Part 1: An Absence of Blinkers
The sound of the soft scrape of metal against wood that echoed in the enclosed room fell silent. Skilled fingers felt along the surface of the wood, making sure the lines carved into its surface had come out true. A steady hand reached over and pulled out a slightly curved carving tool and began cutting away the wood in between the lines. It wasn't much at the moment, but that didn't matter because it had the potential to be more.
Xander smiled to himself. He'd ruined a lot of good wood before he figured that out. He'd also ruined a lot of good wood while being pissed at the girls this week, but by the third failed piece he'd given to Spike to use as vampire-staking fodder, Xander had decided that the girls had nothing to do with the wood. In fact, he'd decided a lot of things this week. The first one being that cookies didn't make up for having your memory erased and nearly ending up dead because of it, especially if the person at fault was more sorry they got caught than that they'd done it in the first place. The second had been that it wasn't okay and it probably wouldn't be okay for a damn long while. He couldn't trust Willow. He couldn't trust Buffy because she'd sided with Willow and was all for the quick forgive and forget route. Tara. Tara was caught in the middle and it probably sucked to be her and while she was more trustworthy than the other two she was also too caught up in pleasing Willow even when it made Tara herself miserable. Not that he could throw any stones for that. He'd been doing it for years. And Dawn, well Dawnie was just a kid and he wasn't putting this on a kid.
The third thing was that he didn't miss being with Anya as much as he'd thought, which meant she was probably right to break up with him. He smiled, remembering the night after the amnesia spell. It had felt like a sucker punch to the gut at first, but now it was kinda funny.
Anya had been silent on the walk home, which, yeah, was weird. The fact that she'd sat down on the uncomfortable barcalounger instead of on his bed or the couch had been even weirder. He'd taken a seat on the edge of the couch, his shoulders tense and curled while his stomach twisted in on itself. He knew what was coming. The silence and the quiet, thoughtful look. She wouldn't use the same words, but it all boiled down to the same thing. He was too much trouble, a burden. He wasn't—
"Stop that, Xander." She frowned.
He jerked up from his hunched over position and stared at her.
"I like you. Therefore I'm breaking up with you."
"What? Anya, honey…"
"Oh quit it, Xander. You like me too. But we're not soul mates. We're not even in love. The spell proved that, shoddy as it was.
"But, Anya, I do care for you."
"I know." She took a deep breath and looked down at her folded hands. "That's why we're breaking up. Before we decide that being friends who like to have sex is reason enough to get married and eventually ending up unhappy and calling down vengeance on each other. I'd destroy you, Xander, and you would let me." She looked up and met his gaze straight on. "I may understand being a demon more than being human, but that does not mean I cannot recognize what I do not want to do. I like you, Xan, but that's it."
Releasing the breath he'd been holding, Xander offered a lopsided smile that didn't hide the hurt…and relief in his gaze. "I think you know more about being human than a lot of people, Ahn. Or at least more about living. I guess this is goodbye, huh?"
Rising from her seat, Anya eyed him and shook her head in amusement. Strands of hair escaped her ponytail and she brushed them out of her face before replying. "Just until we see each other again. We're friends, I should think. Just without any sex now. Though if I were you, I'd replace your toys we used. New lovers get jealous over things like that."
"What? Really, Xander. You blush much too easily. It's not like I said it in the middle of a store."
He snorted, half-laughing and half-choking on indignation. "But you would."
"Yes, well. You and your friends actually listen when I say it that way."
"What? Anya! You did all that on purpose?"
"Not at first. But later, yes."
"Well at least now I'm in on the joke."
"Right along with Spike."
Xander fell silent at that, thinking on it before shrugging. Spike had been pretty decent lately. He could deal with that. "That's not so bad.
"Not as bad as me having to find a new boy toy to play with."
