We donít really get the words we use every day. Itís like the use of them over and over fades the original intent, like that orange shirt I had that faded after a couple of years of washing until it was near peach, and then I couldnít wear it any more cause, God forbid I wear a colour that might make people comment on the possibility that I had followed Larry down the path of sunshine and small pink flowers. So even though I loved that shirt and it had moulded itself to the perfect shape, I wouldnít even wear it at home just in case I saw me in it or something. I never threw it out though, it moved with me into the new apartment. Itís gone now, part of the mass grave in the desert that used to be home.

Okay, thatís not the point, though it might be kind of relevant later and I reserve the right to come back to it. What Iím trying to say is that when I tell you I was thirsty it just doesnít cut it. Thirsty is taking a fancy to a nice cool beer at the end of the day, or needing a soda to clear the taste of vamp and fear from the back of my throat at the end of patrol. Thirsty as a word or a description doesnít touch the bone deep need that drove me to drinking my own urine after four days of walking lost through African scrub at the edge of the dessert.

After the hold-up, I remember standing like the idiot I am watching my land rover disappearing into the distance, listening as they played my ĎBest of Countryí and wishing that I had made the damn guide take me after all. The guy had tried to tell me that this was a bad area but I just didnít get it. Those over-washed words again. I suppose that after so many years running from the big and slimy I found humans just didnít hit the same buttons on my 'scream now' wiring. Those guns kind of woke that. Big, dumb white guy just doesnít have the power to push the pause button on semi automatic weapons unless you are Ďthe oneí and that I wasnĎt. So Iím standing with a couple of litres of water, a lighter and my wallet and all I could think about was my ĎBest of Countryí and the one photograph of Anya that I had left tacked up on the windscreen so she could see where I was, and the fact that I had enjoyed the buzz of driving again after so long in countries where it wasnĎt allowed.

Shit, I was so stupid.

I started walking. Just kept doing the one foot in front of the other in the direction I had been driving. I figured if I stayed where I was, some bastard would come and steal the rest. Gotta admit I wasnít feeling too PC at that point. If Willow had heard me she would have given me the, 'Xander, Iím so disappointed' look, and then the long lecture on western capitalists' greed and the deplorable conditions our fellow man had to suffer in the Third World. I didnít give a good goddamn then; I was more interested in the deplorable conditions that I was suffering.

After the first night, I started gathering shrubs and whatever wood I could find as I walked along. I knew it was slowing me down, but that first night was so bad I would take the extra sun stroke if I didnít have to feel cold like that again. I remember bitching about the cold in England and again, have to say I was dumb. Yep dumb, one-eyed Jack here, because even after that night I was still whining about the car and the itch in my boots and the smuggled hostess goods I had stashed in the glove compartment. Even after that first night, where I was sure that I was going to freeze to death, I just didnít get that death was still a possibility. I didnít see that the possibility of being nothing more than a collection of bones and a fancy leather eye patch like a prop in The Goonies was a bigger probability than finding a village or handy American consulate, but then I donít see so well these days and no one has ever accused me of being intelligent.

On the fourth day, when I found myself pissing in the empty water bottle and licking my lips in anticipation, it started to sink in.

I was walking along a dry river bed. Youíre thinking that the reason I was doing this was in the hope of finding some hidden water under the top soil, or maybe a village close to the area, and okay, I did watch out for darker patches of dust. At one point I dug down with my hands and found some damp sand. I tried to see if I could suck the moisture out of it, but all I got was grit and the taste of days old sweat from where I tried to filter it through my shirt. The real reason I was following the riverbed was that it was all set out in front of me. I didnít have to think or choose a direction; the road was all set out and I could concentrate on talking to the invisible companions who were walking alongside me. Oh yeah, I had well in depth conversations with the over-boiled soup that was my own mind. At one point Snyder was walking alongside me, hands in his pockets, just strolling along like he was out for a walk around the school before all the kids came to spoil the neat and tidy. I knew I was in trouble when he seemed kind of nice; he was talking about the value of bleach versus antibacterial spray and how much it took to clean the boyís toilets every week. He told me that using bleach on the human mind to clean out the memories that we want to dump was much more financially viable than the spray. I kind of missed him when he went, but by then everything hurt like I had been playing Mr Puffy-suit and I wanted my mom so I wouldnĎt look too concerned about it. The fact that I missed Snyder is just a teeny tiny indication of how screwed I was.

See, the sun out here is more than just rays of heat. Itís a weight; a great Atlas boulder of air that sits on your shoulder, sucking every touch of moisture until all that is left is salt and dust. So even though you think you should be lighter without all that water to carry around, youíre not. You have a weight of dust and air that slows you until every step is as difficult as algebra. I was dragging along firewood as well, so I would stagger from one side of the bed to the other, like watching my parents try to get from the car to the house after the weekly visit to Uncle Roryís.

