tipped it over – which wasn’t as easy to do as he’d thought – it was pretty heavy. Underneath, the pad of the foot was all wrinkled and cracked, but the skin there was hard and he doubted it would have trouble on any surface with that tough of a tread. He eased it back onto the floor again, running his fingers along the walnut, which seemed old to him. He had some experience with walnut, although most houses these days didn’t tend to use it in the building process, they left the walnut for the finishing touches.

It was finely made, whatever it was, and the skin seemed well cared for. Despite that, though, he had a feeling that it was a lot older than it looked. He knelt back and stared at it from further away. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was, despite the fact that the answer felt like it was right on the tip of his tongue.

“Now where did you come from, huh?”

“Oh, dear God!” Giles’ voice was strained and abrupt, and Xander jumped to his feet in surprise.

“Hey, Giles. I was just checking out the new…” He paused, having no idea what to say next. It didn’t matter, though, as Giles barreled right past him, getting between him and the thing.

“How the hell did that get here?” He turned quickly to Xander, his eyes anxious and disturbed. “Xander, you didn’t touch it, did you?”

Oops. “Umm… Not a lot?”

“Bleeding hell!”

He grabbed Xander by the arm and pulled him away, towards the sales counter. “Well, never mind, it probably won’t matter in any event. You’re not a Giles, after all.”

He left Xander on the other side of the counter and fumbled around, looking for something. He eventually pulled out a dusty bottle, along with a tea cup. “Finally!”

He poured himself a hefty shot, eyeing the thing in the middle of the floor warily, as if it might attack him at any moment.

“What? Is it dangerous?” Xander looked back at it in alarm, but it just stood there, looking innocent and not at all deadly. “What is it, anyway?”

Giles finished off his cup and poured himself another before tucking the bottle back under the counter. “Did you bring it here?”

Xander frowned at him. “Nuh uh – my questions first. What did I touch? And is it going to kill me?”

“Oh, no, no. It’s nothing like that.” Giles waved his hand in the air as if trying dismiss the thing, now that he’d totally freaked Xander out. “It’s a family heirloom.” He finished off the second cup, and placed it under the counter, as well. “It’s just that it’s cursed, is all.”

“Cursed?” Xander was not happy with that idea. “What do you mean, cursed? It’s not going to give me another mystical venereal disease, is it? Cause I’ve had plenty of those already!”

Giles walked back to the thing, nudging it with the toe of his shoe, as if it was going to jump at him or maybe explode if he wasn’t careful. “No, don’t worry. It has never done anything like that, that I’m aware of. It’s not that kind of curse.”

Right. Well that made him feel oh, so much better. “You’re not helping any, Giles.”

Giles sat down at the table, frowning at the thing. Xander followed him. He was determined to follow Giles home if that’s what it took to get a straight answer out of the guy.

The bell over the door jingled, and in walked Spike. Xander smiled. He hadn’t been around for a few days, so Xander was glad to see him. Their crazy, accidental friendship had really blossomed the last several months since Anya had left him. It felt good to have someone around to talk to. The apartment felt empty without her.

Spike jumped down the stairs to the table, then plopped down into the chair next to Xander. “Why the hell do you have that taxidermic monstrosity in here?”

Giles humphed. “That’s exactly what I was asking. It wasn’t here when I left the room ten minutes ago. Then I come in from the back, and it’s sitting there, tempting Xander into touching it!”

“It tempted me?” Xander looked between Giles and Spike, a little confused. “How did it tempt me?” He focused on Giles again. “You still haven’t told me what it is, yet.”

“It’s an elephant foot umbrella stand, of course.” Spike seemed to think he should have known that, but that wasn’t something he’d ever come across, despite living his entire life on the Hellmouth. Maybe if the Hellmouth was on the Serengeti…

Xander rolled his eyes at Spike. “Of course,” he said sarcastically. He gave it another look. “That’s a real elephant’s foot?”

Spike got up and crossed to it, circling it from a couple of feet away. “It’s quite well preserved, isn’t it? Have you gone into endangered species trading, these days, Rupert?”

