All Roads Lead To Rome – Chapter 9 – Moon Shadow
The time spent in Africa had been good to Xander. It was amazing what leaving California, potato chips and HoHos could do for a man. He stood straight and tall, and was the most fit and trim he’d been in his entire life. He walked for miles over the countryside on a daily basis. He manned construction crews; helping supervise the building of housing and community offices wherever they were wanted.
He’d let his hair grow long, keeping it pulled back in a ponytail to hold it out of his face; his skin had taken on a slightly weathered appearance with a berrygold hue. He thought the eye patch and the hair gave him a sort of Highlander appearance, ala Adrian Paul, not Christopher Lambert. He looked good and knew it… and paid his appearance no mind whatsoever.
Xander liked to sit outside at night, on the dusty ground. His favorite pastime involved leaning against a huge tree, looking up at the moon and watching the shadows play across the surface. He was at peace within himself. Solitude was no longer a curse.
The young man’s days were usually busy… he would search the little villages for signs of trouble… usually, the male elders of the tribes would isolate an unusually strong, aggressive young female, and were almost always happy when he found a place for them to belong amongst the new Slayers.
He kept in touch with Andrew and Giles, mostly. There was a phone in the mission where he was based. They would call and tell him of a tribe the locator spells the Council performed regularly had pinpointed, or he would call and tell them when another girl had been found.
Tonight, an eerie chill settled in his bones. His grandmother would have said someone was walking across his grave, but he’s still alive and kicking, yes siree. Came close, but still there, mostly in one piece.
Somehow, he knew that things were about to change.
One of the little girls of the tribe came to him, announcing by hand gestures that there was a phone call. He stood up, ran his hands over his rear to shake loose the dirt, and loped towards the mission; sure the phone would herald another adventure.
Sure enough, it was Andrew.
“Hello, Xander,” he said. “How’re things amongst the beasts and the children?”
Laughingly, he replied, “Andrew, my man… don’t change a hair for me. What’s up, buddy?”
“There’s a small village to the south of where you’re stationed, and the elders are going to bring a girl named Sela to you by morning,” Andrew answered. “Would you be able to accompany her to Los Angeles?”
“Why would I be bringing this kid to LA, Andrew?” he asked. “I mean after all, the culture shock from Africa to England is gonna be bad enough – why inflict LaLa land on her as well?”
“Ahhh, well… you see… um,” the nervous Watcher in training stammered, “Mr. Giles is already there, taking care of some Council business. He’ll be able to escort Ms. Sela back to England, and you can go back about your business, without the added bother of coming to England yourself. I remember how difficult it was for you the last time you came back.”
“The G-man himself, huh? Must’ve been very important for Giles to make the trip,” Xander mused.
Unable to avoid it anymore, Andrew said, “Well, yeah… he’s at Wolfram & Hart. He and Angel are in discussions. There is a real disagreement on policy over how to handle the Slayers found in his city, and especially if there are special circumstances, like with Dana.”
He’d heard about that little tale, of course. Xander also knew that there was more to the story than what he was told, but he shrugged it off. No longer intimately affected by the moment to moment goings on of the Council, Giles and Buffy, the young man let many things roll off his back without a second thought.
“Time for bed, Andrew,” he yawned into the receiver. “I want to get an early start back to the States tomorrow.” Started abruptly to realize he hadn’t said ‘home.’ California was no longer home to him. Home was truly where he hung his hat.
After a hurried goodbye, Xander hung up the phone, left the mission building, and crawled into his hut and his bed. Suddenly he was exhausted, knowing there was a long journey ahead of him.
Morning definitely came way too soon for him, and he awoke to the sounds of a jeep horn blaring. Stumbled over to his dresser, where the water basin was… took a quick whore’s bath, splashing his face and neck. Made a half assed attempt to wipe the sweat from his body and dressed.
Sela was waiting in the jeep along with a driver. The trip to the little airport was made in silence. There really was nothing to say – neither the driver nor the girl spoke English, but her destination and journey had been explained by Andrew. Amazing capacity for languages the boy had, Xander thought. Just like Dawn.