There were some scrubby plants alongside the riverbed. They had a weird little fruit like thing, and I thought that maybe they would have juice, or if I dug up the root I could suck out whatever water they had. The first time I went for one, five year old Willow appeared in front of it, shaking her head. She was frowning and wearing our first grade teacherís glasses. She asked me to look around for bird or animal poop. I remember telling her that I didnít have the time for a lesson right now, but that I promised to listen in just a minute. Every time I tried to get past her she would move and stand in front of me, until I got so confused by the dodging about and her resolve face that I finally gave in. I couldnít find any signs of animals anywhere. We went from plant to plant until I finally gave up and asked her why we were doing this. She said that I couldnít eat anything the animals wouldnít; if a bird that lived here all the time thought the plants were bad to eat then they would most probably be really bad for a Xander who was only visiting. I remember trying to cry, so dried up and confused and tired and sick and not able to cry because I didnít have the water to spare. I just stood in the middle of the trail unable to work out which foot to use next and Ďwantedí.

Then Jesse came.

He was the one who told me about the pee drinking. When we were kids, we used to watch this show about people who got stuck on boats or up mountains or on dry riverbeds in the middle of Africa. On one show, this guy got stranded on a boat and ended up having to drink his own piss. Jesse and I had laughed then, completely grossed out, and the two of us had sworn that we would never do anything like that. We would come up with some cool way of catching rainwater, or signalling for help. We sure as hell wouldnít drink our own piss, or if we did we wouldnít tell anyone about it.

I miss being that innocent.

Jessie was cool. He just grinned and we did the pinkie swear that he wouldnít tell anyone ever, but as he couldnít think of a cool way of finding water or signalling for help right now, well, the drinking of the yellow seemed the only way to go. He stayed with me all the way to nightfall that day. He made a lot of jokes at my expense, but I was so happy to see him and be up and walking that I didnít mind too much. I missed him when he went; I didnít see him again after that.

Africa is beautiful, but there is no way for me to tell you or show you what I mean. I could show you all the slides in the world, or go get an education and roll out all the fancy words I can find, but it wouldnít touch the truth of the place. It goes beyond anything I knew. IĎve spent so much time with the super that I never got the natural. Africa has a heartbeat; not in a creepy, ĎRosemaryís babyí heartbeat in a jar kind of way, but in a Ďthis is the beat the earth moves byĎ. Itís just that we spend so much time worrying about what clothes we are going to wear, or if we will get a date, or building stuff on top of it that we canít hear it; we muffle the sound and run too fast to realise that there is a rhythm. All we have to do is just listen. I finally got it that last night. I knew I was going to die; it took me a long time to build the fire, even longer to just get the lighter out of my pocket. When I got it started, I lay down and looked at the stars. I thought that, if I had the energy to just lift my arm, I could have touched them. I was going to die and I was okay with it. I was somewhere beautiful, and when I went I would go knowing that I had come to understand stuff that most people would never imagine. I got to thinking about the hyena; I had so repressed the whole Principal eating time that I didnít see that I had lost the good with the bad. She was so free of all the weird stuff we call social constraints. She had the basic knowledge of where she stood pre-programmed and the rest was just life, feeding and birth and death. She was a small glimpse of what Africa is, though Iím not saying it right. I canít; itís like someone trying to learn to be a doctor from reading the backs of cereal boxes and I canít teach you what you have to learn by yourself.

I guess it took me a long time but I finally understand the dream Spanish.

I fell asleep imagining that animals like the Hyena would get to live another few weeks from me. Instead of disappearing into a grave, I would vanish into Africa herself. I would get to become part of her instead of just being a visitor. Then I got to thinking about blood, and that if I caught one of those animals how good the blood would taste on my tongue; how wet. I fell asleep thinking about blood and realising that if Spike was there he would laugh his ass off.

I was wrong about that, the laughing. He looked more pissed than anything but then, considering that I was sure I was dreaming and refused to follow him, that can be understood. Like I said, I fell asleep thinking of being dead and getting eaten, to become a part of the chain of life and drinking blood and whatever, and hey, considering I had just spent days staggering through Africa talking to Snyder and drinking bodily fluids not meant to be drunk, well, I think I should get a pass on the exasperation.

Something had woken me. I remember looking at the fire and wondering why it was so high, then kind of panicking and looking around for animals that would possibly find Xander edible. I didnít mind being eaten after the fact, but having something take a bite before I was finished with the body parts, well, that was a little too Sunnydale for my tastes.

There was something moving on the other side of the fire, something that was not me or a shadow. The moon was full, and outside the light thrown by the fire, everything was clear in that blue wash that full moon without pollution gives. The way it moved was feline. I would just get glimpses and then it would smooth away again, just become part of shadow until I wasnít sure if I had seen movement at all. It took a lot of work to sit up. I was tired and everything hurt like syphilis. In the end I had to compromise and, with trusty burning branch in one hand, I crawled around to the other side of the fire. Which was weird, because I was pretty sure that when I built it the damn thing was too small to have another side. When I got there, I dropped the branch and fell face first into the dirt. I guess laughing so hard after days without water is where they got the term died laughing.

