IN AFRICA AND L.A.
Africa was hot. Always. Even the nights, though they cooled mightily with the absence of the sun. Those used to the heat of the day would catch chills, but Xander had been here so long, the nights lost their magical ability to freeze. They just seemed to swelter. Sticky, moist, silent, but oh so loud in nature. His eye closed on the noises of the night. The far off roar of lions, the trumpeting of elephants on the Serengeti. Whinnying of zebras and the myriad of other more human, less humane sounds. Sounds of people dying slowly of disease, of famine, of war. The sharp report of a rifle in the distance, and he knew some other poor insurgent had bit it. Funny how he could still think in American lexicon. Ahh, sometimes his time on the Hellmouth with Giles and Willow - hell even Spike - shocked him with how much he soaked up from them. Lexicon? Who’da thunk it?
Home for about nine months now, Africa surrounded the young man, eclipsing the memories of sun and sand, of nights filled with dust and blood, shrieks and pants of the good fight. Peace was to be had here, peace and emptiness. Memories were not his friends any longer. He rested, still, on the hammock in the hut where he was staying. His current mission, and he did choose to accept it, was to find the former potentials - now slayers in their own right - and send them off to the Council. He could handle this. Had a way with young girls, though that wasn’t always the case, was it. But apparently, it was. His innate compassion, understanding and ability to just know what people needed to be comfortable. It was his special gift. And it made his passage through this dichotomous land easier. He dealt with rebels, government aid workers, soldiers, attaches, villagers, tribal elders, and young girls’ parents with equal ease. Everyone had a need, a weakness, a desire, and he could always find it. Not exactly manipulative, but sometimes he thought that was all it was. But no. He just saw the opening, the opportunity and exploited it to the benefit of all involved. It was who he had become and who he had always been. His job, his contribution, his power.
Power. All about power. He remembered the statement as a running theme in his life for nearly ever. Parents had power over him. Slayer had power, Willow, Giles, Spike, Angel, even Dawn. Hell, even Tara, though dead, had power. Xander never felt he had any. But he was fast learning just what his power was, and how it was probably the most important power of all of them. He greased wheels, untied red tape, eased frustrations between negotiating parties, soothed hurt feelings, fears, and angry hearts. Again he thought “special gifts” and snorted into the silent, but not, night. He felt a single tear and wondered why it chose then to escape.
Dammit. Nine months he had been here, in this hole in the world. The place of power so ancient even he, without any sort of ability to detect that sort of thing, could feel it seeping into the air, the sand, the trees, the water, and the very marrow of his bones. To feel the power that everyone in the world drew on for life? Exhilarating, frightening, and divine. So why tears? It struck him, finally. The realization of facts that he knew and had accepted, but not really absorbed. Spike sought his soul here. Because of Buffy, or more accurately because of things he had almost done to her. Spike’s soul was restored here, in the caves just on the other side of the mountain whose shadow Xander was sleeping under. Ancient powers strong enough to bring back long dead - gone - souls and restore them to falsely - magically - animated bodies. And what for? Why? So that soul could sacrifice itself again? Absolutely, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, soul for soul. Spike came here to get his soul back, and in return, had given his soul again in saving this power of root and vine. He prevented the apocalypse by standing still and letting the light kill him. Another tear, and Xander gives up trying to stave them off.
Grief is powerful too. Grief is also surprising. For it comes sometimes unexpectedly. He never intended to grieve for the fangless wonder that was Spike. He hated the man - monster, but not monster. He had felt no sympathy for Spike, a creature out of sorts with the worlds around him. Not monster, not man, not demon, not human. Spike had been unique and as such had found no succor in being hated or loved. Indifference had greeted him at every turn. At least that is how Xander had felt. It had become tedious to verbally spar with Spike; Xander’s heart simply wasn’t in it. He wondered how the hell someone with Spike’s past could have given it all up. Someone so seemingly full of life could give it up for the very creatures that felt nothing for him, not even hatred? That was Spike’s special gift. Xander got it now.
To be different but still give a flying fuck about the world. Spike had loved it in the world, loved the passion, the dirty, the clean, the fun, the life that eluded him because of his dead status. And now he was gone, and Xander finally got it, finally understood. And he missed the vampire with every fiber of his being. Missed seeing the blue eyes shift to gold, the slicked blond hair that was a teeming riot of waves when not gelled within an inch of its death, the scar in a too black eyebrow, the ability to tell the truth and not give a tinker’s damn about the consequences and hurt feelings, the desire to be part of something bigger and better than himself.