At the thought of his little Dawnie, Xander felt slightly melancholy. Not because he missed her, or any of the other Scoobies, because he really didn’t miss them all that much. Not at all, if truth be told.
After the whole epicness… epicnicity? Disaster, worked for him, he decided. After all that craziness had subsided, Xander had taken stock of himself. His Anya was dead… there was no longer a chance that they could mend their relationship. Dawn was fully immersed in her studies in England, and then Rome, when she and Buffy took off. Giles was truly immersed in the rebuilding of the Council to the betterment of all the new Slayers. Willow and Kennedy were off in Brazil, doing something, he guessed.
Shaking his head, Xander couldn’t believe the distance that had formed between the former best friends. Buffy? Well, after the dust settled… she just wasn’t the same. When Spike died, there was just something missing… some spark… some sense of life she had finally regained over the past year. She was just too painful to be around anymore. Nothing he could do would snap her out of her distress, so he opted to do the one thing he had open to him.
He’d asked Giles to place him where he would be most needed. Where there was something useful he could do. So, Africa became his domain. Slowly but surely, he’d made his way through some of the most remote places on the continent. Couldn’t even name them – just pushed through wherever he needed to be. Good guides, and the luck of the draw.
Sela never uttered a word, just went in the direction she was pointed to. They boarded the plane and settled in for the flight. The girl was happy looking out the window of the plane. At least she wasn’t frightened, Xander thought, by the new experience of the flight, and with the Sela comfortable in her seat, he closed his eyes in an attempt to sleep.
He should have known better. Once thoughts of Spike had entered his brain, the former Scooby knew he was doomed. He remembered those last few months with Spike ensconced in Buffy’s basement. Once again, he’d been thrashed by the real Big Bad. For a Master Vampire, he certainly gotten his scrawny ass handed to him more times than Xander could remember. And most of it while wearing a white hat.
He had to chortle to himself at that image. White hair, white skin, white hat… Spike was a vision, to be sure.
When had the lines become so blurred, the man thought to himself. In what reality did EVIL cross the line and sacrifice himself for the rest of the world? When Buffy told the gang of his fiery demise, Xander had no choice but to be impressed.
Even one year ago… especially that year ago, his opinion of the bleached menace left much to be desired. A year ago, Xander had been a bitter, angry man. Even though he’d been the one who left Anya at the altar, when he’d caught the Spike/Anya table polishing show in glorious geeknicolor on Willow’s laptop… Damn, he was livid. He’d gone after Spike with Buffy’s axe, fully intent on beheading the creature and ending things with him once and for all. If it weren’t for Buffy… who knew if the world would still exist?
These days, Xander knew better. He’d accepted his own part in the wedding debacle. He’d begun to understand the enormity of Spike’s metamorphosis from Big Bad to Big Hero. He was only sorry he never had the chance to let Spike know that he knew.
Once they’d changed planes from the little puddle hopper to a jumbo jet at Cape Town International, their flight to LAX was uneventful. Xander and Sela were met by one of W&H’s limousines, and sooner than he was prepared for… Wolfram & Hart stood before them in all its imposing glory.
He looked at Sela, a small smile graced his lips. Long gone were the days of Xanderbabble ™ . Gone were the days when he would try to make everything better by clowning around. The Hellmouth had killed the clown. All clowned out, yup. No more clownage for the Xan-man. The brunet beckoned to Sela, who followed silently behind as they walked into the vampire’s den.
“Are you Mr. Harris? And is this Sela?” They were greeted by a nondescript woman in a suit. “I’m sure you’ve had a long and tiring flight. Please allow me to escort Sela to the conference room, where Mr. Giles and several other Slayers are in attendance.”
With only a small glance in his direction for confirmation, Sela turned, and followed the woman, both quickly retreating down a long corridor. Xander sighed with relief. He always felt better when the responsibility for the Slayer was transferred to someone else.
He walked over to the bank of elevators and quickly scanned the Directory. Mr. Angel – 3rd Floor. Mr. Angel, my ass, he thought. Already the tension headache made him long for the solitary peace of home. Between the flight, the airport and the traffic, he’d already been around more people than he’d seen in the past half year. Rolling his eyes, he muttered, “Que Sarah, Sarah,” entered the car, pushed button number 3 and up he went.