Spike was sitting, crossed legged, in front of the fire, swaying to something only he could hear, and wearing a skirt.

Okay, not a skirt like the girls would wear. It was one of those traditional wraps that you see men often wear in the smaller villages, but still, after everything that had happened I couldnít understand what my heat stroke version of Spike was doing dressed like that. He just sat there with that, Ďoh, you plonkerí expression, and if anyone can tell me what that means you can, because itís one of those words that have always driven me nuts, but I would rather claw out my other eye than give him the satisfaction of asking.

I didnít have the strength for the level of hysteria that the sight truly deserved. I was too tired to keep laughing. In the end, I just lay there hiccupping and looked at him. He was different from all my other visitors; they had all looked like I remembered them. Half naked, skirt wearing Spike with mud caked curly hair I can honestly say I had never seen before. He was the colour of bleached wood, and no matter how close he sat to the fire the blue of the moon never left his skin. I suppose that should have told me that more than my imagination was at work.
He never spoke, just did that annoying head tilt thing and looked at me, like he couldnít decide if he was fascinated or disgusted. I found myself trying to straighten up, brushing off dust as if I could influence what side he came down on. As if I cared. I suppose, if Iím honest, I always did. Care, I mean. If I didnít, he wouldnít have been able to make me so mad with just a look. If I didnít feel something, his constant cheap shots wouldnít have stung so much.

He just watched me for a while, then he flowed upwards and yeah, I know, flowed, kind of flowery for me, but thatís what it was. He didnít go through the separate motions that we do to get from sitting to standing, nor did he suddenly go from sitting to standing in a blink. He flowed, like water pouring the wrong way; though perhaps I just had water on the brain, but I canít think of a better word right now. Then he started to walk away. He looked over his shoulder to see if I was following, and when he saw I wasnít he kind of frowned and tilted his head. He didnít speak, but I knew what he was saying. I could almost hear the Ďcome on, Harris, I donít have all nightí. I stayed where I was. I had had a long day and the thought of following a Spike apparition away from the safety of the fire just didnít seem like a good idea. Also, after he did the flowing thing, I didnít want to have to feel him watch as I struggled like something caught in a tar pit just to get to my knees. We had a long, silent argument, and then he came back and crouched before me and smiled.

The night after we held the service for those we lost in Sunnydale, I was so caught in my regrets for Anya that I didnít really connect with much of what was said. The drink was strong, and to tell the truth I didnít really want to hear little anecdotes about people I didnít know or didnít want to. I do remember Dawnie and Buffy talking about Spike, talking about the way he would smile sometimes and they could almost see someone different, someone quiet and wise looking out. At the time I snorted to myself and took another shot, but that night, when he came back and crouched in front of me, I saw what they meant. I saw why they trusted him so much, and considering that the world is here and not in hell I figured it didnít really matter exactly where I became part of the chain of life, so with some struggle and a generous loss of dignity I got up and followed.

We walked along the riverbed and rounded a corner until I could no longer see the glow of the fire when I looked back. I spent most of the time stumbling over loose rock and tired legs trying to keep up with the thing glowing just ahead of me. And yeah, I do mean glowing. Not in a bright light from heaven kind of way, but more like the phosphorescence you get from those rocks or fish that have spent so long in the dark they produce their own light to spite it. We walked until a tree, long dead but still standing, could be seen on the scrublands to the right of the bed. Spike looked back to be sure I was following then he turned towards the tree, and like Timmy down the well I followed my Lassie. I remember hearing the theme tune to Ď The littlest Hoboí start in my head at this point and the giggles almost brought me to my knees. He just looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes, but he waited for me to straighten up before he started walking again. It was when we got to the tree that the weird really began.

Spike waited for me, then he pointed to a rock in the distance. He waited until he was sure I knew what he was pointing at then he turned to the tree and traced an arrow, pointing to the rock. It was just a light brush of finger, but when he brought his hand away I could smell wood smoke and the arrow had been burnt into the very trunk of the tree. When I touched it, it was still hot. He stepped away from me when I went to look at his hand, and then I understood or thought I did. I was dead and Spike was coming to take me to hell. I thought that, maybe if I stayed where I was, I would be okay; eventually someone from above would see me and take pity. He just watched me for a while then tilted his head to the sky and sighed. It was weird; I couldnít see his mouth move but his voice was clear and he said, ĎHarris, a greater gift gives no man than his life for anotherĎ. I didnít get what he was talking about until he lifted a flat pebble and burned a cross on the very stone with his finger. He smiled at me again and pressed the crucifix into the skin of his hand. When he pulled the stone away his hand was untouched.
He gave me the stone. I remember holding it tight all that night. I still have it on a piece of rawhide around my neck.

When we got to the big rock, he pointed me to a small series of rock hills then burned another arrow into the stone. From the hills, we went to another dry riverbed, which we followed to a curve. At the curve I could see the lights of humanity and the sounds of dogs.

