edit 9/28- forgot to add- I do not own Buffy The Vampire Slayer or The Magnificent Seven!
“If I could remember
A face I’d never seen
Deep in these embers
That glow on endlessly
What would they tell me
If others had lost their faith
What would they sell me
If we had lost our way” - Four Star Mary, Run.
Xander poked around the electronics store, moving around the mp3 players and the small collection of cds that, even in this small store, seemed to be vanishing into the past. He smirked as he noted the tiny section of independent albums and flipped to the “D” partition.
“No way…” softly he plucked out a cd and made his way to the counter where JD was haggling and explaining his exact needs to the owner. Chris was outside, leaning against the window with a cheroot settled in his mouth. Vin was just idly digging through discount bin of old movies while Josiah explained plots and recommended a few.
“Whatcha got there Xander?” JD asked as the owner rang his purchases out.
“My friends band. I didn’t know they’d released anything, even home-grown,” Xander shrugged, trying to be nonchalant, but his excitement was clearly felt.
“How do you know it’s really his band?” Josiah asked as he walked over, curious.
“Dingoes Ate My Baby?” Vin paused, as if not quite sure he read that correctly off the cover.
“Yeah, and that’s Oz there,” Xander pointed to a fuzzy, nondescript person mostly hiding behind the singer on the cover.
“How can you tell?”
“I guess that should have been obvious,” Josiah grinned.
“Well, give it here, we’ll ring it out,” JD snatched the cd from Xander’s hand and added it to his pile. “And don’t even think of paying me back. We’re going to make Chris listen to it, and I can’t wait to see his face!”
Xander thought that JD’s face when he realized Chris actually enjoyed the CD was better than Chris’s face when JD insisted on playing it.
“It is rather soothing,” Josiah commented. “Not at all like the name suggests.”
“What? You thought it’d be some kinda demon-worshiping cult heavy-metal growling thing?” Xander was almost insulted for his friends. Sure they started touring when Devon still had no idea there were more than three cords on his guitar, but after four years of pretty steady gigs the guys had gotten a lot better, and it showed. They must have recorded the CD recently, Devon’s voice had gone from teenage whiny to manly crooning about halfway through senior year and Oz had finally given in and agreed to sing back up as he strummed.
“The name threw me, I’d admit.” Vin shrugged while JD had the grace to look a little bashful.
“It’s cool,” Xander admitted. “So we’re off to find knobs?” he turned to Josiah as the older man stopped focusing on the lyrics and returned his attention to the teen.
“Yes. The house has several doors that merely needed refinishing and new hardware to become usable again. So what we need to pick up is hinges and knobs.”
“Cool, so knobs, then grocery shopping, then back to the ranch?”
“Yep,” JD agreed. “The majority of us’ll probably head out, I know Buck’s got a date tonight, Ezra said something about a poker game down at the Saloon, Nathan and Rain have a movie thing and I got some updating to do…” he trailed off as he thought of his new electronic stuff.
“Yes, now that everyone has met you I believe any apprehension on anyone’s part has been laid to rest.” Josiah smirked, making Xander aware that they’d probably been as anxious as he was when he’d met the group the previous night.
“We’ll have to all get together again,” Xander smiled back at the spiritual man. He’d liked them all, more relaxed in all of their company then he’d possibly ever been in a group of strangers before.
Once again while everyone else went into the store to help Josiah or just wander around Chris leaned on the wall outside, smoking his cheroot. He looked every inch the old west cowboy, from his black hat down to his boots, his long jacket flapping in the wind with a style that Angel couldn’t duplicate if he had another couple hundred years. The difference, Xander supposed, was that Chris couldn’t care less if he looked cool. He wore the old, black duster because he was cold and it was practical. That the entire, “Man-in-Black” look actually suited him well didn’t seem to have entered into his calculations at all. He hoped that one day he might have that level of self-assurance.
