For Excessant Christmas
In A Strange Land
Christmas comes in the summertime in southern Africa. It's the time of cocoa harvest, a time where even people with nothing have a bit more than usual. Xander is trying to sleep through the day, ignore the children caroling in the streets, the adults bustling into the church down the mud corridor they call a street to leave gifts and food that will be distributed at the evening meal. He takes the battery out of his phone.
Tshabong is a bit more civilized than some of the places he's stopped in the past few years. The people here are interested in him, but not afraid. His white skin engenders curiosity rather than anger. He was grateful for that when he first got here, but now that there are children at his door, first inviting, and then insisting that he come for the evening meal at the local church, he wishes they were a little less friendly. He digs dutifully through his bag for something to bring as a present, comes up with his second-best knife and shrugs to himself.
He's been alone here in Africa for nearly half a decade now. Andrew still calls, though Xander has no idea how the young Watcher keeps getting his damn phone numbers. He gave up changing services a while back. It wasn't helping. Andrew keeps calling, leaving long messages Xander never responds to. He has no access to email or the internet, he avoids slayers or Watchers or rumors thereof. He's killed the occasional demon, but only in self defense. He doesn't work for the Council any more. He doesn't really work for anyone. Sometimes he gets paid to fix things, machinery mostly. Farm tools for cocoa workers, a new handle for a spade, a tractor engine. It keeps him fed, if only barely. But his reputation, both as a demon-killer and as a mechanic was enough to get him a room above the train station, even if it is mostly full of boxes. It's away from animals and insects, and gives him a place to retreat to when the weight of so many eyes is too much.
They watch him wherever he goes. His white skin an oddity on it's own, but mixed with the patch and his reputation, he's somewhere between a deity and a pariah. No one talks to him about the daughters he spirited away from so many villages, but that doesn't mean it's not talked about. No one asks him why he stopped. No one asks him where he's going when he leaves a village or town. He gets the idea that his arrival is seen as an act of god, whichever one's local. He doesn't have the heart to tell them it's happenstance. He doesn't really have the heart to tell them anything at all, in fact. It's been over a year since he's spoken a human word. He doesn't speak the language anyway, and not many people here speak English. He's learned to make himself understood with gestures, largely. He thinks, maybe, if he were a different person, he might find the silence comforting. Mostly, he just tries not to think about it.
He heads to the church at sundown for the evening meal, a crowd of children surrounding him, chivvying him toward a table, pressing sugar-roasted cocoa beans, still warm, into his hands, smiling and laughing. He smiles back as best he can, ruffling heads and chucking chins. He eats a cocoa bean to make them happy, puts his knife on the table with the other gifts and sits. The table immediately fills with children. They immediately begin telling him about a 'lemme', a word in the local dialect that gets applied to a lot of things, from supernatural uglies who go bump in the night to rogue hyenas that sometimes kill unattended children. He taps the table, a request for more information. 'Madi lemme' they tell him. Blood monster. A vampire. They wave their arms in the air. Sounds like someone chased it off with fire. Xander presses down on the air with both hands and motions toward the horizon, out the window. They can calm down. He'll go and look for it. They grin, chattering at each other and fill his plate. This is the only real meal that many of the people here get to eat. Xander eats enough, and then parcels the rest to the kids sitting around him. An adult presses a gift into his hand. He doesn't open it, and goes back to his room to suit up. It's different from Sunnydale. Here, ordinary humans can be just as dangerous if not more so than a demon. There's a gun in one boot and a knife in the other. Another gun in a holster under his arm, and a stake in his back pocket, as well as one in his hand. He shrugs on a vest to cover the holster, and goes out into the night.
He circles the town twice. He finds a candy bar. Twix. Odd place for American candy. He drives the stake in his hand into the dry dirt. A warning.
Out of curiosity, he goes again the next night. The stake is gone, and in its place are two clips of bullets sized for the larger of his two guns. They're inscribed with crosses and runes. Probably deadly to most types of nasty, from the look of them. He pockets them, and goes back to the village. None of the children have seen the madi lemme. He goes back to his room. There are three marula, a local fruit, sitting on the box he's been using as a table. He eats one thoughtfully, trying to figure out why a vampire is trying to make friends. He spies the gift from the church dinner, wrapped in soft cotton cloth, tossed to one side of the pallet he's been sleeping on. He opens it. It's a picture, from Sunnydale, in a wooden frame. The Scoobies, sitting at a table. He's looking up at Spike, who is describing something in the air with his hands. Willow and Buffy off to one side, heads together, laughing. Where the hell did this picture come from? He tries not to be, but he's spooked. Someone out there knows who he is. He doesn't sleep that night until he can see the sun, just a sliver risen, in his window.