When he saw that I had registered where we were he nodded, and the next thing I knew we were back at the fire. Three times altogether, that night, he took me to each point, making sure that I touched his arrow at every marker. When he was sure I could find my way, he brought me back to the fire.

I could see that he was going to go and leave me. He had never spoken to me or even touched my hand, but I knew that he was more than the ghosts my mind had created to keep me company along the way and I really didnít want him to go. By now pride was a distant memory and I found myself almost pleading with him to stay. He looked at me then checked the fire and, kneeling down, put his arms around me and kissed me. And yes, we are talking a true, peach shirt-wearing kiss. I almost drank him; I had been without touch for so long that being held was more than I could cope with. I came back to myself with my head buried in his neck, holding him so tight that if he had stayed I would have seen the bruises form. He let me pull away and, sitting on his knees, looked back at the fire before checking the sky, then he turned and grinned at me and, reaching over, brow slapped me really hard.

And then I woke up.

I woke up in the pre dawn, cold, sporting a woody and clutching the stone he had given me so hard it had left a crease on my palm. I gotta admit that I found myself kind of proud of little Xander for managing to acquit himself so well in such trying circumstances. I got to my feet and started to walk. Before nightfall I had found the village and was being taken to the closest hospital. They said it was a miracle I had survived. They said it was a miracle I had even found the village at all. If I had stayed on the same riverbed I would have found nothing but more scrub and sand and death.

Two weeks later I found my slayer and called to let you guys know that I was okay and she was on her way. I guess people would wonder why I didnít just say screw it and come back, but I was tired of failing; I was tired of only reaching for what I thought I could touch. That night, looking at the stars, I hoped for something without realising that I could and it came, in strange packaging, yes, but then the best surprises usually are. Africa and me came to an understanding; I learned to listen to her and she adopted me as her own. If I honour her she will continue to keep me safe.

It was with Talia that I realized more was going on than I thought. It took me a long time to pick up the different languages that change from region to region. Some towns you can have up to five or six languages being spoken at one time. I had figured that I was just good at picking up what the girls I found were trying to say. I thought that, hey, after all those years with different ogly bogglies grunting at me I could communicate without words, but Talia didnít speak. She had escaped from Rwanda with other refugees when she was a child. She had no hands or legs and she couldnít speak; yet in my head I could hear her. It was like I knew exactly what her voice would sound like. Often, it was screaming; just this long, tired, frustrated wail. To the people around her she was worthless. She had been so badly abused that children were unlikely. She couldnít work or breed or speak. She certainly couldnít slay. All she could do was go quietly mad and accept the food shovelled into her mouth twice a day. But I could hear her. I could almost see her dreams. Her yearning was like a paste in the back of my throat and for days I wondered around freaking, until I'd had enough and drove out to the bush to camp away from everyone for a while.

That was the second night, he came.

It was different this time. I wasnít asleep, just sitting before the fire with my head in my hand trying to work out what was happening to me and what I was going to do with Talia. I heard a slight sound and when I looked up, there he was, sitting cross-legged before me doing that swaying thing. I must have been gaping because he smiled and reached over to push my mouth shut with a snap sharp enough to echo through my teeth. I was so happy to see him, but now I wasnít dying I couldnít let him see that so I tried to be aloof, cool. I think he saw me for the sophisticate I am when I reached over and hugged him hard enough to smother. He didnít seem to mind, just did that head tilt thing and looked at me as I cleared my throat and wondered how the NFL was faring, and babbled about everything that was going on like the big manly man I am.

When I finished we were sitting just looking at each other for a time, then he did that thing with his eyebrow, which I'm sure is an English thing. You use a million big words to describe an egg but only twitch a few well placed muscles to make a point. and yes, the twitching muscles is something else I will come back to. But right then, with the eyebrow, he was kind of saying, you finished? Then he reached and just touched my ears. I couldnít get what he was saying; I couldnít get why he wasnít saying more. The Spike I knew never shut up. Even when he was crazy he just created more voices to compensate and this silence pissed me off. He just let me rant, then got up and rummaged through my bag and brought back an old pair of sneakers. I remember sitting there looking at him and thinking that he had spent way too much time with Buffy. Here I was, dealing with these huge life on balance issues and he was making commentary on my footwear.

He didnít wear any shoes, just the dusty wrap with some runes stitched on it, and okay, I know the runes are something you might find important but hey, I was a little more interested in telling Spike that he could have the sneakers but they would be at least three sizes too big.

I always forget that you know. I think we all forget how little he is. When I hugged him, in a manly way, of course, my arms were able to wrap right around him with space to spare. I think Dawn would be bigger than him, now. He just gave me a look and I could hear him say Ď big where it matters, mateí. Then he threw the sneakers at me to pull on and started to walk.