He jerked his head back as Josiah asked him a question, he frowned at the shiny knob the older man held out.
“It’s an old house right?” Xander replied. “Why go all shiny-new? It wouldn’t look right, would it?” He pulled an antiqued brass knob from the pile and held it out. “Go for the classics.”
“I believe you are right, brother,” Josiah gave him that lovely grin again and started searching for hinges to go with his new knob.
“What’s up?” JD asked as he approached, a book on dry walling in his hand.
“You got a hole in the wall?”
“One of Buck’s girlfriends tossed a knick-knack through his bedroom wall. I figured I better read up before he tries to fix it himself. I don’t know how he did it, but the last time he tried to fix something the CDC almost caught on fire.”
“You call your apartment the Center for Disease Control?”
“It stuck when Nathan came over one time to check on Buck’s busted arm.”
“So, you all live in condemned places, but you all rag on each other’s places as if your’s is somehow better?”
“So?” JD bristled a bit, but had to see the humor in the situation.
“Nothing JD, but here I thought when I graduated high school I might grow up… it’s nice to know it’s not one-hundred percent assured.”
Xander insisted on paying for his own junk food. After the third box of crap he’d thrown into his basket Chris forgo trying to convince him otherwise. At least this way he had an out for when Nathan would surely see that mess.
“I didn’t buy it,” he practiced under his breath as Xander found the Twinkies. Then he grinned as Vin jogged up with a bag of coffee that he knew was so caffeine-laden that Nathan had forbidden it a the office. He threatened that the next time one of them vibrated across the room instead of walked it, he’d toss every speck of sugar and coffee out the window.
“Oh, the good stuff,” Xander nodded approvingly and held out his basket. “I’ll grab that, then.”
“Naw, I got it,” Vin hugged the bag like a teddy bear.
“Attached to the java huh? Wills is like that,” Xander grinned. “She’s not allowed coffee outside of study club and apocalypses.” his grinned dropped at the confused frown on Chris’s face.
“Apocalypsi?” a raised eyebrow was his response. “We could never agree on the plural.”
Josiah had padded up behind them and added multiple bags of vegetables and fruits, but he had obviously heard the last few comments. He too was just looking at Xander.
JD turned the corner and added the milk he’d been sent for, then blinked at the paused group he’d joined.
“What’d he say this time?” The look on Chris’s face was his “reboot” look. JD was familiar with that look. It showed up every time he had to do a reboot or update on the teams computer system and he had to explain it to Chris.
“What’s the plural for apocalypse?” Xander asked, seeing as how JD was the only one not looking at him like someone who needed a straight jacket, he figured he’d complete the set.
“Pretty sure it’s apocalypses… Entrance exam or something?”
Xander thanked whatever deity was watching out for him, because he'd had no idea how he was going to start digging his way out of that slip of the tounge.
“Yeah, Buffy was flipping about UC Sunnydale and even though Wills had already been accepted into, like, eight different Ivy leagues Buff told her it would take a lot of hellfire and brimstone before she’d be accepted.” The lie rolled beautifully off his tongue and he kept the tone light and teasing.
The guys shrugged off the odd turn of phrase pretty quickly, but Josiah went into a different sort of coma as he took one look into Xander’s basket.
“You’re going to give Nathan a heart attack,” he managed.
Luckily the Team Seven medic had left before the group returned and started putting up their groceries. Chris decided that grilled cheese for lunch would work as he stared at Buck, who was just lounging on the couch in the family room.
“That means get your ass up Buck, earn your keep,” he swatted Buck’s feet from his coffee table and smirked at the mans indignant scoff.
“Just ‘cause you burn ‘em every time…”
“I’m hungry Buck’lin, get to cook’n,” Vin put in his two cents.
“I wouldn’t mind a sandwich either, brother.”
“Fine, gang up on me,” Buck grumbled good naturedly.