It finally reached Xander’s understanding: Spike wanted, needed to belong, and his sacrifice was a way of ensuring that. But, and this was the hardest to admit to himself, Spike had always belonged. From the first march under Angel’s arm in the halls of a long gone highschool, Xander knew that Spike had belonged in Sunnydale with them. He was a catalyst, a magical necessary ingredient that enables the changes to happen. But he was gone. Almost a year. And the absence was felt all over. And they had all begun to stagnate. So. He, Xander Harris, had left, snatched up the Africa assignment. Anything to force a change. And he had.
He rolled out of the hammock, put his feet solidly on the dirt floor of the hut he was in. Lifted a hand to his head, and pulled his overly long hair back, retying the leather thong that kept it off of his shoulders. His lean body stretched, throwing off the sluggishness of relaxation, becoming alert to the motions and noises of the coming morning. His job today? Anything the tribe asked him to do.
His duties to the council fulfilled with this stay. He would be moving on shortly, but he always liked to stay afterward to help with whatever he could. The foreign clicks and chirps of the language had long ceased to be difficult for him, and he found himself enjoying the kind of communication he could have with the people here. His long-lost easy grin was back, and more often than not was met with other grins in dark faces with kind eyes. And this reciprocity encouraged him to stay for a little while longer each time. He wondered if there would come a day when he simply just stayed. He shrugged. Not today, not tomorrow, but maybe eventually. Because home? Was a pit in the desert of California, and he had yet to find anywhere that could replace it.
He looked himself over, hard. Tanned, toned skin. Hard lean muscles thinned out by the scarcity of luxury. No longer the bulky American beefy, but whipcord, sinewed strength. His eye glittering black in the small mirror he used to shave with, because growing beard? Way too itchy in the heat. But the jaw was harder, the lips slightly thinner, the nose more prominent in the thin face. The scar where his left eye used to be stark white against the rest of his tanned face, because he still wore the patch. He was Xander, but different, and he liked this new person he had become. Confident, purposeful, calm, less edgy, but still intense. He grinned, and that was still the same. When that changed, he knew he would stay. And he looked for it to change every day. But it didn’t. And for now? That was alright. He exited the hut and got to work.
Spike stared out the tempered glass at the setting sun. LA never looked so beautiful as when glittering red and gold under a sun going down. The colors were like those of Africa that summer. Except for the buildings shining crystal in the night sky, with tiny flames of light in their windows, dusk in L.A. glistened like Africa in the setting sun. The golds, garnets, and greens of the desert sun struck memories Spike thought long forgotten. Angel said he liked the dawn hours, but Spike always preferred dusk. Twilight was magical and it still called to his demon. The urge to hunt and maim tempered like the glass.
He knew he confounded Angel sometimes. The dark brooding Angel couldn’t understand Spike’s almost calm acceptance of his past now that he had a soul. But Spike knew what he was, liked what he was, and refused to feel guilt for something the soul had no control over. The demon basked in this acceptance and - in deference to a soul that accepted it - toned the bloodlust down and allowed itself to be harnessed, but not restrained. Spike’s unlife in L.A. had been better than he expected it to be, because of the compromise reached between demon and soul, but he was restless. Sunnydale had been home. He had belonged there as much as he could belong anywhere. His promise to Buffy to take care of Dawn; the Scoobies’ need of him in the battle against the First; hell, even his what-ever-the-fuck-it-was thing with Buffy all made him feel a part of something. But that was not the case any more.
Again, Spike found himself caught between two worlds and a part of neither. He was a souled vampire but nothing like Angel, so he couldn’t find the camaraderie there. He could take on the mantle of a man, but his heart didn’t beat and he never breathed, so he couldn’t actually join the world of the living either. Joining the world of the dead was something he had done twice now - once when he was turned, twice in the pit that was Sunnydale - and death didn’t appear to be something he was good at. So, again, Spike longed for something to belong to, and he had thought being in L.A. would alleviate that feeling. But both the demon and the soul knew it was time to leave.
The only place he truly felt belonging had been the caves in Africa. The place of blood and bones, of fist and flames, of becoming and belonging. He wanted to go back. He turned to look at Angel seated at his desk. Angel, a companion, off and on for over one hundred years, the only other vampire besides Dru who knew Spike, the real Spike. Spike met his sire’s eyes and nodded. It was thank you, love you, missed you, I’m sorry, good luck, and goodbye in one solitary shake of his head and blink of his eye. He strode across the office, out the door, into the elevator, through the lobby and out the door. He was going home, only to no home he had ever seen before, but he knew it was out there.