So weíre back to the wandering around Africa at night, me with my trusty sneakers and him doing his night light impression. We got well out into the bush and then he turned to me and grinned, and the next thing I knew I was holding a spear and running after a small herd of African Dik-dik. Everything was in fast motion, just the sound of the grass slashing past as we ran after the deer. The terrain was throbbing under me like a David Lynch movie only without the scary. It felt right, good; there was nothing else in the world but Spike, the deer and the land under my feet. Every step I took was in perfect time with the beat of the air around me, everything just snapped into sync. I released the spear and hit the doe that Spike had cornered from the herd and, as the spear struck home, all other sounds but the breath of the land disappeared. Spike looked at me then changed into grr face and began to drain the deer. I could hear its heart beat; I could hear the animal's panic and slow acceptance. That throbbing got louder and louder and I started to grey out a little; not concussion, more like the time Oz got that really good pot and we lost hours just staring at the van ceiling. I sat down and closed my eyes to try and clear my head. When I opened them again we were back at the fire. Spike was stretching hide on a wooden frame, the deer was on a spit and I got what he had been telling me.

I had just learned how to listen.

I know, motor mouth learning how to shut up and hear whatís being said for a change, but thatís all it was. Not some demon infection or compensation for my lost eye. Iím still one hundred percent human, no super stuff here. I think I just tapped into something any human could if they bothered to stop and try. The night I almost died I had seen it. I had finally clicked on to the knowledge that the planet we spend so much of our lives saving was more than just a ball of rock, but when I got better I forgot. I guess the Sunnydale syndrome finally kicked in after all these years. Spike says that we forget our pains and fears because we have too. If we remembered every scratch and hurt with complete clarity we would never leave the womb. I just kind of threw the baby out with the bath water.

That night I had woken a part of me up that had been sleeping for a long time, or as Mr Salterson, my eight grade wood shop teacher used to say, I had expanded myself to my fullest potential. We only use a tiny part of our brains. Whoís to say the same doesnít go for our other body parts? I had a long talk with Spike about maximisation of body part usage and I realise you probably donít need to hear about that conversation. So let's just say that the Viking is still performing to his utmost potential and move onÖ though thinking that potential is not the word I want to be using; it brings back too many memories of nubile young schoolgirls. Ah, stopping now. See, thatís what happens when I spend time getting de-briefed by Andrew and yes, I know, that is another unfortunate collection of words.

I was surprisingly okay with the whole hearing thing, didnít freak out at all and if Spike tries to say different, those earplugs were just to prevent flies from crawling in.

I. Did. Not. Freak.

After many years of hellmouth living, the sudden ability to hear people's thoughts and see the dead undead didnít faze me at all. I dealt. A few days running around the bush humming with my hands over my ears and some fist shaking at the sky and I was A-OK. That didnít help with Talia though. I still didnít know what was the best thing to do for her. I was worried that taking her away from what she knew would do more harm than good. Back then, the council was just getting to its feet and we had enough trouble with the healthy slayers. I spent a couple of sleepless nights before I made my decision, and as long as the fire burned, Spike stayed with me.

See, thatís the catch, and I know you are rolling your eyes in impatience that I havenít got to this sooner, but I can only tell this in order so hold on to your Ďgood lordsí okay?

Spike is some kind of higher, vamp fire element secret, doing his amends kind of hybrid thingy. He says he can tell me only what I need to know, though just between you and me I donít think he knows much more himself, or if he does he doesnít really understand it.

Things have changed but there are still rules. He can walk in sunlight though it never seems to affect him much; he never really loses the touch of blue from that first night. He still has the vamp face and the soul which, well good, or I would be a dead Xander, but heís tied to fire. If I feed the fire and keep it burning he can stay, but once it goes out he is gone. I donít know where he goes when he does the disappearing act. That, he wonít tell me but I think itís somewhere nice, he always gets a little smile when I ask him.

I found a witch doctor in Burundi who figured out how to keep an ember burning in an amulet. Itís activated by a spell so I donít have to stop and light a fire every time I want to see him, and it means that if Iím travelling in less than safe zones I have a guide and guard all rolled into one. Also itís nice having someone who actually understands my pop culture references, even if he does shake his head and call me a tit for some of my lamer puns. He canít get too smug though, he may call me a twat but he is a big dork as well for knowing what Iím taking about in the first place.

Heís not mine though. Well he is, but not in the genie in a bottle, Iíve just caught a leprechaun kind of way. He comes and goes, as he wants. He gets jittery if we spend too long in cities or heavily populated areas, which is funny all by itself. Spike not liking the bright lights of the big cities. I suppose if you saw the kind of light that Spike has seen, you'd find the glare of electricity painfully false.

Iím going too far forward here. Iím not like Will or Dawn; the coherency thing is a beautiful myth for me.


God, I struggled so hard with this then it just clicked, I hate that. Itís like when you spend hours trying to fix the TV only to find that you forgot to switch it on at the plug. I couldnít just send her to you guys. She needed one on one and I think the trauma of flying back to England would have been too much for her. I got talking to a couple of missionaries that knew of a private hospital in a better-developed part of Kenya. It was expensive but she would get the best of care. They would teach her how to read and write, help her with counselling and perhaps one day she would be able to break out of the cage her body had become. When the slayer designated to that area is sent I will make sure that part of her duties is to bond with Talia. Buffy lasted so long with the help of friends; Taliaís duty can be giving another slayer a reason for sticking around.

