Here’s the next chapter from liliaeth and myself. Hopefully you’re all still here with us. Please follow the Warning Alert System.
In which we have a reunion of old friends, though to tell you how it went would be to give it all away. What’re you waiting for? Go on… Read! **grins** This follows several months after the previous chapter.
Please, as always, read and comment! With the hot weather rolling in, we decided to pamper Buffy!Muse by gifting her with a cool swimming pool (deep ceramic bowl, anyway). Next thing you know, she’ll be looking for a little Cabana Boy!Spike to stroke her… ego. As long as the story seems to be moving ahead, finally, we’ll indulge her.
Feedback is always welcomed.
Goddess bless highwaywoman, my first and foremost mentor, gillo, whose life experience has proven to be an invaluable resource time and time again, and just_sue, my beloved ‘nag’, who keeps after me because she loves me (hugs her tightly).
To read Beloved from the beginning, go to my Live Journal Here or to simply_beloved: chapter 1.
Full sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut.
Beloved – Chapter 30 – Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?
As the morning bell clanged throughout the cellblock, loud enough to wake the dead, Xander struggled to rise from his cot. Any sort of inactivity caused his leg muscles to stiffen and his knee, well… the flare of agony from the strain on the rebuilt joint was just… excruciating; a permanent, daily reminder of how low his stupidity had brought him.
Xander’s cell door swung open as it did every morning, and he fell in line with the other prisoners on his floor. He shuffled along, slowly making his way to the inmates’ cafeteria for breakfast. Every so often, the man behind him trod on the back of his foot, purposely, causing him to stumble.
As he wriggled his heel back into his trainers… and why on Earth were they called trainers, anyway? Did all British feet end up in the Olympics or something? “Let’s face it,” he thought… “Training bras served a purpose. Boobs eventually got bigger. A good training bra served its country well, and...”
His inner monologue slowed his feet, and this time he received an elbow in the ribs as Mr. Impatience passed him by with a “Wanker” snarled in his direction. Catching his balance by grabbing the counter, Xander continued without comment. He’d learned weeks ago that he wasn’t quite the darling of the guards, and more often than not, was the one disciplined for causing a fracas.
Xander grabbed a tray from the stack and removed his plastic utensils from his pocket. The last time he forgot to bring them, he had to scoop up his cornflakes with his fingers. Sliding the tray along the counter, he tried to withhold his disgust at the sight of today’s offering: porridge. He shuddered. “Never thought I’d see food of this caliber after dear old Sunnydale High,” he muttered under his breath as some sort of slop was ladled onto his plate.
It certainly wouldn’t do to show his revulsion to the inmates on serving duty. The last thing Xander needed was a wad of snot or worse added by a ‘helpful’ guy to spice things up.
With the added weight of the tray, Xander’s gait was a bit more awkward and unsure than usual. As he searched for a ‘safe’ and empty table, he could feel the target on his back getting larger with each passing moment; like a room full of Larrys, waiting for the moment the guards’ backs were turned to torment him.
At least there weren’t any vampires in prison that he knew of. However, Xander was willing to swear on a stack of bibles that the cook was at least part demon, with really skewed taste buds. Nobody human would be happy with this guy’s dishes.
Again, thanks to his wool-gathering, he miss-stepped and hit the man in front of him with his tray.
The huge bear of a man who’d quickly become the bane of his existence since his release from the prison’s infirmary. Though his voice registered somewhere between Mike Tyson and Cindy Brady in timbre, at six feet six inches tall, he cast an imposing shadow. Nobody, but nobody, laughed at his speech impediment – to his face.
“Bloody hell, watch where you’re going!” the man lisped, shoving Xander back a few steps when his porridge slopped over the edge of the bowl, flying everywhere. “Haven’t you learned your place yet?”
Xander knew he should keep his mouth shut. There was no way this was going to end well, but he was tired and hungry, and he’d thought being bullied was a thing of the past. With a sigh, he managed to find a spot to put his breakfast tray down, and then faced his assailant.
“Look, Pete,” he began, only to be cut off almost immediately.
“That’s Mr. Turner to you, git.”
“Look, Mr. Turner,” Xander began again, rolling his eyes at the absurdity of his life. “I’m not looking for trouble. I’m…”
“Really, Harris?” Mr. Peter Turner was having none of it. Flexing his large hands, he cracked each knuckle individually, before poking Xander in the chest. “I’d say your assault on my person proves otherwise.”
