Near Bangui, Africa
December 25th, 2010
This was to be the first Christmas.
There were shoddy representations of Christmas before this one, celebrated with friends and loved ones around tables of holiday spread and Christmas trees cluttered with ornaments and packages to be exchanged. Christmases where he danced like a fool for Willow in his rendition of "The Snoopy Dance." Christmas morning spent curled around Anya, smiling and hoping that this would be the Christmas he remembered forever. None of those even compared in the slightest to this…his first Christmas.
December 24th, 2010
The air was humid, but not uncomfortably so. Xander breathed in and stretched under the thin sheet of the flat's bed. It was late, probably close to 10:30, and when was the last time he slept in this late? He glanced at the open window – hearing some bustle down below of trucks passing and people chattering on during the day.
This was something he was not ready for when he had first arrived in Africa – normalcy. He wanted to believe that someplace like Africa was still untamed and wild, with small villages with people living in huts, like they showed on television. But he knew these places existed out there, not far from where he was currently residing. 6 years and several relocations on this continent had taught him that. However, it was still odd to think that he was adjusting and becoming as much an African as anything else in that short amount of time.
He'd learned dialects of those in the cities and countries around Bangui. He'd floated down the river on wooden boats with guides and visited villages like those he'd imagined in his head. He'd browned his skin in the sun, even though they'd just finished the rainy season not long ago. And he'd learned how to barter for goods and, if needed, services. He'd long since ditched his cell phone – no one called anymore anyway. He'd kept up with Willow and Giles on a monthly basis through an internet café located down the road. His mission was always the same: find potentials, direct them in how to use their abilities, and assist them in acquiring a means to get to the Watcher's Council. Once done, repeat.
As he moved about his daily business of getting dressed, he started thinking about the newest potential he'd been informed about. She was a bit like Faith – strong-willed, independent, hot-headed in certain scenarios. Give him this information a few years ago, Xander would have run away instantly. Now, he welcomed this change in routine with open arms.
It was best to meet these potential Slayers in daylight, though, because most of them were like little demon magnets and had found out what went bump in the night. He had to make sure that he could prove he wasn't one of those creatures of the night. And even though he'd trained a little with some of the potentials before shipping them overseas to England, he was pretty sure that this particular one would probably tear him limb from limb if she suspected anything different.
He wandered around semi-crowded streets, looking for the one thing that separated the potentials from all others – the light. At first, Xander thought maybe his right eye was being overworked trying to compensate for his lost left one, but a few years into his service to the Council, he realized that he'd been given a gift. He could tell what girls had enough of the slayer power inside them to be of some use. Every girl had a little faint light above them that looked like a four-pointed star, but potentials – their lights were brighter. Buffy and Faith's were like beacons – he almost couldn't bear looking at them. But potentials' lights were softer and some were almost too dim for him to recognize as being strong.
It was a helpful gift, being able to see what others could not, but he wasn't very reassured by this. In fact, he'd rather have both eyes than this gift. It held him back from approaching women and made it difficult to leave this "job" he'd taken on for Giles. He felt a sense of duty that he guessed was always there in other forms, but now it was undeniable. He was chosen to help the Slayer and that he shall do.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a brighter spot of light under the shade of a market canopy. A young girl, probably no older than 15 was leaning over a stand of fabric, leafing through the different folds and considering one. Her skin was dark, but not as dark as some in the city, her hair braided tightly against her head. She was so normal…except for the light above her head. It shone brightly – meaning she was a strong one. Xander braced himself for what he was about to do.
"Excuse me, miss?" he began, inching under the canopy. The girl looked up at him, brown eyes wide with surprise and a hint of suspicion. "May I speak with you?"
Her hands slowly released the fabric. She turned towards him. "Yes? What do you want?"
He glanced over at the merchant, who was busy peddling his wares to another customer. "Can we speak in private?"
"Why can you not speak to me here? I do not know you. I have never seen you before in my life. I will not go anywhere with you in private. No, sir." She crossed her arms protectively and shifted one leg behind the other. Xander remembered that she was putting herself in an attack stance and stepped back.
"I understand. I wanted to talk to you about coming to help my friends. You are very strong and could be a great help to us."
"Where are they? And why do you want me to help? I'm just a girl. If they truly need help, you can find a strong man."
"My friends are in England. They fight," he took a breath, "monsters."
That did it. Her leg swung forward and placed a quick jab to his side. Then she was off, sprinting through the crowds. He instinctively held a hand to what would become a bruise, and edged himself out from under the canopy and away from the crowds. No use following her now – she'd be screaming for help and he'd just be in worse trouble. He decided to wait until dark to find her. There would be no way that she could stay away from the things that attacked her fellow members of the city. She would be fighting.
Just past sunset, Xander left his flat once again. He had spent some time on the internet with Willow, trying to pinpoint where the potential he'd spotted lived exactly. They came close enough that he had at least a block narrowed down. So, he headed directly that way, walking purposefully and without regard to whom or what might be lurking in the shadows.