His amused chuckles turned into as hiss of annoyance as the tool caught on a knot in the wood. Carving around it, he made it part of the design instead of trying to fight it. It'd add character to the piece if he managed to finish this one. He shrugged as his attention drifted back to his musings with the scrape of metal on wood as a background noise. Yeah, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. It'd been even better when Harry (he'd said no one could pronounce his real name, but Harry was close enough.), the Satyr demon Xander worked with, had been bemoaning the lack of stamina in humans. The Satyr's dramatics had reminded Xander so much of Anya that he'd actually set them up on a date. Harry was a decent enough guy and his kind were noted for their sexual stamina instead of any deadly intentions, so it wasn't like he'd eat her. Well, in a bad way. He'd even double-checked with Giles and that had been a laugh. Xander swore he'd heard the G-Man's glasses squeak before he'd managed to finally answer the question. Xander shook his head, smiling sadly. Anya moving on hadn't hurt like he'd thought it would. It'd kinda even been... Well, it'd been a relief. The bemused Scooby sighed and ran his fingers down the developing ivy leaves he'd been carving while thinking. He hated thinking of it that way. The end of a relationship shouldn't be a relief, but it was. Xander figured that the relief was mostly because dating Anya had become what he was expected to do instead of what he wanted to do. It was kinda nice to be able to decide what he wanted for a change instead of having to consider everyone else's expectations.
Speaking of decisions, what did he want to do about the girls? He wasn't apologizing. This wasn't on him and he refused to let it be, but he didn't want to lose them either. He shrugged and fingered the sculpture in front of him, tracing the ivy leaves that crawled all around the awkward shape of the bird nestled in the center. Why a bird was cradled by a nest of ivy vines, he didn't know. It'd just worked out that way. Maybe he'd have it figured out by Thanksgiving.
He paused in his work. Thanksgiving. It was five days away. The time to get together and just be a family. Maybe a pre-Thanksgiving party in four days? He could work with that and he was pretty sure it wouldn't interfere with any plans the girls had. It wouldn't be an apology, per se. More a way to say that they were still his friendly-family even if he wasn't particularly pleased with them at the moment.
It could work. Especially if Giles would let him use his apartment. A promise not to call him G-man for a while might do it, or maybe just asking would be enough. He checked the time. A half hour till sunset and an hour till Spike showed up to commandeer his TV. He had time to call Giles and find out if this was even feasible.
Setting aside the bird and ivy carving, he slipped his tools back into their case and brushed off the wood shavings that were stuck all over his clothes like cat hair. Dialing Giles apartment, Xander waited while the phone rang.
Pushing away the book he'd been reading, Giles lifted up his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he answered the phone. The number was somewhat familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.
Holding back a sigh, the exiled Watcher shook his head in bemused acceptance. He would have thought Xander would have given up this habit by now, but time and his protestations seemed to have only further ingrained the behavior. "Xander, must you?"
"Hey, at least you always know it's me. But, got a question for you."
"Yes? And this had best not be another question to verify the sexual habits of a demon you've met." That was one conversation he never wished to have again, especially when his young cohort was asking so he could setup his own ex-girlfriend with someone, though Rupert found the young man's protectiveness somewhat endearing when it came to looking after his friends. Well, endearing and irritating in turn. That particular venture with Anya's new lover had quickly bridged the gap between the two.
"Considering how many demons want to eat me after having sex with me, it's really not that bad of a question."
Rupert smirked. Truthfully, Xander did seem to attract the more dangerous bed partners, Anya included, so while such subjects were not precisely his preferred conversation topics when speaking with the young Scooby, Rupert much preferred sitting through an uncomfortable conversation than finding out that he needed to avenge the young man he'd grown rather fond of over the years. "I suppose with those parameters, it is indeed best to know beforehand."
He bit back a sigh as Xander's reply quickly sped up and became a drawn-out babble. he had always been curious as to how Willow and Xander developed that rather unique habit.
"Yep. But this isn't one of those questions. I've been wondering about the upcoming Holidays. And I was wondering if I could host a Thanksgiving party at your house, well a Day-Before-Thanksgiving party cause, you know they might have plans for the Big Day. Cooking dinner for everyone and you know getting together for a family holiday as the dysfunctionally-functioning, oddly crafted family we are..."