A rather high-pitched hum came from Turner’s pinched lips as he walked around Xander, continuing his critique. “I mean, you hobble about the place like you haven’t a care in the world…” he sneered, eyes sparkling dangerously. “…and it would be so easy to…” The big man ran his index finger along Xander’s collar; tugging it here and there until it lay flat against his neck. “Now that you’re in here, you think you’re protected, don’t you?”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Xander replied, evenly. And he wasn’t really. Not when you considered the demons and situations he’d faced in his lifetime.
Pete Turner smiled widely, the gaps between his teeth giving him a ghastly grin. “Oh, Sunny Jim, you would be,” he said, slapping his hand against the nape of Xander’s neck. “If you had any brains at all.”
Inexorably, Xander found himself pulled closer to the other convict by the force of the hand on his back.
“People who don’t like you on the outside… those that helped put you in here? All they need is a little… influence. Amazing what the right contacts can do.”
A finger drawn quickly across his throat made Xander shiver and stumble back as Turner giggled.
“D-don’t worry about it,” Xander forced out, determined not to roll over and show his belly during a first volley. “Nobody out there cares enough about me to want me… dead.”
“Then no great loss,” Turner threw back, whistling jauntily as he waltzed away, leaving Xander standing in the middle of the cafeteria.
With Turner gone, inmates no longer ignored the aisle and pushed their way through; shoving Xander out of their way. His appetite gone, he slowly made his way out of the hall.
“Nothing like the color ‘Institutional Grey’ to perk up a place,” Xander mumbled as he was led down yet another corridor.
His grim-faced guard kept silent; Xander felt more like he was being accompanied to the electric chair than a visit with an old friend. And yet, it still took all his restraint not to hum the Death March from Star Wars.
At each corridor’s end sat a prison officer behind locked bars. His guard produced the appropriate electronic key along with his personal ID, ran them through the scanner, and walked them down to the next station. By the time they’d arrived at the Visitors Room, Xander felt like Maxwell Smart. All that was missing was the phone booth elevator.
The room was huge; reminding him of Sunnydale High’s Gym – cavernous and echo-y when empty - with the addition of surveillance cameras. There were groupings of four chairs; three of which were blue and one was yellow, surrounding a low, round, metal table.
“Sit here, Harris.” The guard pointed to the yellow chair, which Xander noted was bolted to the floor, as was the rest of the furniture. “Remember… both feet on the floor and hands on the table where they can be seen at all times.”
As he fidgeted in his seat, Xander pulled the wrinkled paper out of his pocket for the third time that day. No matter how many times he read it, the words remained the same: Willow needed to see him.
Not ‘wanted’, he noted, but needed.
His stomach gave a little lurch, and a sour taste flooded his mouth. When was the last time anyone wanted to see him?
Xander looked up as he heard the clip clop clip of a pair of woman’s heels approach. It had to be… Great Zeus, wasn’t she… beautiful. Stunningly so. He knew it had been years since he’d really seen her; those few moments after he’d been shot hardly counted, and memories were always rose-tinted with time… but she looked younger than anyone in their thirties had a right to.
“Remember, no contact,” the new guard repeated, before turning to patrol the rest of the room.
Willow stood by the table; not venturing closer. Xander could tell she was nervous – hell, he was nervous. The small twist to her bottom lip as it caught between her front teeth and the way she wrung her hands were dead giveaways; just like they’d been that first day of kindergarten.
It wasn’t the time to remember those halcyon days, however. They weren’t in grade school any longer, and they’d long since passed the era of being this painfully shy with each other. After Sunnydale, there wasn’t a facet of the other that wasn’t known.
So why wouldn’t she speak?
And why did she look as if she’d rather be roasting in the pits of hell than in his company?
Ah well, he had to try… she’d made the effort to visit, after all.
So much for sterling conversation.
Xander struggled to keep from rising up from the chair. His old friend was spurred into action, obviously thinking to wrap her arms around his waist to help steady him.
“No contact!” one of the guards shouted as he stepped forward, purposefully.
Willow gingerly tucked her skirt around her legs and sat down on one of the blue chairs.
“H-how are you, Xander?”
“Not too bad for a one-eyed, bullet-ridden con,” he quipped, trying for an airy tone but coming up short. “And how are you, Wills? Looks like you found the fountain of youth.”
Her hands fluttered bird-like around her head before pushing an errant lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m okay. Really. I mean, there was this run-in with an inter-dimensional portal thingie, and time differentials, and unimaginable magicks… and there was this woman, and there were pocket-dimensions and blue skies… and I guess it’s all not so important so I’ll stop before things get out of hand.”