“Of course not, Spike. It’s a family heirloom.” He looked at Spike contemplatively. “I don’t suppose you’d be so good as to take it down to the basement for me, would you?”

“Giles!” Xander jumped up and smacked away Spike’s hand, where he’d reached out to run a finger along the polished wood.

“Oi! What was that for?”

“Don’t touch it! It’s cursed.”

Spike and Xander both turned back to Giles, who looked annoyed that his plan hadn’t succeeded. He frowned at Xander. “I doubt very much that it would have any effect on Spike, Xander. We’ve done extensive tests on it, and it hasn’t reacted to the undead at all.”

“But it reacts to the living?” Spike grabbed Xander’s arm and pulled him away, standing between it and Xander. Xander hid his smile. That was Spike for you, willing to protect him from the evil umbrella stand.

Xander walked back to the table, slumping down into his chair again. “You’re too late, Spike. I’ve already touched it.”

“Bloody hell!” Spike stalked over and stood over Xander, his fingers clutching and releasing, as if he wanted to examine Xander for injuries, the way he did when they patrolled together and Xander got knocked over a tombstone or in some other way embarrassed himself with his lack of demon fighting ability.

“What happened?” he demanded.

“Don’t worry. Nothing happened.” Xander hurried to reassure him.

“You mean nothing, yet. Curses don’t usually take hold all at once.” He moved over to the other side of the table, looming over Giles, threateningly. “Well? What’s the curse?”

Xander swallowed, nervously. “Yeah, Giles. I’d like to know.”

Giles sighed. “Sit down, Spike, and I’ll tell you both.”

Spike spun around and sat down next to Xander again, leaning on the table top, focused on Giles. “Well?”

“In the second half of the nineteenth century, my fourth great-grandfather, Robert Thomas Giles, was an officer in the British Army in Africa. While he was there, he did some big game hunting.”

“Fifty years too early to be a Great White Hunter, wasn’t he?” Xander could practically hear the capital letters on those three words.

Xander looked at Spike curiously. “You mean like the kind you see in old Tarzan movies?”

“Yes, exactly, Xander.” Giles agreed. “The era of the Great White Hunter was some years later in time. Robert Giles was not a true hunter, nor did he colonize in Africa. He came back to England after his tour of duty, and settled down in the family business. Unfortunately, when he came home, he brought that thing back with him. It stayed in the entrance hall of his home until his death, at which time his wife stuck it in a closet, and forgot about it. She was quite surprised when a month later it showed up at her nephew Allen Richard Giles’ house.”

“Huh. I’m just guessing here, but I’m thinking he didn’t go rooting through her closet and take it home with him, did he?” Xander was beginning to get a creepy feeling about this. He exchanged a disturbed look with Spike, before they focused on Giles again.

“You’re quite correct. He claimed that it just showed up in his entryway one day, and he’d assumed it came from her, since he’d always had an affinity for it as a child. She denied that she’d had anything to do with it, but gladly offered it to him, as she wanted nothing to do with it. It stayed with him until his death some years later. After that, it disappeared again, only to show up at his son’s home two counties over.”

“So you’re saying it just travels around from Giles to Giles? No strange deaths or mysterious accidents? No inexplicable trumpeting noises in the night or angry stampedes by invisible elephants with missing feet?” Spike sounded disappointed. “That’s it?”

Giles frowned at him. “For the most part, yes.”

“So I don’t have to worry about any unusual diseases or African native ghosts shooting arrows through the windows just because I defiled their sacred elephant’s foot?”

Spike obviously got the reference, and shuddered. “Good thing. I’ve never liked being shot at, no matter who’s doing the shooting.”

Xander laughed. “At least you won’t be tied to the dining room chair. Besides you got off lucky, I’m the one who ended up with smallpox and…”

“The point is,” Giles interrupted, “that we don’t really know why it follows a Giles around.”

“What? Aside from the fact that a Giles tracked it down, shot it, had its foot removed to make a novelty brolly catcher and most likely had its tusks ripped right out of its skull for trophies?”