He hadn't gotten far before he recognized the sound of regular footsteps not far behind him. When he turned a corner, they followed. The bad thing about Bangui after dark was the lack of streetlamps. There were a few scattered here and there, but mostly just around the concrete buildings that held the major shops and tourist attractions. Out where Xander was, he was almost completely in the dark.
He stopped. The footsteps stopped. Slowly, he turned his head. A shock of white made him blink, then spin around. It couldn't be…no way it could be…could it be?
The vampire stood before him, clad in his usual black leather duster, tee, and jeans. The only thing that stood out in the dark was his bleached hair and pale skin. But it was Spike. And how could that be, when he was told that the LA crew, Spike included, was dust? Something about a dragon? Never mind.
Spike was standing behind him and for some strange reason, he had to turn completely around and hug the vampire. He squeezed him tightly, breathing in deeply the scent of leather, smoke, and skin. It felt like home. Which was odd, because last he knew, he'd never hugged Spike.
The vampire stood stiffly as Xander hugged him, but he, too, took a sniff of the other man. He smelled of the African earth, a mild laundry soap, and chocolate. How he smelled like chocolate, he had no idea…but the scent was familiar and brought memories rushing back of sleeping in the boy's basement so many years ago. He clenched his eyes shut and forced those memories out. Those were memories of people and places that he'd rather forget. They were painful when he knew that everyone and everything in them were gone. Except, Xander was standing here hugging him, and it was difficult to keep them at bay.
Finally, Xander pulled away and stepped back, looking a little bashful. He wiped at his eye, which had unexpectedly teared up. "So…Spike. What brings you to Africa?"
Spike's upper lip curled a little into a tiny smile. "Funny story, actually. Wouldn't believe me if I told ya." He rubbed a hand on the back of his head and cleared his throat. "Got a bit of a problem with the girl you're chasing down."
"She's not just a potential. She's part demon."
Xander crouched behind the bush next to Spike, peeking over the top like a child waiting to be found at a game of Hide-and-Seek. They watched as the potential raked coals over the fire she'd started in the woods and chanted a spell. Then, her braids parted and a small, horned demon head grew up out of her skull. It hissed and sniffed the air. Spike ducked down behind the bush and tugged Xander down with him.
"How'd you know about this?" Xander whispered. "I mean, how'd you know I was here stalking her and that I was going to get eaten or whatever by this…this thing? Did Willow tell you? Why didn't she tell me? I'm the one who's gonna become snacktime…"
"Actually, Cordelia told me."
"Cordelia? Cordy's dead!" his whispers were louder this time. Suddenly, a cool hand was over his mouth.
"Shut your trap. It'll hear you then we'll both be snacktime. Princess just got relocated to a higher plain. She's with the Powers that Be now. Said I had to come to Africa and find her before she caused a problem in the grand scheme of things. I'm guessing I got here just in time since you were about to get yourself into a right mess." Spike cast another glance over the top of the bush and then let go of Xander's mouth. "It's caught on to our scent. We've got to go to plan B."
"Plan B? What's plan B?"
They were off and sprinting before Xander really had time to fully register what was said. He knew two things, however: they were going to get eaten by a demon, and Spike was holding his hand. Tightly, as if he didn't want to let go. And for some strange reason, Xander didn't want him to. He chalked it up to feeling homesick and lonely these past years in Africa and held on just as tightly. They ran through the woods, hearing thrashing and clomping behind them.
"Anymore to plan B than just running?" Xander asked, out of breath. His lungs were screaming and his legs were starting to burn.
"Got any ideas of where to hide out? This thing apparently hates water."
"The river – go towards the river!"
Xander tugged Spike in the direction of the river, still hearing the heavy sounds of the creature coming towards them. It was going to be a short run, but Xander couldn't tell in the dark how far away from the water they truly were. Then they were splashing into the river, cool muddiness stopping them in their pace and forcing them to turn and look for their pursuer.
"How'd that happen to her? I thought all Slayers were human only," Xander inquired, staring at the double headed beast.
"Imagine some beastie got ahold of her at just the right time. Wonder if she'll give up or wait for us to get out of here."
Spike squeezed Xander's hand slightly and then let go. Xander felt the cool evening air hit his hand where Spike's had been moments ago and he shivered. Spike picked up the ends of his duster and frowned. "Bloody hell…water. Gonna take forever to get this cleaned."
"At least it's not demon guts."
"Gonna be demon guts if this coat's ruined. You hear that, pillock?"
The demon/potential paced the riverbank, hissing and snarling. Xander sighed. "Now what? We can't stay in here forever." Again, Xander shivered.
"You cold?" Spike's eyebrow arched up in concern.
"Not really…a little chilly. But we can't be in here that long. There's other stuff with sharp teeth in this water that want to eat us." Xander cast a quick glance over at the water. It seemed calm enough… Spike also looked around the water. "Bugger. Let's wade down a ways. Maybe she'll get bored and leave."