“Whoa, Wills. Babble much?” Xander gave in to the first genuine smile he’d had in forever. This was his gal pal… maybe not as much had changed as he’d feared.
But it was back to the hand wringing and the silence.
“How’s the kid?” he blurted, anxious to fill the void, as well as needing to know. “Is he okay?”
That produced a reaction.
Willow’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?” she asked, aiming a cold, flinty look in his direction.
“How can you ask me that?” he shouted, fists hitting the table.
The guard took a few steps toward the couple. “Keep the noise down, Harris.”
“It’s… it’s just… we’re all…it’s all of the good.” Willow motioned between her and Xander. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.”
He curtly nodded, then continued onwards.
Xander snarled: “Do you really think that little of me, Wills? Why wouldn’t I want to know? I got shot in his defense. It would be nice to know if it was worth the blood and the pain!”
“Well, for one thing – the last time I even tried to mention William, you told me you wanted him dead. I mean, he was a baby, Xander,” she hissed, “…and you hated him. How would I know that your feelings have changed?”
“Jesus, Willow! That was years ago, and I was more than blind drunk. You know that!! The kid wasn’t even real to me. I mean… Spike being alive yet again!”
“But you were so hateful!” she reiterated, unable to meet his eyes.
Xander’s heart broke a little. He couldn’t see the slightest bit of compassion in her – for him.
“I may be slow, Willow, but eventually even I figure things out. I held that boy in my arms… and Spike or not, he was suffering.”
He watched as the redhead’s fair skin grew blotchy with barely restrained emotion, and knew from experience she was trying hard not to cry.
“I do want to believe you, Xander. I do. Really,” she sniffled, pulling a tissue from her pocket to dab at her eyes. “But you were working for Roger Wyndam-Pryce.”
“I thought I was working for the Council, like everyone else,” he countered, his defensiveness allowing anger to seep into his voice. “And then I find out that my immediate boss is a nutcase, in the middle of all hell breaking loose. I was supposed to be one of a handful of special security guards… in charge of transporting a dangerous demon off premises. Turns out the real demon was human…” he trailed off; anger having evaporated as he stared at his hands. “What was I supposed to do? Get myself killed so the kid had nobody who even knew where he was?”
“C’mon, Xander… everyone knew you harbored a deep and bitter resentment against Spike for his two resurrections, while…”
“You do not get to go there, Willow,” he snapped, anger resurfacing; white hot and immediate. “Talk about hating someone. You never liked Anya. Do you know what it was like for me? Always having to choose between my best friend and my girl? It made living on the Hellmouth a breeze by comparison.”
Xander derived a petty sense of satisfaction when Willow flinched, and her response pushed him to jab that little bit more.
“Why is this the first time I’ve heard from any of my… from anyone? It’s been months… and nobody’s even asked me for my side of the story.”
“You’d already admitted to being part of the kidnapping.” Willow’s face took on a mulish expression; similar to her resolve face of old, but not near as charming. “What more was there to say?”
“And it never occurred to you that I wasn’t a total bad guy?” Xander asked, incredulous. “What with the whole bleeding to death, half-naked thing going on outdoors in the middle of winter? Wasn’t that a tiny clue I wasn’t on the side of the Evil Overlord? C’mon, Willow… think!”
“D-dawn was there, Xander,” she murmured, shredding the tissue she’d been holding into fuzz. “She saw Will, naked, with a chain around his neck. She said you knew where the old man had taken him…”
“Damn it, Willow,” Xander fumed. His balled fists struck the metal table as his frustration grew. “That bastard shot me because I tried to help the kid. To protect him.”
Willow shook her head, finally turning her puppy-dog eyes in his direction. “But it really doesn’t change things, does it? You were there… working with those rats who hurt him.”
“But I didn’t have anything to do with his kidnapping! I wasn’t there for more than a couple of weeks,” Xander insisted, vehemently. “Just long enough to get a crash training course in… and Wyndam-Pryce didn’t even take the boy until those last two days.”
“No, no! That’s not true. Angel and Nina were frantic for even a word about their son. He was gone for six months – kidnapped from school. He wasn’t at the Council on vacation!”
“It wasn’t me, Wills. I didn’t do this,” Xander repeated, finally breaking eye-contact. “I – I wouldn’t. You know me,” he pleaded. “You know me!”