Leaving his musings for another time, Rupert returned his attention to the conversation in time to catch Xander's rather unexpected request. A pre-Holiday party? It wasn't un-heard of, of course. They, as a group, had simply never participated in such together. An eyebrow rose at the description of them as family. He had aways considered the group as something along the lines of a coterie of proteges, but in retrospect Xander's concept of a dysfunctionally-functional family wasn't as improbable as one might think. In fact, it was rather fitting. Though whether Xander's place was that of the annoying little brother or exasperating son, he was not quite sure. Time would tell.
"...And you know, basements and the lack of a working kitchen make it rather difficult for me to do anything here without offering up food poisoning as an after party gift. Thought I'd just not do that, so I figured I'd ask you...
At the mention of the basement and food poisoning, Rupert cringed slightly. That was a rather valid concern, as was the location itself. He'd never truly spent any quality time with Xander's parents, but the very lack of their presence and Xander's own unwillingness to share indicated that their relationship was not ideal. Much like the current situation with the girls. Admittedly, Rupert was no happier than Xander with Willow's lack of precautions with her magic and Buffy's desire for instant forgiveness for the witch, but he was also an authority figure. The situation was different for the brown-eyed young man, though in some ways it seemed to have sparked a change in his outlook and behavior that appeared to be for the better. He'd been quieter at the last couple of meetings, and while his sense of humor was still prevalent, it was tempered by an efficiency and capability that hadn't been as apparent beforehand. Xander seemed to have stopped catering to Buffy and Willow's attempts to pigeonhole him and started to discover the value of his own opinion. Rupert had found the last few meetings amusing and refreshing in turn. Especially the shocked look on Willow's face when Xander managed to solve their newest dilemma. This dinner that Xander proposed could help return that relationship to a more even-keel without causing the young Scooby to lose all the ground he had gained with his peers.
"...I'm still pissed at the way the girls treated the whole spell thing and all, but I don't want to lose them either. And this whole togetherness without the slayage thing seemed like—"
"Xander," Giles barked, interrupting the nervous spiel.
He heard a slight snap as Xander closed his mouth abruptly. Exasperated amusement underlying the tone of his voice, Giles continued. "So long as you refrain from burning down my kitchen, I have no qualms with this plan, though I will be the one to cook the turkey. I prefer a lack of food poisoning over the holidays as well."
"Really, G-man? So cool! This will be an awesome Thanksgiving."
Amused, he reassured his excited pseudo-family member that the situation truly was agreeable. "Yes, Xander. And with one more proviso, if you will. Forgo that infernal nickname for the duration of this celebration. Rupert or Giles is perfectly appropriate for the situation."
"Sure. Can do. Ix-nay on the Ee-man-jay."
Sighing, he rolled his eyes at the colorful mauling Xander gave the English language and continued with setting up the necessary dates. "Very well then. I'll expect you on the 22nd, so that we can begin cooking."
"Awesome. I'll be there. Catch ya later, G-Ma—Giles."
"I'll see you later then, Xander." Looking at the phone in his hand, he wondered at the change a bout of magically induced amnesia had brought about. It was too bad it wasn't considered a valid method of treatment for the general population.
The connection clicked off and Xander hung up his phone. Three days to get everything planned out and invite everyone. The inviting was the easy part. It'd be the getting done that would kill him, metaphorically anyway, but he could do it. It had to be easier than breaking into a Military base.
Eyeing the phone sitting innocently in its cradle, he debated who to call first. Willow was his oldest friend, but they were still pretty much on the outs when it came to talking. Buffy, well, she was the same. Anya... He checked the time. Anya and Harry might not be having sex at the moment, but if he gave him an hour they'd definitely be doing something different, like eating. If there was one thing Anya liked besides sex and making money, it was a well-cooked meal and Harry could cook. She'd give up an orgasm if it meant dinner wasn't burned.