Giles’ eyes were shooting daggers at Spike, but he didn’t respond to his taunts. “Countless watchers have studied it over the years, and all they can find is that it is indeed cursed to follow a Giles around, probably for as long as the name continues to exist.”

“How did you get it?” Spike seemed more relaxed now that it appeared the dangers of the thing were limited. “I’ve never seen it at your flat, and I did a pretty thorough job of searching it while you weren’t around.”

“Don’t think I didn’t take precautions to keep you away from the family jewels.” Giles stared down his glasses at Spike in disdain. “You’re not immune to magic, despite the fact that it doesn’t always affect the dead the same way it does the living.”

Spike smirked. “Ah, well that explains a few things.”

Giles ignored him. “It appeared in my flat a few months ago, two days after my uncle Randall died. It was a bit of a shock to find it at the end of a long day, but in truth, I wasn’t too surprised to see it. I had, after all, been fascinated by it as a child.”

“So you don’t know that it will do anything to Xander?”

“No, not really. A number of watchers examined it over the years, none of which came to any harm. I just don’t want to take any chances. I have no children of my own. I have no idea if it will travel back to England when I die, or if perhaps it will pick another family to curse.”

“So you think that it might choose me, just because I touched it?”

“It might. I simply don’t know, Xander.”

“But it won’t do anything until you’re dead, right?” Xander felt awful even discussing that option, despite the fact that he knew rationally, that Giles was older than him, and would naturally die before him. It felt wrong, somehow, to say it out loud.

“Not necessarily. There have been cases of it transferring to another Giles while the last one was still alive. It caused quite a fuss, as you might imagine, as the one who received it of course assumed the last to have it had passed on.”

“Yeah, I can see where that would be a problem.”

“I have to admit,” Giles revealed sheepishly, “I have been keeping it in storage, for exactly that reason. When I was younger, I might have enjoyed it more, having a supernatural entity such as this around.”

“Sort of like having a ghost in your house, eh?” Spike asked.

“Or a vampire in your bathtub?” Xander smirked at him.

“Oi!”

“Exactly.” Giles went on, ignoring their interplay. “At the moment, I have far too much to worry about as is, and I don’t want to have to deal with it. I was hoping it might get bored of me and travel back to England to haunt another Giles, but here it is, in the middle of the Magic Box, when I had it tucked safely away in the storage room in the basement.”

“Doesn’t look like it wants to be hidden away, huh?” Xander glanced at the foot sympathetically. “Well, I can’t blame it. I’d hate being trapped in a basement all the time.”

Spike laughed. “Good thing then that Demon Girl got you out of your parent’s house before she decided to split for better pastures, eh?”

Xander looked surprised, as if he hadn’t realized the connection. “Yeah, I guess maybe I’m empathizing with it, huh?”

“Well, don’t.” Giles voice was surprisingly severe. “It might pick up on your empathy.”

“You think it’s sentient, then, Rupert?” Spike turned in his chair to study it closely.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Giles agreed.

“Right.” Spike stood up and grabbed Xander’s arm, pulling him out of his chair. “We’re getting the hell out of here, then.”

“We are?” Xander pulled back when Spike started tugging him in the direction of the front door.

“Don’t want you cursed, even if it is with an elephant foot bumbershoot stand.”

“Bumbershoot?” laughed Xander.

“Your inner Victorian is showing, Spike.” Giles pointed out from his chair.

“Thanks so much for that, Rupert.” Spike stopped trying to drag Xander away, and crossed his arms over his chest in annoyance.

“I’m actually surprised you don’t want to take it off my hands. They were all the rage during the Victorian era.”

“They were?”

“Yes, well not in my house, thank you. I saw a few taxidermy dioramas in my time, and they were fascinating, I’ll give you that, but I had no interest in a trophy room, they made me uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable?” Giles asked, curiously.

Spike opened his eyes as wide as they’d get, and stared at Giles without blinking. “All those glassy, unblinking eyes staring right at you.”

“Ewww.”