Willow’s tears tracked down her cheeks, unchecked; the tip of her nose reddened to match her now-ruddy cheeks.
“Oh, Xander, this is all so confusing,” she whispered. “Everyone was so sure…”
“I swear I had no idea that the demon was anything but until the kid ran into the room and I grabbed him. And even then, I had no idea it was Sp… I mean, Will until Wyndam-Pryce started gloating.”
“Aha! I thought you said you didn’t have anything to do with his kidnapping!”
“I didn’t, damn it! I was there to take out a demon. By the time I found out it was Spike, I couldn’t back out. Two people died in front of us. A baby Slayer was shot through the heart, and the bastard’s collaborator had his brains blown out for trying to protect the kid. It was all I could do to keep him restrained; out of firing range of that madman.
“You have to know I’m ashamed. Deeply ashamed of my part in this whole mess. Worse still, I admit that I stood there… and didn’t try to stop things before they got worse. That I wasn’t stronger, or smarter, and that Will had to suffer as much as he did before he was rescued.
“But it wasn’t because I meant to hurt the kid. I just didn’t know. And I’ve been sick about it ever since. If I could change things, Willow… if I could change things I would. So please,” he begged, reaching for her hands automatically, but withdrawing them when yet another guard stepped forward. “Please tell me he’s okay.”
That was more than he’d spoken since his arrest, and it felt good. Maybe Willow wouldn’t believe him, but at least she was willing to listen. That had to count for something.
Willow sniffled, daubing at her nose with yet another tissue before looking Xander in the face. “The last time I spoke with Giles, Will wasn’t talking. And it was weeks before he would eat anything resembling a proper meal.”
Xander’s expression became bleak. Here he was, all recovering, and the poor kid was still suffering.
“Giles told me that Angel and Nina were taking him to some kind of therapist,” Willow continued, sadly. “He was fading and they were at their wits’ end.”
“Oh, yeah… that’ll help,” he snorted. “What good is a shrink gonna do if he can’t get a word out of the kid?”
Willow flinched, again, and Xander felt another little stab of guilt for her discomfort, but quickly squashed it. After all… she wasn’t so protective of his feelings, was she?
“I… I need to ask you something, Xander,” she stammered, back to wringing the life from yet another tissue. “What did you… what did they do to Will, exactly? What could have reduced him to such a state? Anything… any kind of information would be helpful.”
How on earth could he even begin to describe the hell that boy had been through? And he’d only seen the tail end of things, apparently.
“Wills, I can’t…” he shrugged, helplessly. “I just can’t.”
“You can’t, or you won’t? C’mon, Xander,” she wheedled, making with the puppydog eyes she’d used on him all through their younger years. “How can you withhold…?”
Xander shifted uneasily on the hard seat. “You don’t understand… you couldn’t possibly understand.”
“What did they do, Xander?”
The timbre of her voice dropped the temperature around them by about twenty degrees.
“You really didn’t come here to see me at all, did you, Willow?” he accused, sudden insight making him hostile. “You’re just sniffing around the evil kidnapper, looking for clues.”
“No! O-of course I…” She stopped, and changed tactics. “We need to know what happened to Will, Xander. We have to know in order to help him heal.”
“And what about me, damn it? What do I need to heal?”
“Do you have any idea what it’s like for me here? Half the inmates think I’m a child molester. They think I’m the kind of monster that…” Xander swallowed thickly, pushing away thoughts of evil clowns and neglectful parents. “They don’t talk to me. And the guards… the way they look at me. I thought you were my friend, Willow. I thought…
“I mean, you tried to destroy the whole, damned world, and I stood by you. In fact, I let you take your rage out on me. I was willing to die at your hands. You tried to kill me, and still I believed in you. But you… you believe I’d willfully harm a child.”
The color rose once more in Willow’s cheeks, a basic and obvious sign of guilt.
“You know what, Wills? I’ve had enough of this. It’s one thing to have the others here look at me as if they’d stepped in something warm and disgusting. It’s quite another to see that look on you.”
“I-I’m so… Xander, we have to have that information. Will’s future depends on it,” she cried.
“Sub-basement three, level two. The code’s ‘purge’,” he snarled, refusing to look at her. “I don’t hate the kid, Willow… but I’m beginning to hate all of you.”
Xander looked over his shoulder, signaling the guard. “Ms. Rosenberg needs to leave. Now!” He closed his eyes and leant against the back of his chair; waiting for her to be led away.
The clatter of her heels fading into the distance was a relief.