That meant either Willow or Buffy. Huffing out a resigned sigh, he dialed Willow's number. It'd be the least confrontational of the two even if it'd be the most difficult. He waited as it rang, closing his eyes and taking a breath to center himself or at least not feel so guilty. He wasn't the one who was supposed to be guilty here.
"Xander?" Willow's voice quivered a bit and he gripped the phone harder.
"Is—Is everything OK? Are we needed for slayage or dealing with a new big nasty? Did Giles need us?"
He cringed, gnawing at his lip. Used to, she'd be more interested in his life or just getting together for a bit. Being best friends and doing friend-type things, like back when they had Jesse. Now, it wasn't so much the being friends as it was the slayage that they did together.
"Nah, Wills. Just calling."
He could hear her shifting on her side of the phone and it rankled a bit. They shouldn't be this awkward with each other, but they were, so he just had to deal. The uncomfortable moment of neither really knowing what to say stretched between them and he fidgeted, picking at the coverlet of his bed. Finally, just when he was ready to speak up again, Willow broke it the silence.
"Is this about the fight? Because if it is, I forgive you Xander. I really do. I mean you were stressed and being grumpily mean was just—."
"Wills, I'm not calling for forgiveness per-say because for the record I didn't do anything wrong. You erased my memory, messed with my head and my free-will." I can't trust you, Xander thought, but just barely stopped himself from saying it out loud. He paused, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly to calm down so this wouldn't turn into a fight. "I'm calling because I want to invite you and Tara to a Pre-Thanksgiving party on the 23rd. It's just a way to get together without the slayage. Giles is letting me have it at his place. Figure we'll eat about four or so, but people can show up whenever before then."
"Oh, okay." Her voice was quiet at first and trembling. Xander could feel bad for that. He didn't like upsetting her, but he wasn't going to back off on this till Willow acknowledged that she had been wrong and that magicking other people, especially her friends without permission and for no valid reason except her own gain, was not a good thing.
She seemed to gather herself together a bit before continuing, "Tara and I will...Well, we'll be there. We'll do our absolute best to be there. Promise."
He smiled. "That's great, Wills. This is going to be an awesome party. Can't wait to see you there."
"All right." A pause and then, "Well, I've got to go, Xander. I was meeting Tara in a bit."
"Okay. I'll see you at the party then or the next Scooby meeting if we have one before then." He hung up the phone and slumped in his seat. It could have been worse, but it really could have gone better. Sighing, he shrugged and picked up the phone again, this time to dial up Buffy and Dawnie. He really wasn't looking forward to this.
Head cocked to the side, Spike watched the whelp, though if he kept up the pattern of the last while he wouldn't be that much of a whelp. He'd still call him that though. Couldn't go totally soppy and nice, now could he. But, the boy'd done pretty good. He'd put the Witch in her place and then stood his ground against the Slayer. Magically and physically Xander was no match for them, but on the verbal front he'd managed well. Even if he was being a soft-hearted git by giving them this peace offering. He should've made them work for it.
But what was done, was done. At least he'd decided to invite the demon bint, Anya and her demony boy-toy. They'd make for some good company to liven up the shindig Xander was planning. Now Spike just needed to get his own invite to this little party. He could do it. It wouldn't be that hard. Just make a total nuisance of himself till the boy finally caved, but that wasn't what he was looking for. He and Xander'd been doing rather well lately, since they had finally shown the others he wasn't the just the misfit toy that didn't fit with their world view. That was intriguing.
This break between Xander and the girls had been working rather fine. Before this memory mojo Xander would have turned his nose up at hanging with a vampire, but now it was either hang out with Spike or hang alone and the whelp didn't like doing the alone. Meant Spike had gained a companion, someone to steal the remote from, someone to mooch off of, and a hunting companion to yell pointers at when they were out dusting fledges. The pointers were actually working. The brown-eyed, errant white knight of the group wasn't half as clumsy as he'd been in the beginning and since Spike had dragged him shopping and made him replace those eyesores for clothes upon threat of being stripped and left nude in the nearest cemetery, Xander didn't look half-bad either. The human had even given him decorative, hand-made weapons as presents. Overall, unlife was pretty good and if he managed it right, then it just might get better. Spike grinned, eyeing the strip of flesh that was revealed as Xander's shirt rode up. Much, much better indeed.