“Yes.” Giles obviously agreed with Xander’s sentiments. “Well if you’re leaving then, let me give you some blood before you go. It’s been sitting in the refrigerator for several days. I had expected to see you sooner.”

“Probably off by now.” Spike grouched, but he followed Giles as he started for the back room frig.

“Not yet, I checked it this morning.”

The two of them disappeared into the back room, their grumbling half-argument fading as they got further away.

Xander stared at the elephant foot, feeling sorry for it, despite Giles’ warning. He crossed over and stared at it for a moment. “Don’t worry, pal,” he told it, “I’ll talk Giles into letting you out of the basement, okay?”




Xander grabbed the phone on the sixth ring, right before it went to voice mail. “Lo?” He glanced blearily at the alarm clock. It was one pm, already? It felt like he’d just crawled into bed a few minutes ago. That’s what he got for letting Spike keep him up all night making fun of really bad horror movies.

“Xander?” Giles, on the other hand, sounded wide awake. It looked like he hadn’t had any loudmouthed vampires keeping him up all night, damn him. There was a loud crashing noise in the living room, followed by enough British profanity that Xander knew Spike was at the root of the trouble. He shoved his feet and legs off the end of the bed and struggled to sit up.

“Yeah, Giles.” He cleared his throat. “What’s up?”

He forced himself into a vertical position and stumbled his way down the hall toward the living room, scratching his boxer-covered ass.

“Are you all right?” Giles sounded cautious and maybe a little disturbed, and that set off a signal in Xander’s groggy mind, waking him up a little more.

“Me? Yeah, I’m okay. Just sleepy is all. You woke me up.”

“Xander, it’s one in the afternoon.” That was Giles’ snippy voice.

“Yeah, I know. But it’s my day off, I can sleep as late as I want on Saturdays, so that’s what I usually do.” It was dark in the living room, with blankets covering the windows, so he snapped on the light to discover Spike, still cursing loudly, staring at the elephant foot lying on its side in the middle of Xander’s living room floor.

“Is that Spike? What is Spike doing in your flat at this time of day?”

“Well, we were watching late night horror movies, and it got too close to sunrise for him to go home, so I told him to crash on the couch. It’s okay, he does that every once in a while. I don’t mind.”

“What’s that he’s shouting?”

“Hell if I know. He’s cursing in British again, so I can’t understand a thing he’s saying. I can probably guess the cause, though.”

“Cursing in British?” There was a sigh, but fortunately Giles let it drop. He wasn’t in the mood for another lecture on the differences between British English and American English.

“It probably has something to do with your call, Giles.”

“Ah. You have a visitor then, do you?”

“Sure do. Gray and hairy and about two feet tall? Although it’s hard to tell how tall it is when it’s lying on its side.”

“On its side?”

“Looks like our graceful vampire friend stumbled over it in the dark.” Xander smirked at Spike, who sneered back at him and graced him with a two fingered salute.

“Not my fault it showed up while I was trying to sleep!” Spike reared back one foot to kick it, and Xander almost lost his cell phone as he raced over to protect it.

“Oh, no you don’t!” He grabbed the wooden rim of the top edge and pulled the stand back out of Spike’s way. “No kicking Horton!”

He picked Horton up and put his arms around the thing, but quickly realized that hairy elephant legs were not meant to be cuddled up against bare skin and thin undershirts. So instead he set Horton down behind him, and stared at Spike defiantly.

“Xander? Xander! What is going on?”

“Oh, sorry G-Man.” He’d almost forgotten he had the phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder. “Spike and I were just having a discussion about what is not allowed in my apartment.”

Spike burst out with another round of British curses. Xander had to admit, he recognized most of them by now, but he preferred to act ignorant – it pissed Spike off, and that was always fun. Spike finally threw up his arms and left, heading into the kitchen, probably for some of the human blood Xander kept there for him.

“Did I hear you call that thing…Horton?” Giles’ voice sounded strained.

“Uh…yeah?” Xander cringed. This was not going to be pretty.

“Bloody hell, Xander.”

