Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes
Summary: Xander has PTSD after rescuing one too many slayers. Spike is recovering (sort of) after the battle with W&H. Fate may have it they eventually find each other - she's funny that way.
Spoilers: Sometime in season five AtS – and possibly late seven BtVS.
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Disclaimer: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
Xander was still admiring the stonework on the grand entrance when the door swung wide on their approach to reveal a striking young man in a black suit. “Good evening, Sirs and welcome. My name is Paul the concierge for the evening. Lady Regina is through this way.”
They were led down the very attractive curved entrance hall with its stone feature wall, and through to a huge entertainment area with floor to double story ceiling windows opening onto a beautifully lit pool and spa with broad deck and attractive gardens beyond. The pinks and orange hues of the sunset only served to enhance the scene as Spike and a rather nervous Xander were offered drinks by a tray-bearing young waiter, then guided over to their hostess.
As they approached the group of guests parted to reveal an extremely attractive, slender yet shapely, silver haired woman in a figure hugging, silver evening gown. Her eyes positively sparkled with delight as she recognized the vampire and held out her hand in a grand gesture, “William! Darling! I am so pleased you could come. It has simply been too long.”
Spike took the hand and kissed it with a bow, “Lady Regina. It was very kind of you to invite us to your beautiful home.” He stood tall and placed a hand on Xander’s lower back edging him forward to join the group. “May I present my partner, Master Alexander Harris. Alexander, the Countess Lady Regina”
Lady Regina stepped forward a little, slapping Spike gently on the arm, “Oh William, such formality.” Nevertheless she held out her manicured hand and Xander duly kissed it just above the enormous ruby ring adorning it, adding shyly as he did so, “Pleased to meet you, Lady Regina.”
The countess gave a delighted laugh, exposing a row of perfect white teeth and causing the huge pearls of her earrings to swing and diamonds sparkle accordingly. “What a delightful young man, such good manners. You have done well, William. Now, the sun is just beyond the horizon and Monty will look after your lovely boy, so you and I may walk my new garden. You simply must tell me your plan for this sojourn in London…” With that she took Spike by the arm and led him outside, leaving Xander standing a little flummoxed and unsure what to say to the immediate circle of guests, who were looking expectantly in his direction.
“Umm… Hi…” Fortunately he was saved any real embarrassment when a rather jovial looking, silver headed older man thrust his hand forward, “George Montague. Friends call me Monty. William’s old friend and financier. And this is…” After that there was a whirlwind of introductions and the group settled back into conversation, including Xander with apparent ease.
Various people chatted to him, politely about his hometown, interests and travels then engaging him in the lively too and fro of friendly, well lubricated chit chat and banter, as people joined and left conversations. Normally (and very definitely since his return from Africa) he would have found such circumstances overwhelming in the extreme, but it seemed that his fellow guests were as interested and interesting as the group of friends and colleagues he and Spike had dined with in Oxford.
There was one notable difference that made conversation startlingly different. He knew from Spike’s pre-party warning that a good proportion of the guests were of demon heritage but he struggled to visually identify anyone as such. The women were without exception, beautiful, elegant, coiffed and coutured befitting the event, and simply dripping with expensively tasteful jewels. The men equally well turned out and Xander was extremely relieved to note, so was he thanks to Spike. It was only if one listened carefully that the occasional remark revealed that all present, human or demon, were well aware of the demon community and put far more weight on who not what any particular person was. This was true also for the diverse range of nationalities present.
At first Xander had looked out into the garden for Spike, but could only really make out the silhouette of her Ladyship and ‘his vampire’, but soon became intrigued by a fascinating debate regarding the merits of new satellite imaging archaeology and preservation or excavation of sites identified in Egypt and war torn regions of former Persia. Xander was unsurprised to learn of concern regarding looting and the black market in antiquities, but when one tall gent of Russian extraction argued the merits of the funding such enterprises if it meant preserving the treasures for future generations where conventional avenues failed, he found himself agreeing. The argument was logical if a little morally unsound. He could certainly see why funding local workers on digs that would otherwise not occur, for precious objects forgotten to time, was somehow legitimate – and somewhat of a time old tradition, if the vast private collections and those in the British Museum and countless others were accounted for.