The desert smells greeted him, assaulted his senses. He sucked in the smell, drank in the taste of the air around him, and devoured the sights that met his eyes. Africa was still hot, still sticky, still verdantly beautiful and teeming. Home. Spike wondered the Dark Continent for months. He had been back here for almost three months when the rumors reached him. A dark haired American, seeking the strange girls of mysterious power, treating the people with a healthy respect and compassion, his face obscured by a black swath across one eye. Spike searched for any trace of this mysterious entity. Knowing it couldn’t be the whelp of Sunnydale, but hoping that maybe, just maybe, he could find some solace in an old friend.
Spike trekked across the Serengeti, and heard further stories. The boy/man would come into the villages, seek out the newly changed girls, comfort them and reassure them, then send them to a place where they would be accepted and trained. But the stories became almost whispered legends, because this man would stay longer and longer at each village, even after his duty done. He would assimilate for a while, adopting the tribal ways, wearing the beads and dress, learning the languages, telling halting stories of hell, demons, and angels who saved everyone. Spike followed the stories, hearing snatches of more elaborate ones, how the mysterious stranger didn’t shake in fear at the elder’s stories of battles between good and evil. With each tale, Spike grew more confident that it was Xander. So glad the boy had made it out of Sunnydale, and he searched the plains for any trace, or rumor of his presence.
It was night, and he was under the shadow of the mountain where he had got his soul. He knew that Xander had to be close, because the last village he was in said the boy had left just over two weeks ago. Knowing now that Xander had a penchant for staying in the villages long after he had found and shipped out a new Slayer, Spike felt confident he would catch up to the younger man. He stalked through the night, listening to the sounds of the night in Africa. He grinned ferally at the distant sound of lions roaring. Relished the power of the elephants trumpeting and wondered if Xander heard the sounds and enjoyed them as well. Spike felt too, the power of the place. It skittered across his skin, raising the tiny hairs at the small of his back and the nape of his neck. The demon itched to taste the magic in the air. The soul grateful to feel the comforting presences of the magic of root and vine, of mother and earth again. Spike kept walking, he could almost scent the boy now, knew he wasn’t too far off. The salt smell of the ocean suddenly wafted up to him, and he thought that very odd. Powerful but odd. He kept walking. The first faint tinges of dawn creeping into the sky and he knew he’d have to find shelter soon.
Breaking through the surface of the hot ground, Spike emerged again into the dark. Shelter was scarce, but he remembered the surviving with Angelus, digging a grave and burying himself in it to last out the day. The sand fell from his hair, blue eyes gold with the coming night, and Spike started walking again. He knew he was close. Could smell the sweat on the air. The sight of the small village looming in the broad moonshadow of his mountain was a welcome visage. He moved silently into the outskirts of the buildings. He witnessed the flurry of activity, watching as men herded cattle into makeshift corrals, watched women take up their children and put them to bed.
He noticed a long haired man making his way back from the corrals to a small hut and followed him. Not stalking, not hunting, but not making his presence known either. Until he was sure, he didn’t want to alarm the man. He listened as the man spoke in guttural clicks, then marveled at the grin that split the young man’s face. Now certain, Spike started to move forward. Stopped cold by the slow turning of the head, and the lean face that shone in the moonlight. The lean face of a man, not the round face of a boychild forced into early adulthood. This was what had been lurking beneath that nervous, mercurial facade that had been Xander Harris of Sunnydale. This man standing before Spike, searching the shadows as though he knew something resided there, was a far cry from the earlier version of himself. Spike stepped out of the shadows into the shaft of shimmering white moonlight. Not on purpose, but the light emphasized his beauty, the smooth ivory skin, high cheekbones, and blue eyes that shone black in the night. He took a step forward and the spell was broken.
Xander had known he was being followed, but everytime he looked, there was nothing there. At one time, this invisible presence would have spooked him and had him whistling to preserve his sanity, but now? It was companionable. He felt no threat, and was pretty confident that if it was, he could handle it, and if not, then his time was up. He was on borrowed time anyway, the way he looked at it. He stopped to speak to one of the elders, and laughed at the man’s calm acceptance of “something coming.” He assured the man he could take care of himself and grinned as the elder left him to his walk. But the persistent feeling was still there, so he turned, searching deep into the shadows, knowing something was there, but not what it was. Then the movement and he was riveted. The figure before him had to be a dream. The pale hair, the high - impossibly high- cheekbones, the ivory skin? No way was that Spike. Then the first step was taken, and Xander ran. His feet carrying him faster than he ever thought possible to the creature standing in the shaft of moonlight.
Blue eyes met black in the night. Long, lean, tan fingers reached to touch cool ivory skin, the caress closing both men’s eyes. Black tipped nails scratched softly at sun leathered skin, making sure this was real. Then they both opened their eyes again. Both laughing at finding the one thing that evaded them nearly all their lives - or unlives as the case may be. Family. Home.