“Hey, Giles. It’s okay. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I have decided to keep him, but I hate the thought of him being trapped in some dark, dank basement. He’ll be fine here, really. And I was thinking that maybe I’d line the holder with something clear like acrylic or Plexiglas, to save the brass but still let it show through, and then I could keep my axes and stakes and machetes in him, since I don’t really use those old timey umbrellas, and this way he could be useful again, right? And feel like he belongs, which he does, for as long as he wants to stay. If that’s okay with you, I mean, since you’re a Giles and I’m not, but, well…okay, I have to admit, I’ve always thought of you like a - a father figure, I mean, you’ve been a hell of a lot better influence on me than my own father, and I hope that doesn’t bother you to hear, but…”

“Xander!”

Giles’ voice cut through Xander’s ramblings, and he stopped, unsure how Giles would take his admission. There was a long pause, and Xander bit his lip nervously.

When Giles started talking, his voice was very stiff and formal, which Xander recognized as his ‘I’m British and I don’t deal well with emotions’ voice. “The main reason I didn’t want you to touch that thing yesterday was that I have always thought of you as the closest thing I will ever have to a son.”

Giles cleared his throat, sounding uncomfortable with all this emotional stuff, but Xander grinned hugely, awed by his admission.

“Giles…”

“I was afraid that it might pick up on my feelings, and choose you as my next of kin, which is what it seems to have done. I’m sorry for that.”

“Don’t be! Honestly. I’m very proud that you consider me that way, Giles, and I don’t mind at all. I think Horton and I are going to get along fine. Really.” He paused before asking, but forced himself to do it anyway. “Do you think he minds me naming him?”

“I doubt it very much.” Giles sounded like he was smiling, and that was a good thing. “I’m sure he’s had many names through the years. In my youth, I may have even done the same.”

“Yeah? What did you call him?”

Giles cleared his throat embarrassedly. “I … called him Babar. I doubt very much you will recognize the reference….”

“Babar! My grandmother had that book! He ran off to live in the city, and learned the ways of men before his cousins brought him back home to the jungle. I remember!”

“Really? Why, that’s excellent, Xander.” Giles sounded very pleased that Xander knew who he was talking about. “There were a number of books in the series. Perhaps I shall show you my copies at some point.”

“That would be really cool, Giles. I’d like that.”

“Excellent. Now, about Horton…are you sure you want to keep him?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m not sure what we could do about it even if I weren’t, Giles. He does have a mind of his own, after all.”

“Yes, so he does. Very well. I’ll see you tonight, then, for our usual meeting before patrol?”

“Yep. See you then!”

Xander hung up, smiling. For an emotion-filled conversation, both he and Giles had managed to come out of it remarkable unscathed. Spike walked back into the room still frowning at him, arms crossed. Xander set his phone down, and picked up Horton, moving him closer to the door, where he had a decent view of the room, but still would be handy for weapons retrieval.

“There. Welcome to the Harris House of Horrors. I’m sure you’ll feel quite comfortable here among the rest of the asylum.”

Spike huffed out a laugh. “Speak for yourself. I’m not the one talking to a piece of taxidermic housewares.”

Xander tipped his head in Spike’s direction. “That’s my buddy Spike. He’s a vampire, but his bark is louder than his bite.” There was a loud bark of laughter from Spike, proving his point, and Xander laughed. “You’ll see him around a lot, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to him. I think he’s fussing so much because he used to be a Victorian, and he knows more about you than he wants to admit.”

“There were never any stuffed animals in my home in the entire time I was alive!” Spike protested loudly.

Xander crossed to him. “But you wanted them, right?”

“Bloody hell, no! I meant what I told Giles yesterday. Some people had entire trophy rooms full of dead animals, stuffed and posed in supposedly ‘lifelike’ positions. It was horrible. I hated it. Heads of deadly beasts, snarling at you from the walls.”

“Did it scare you?”

“No!” He protested indignantly. “Well, maybe when I was a child. For the most part, I felt sorry for them. Such superb creatures, reduced to nothing but frozen statues. Unable to stop the puny humans from staring at them, touching them and mocking them with their very lives. If the hunters who had taken them down hadn’t had the advantages of guns and technology and guides to do all their work for them, they’d never have managed to kill any of those magnificent creatures.”

