Xander had hoped to first see the cave in daylight, but he was not sure why. Spike would never have seen it that way. Many small delays caused him to approach the remote cave just after sunset as the last orange faded from the sky. A tall villager moved to intercept him.
“You don’t want to go in there,” he said, not quite blocking Xander’s way.
Xander stopped and turned his head to better see the man with his one eye. “Maybe I don’t. Maybe I do. From what I understand, it’s for me to decide.”
The man gave a half bow and returned to his hut.
Xander crossed the last twenty feet and stopped outside the cave. He suddenly became aware of tiny things. His calves ached from walking in sand. He hated the way sweat got trapped under his eye patch. The moon where it hung huge and orange was a hair short of full. Children laughing sounded the same everywhere.
He sank down and sat cross-legged, staring into the darkness before him. He knew bits and pieces of what was inside. His research dug up the same enigmatic phrases and warnings over and over. One evening Spike had been amazingly lucid and had come into the kitchen and joined Xander where he was eating dinner. Without looking at his unwilling host, Spike had spoken of regaining his soul.
At times he was almost his old self, bragging about how he’d won challenges with strength and cunning. He told how he found the place, distantly, as if retelling a story. Then he would be cringing, listing his reasons, regretting hurting ‘the girl.’ Xander knew without asking that Spike meant Buffy. Then he had finally looked into Xander’s eyes and spoken to him in a one-on-one way that was rare for the two of them.
“Xander. Keep what you’ve got that’s good. But know when you have to fight for more.” Spike had abruptly stood, swirled on his coat, and was gone to wherever he went nights.
Now Xander sat, half way around the world from where he’d been born, and stared into a cave, which was rumored to contain all the wonders one could want if only one could face the horrors.
He couldn’t see the layers of paintings Spike had described. He had said they were many different styles and ages, as if victors or losers were leaving warnings and clues. It looked like any other cave in the world.
Xander thought about what he wanted.
Anya was gone. Dead. So very, very dead. No resurrection spell, saved life, or god’s wish available to bring her back. Tear up that character sheet, buddy, cause unless you’re willing to play in alternative dimensions, Anya was gone. Xander shook his head as the game of that last night colored his thoughts. Anya would have snickered at him for bringing his role playing into reality, then rolled another twenty saving throw like she had a knack for doing.
What would he say if she really did come back? “Hey Anya, I risked my life and soul to bring you back.”
“That’s sweet, Xander. Thank you for giving me a chance to finish moving on and to grow old, a rich and beautiful woman surrounded by pretty young men.”
Xander shook his head. He did not notice when the tall villager built a fire near by to hold off the cold of the African night.
Sunnydale. It was gone more cleanly than if
a meteor had hit it. ‘Cause if that had been the case, another ice age would be
here now. The place he’d lived his whole life, save a few months one summer,
had vanished in a matter of minutes. Everything he’d ever owned. The house he
grew up in. Everything his friends ever owned all gone. The tree he’d built a
fort in with Jessie. The theater where he’d seen Star Wars and a hundred
other movies. Buffy’s house.
True, his parents were out there somewhere, but he had no desire to connect with them. The disaster had given him a clean out, a reason to never seen them again.
He stared in the dark, seeing memories, images, places. Xander sighed and a bit of song ran through his head. “There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed, some forever not for better, some have gone and some remain.” The Beatles, he thought. Or Neil Young.
It was all just stuff. It was a small price to be rid of the Hellmouth forever.
Jessie. That was an old hurt. He and
His eye was gone. The optic nerve and muscles were so badly damaged that an artificial eye would never move, just stare blindly. They had popped in a sterile plastic orb to fill the vacancy and sewn his eyelids shut. Absently, Xander removed the eye patch and scratched where the band matted his hair. He ran his fingers over the sealed eye without thinking. Sometimes the hollow ball felt heavy or he imagined it was spinning in the cave of his eye socket. He hated being one-eyed. As much as he joked, he hated it.
As he stared into the darkness of the cave, he thought about all the pain and trouble Caleb’s thumb had caused him. He just knew the man would have had his other eye, too, had Spike not saved him. Forgotten, the patch swung from where he rested his hand on his knee, loosely holding the elastic band.
Spike. Spike was gone. Tears which had started flowing for Jessie became tears for Spike. The vampire had caused so much torment, yet done so much good. Spike could have gone anywhere in the world, yet he hung out after Buffy died, fighting the fight and protecting Dawn. Xander had thought of a hundred ways Spike could cause them harm over the years, even when his chip worked perfectly, yet no harm was ever done by the vampire. Suddenly, he knew what he wanted.
Xander stood, muscles aching from having sat on the sand all night. Again, he became aware of things around him. The eastern horizon was brightening. A rough blanket was around his shoulders. A fire crackled nearby, and he turned to see it tended by the tall villager. The man merely nodded at him and looked back to the fire. His bladder protested almost as loudly as his stomach.
Xander absently put his eye patch in place and stared into the cave as the light grew. No drawings were visible in the ruddy glow, and Xander turned away before more of the depths could be lit.
“Wait,” came a rough voice from within the cave. Xander’s back stiffened and he turned around. “You want something,” the voice like gravel being poured down a leather chute said.
Xander shrugged. “Everyone wants something.”
“You have… a regret.”
“Tell me it.”
Xander’s brow furrowed and he turned to look at the villager. “This rarely happens. My grandfather told of once when he was a small boy it happened. You may safely speak from out here. Do not cross into the cave unless you seek the challenges. Seek me out when you are done.” The man gracefully rose and vanished into a hut.
Xander turned back to the cave, letting the blanket slip from his shoulders. The sun had risen and bright morning light streamed in. Apparently the cave took a sharp turn some ten feet in, and Xander could see nothing within.
“You have come far and sat vigil bravely all night. You have considered things thoroughly and not rushed in. That is a rare thing with those who seek me. Few have the strength to turn away.”
“What will it cost me?” Xander knew better than to not be cautious.
“Nothing. Nothing’s your cost but the one breath it will take you to speak. Your gain may be worth your efforts.”
Xander closed his eye and scratched his head. The trivial part of his mind dictated a haircut soon. Then he stood tall and took one step toward the cave. “You want to hear my regret? My biggest regret. Okay. I regret not telling Spike how much I admire him.”
There was a pause. “Spike. The one who fought so bravely for his soul?”
“That’s our boy. He died saving the world, but I never told him how much I admired him. Even I have to admit he was mostly good before he got himself souled. And gee, how smart and strong you have to be to stay alive for a hundred and twenty plus years and not have big chunks gone…” Xander trailed off, feeling foolish.
“You will have your chance.”
“What? He died.”
“Go now. Know you are wise, and wait for your chance.”
Xander had the feeling of being turned away from. An attention he did not know was directed toward him disappeared. Left feeling puzzled about the demon’s declaration, but oddly pleased about the praise, Xander took one last look at the cave in daylight, and turned to find the villager.
Half way around the world, Spike hefted his axe in the rain, and charged into the fight.