One of their group turned to Xander during a lull in the conversation, “Are you a collector?”
Xander suddenly felt like a bug under a magnifying glass when others in the circle turned to him, “I… I um… No, not unless you count a full set of Babylon Five DVDs and some Superman comics that are now down the sinkhole that was my home town.” He felt himself flush with embarrassment.
A round of good-natured laughter was followed by various members of the group confessing to their, more mundane (and often funny), collections and obsessions. A dark haired thirty something man standing by Monty was teased good heartedly that he collected women, to which he replied, “Not to own, just borrow for a while. And never more than four at a time!” And so the conversation went on.
Xander was drawn to the man who had so good naturedly laughed off his reputation with women. Monty had introduced him as ‘my old friend Anton’. He had extraordinary green eyes and perfect smile; jet-black wavy hair and dark skin indicating a Mediterranean heritage; and a regal yet openly friendly demeanor. Monty had excused himself to ‘catch up with Colonel Blakely-Smythe’ (whoever that was), and most of others in their immediate group seemed to take it as a reason to also move on, leaving Xander rather at a loose end and standing with Anton.
The tall man smiled and sighed good-naturedly, “Seems we’ve been abandoned. No matter. Monty mentioned to me that you served in Africa?”
Xander’s heart rate raised immediately and his hand made its automatic “I’m instantly anxious” response and adjusted his eye patch. Anton picked up on his discomfort and quickly added, “Of course it’s fine if you’d rather we discuss something else. It’s just that I have been to Africa several times and despite its well earned reputation for being extremely dangerous, I found so much of it beautiful.”
Xander saw an opportunity to deflect attention from himself and relaxed a little, “I guess so. Mostly I was in places where there was just scrub and dust and poverty and conflict; or trees and mud and poverty and conflict. But some of the nature stuff I saw was cool, especially when if I got away on R&R. I would have loved to see Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro, you know the Lion King touristy bits… then again… But did you… umm…?”
Anton’s eyes seemed to light up as he began an entertaining well-edited account of his various adventures that included self deprecating accounts of his attempts at the African language; close shaves with various large mammals and raucous ‘sozzled’ expats; and thrilling though at times ill advised adventures hiking, flying and driving in various locations on the dark continent. There always seemed to be the obligatory femme fatale mixed in with extremely fond descriptions of locals who had always been on hand to help him out.
Monty rejoined them at some point and had his own tale to tell of the ‘good old days’ – a time apparently rife with big game hunting, raucous parties and a good time had by all.
Though definitely feeling included Xander was increasingly aware of Spike’s extended absence but was prevented from worrying unduly when Monty noted his concern. The jovial gent gave a chortle and announced to their immediate group, “Heaven help our friend William! I just spied Her Ladyship taking him for another lap of the yard.”
The response was another round of laughter before the conversation turned to more serious matters, in particular international affairs and finance. Xander listened politely but ultimately needed the bathroom and took the opportunity to politely excuse himself.
The bathroom was as stylishly modern and opulent as the rest of the house. Marble and glass dominated, and Xander found himself considering the likely design brief and possible budget for such a build, sadly aware that he was unlikely reenter the building trade or ever work on such a project. And as he washed his hands in the solid glass freestanding hand basin atop the marble shelf, he idly considered how incredible it must be to commission and own such a house.
Returning to the party he noted that his previous company had dispersed. The familiar feeling of being out of place settled somewhere deep in his gut.
He had always been awkward in company, stemming right back to childhood and parents shooing him out of the way whenever they socialized. In his teens he rarely socialized outside the close knit Scoobies and felt downright terrified at high school socials. He had gone out with work colleagues occasionally but that was either low-key casual gatherings, or in a strictly business type event where there were common interests. Since Africa and his breakdown it had been inconceivable that he would attend an occasion as grand as Lady Regina’s ‘event’, let alone rub shoulders with the rich and famous (or in some cases infamous) of London and beyond. Yet here he was. What the hell was he supposed to do in such circumstances? Breaking into an established group seemed ridiculous, and he didn’t want to drink to fill in time or relax - prescribed medicine and lots of alcohol, definitely prohibited.