I found it so hard looking at all the others who were going to be left. I felt guilty that I was only helping one of the dozens, who were as bad, if not worse. Spike said I had to look after my own tribe first. I wasnít bloody Bob Geldof. I had a job to do and if I kept thinking the way I was I would get lost, not seeing the wood for the trees.

He still mixes his metaphors. He is still a pain in the butt and he still slaps you over the head with harsh, tactless accuracy.

I left a hefty chunk of change with the missionaries in Kenya. I didnít think you would mind; we all work for the good of humanity. Those guys just deal with the aftermath of the human monsters.

I started to really enjoy Africa, then. Every day I would check the Willow map and go looking for a new slayer, and then at night I would light a fire and spend time with Spike. Donít get me wrong, we still snarled and bitched at one another like two girls fighting over the last dress on sale, but we had spent so much time together by now that it was comfortable. In a way my tent only felt like home after I had the evil undead sharing the bathroom so to speak. He is so much easier to live with the third time around. There are no towels for him to leave lying on the floor and that was a major bone of contention out of the way. At first he stayed away when I had a slayer on board, but after a lion attack in Tanzania when I had the eleven year old twins to care for he stayed to help and then it just became the norm for him to be there when I picked up the new ones. I know you have written before to ask about ĎXander's ghostí and I kind of blew it off. Iím sorry about that but I needed time to sort out some things myself. For a long time there was a part of me that worried that he wasnít real or was some kind of evil fake. See, the slayers didnĎt react like he was a demon. They trusted him on sight. The younger ones treated him like he was a skinny, snuggle bunny. In certain villages the elders practically treated him like a god, and if you are trying to imagine how puffed up he got in those situations multiply it by a thousand and you still wouldnĎt come close. I didnít want to tell you about him only to have you send back a reasonable explanation that meant he wasnít real or worse. I really didnít want you asking other questions because by that time the thing between us was becoming more than brotherly love unless, of course, you live in an area where your bald, toothless younger brother likes to play the banjo at gas stations.

It wasnít until I went to LA a few months back to meet up with Andrew for a quick meet and slayer handover that every thing just slid into place. I saw Deadboy and he just knew. He actually grabbed me and sniffed, which okay gross, but the look on his face was worth it. Especially when I used the amulet and Spike appeared in front of him. I gotta tell you that was a relief, his appearing I mean. When I left Africa I was terrified that Spike wouldnít be able to leave or the amulet wouldnít work from so far away, like it could lose the signal. Or worse case scenario, I would find out for sure that he was just a figment of my sun boiled imagination, but Angel saw him. Angel with his vamp family blood connection knew him, and considering the frowning angsting growls, I was pretty convinced.

The LA crew was fascinated by him, they couldnít wait to get him into the labs. I thought Spike would baulk but he seemed to enjoy the attention, especially as he could see how much Angel hated all the fuss. By the third day, though, I could see him getting jittery and I have to admit I was ready to get home as well. They could only confirm what Spike had told me in the first place, that he is some sort of elemental demon construct.

By all accounts heís an anomaly; he shouldnít exist. A vampire that has merged with a fire element should cancel itself out but Spike being Spike... well, you know. As Angel said, one thing you can count on Spike to do is the opposite of what he should. They think it has something to do with the amulet and the way he died. I donít know or care about the details, really, I was just happy to have real other people proof that he was there at all.

It was in LA that I found out for sure that I was still human.

Angel acted all cool, keep to the shadows guy, but I think deep, deep down he was happy to see Spike again, though he may have just been trying to hide the bubonic looking burns on his face from the fight where Spike used his ET finger. Watching the two of them roll across the floor, hearing DeadboyĎs little yelps each time Spike poked him, was worth a thousand Mastercards. By the end of the visit all Spike had to do was threaten to stick his hands in the big guy's hair and silence reigned. You cannot imagine how smug that made him. After all these years he finally has one up on the Sire. I didnĎt begrudge him the smirk time, and it meant he couldnĎt pout at me too much for not completely taking his word that he wasnĎt some freaky remnant of the first evil. I suppose that, outside of Drusilla, they are the closest to family that they have. A hundred years from now, when we are all dust, they will probably have only each other, and after losing Cordelia, Angel probably feels that it is best to hold on to what youíve got, no matter who it is.

I get that.

When we got back we started off in Libya, and Spike vanished for a week. I think he figured I was okay for a while and he needed to go wherever it is he goes to deal with the spending of so much time with smog and peopled civilisation again. He pulled his usual appearing act as I was crossing into Algeria. One moment it was just me and Patsy Kline, the next the CD is a distant flash in the rear mirror and Iíve got the re-incarnation of King Tut rummaging around the glove box, stealing my last bar of chocolate.