They started sloshing through the mud and water, splashing and making sucking noises as their shoes came unstuck with each step. The demon/potential watched them closely, but made no attempt to follow them. She appeared to be waiting for something else.
"So, dragons, huh?" Xander finally asked, trying to break the silence.
"Dragon. One. Big blighter, too. Angel gave him a good fight." Spike let it hang there and looked off into the distance. Frogs and bugs made clicking noises in the moonlight and Xander couldn't help but notice that Spike looked a little fragile and vulnerable at that moment. His jaw was set in a sad way and his brow was furrowed. Xander cleared his throat.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to bring it up."
"Don't be. It was a good fight."
"I thought…we thought you were dead."
"I am," Spike smiled playfully. It broke the tension.
"You know what I mean," Xander shot back, "we thought you were all gone. Buffy and Willow were wrecks. Dawnie, too."
"Not you, though. Probably excited to hear it."
Xander was ashamed to say that he had been upset when he'd heard the news. He'd actually thrown himself into the job and refused to come "home" to England for the ceremony the girls were organizing. It made it real. There had been too much death and destruction in his short 30 years. As much as it pained him to say, he was sorry that Angel was gone. He was also very happy to see that Spike was still very much amongst the living so to speak.
"Not exactly," he chose to say. "Need some more guys on the team…I start growing breasts every time I'm home. Too much estrogen."
"So, Africa, huh? Get any farther away from `home?'"
"I came here after Sunnydale and never really wanted to go back. I feel…like I belong here. Like there's something that I'm supposed to do here. Although I'll tell you – there's not much more that I can do."
Spike stopped and looked back down the river. The demon was no longer in sight. He headed up the river bank and pulled Xander up out of the mud. When Xander had his feet planted squarely on the ground, however, Spike didn't let go of his hand. Xander looked up to see what was the matter. Blue eyes met brown and his breath caught.
"Princess told me about your gift, Xan. You can do so much with it. You can help people." Spike reached up and touched the black eye patch gently. "This scar you took from Sunnydale, it was meant to happen, luv. You're supposed to find that demon and you're supposed to kill her."
Xander didn't know how to react. He and Spike had a history – poke fun at, put down, ridicule, save each other's butts in case they needed saving – but never friends and never gentle like this. This was different. Xander had almost forgotten that the vampire had a soul. He wondered if this was what Spike had been like as a human.
"How am I supposed to kill that thing? With my eye socket? Come on, Spike. That's ridiculous. I'm just a human."
"Humans can be fragile, that's true. But with the proper training and protection, you can do it."
"And you? What's your big plan in Africa? And why do you keep coming back from the dead? I'm starting to think you might have a little cat in you."
Spike smiled again, but this time, it was genuine. Xander couldn't look away. "I'm supposed to keep you safe. Ever wonder why you lasted this long?"
Suddenly, there was a howl and both men jumped apart. The demon came rushing at Xander, pushing him down onto the sandy ground. Spike was there in an instant, plucking the demon off of the human quickly and effortlessly. She screamed as Spike ripped the demon head out of her skull. A single braid landed on Xander's leg and he flicked it off him as quickly as he could. Something was tingling in his chest. A burning, acidy feeling building up. He was quite frankly afraid that he was going to throw up.
Nearby, the demon head rolled towards him, eyes blinking and mouth foaming. It seemed to be rolling right at him, as if it were going to attack.
"Spike," he said, starting to retch.
"Patch," Spike panted, struggling with the potential's body. "Take off your patch!"
Xander's fingers scrabbled at his patch and lifted it, just as the demon head reached his leg. The burning feeling traveled up his chest and into his face. Then a spark and a beam of light sprayed out of his eye socket – setting the demon head on fire. It howled and shrieked, shriveling up in front of his eyes. Meanwhile, Spike had gotten the potential on the ground and was holding her down so he could watch Xander. The potential let out her own shriek of agony, then all was still.
"Way to go, Xan!" Spike shouted. "You got it! Told you that you could do it!"
Xander blinked and quickly covered up his eye socket. "That was…" He started shaking. "Is she…dead?"
Spike was up in an instant, grabbing Xander close and hugging him tightly. "She'll be fine. Her head's already on the mend. Think that demon was part of some sort of spell. But you did it. You killed it, Xander." Spike pulled Xander closer to him and Xander didn't resist. They sat there, looking at each other for a long moment, not saying anything or moving. Then, Spike leaned forward and laid a gentle kiss on Xander's lips.
When they broke apart, Xander frowned. "What was that for? Not that it wasn't nice…but ummm…I was pretty sure I wasn't gay and pretty sure I hated you. Well, disliked you quite a bit."
"Been wanting to see what all the fuss was about," Spike smiled.
"Oh…and Merry Christmas, Xan."
"What? It's not.."
"After midnight. It counts." Spike leaned in to give him another kiss, this time one that wasn't so chaste. Xander couldn't help but think, this – this is my first Christmas.
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