“Yeah, I can see that. It always made me uncomfortable in the Tarzan movies, when the Big Game Hunter used his guns on the animals. Tarzan killed with nothing but a knife. He had to get in there and fight hand to hand, or hand to…tooth and claw, I guess.”

“Exactly. Did you know that a bull elephant can be up to four meters tall?”

“That’s what?” Xander did some calculations in his head. It occasionally came in handy being a carpenter. “Just over 13 feet, right?” He glanced up at his 10 foot ceilings. “Wow. He wouldn’t even fit in this apartment. My ceiling’s not nearly high enough. That’s a huge animal.”

“They needed special guns to kill elephants; the regular ones weren’t powerful enough. What I wanted to know was why they did it in the first place. I have to admit, every time I heard of another Great White Hunter brought down by a savage beast, I cheered for the beast.” He shrugged. “At least in private.”

Xander grinned at that. “But you don’t mind killing demons, now.”

“Well, that’s different, isn’t it? I get up close to them, I don’t kill them with rifles. Nor do I shoot them with stun guns, or tranquilize them with darts so I can experiment on them. I kill with my hands and feet, and occasionally a knife or razor, but I’m getting in there and taking my chances with beasts that could kill me just as easily as I do them.”

Xander nodded. “That’s being honest at least, giving them a fair chance. I can see that.” He frowned. Suddenly he was feeling bad about using the swords and occasional pistols he dragged out when need be.

Spike jumped in, almost as if he could read Xander’s thoughts. “It’s not like I think you shouldn’t use whatever method you need to defend yourself. You don’t go hunting for animals that have no interest in harming you. You’re defending yourself and your neighbors, and I can understand that. If you went looking for trophies to put on your walls, well, that would be different.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He wasn’t sure he was convinced by that logic.

Spike came up to him and shook his shoulder. “Don’t you even think about it, mate. You’re defending this Hellmouth for a reason. If you don’t take every precaution, and take advantage of every weapon you’ve got at your disposal to keep yourself safe, I’m going to figure out how to kick your arse all the way to kingdom come and back. Is that understood?”

Xander felt himself blushing at Spike’s obvious concern, and hid it with a big smile. “Awww! Thanks, Spike! That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.” He held his arms out, as if he was going to give him a big bear hug, and Spike scooted back, frowning.

“Very funny, mate. Now, if you’re staying up, I’m gonna go kip in your bed. I’ve had enough of all this touchy feely shite.”

Spike stomped out of the room in the direction of Xander’s bedroom, mumbling to himself about ungrateful humans, and Xander smiled as he turned to the kitchen. He could probably sleep for another hour or two, but he had time to do that after some sugary-sweet breakfast cereal and maybe some Saturday cartoons. Good thing he’d set the timer on the VCR, he’d slept right through all the best ones.

He wondered what elephant feet liked to watch on Saturdays? Maybe he’d dig out his Dr. Seuss collection and show Horton his namesake. If he was going to do that today, he’d better do it while Spike was still asleep. He’d never hear the end of it if Xander made Spike sit through Horton Hears a Who!

The End


End Notes:

Yes, there really is such a thing as an Elephant Foot Umbrella Stand, and here are a few examples, in case you're curious.  Umbrella Stand 1, Umbrella Stand 2, Umbrella Stand 3.  It's currently illegal to sell items made from endangered species, which I'm very glad about, as I personally have a fascination with elephants, and believe they should be able to get around on their own four feet, without human intervention, thank you very much.

Hopefully everyone has heard of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, but in case they haven't, check it out.  It's worth the trouble to find it, I promise.

Next to my grandfather's favorite chair was a magazine rack where he kept an odd selection of books, including a collection of Jean de Brunhoff's Babar stories and a collection of Charles Addams' cartoons.  Both of these books had a strong impact on my childhood.  *g*  I only mention one of the two in this story, but you should check them both out if you're not familiar with them.