Hearing Xander wrapping up the end of his conversation with Anya, Spike sauntered forward and gave a half-wave as he settled down on the couch and snatched up the remote. Waiting, he listened to the creaks and groans of the boy's bed that meant he was standing up. Soon enough Xander rounded the couch and settled in at the opposite end.
Spike flipped through a few more channels before turning and eyeing his companion. "So, you're having a party?"
A shy smile spread across the smooth face as Xander nodded. "Yeah. On the 23rd at Giles' place."
"Sounds decent enough from what I was hearing."
Xander shrugged and then relaxed back into the couch. "Yeah. Giles is doing the turkey and helping me with the rest."
"Hmm. Sounds good."
They fell silent, watching the TV as Spike flipped from channel to channel. Xander didn't even complain anymore. He just waited for the vampire to choose what he wanted to watch and then enjoyed it with him. It was rather nice if Spike thought about it.
In the middle of a half-decent action scene, Xander spoke up with the question Spike had been waiting for.
"So, you doing anything the 23rd, Spike?"
"Not right now. Why? You looking for an extra pair of hands?"
"Wouldn't turn them down if they're still attached and know a bit about cooking, but was kinda wondering if you'd like to come as, you know. A guest."
Biting back a broad grin, Spike let him sweat a minute. "Could do. This mean we're going out to hunt down all the trimmings and such for your party instead of demons tonight?"
"Uhhh, do you mind? It'd help. Especially if we drop it off at Giles."
"Suppose I don't. There's worse ways to spend a night and worse people to do it with. Like her Slayerness."
Xander slumped against the couch and nodded. "Much as I'd like to say otherwise, at the moment I have to agree with that."
Sighing, he thumped the despondent figure hard on the shoulder, biting back a snarl as the chip twinged. "Don't worry about it. You got this party thing all set up. It's bound to make things better between you and them, I'd think."
Xander stared at him and then smiled slowly as he shook off the less than happy thoughts and Spike rolled his eyes at that. This group was murder on his English, but he could manage it. He raised an eyebrow, daring Xander to contradict him, but the whelp didn't even bother.
"You ready then? Got your money and all together? 'Cause this is your party and I'm not paying for it."
He watched as Xander rolled his eyes before bumping shoulders with Spike and heading for the door. "Yeah. Got enough to buy what I want if I catch the right prices."
"All right then." Smirking, the blond vampire stood and then reached down to grab Xander and pull him to his feet before pushing and prodding him to the door. "The night's a wasting. Get a move on there." Rich warm laughter spilled from Xander's lips and Spike grinned. He was building a place for himself, right proper like. It was one he liked just well enough that he was thinking of keeping it and the one responsible for a good, long while.
Xander eyed Spike as they lugged the bags of groceries up to Giles' apartment. He hadn't intended to invite the vampire to the party, but it'd just happened. Spike had been there and he'd been decent about everything for a while now, especially this last week. Well, annoying but decent. Annoying in the kind of way Jesse had been. And wasn't that an odd thought? A vampire on the same level as his best friend since diapers. It'd been good though. There had been beer and pool, a scarily-mesmerizing OMG moment when he'd been dragged along for a round of kitten poker, and really bad TV marathons. It'd been fun. He'd had a blast and he hadn't felt like the dead-last, donut boy during any of it. Considering the whole homicidal, "I'll eat you/I'll stake you" thing that had been going on between them for the past few years, it was weird, but they ate weird with a side apocalypse in their Wheaties every morning; so maybe, for them, this was just another weird-normal, everyday thing. One that he kinda liked.
Giles answered the door, his eyebrow raising when he caught sight of Spike. Yeah. Spike celebrating Thanksgiving and being helpful really wasn't an expected happening, but...Xander shrugged not-quite apologetically. He had wanted the vampire there and Spike had seemed to want to come and help, so it worked out.