Things should have gone right back to the way they were before, just taken up were we left off but they didnít. I was jittery. Babbling, hyper-aware of him, whereas he was just himself. But every now and again he would give me this look, as if I had disappointed him or changed my mind about something my mind had never set itself on in the first place, and sometimes he would glance at the ember around my neck as if he was afraid I would decide to blow it out forever.

It was all on me. Another big Atlas boulder on my shoulder, only the sun looked better and every time I looked out the window I was aware of the space where Anyaís picture had sat in the old Rover and I was more comfortable with the denial, and the pretending that those times of touching were just plain old innocent brushes of manly, hearty goodness. After LA, that thing we had been happily ignoring started to raise its head and roar. I mean, just because there was a space opened up didnít mean we had to park in it.

Words are not my friends.

In Ghana we didnít have time for prancing about like catholic schoolboys whoĎve just worked out why shoes came in two's not threeĎs, as Spike would say. We had a slayer who made Faith look like the poster girl for world sanity. Actually thatĎs wrong. This girl knew exactly what she was doing, she enjoyed it and, okay, I get that being born a woman in a strict Muslim family may not be the best lot in life but there are other ways to deal. By the time we found her things had already got messy, and yeah, thatís in the literal sense. This girl could have given Anyanka in her heyday a run for her money. We offered her a way out; a ticket to England and all the therapy she could want.

She left her brother's testicles in the glove box.

I still find myself looking at bleach with yearning when I think of the sound of her voice in my head.

Spike says she took the slayer dreams and used them to her advantage, only unlike the rest of her sisters she emulated the vampires. We played cat and mouse for weeks, only realising when it was almost too late that we were the mice. We buried her in the Digya national park; I couldnít face red meat for a month after.

I had spent most of my time up to then inland but after, we drove down to Elmina and spent days at the water. It seemed like I was going to be fine. Spike said little, just stayed with me, watching as I tried to wash away what wasnít there any more. We camped near the coast and played tourist for a few days, then I got spectacularly drunk and acted like a complete bastard. The expression on his face when I asked him how it felt to take down his third slayer sobered me up pretty quick. He didnít leave though, just let me rant then held me through the next few nights as I wondered how many girls we were going to have to bury in the coming years. How many people were going to die because we gave power to those who were never supposed to hold it?

Iím not like Buffy or Will or even Faith. If Spike hadnít been here it would have been chunks'o'Xander and for the first time I started to wonder if we had really done the right thing.

Very few places are strong enough to hold a slayer if she doesnít want to be held. Considering the alternative what makes us any better than the old Council? That seems harsh, but the term wet-works has taken hold on my brain like a big slimy wetÖthing and now Iím thinking you guys have already thought of this side of things and mister techno-touch-it-break-it-here just missed the memo, yeah? That techno clumsy thing being the reason that my contact has been a little less than regular. Itís not that Iím avoiding you guys or deliberately trying to leave out stuff you might find important, and hey, did you know that they still have nomads out here?


Procrastination is my middle name. Well no, not really, but wouldnít it be cool if it was? Cool and charmingly accurate.

Iíve been tiptoeing around a subject with big heavy dance around the bush boots. I guess I have been hoping that you would pick up the gist of things without me having to come right out and say it, but if I keep with the coy you might get the impression that Iím ashamed and Iím not. Also, as Spike would say, Ďif I canít say it Iím not ready to do ití and I am ready. Well, considering the doing weíve been doing Iím long past ready so even though I know you are pleading with me not to say it, I gotta disappoint.

Spike and I are a couple.

Donít go grabbing your gourd just yet. Iím not possessed, itís not a spell nor am I being taken advantage of in my grief, so leave the glasses alone and step away from the books.

Itís just that listening thing again, though this time I was finally listening to myself.
Out here, everything is flipped over like those old maps where people actually fall of the end of the world. Most of my life I avoided the dark. We saw patches of sunlight as safe zones, as if that would keep us alive, making the dark the bad guy, but in Africa you look for the shade, life congregates in shadow. You feel that old safe now buzz at twilight when it used to be dawn because the planet itself is more dangerous than anything supernatural could throw at you. I think that was the hardest for me to connect; that the dark wasnít bad, that just because things used to be a certain way didnít mean that they always would be. When I got that switch, when the understanding that shadow had its own security finally hammered its way into my thick skull, things got a lot easier, and I realized that I wasnít going to fall of the edge of the world if I kept walking where I hadnít before.

For a long time my life was that riverbed. I just kept following what was all set out. I didnĎt have to make choices outside what brand of generic soap I was going to pick that week. I followed what I knew without thinking that it would be okay to pick my own direction, plugging for the normal life. The job, wife, picket fence and two point kids who would have grown up hating me. And like that damned riverbed, I would have ended up dead. Not in the literal sense, but in my heart I would have just been another drone. I took the courage to trust and found safety in the desert; I had to step out of that track in my mind as well. I got it. I suppose I found myself in a weird Simba following Scar kind of way, and okay, perverting Disney movies with Elton John theme tracks not helping my I-swear-Iím-not-possessed case here, but hey, the theme music is a perversion all of its own.