In the end he took a champagne from a passing tray, if only to have something to keep his hands busy, and wandered out onto the pool deck where young woman was expertly playing some classical piece on the white baby grand Steinway placed there for the purpose. He smiled politely and moved a little closer as pale blue eyes glanced up in his direction and she smiled a silent invitation.
His interest sparked that of others as a number of individuals gathered to listen more attentively, including Anton with a stunning woman on each arm. The statuesque blonde on his left put a lace glove covered hand to Anton’s ear and whispered something to which he shook his head then looked at Xander, winked and rolled his eyes.
There was a round of applause as the etude finished and the slender pianist turned from the keyboard. She obviously recognized Anton and a couple of others in the audience and gave a delighted, “Oh wonderful!! Come on now. Anton you’re with me on duet. Lenny? David? Jill? You simply must do Carmen! Don’t they everyone!”
Still hopeful Spike would come along soon, Xander melted back into the growing crowd to the difficult introduction to the Toreador Song being played expertly by the two at the piano in a perfect (obviously well practiced) duet.
Lady Regina greeted various guests as she directed Spike out to the broad lawn and toward a brightly lit tennis court where several people were having a ‘hit and giggle’ (literally) with drinks being sipped between rallies and a few appreciative onlookers calling out encouragement.
Spike raised his glass in a toast to a particularly well-played point but said little else, other than a polite hello to the people they passed. Once away from the crowd, approaching a spectacular large bed of shrubs and flowers, Lady Regina paused, apparently to take in the scene. “I was very sorry to hear of the loss of your Grandsire, William, but you must be comforted that you were at least reconciled at the end.”
Spike’s voice was soft and cultured in his reply, “Indeed, Madam, and I thank you for your sympathy. He dusted a hero as he would have wished.”
“Ahh. And what of you, William? I have heard so many rumors over the years! And to find you have returned to London and with a charming young Consort on your arm. Well! No one seems to be a reliable source of information these days!” She huffed with feigned annoyance then took Spike’s arm again and continued on their slow promenade of the garden. “Now you know I will have to corner that dear boy of yours if you don’t tell me at least the highlights of your last few years.”
As had always happened when in the Lady’s presence, Spike found himself saying more than he initially intended. He briefly describing he and Dru’s move to the USA and the misery of Sunnydale, mentioning little detail other than the loss of Drusilla, Initiative chip, the alliance with the Slayer and her gang. He heavily edited the voluntary regaining of his soul and what, at the time, he thought was his last act in closing the Sunnydale Hellmouth.
By the time they were on their third circuit of the garden, he was describing events in LA and more recently. He spoke a little of the reconciliation of sorts with his Grandsire and the final battle, then post rescue, detailing Connor and family lovingly. And finally expressed his delight at finding his friend ‘Alexander’ in the UK and their ongoing partnership (a simple ‘airbrushing’ of the truth still satisfying her ladyship’s curiosity).
The divine strains of a soprano singing La Habanera rang out over the garden and Lady Regina grinned mischievously, “Finally the sounds of a real party. I just knew my idea of a piano outside was a good one, after all one does not invite the best of the National Opera for nothing! Come, let’s find your boy and enjoy ourselves properly.”
Spike was all but dragged back to the poolside and relieved to see Xander amongst the audience looking almost relaxed. As the music finished to appreciative applause, he sidled up and put his arm around the brunette’s waist, pulling him close and whispering, “Miss me pet?”
He was rewarded with a smile and peck on the cheek before Xander whispered, “Yes… A lot!... Now shush.” With that Xander turned back to the entertainment, but did manage to snake his arm around Spike’s back so they were tight together as Toreador began.
The tenor was marvelous but real thrill came when the chorus of other trained voices joined in, all but drowning out the accompaniment.
They both roared their appreciation at the end of the piece as the two piano players stood to join the singers to acknowledge the crowd. Xander grinned and whispered, “That’s Anton… We were talking earlier. Interesting guy.”
Spike followed his line of site before growling audibly, “Bloody Hell! That, pet, is the f-ing Immortal!”