The doors opened to familiar voices. Xander smiled as he recognized Angel’s and Wesley’s raised in an escalating argument.
“Angel, really… this kind of thing needs to stop. There is absolutely no need for a power struggle between you and the European contingent,” Wes pleaded.
Struggling to keep his temper in check, Angel was about to reply, when he whirled in Xander’s direction, obviously having caught his scent in the air.
“Hey, Deadboy… Watcher, Jr. What’s the sitch? Not too professional arguing in full view of the minions. Isn’t that what offices with closed doors are for?” Apparently, Xander’s new-found maturity went right out the window, in the face of old… acquaintances, and it was back to Scooby-speak in no time flat.
Wes, for one, was pointedly staring at the familiar, but oh so different appearance of the boy he once knew.
“Xander Harris, as I live and breathe. I barely recognize you. The hair is rather different, and the eye patch? Well, I’d heard about the incident with the First. Sorry you had to go through all that, but you look bloody marvelous.” Extending his hand, Wes grasped Xander’s in a firm handshake and looked mighty pleased to see him.
On the other hand, Angel, already simmering from his previous discussion with Wesley, growled softly and looked decidedly uncomfortable. Belatedly, he offered his hand and said, “Harris, don’t call me Deadboy. Is it too much to ask? After all this time?”
His brown eye sparkling with mischief, the brunet snapped to attention and replied, “Yes, Sir! Mr. Angel, Sir!” Got the delivery out straight-faced, and figured he was operating on borrowed time. The seventeen year old clown was back in full force. Apparently some things never change. Winding up the vampire was a game he’d enjoy for the rest of his natural life.
“So, Xander, what brings you to our neck of the woods?” asked the former Watcher. “Seems like it’s old home week at Wolfram & Hart. Mr. Giles is here, Buffy is also…”
At that moment, Angel interrupted with: “Wes, I’m sure Xander is tired. Why don’t we all go into my office for a drink, and we can discuss what he’s doing here in a civilized manner. We have chairs for this kind of thing, and as he so correctly pointed out, a door that closes, keeping our business private.”
“Geeze, Dea… Angel,” Xander corrected himself, “What’s the problem? You actually seem animated. Not a good day for a visit? And what’s this about Buffy being here? I was under the impression that I was delivering a Slayer to Giles for transport back to the mother ship. Looking thoughtfully at Wes, he continued. “Just what would bring Buffy over? Last I heard, she’d refused to come back to LA.”
“I’m sure you heard of the deranged Slayer who had escaped from the hospital last week, Xander. Andrew insisted, with a small army of Slayers backing him up, that we turn her over to Mr. Giles and Buffy for treatment in England. Angel disagreed. He felt that we had more than adequate facilities to help the poor woman. I believe that the presence of both Rupert and the senior Slayer will help iron out a firm policy in the event another unusual circumstance arises.”
Turning to the scowling vampire, Xander asked, “Angel, I know that Giles is in a meeting downstairs with a bunch of slayers, including Sela who came in with me. D’ya mind if I wait up here for him? Will someone let him know I’m here?”
Before Angel could answer, the elevator door opened, revealing its occupants. As they strode into the hallway, Xander froze. Not that seeing Buffy dressed in a delectable pair of black leather pants and a red bustier wasn’t an eye-boggling affair unto itself, but striding along next to her… nah, it couldn’t be. Could it?
He shook his head slowly, in denial. Rubbed his eye with the back of his hand as if that would take the apparition away.
Worry filled the man’s voice as he exclaimed, “Bufster, long time no see. Are you sure that the First is long gone… ‘cause I think I’m seein’ a ghost behind you.”
“Nah, mate. Haven’t been a ghosty for the past couple of months. S’me., in the undead flesh! Come and give old Spike a right proper welcome back kiss.” Blue eyes dancing merrily as he opened his arms wide to playfully mock Xander, he got the shock of this life or any other.
Moving quickly, Xander gathered Spike up in a huge bear hug, planted a firm kiss on his lips and said, “Welcome back, Fangboy.”
ETA: Nicely beta'd version for your reading pleasure.