When I look back to the time before, I canít remember being happy; I mean, really happy. I guess I was always playing catch up. A part of me still wonders if Willow and I hadnít come as a pair would I even know you guys now? Spike says I was the reason Buffy fought, that I represented humanity at its best and worst, that we didnít fight and struggle and die to save the world for the witches or slayers but for the humans, and my place was reminding you all why you fought, and thatís cool, I get that. But no one really wants to be the mascot. In our hearts of hearts we want to be the guy scoring the touchdowns and cheerleaders. Most times no one even remembers the guy in the mascot costume's name. Iíve got someone now who sees me as the quarterback. I donít come in as the add on or the irritating friend who makes stupid remarks and calls for pizza. I have someone who will never forget my name or use me as just another tick on a life list.

I wondered if Willow had done the gay me up spell, but Spike had laughed and said why would she fix what hadnít been brokenÖbastard.

Itís not the sweeping, dewy-eyed love of romance novels and bad TV movies; we are too much ourselves for that. There are still mornings when I wake up surprised to see him there, and I know that he has just as many flashes of panic that the whole thing is going to fall down around us as I do. Weíve seen too much to want the fairy tale ending. We would probably fight over who gets to be the prince and who the horse, and to be honest we know that most fairy tales end in someone getting something cut off with medieval weaponry and hey, been there, wearin' the eye-patch.

Sometimes I imagine some bored god flipping us like coins. Heads for hate, tails for love, and a part of me will always be waiting for the next flip. But until then Iím here and its not just for the company. It is big heart slamming, I canít get enough of him, ticking bomb clock love. I love him more than I could ever have dreamt of hating him and I know by every glance that he feels the same.

Heís still Spike, though; the sacrificial goat act didnít change him where it matters. Heís no angel, which considering the thudding punnage is a good thing. There are differences. Yeah, sometimes itís like living with a cross between a Ritalin deprived toddler and Buddha and, okay I love him, but he is far from perfect. He can be murderously annoying, he hogs the covers and picks his teeth with left over animal bones, he constantly messes with the radio, and for all his Iím-so-cool-now-that-I-have-become-some-weird-vamp-resurrected-fire-element-guy he giggled like a kid for a day after we saw some giraffes mating. He dips Twinkies in blood and knows all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody. He refuses to wear anything other than that sarong and true, he looks strange in anything else these days, but it doesnít help me not look like a white slaver when Iím trying to get a young girl papers out of the country. He found some weird herb and threw it on the fire in Morocco and I still have very disjointed memories of dancing girls, a basket of chickens and a gong. He sneers at my language attempts, curses every time I touch a map and laughs at my various beard experiments. If we have a fight he has the crazy-making habit of disappearing just as I have the perfect put down, and God, I canít tell you about the sulkingÖbut he makes me laugh every single day and he looks at me like Iím the only person he can see or wants to. He makes me happy and with him I know Iím loved for me, I donít have to change or achieve, he will go with me no matter what way I step.

When I asked him why he came and why he stayed he just said, ďYou wanted.Ē

I know that this is not exactly what you were expecting when you asked for this report, but hey, the reason you sent the Dictaphone was because the written appeared in code, right? And I write like I think so the talking isnít going to be any better organised, but at least you canít see the spelling mistakes. I can hear the Oh dear lord from here, and no thatís not my new listening skills, itís just experience. But I kind of wanted to tell you first that Iíve fallen out of the closet, and even though you might not like the coat I happen to be wearing Iím hoping you are going to at least understand. Considering all the years that you and I were joint presidents of the let's stake Spike coalition, I donít expect you to swing out the barbecue for the fatted calf, but I donít want you to feel like I betrayed you or let you down. I remember how Will reacted after the Cordelia exposure and hey, maybe that mess should have given me a clue, huh?

Hereís hoping Iím not doomed to repeat.

I lost so much time with Anya. I screwed up so bad with the not having the courage to come clean about how I felt. With Spike we canít lie, we hear each other too well, sometimes way too well. But with Anya, all that time I lost when she was back to Anyanka, all those minutes and days when she thought that she was alone, when I didnít tell her that I was still her friend, that I still loved herÖ
That chewed at me for a long time.

I donít want anyone I care about to feel like that because of me again. I think Spike knows that I love him, not just the human part but all of him and hey, love you too. Not the sleeping bag aerobics kind of love, but big smooches, please donít be pissed at my sins of omission, love.

Pretty smart, sending me this thing. Iíve ended up saying more than I had meant to when I started, but then that was maybe the point. Itís probably for the best considering you are coming out here next month; it will save you the heart attack when you are met by mini Mowgli and me.

So, okay huh, this is kind of like leaving messages on the answering machine; I never know what to say to finish up. I suppose in the past it was more big monster chasing me! We never did have much time to figure out the niceties of this talking to air. So see you next month, give everyone my love. Or if you want to spare me a job and share the news, give them our love.

Iíll let you get to the whiskey, then.






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