"Hey, Giles. We got the grocery shopping done. Spike helped pick the food, so I'm pretty sure nothing's rotten." He smiled, setting the bags he'd been holding down on the kitchen table. "Figured I'd go ahead and bring them by while I had the extra help."
Giles shook off his shock at seeing Spike being willingly helpful for a non-chaos oriented task and nodded. "Well, yes. His superior senses would be rather useful when picking out good quality food. It simply wasn't something I had considered."
Spike shrugged as he sat the rest of the bags down on the kitchen table next to the ones Xander had just deposited. "Yeah, well. The whelp invited me and if I'm gonna eat something then I want at least the ingredients to be decent."
Ignoring the implied slight to their cooking skills, Giles nodded and poked through the bags and separating out the selection of food. Squash, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, an apple pie, and of course a turkey. he paused when he came to a green and red can and held it up. Peppermint Hot Chocolate with extra marshmallows was scrawled across the can in fancy writing. "I suppose this is the after-dinner drink?"
Xander shrugged and turned to look out into the living room. "Didn't want it to be about the alcohol, so I skipped it," he muttered. Ducking his head slightly, he turned back around to face Giles and Spike. He hadn't explained why he'd vetoed anything resembling alcohol. Didn't really plan on explaining now. Straightening, he met Giles patient gaze. "Figured hot chocolate was a good compromise. I know at least Spike and I like it. And its chocolaty goodness. The girls won't turn it down."
Eyes widening slightly at the implications from what wasn't said, Giles smiled and dipped his chin in acknowledgment. "I've been known to enjoy a cup myself when the occasion warrants it. I think this is one such event."
"Cool. So where do you want these then? Spike and I can put stuff away if you tell us where." He threw a grin Spike's way and half-shrugged in apology, half-begged that the vampire go along with it.
Spike sighed and picked up the turkey. "I'll just stick this in the freezer, then. You owe me a game of pool for this, pet."
"Like we wouldn't be playing one anyway, blondie" he shot back with a grin and grabbed the bag of squash. "So, where's this go?"
"Squash and peas go in the crisper, if you will. Add the pie to the freezer as well, Spike. I'll see to anything that belongs in the cupboards."
"Spike," Xander called, wanting to check on how the vampire was doing with the mashed potatoes. "How goes the mashing mayhem?"
"Pretty good. Kinda like pureeing Gieken."
Xander paused and turned to him, not quite sure if he wanted to ask what Gieken was, only to catch a face full of potato bits as the blonde vampire gestured with the hand holding the blender. "Spike! Put the blender down. In the potatoes."
"Oops. Sorry 'bout that." Snatching a nearby rag, he offered it to Xander. "Here you go, pet."
"Thanks." After wiping off his face, he used the cloth to wipe off the rest of the counter. "Those almost done? They certainly seemed smooth enough. If they are then everything's ready. Giles has the turkey and everything else on the table. I'm done with this squash, so..."
Spike shrugged and dipped his fingers into the potatoes and held it out to him. "Have a taste and we'll see."
Xander stared at him, then his finger, and back to the blonde's face again.
Rolling his eyes, Spike waved the potato laden finger. "Go on, then. My hands are clean, so there's no vampire cooties for you to catch."
Taking, Spike's hand in his own, Xander watched the blue-eyed vampire as he licked off the potatoes and croaked out a, "It tastes fine." Letting go of Spike's hand, Xander grabbed his bowl of squash and headed towards the table, "You'll bring it in?"
"Yeah, I got this. You go on." Spike watched as Xander left the kitchen, before letting a slow smile spread across his face. Yep. He had this. Scooping up the bowl of potatoes, he strutted out of the kitchen and slid into his place beside Xander's chair and then plopped the food on an empty spot of table. This would be a holiday season to remember.
To be continued...
Index Fiction Gallery Links Site Feedback Story Feedback