He's woken late that afternoon, a knock on his door. A porter from the train station with a mediumish box. Xander opens it carefully. Inside are five different bottles. Holy water, labeled with the type of priest they'd been blessed by. Xander raises an eyebrow at the porter, pointing at the box, but the man just shrugs, says something that sounds curt, and leaves. Xander patrols the town again that night. In the same place he'd left the stake he finds a book of poems, and a five dollar bill. He hasn't seen American money in so long it looks strange to him. He heads back to the station. On the way there he finds a circle of seven small stones. They're inscribed with different spells of protection. They remind him of Willow for some reason. He feels homesick for the first time in a long time.
He sleeps, wondering what he'll find eight of, and when. The answer is there when he wakes up. A necklace with eight charms. They reek of magic, but he has no idea what any of them do. He spends the day helping unload a freight car of grain at the station. When he goes upstairs there is bogobe, a porridge. It has nine pieces of melon in it. He opens his window and looks out. This is getting a little weird.
He plays a madcap version of soccer with the children the next morning that largely consists of him running with the ball while being chased by what seems like every child in the village. The game ends when he is asked to fix a tractor. The man he is fixing the tractor for hands him a rolled cloth. There are assorted tools in it. Xander doesn't even blink when he finds there happen to be ten total. He fixes the tractor. He eats dinner, roasted goat bogobe, sitting on a bench, watching the train he helped unload pull out, loaded with cocoa. He is entirely unsurprised when one of the children brings him a plate with eleven cocoa beans on it. Sugar roasted, still hot, and sweet smelling. Xander offers one to the boy who shakes his head and scampers off. Xander decides to wait where he is a while.
He's not disappointed. There's a bit of movement in the dark, and then Spike's there, standing in front of him. Xander raises an eyebrow at him, then holds up both hands, fingers spread, then two fingers with the other hand closed.
“Couldn't find twelve of anything worth having in this blight you've holed up in, could I?” Spike sits next to him, carefully, like he's afraid Xander will bolt. One side of Xander's mouth lifts, almost against his will. He offers spike the plate. “Pretty good, for something not actually chocolate yet, yeah?” Spike answers him, taking a nib and chewing it thoughtfully. Spike looks out at where the moon is cresting the horizon as he chews. “Andrew says you're depressed. I can see why if you've been here the whole time. Not a bloody telly for fifty miles!” He falls silent at this indignity. Xander brushes some dust off his pants in lieu of answering. Spike sighs. “Locals talk about you, you know. Say you've been consorting with demons so long you've forgotten human speech. That true, pet?”
Xander shrugs. He's forgotten what it's like to be with someone who might want words from him, or understand him more than vaguely when he spoke is all. He's been a stranger for so long it hasn't mattered. He tosses a pebble toward the edge of the platform.
“They sent me with enough dosh for you to go home if you wanted, Xander. They miss you.” Spike's being uncharacteristically gentle, but Xander shakes his head sharply, negating the entire concept of home. His home has been gone a long time. Everyone else moved on, and he is alone. There's nowhere and no one to go back to.
Amazingly, Spike seems to get it. “Don't have to leave. Could use the dosh for something else. Buy yourself a damn telly, for one,” he grumbles.
Xander snorts. He has no idea what television would be like in Africa, and he has no real desire to find out.
“Never thought I'd miss your rambling, pet. Look me up if you want to say something, right?” Spike puts an envelope full of cash in Xander's hand and stands up.
Years of loneliness flash before Xander's eyes, and wow, that's really only supposed to happen when you're dying. He grabs Spike's hand and pulls himself up, pulling the vampire into the circle of his arms. Spike is stiff for a moment and then wraps Xander into a full body hug.
Spike is smiling a strange, soft smile when Xander looks up at him. He puts his hand on Spike's chest, and croaks the first words he's said in too long. “Home.”
And Xander knows he understands because he doesn't say anything, just hugs a little tighter. Suddenly, the long silence is exactly as comforting as he had always wished it was. No words needed.
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