“Ah’m sure you deserved whatever indignity has been sentenced,” Ezra drawled as he descended the stairs into the main living area. He was dressed in loose jeans and a thin red t-shirt, but Xander could see the quality from where he was placing his twinkies high up in the pantry.
“Don’t you own anything that cost less than eighty bucks,” he asked with a grin. “Like maybe half a pair of socks?”
“Ah don’t believe so,” Ezra replied and passed Buck in the kitchen to grab a pitcher of sun tea from the refrigerator. He hesitated, just a bit as he poured his drink. “Ah apologize if this is too personal,” he started as he watched Xander stash his sugary goods.
“Not at all,” was the reply. Xander was simply trying to figure out if he needed to hide his cookies from Buck, the man looked like a cookie-stealer.
“Ah must admit my puzzlement as to the correct form of address,” Ezra took a sip as he settled on a bar stool.
“How so?” Xander hid the Oreo’s behind wheat bran.
“As ah was brought up you address contemporaries and people you admire with their last names, such as Mr. Tanner or, occasionally, Mr. Wilmington…”
Buck grumbled something under his breath about adding something “uncomplimentary” to Ezra’s sandwich.
“All righty then, Mr. Standish,” Xander grinned. “What’s the hold-up?”
“Again, ah apologize if this is too forward, but ah am uncertain as to your affiliations. With Xander being too familiar, Mr. Harris being patently false,” Ezra took a breath at the blank look that suddenly covered the perpetually cheerful young mans eyes.
“That’s all right, no need, ummm…” his hand stuttered as his speach did. He looked away, into the family room where Vin was trading horrible jokes with JD. He took a deep breath and let it out in a puff, trying to not sound like an idiot. “Look, if you need something more formal or whatever, just call me Alexander or something. I’ve never really been enamored of all the Harris-stuff anyway.”
“Alexander,” Ezra agreed, it was a nice balance.
“Lunch up!” Buck shouted, interrupting the uncomfortable silence. He watched as both Xander and Ezra took near-identical breaths, settling themselves into their everyday attitudes. Buck had known Ezra long enough to know that his “everyday” was a nicely controlled mask, but seeing that same technique on the kid just disturbed him on a level he wasn’t sure he wanted to know about.
After lunch JD, Josiah and Ezra all said their goodbyes, leaving their plates behind. Vin and Chris made short work of the dishes, having almost a sixth sense of where the other was so as to not run into his partner. Xander and Buck just watched from the kitchen barstools, chatting about their friends. Actually Xander was chatting about his friends and pretending to be insulted when Buck laughed about all his friends being girls.
“Seriously, it’s a little disturbing,” he was saying. “Who’d you talk to about girls if you only hang out with girls?”
“I have Giles,” Xander protested. “Of course he’s British so, eh, not so much.”
“What about your band friend?” Vin asked.
“Oz?” Xander’s eyebrows almost disappeared into his hair line. “The King of the unspoken one-liners? A single “huh” and all of a sudden it’s like he’s got the answers to the universe. Besides, he’s kind of complicated.”
“So… can you braid hair? Isn’t that what girls do when they get together to gossip?” Buck teased.
“Well,” he smirked as he spied a rubber band holding together a deck of cards on the kitchen table. “Hey, Vin?”
“You can actually braid hair? I was joking, but man, that’s a little pathetic,” Buck sympathized as Xander tugged over his brother and started separating the long, light brown hair into several strands.
“Yes, I can braid hair,” he stated as his fingers started to fly through Vin’s mane. “It’s an essential survival skill when all of your friends are girls and you need something to keep your hands occupied during sleepovers.”
“You were allowed at sleepovers?” Buck gaped, impressed now. Xander forgo to mention he had to sleep on the couch downstairs while the girls slept in Buffy’s room, but hey, he was allowed to stay. Buck scooted forward a little, unashamedly fishing for more details.
“Do they really pillow fight in skimpy lingerie? “
“Not in my experience, exactly,” though there was that one time Buffy had been bandaging her shoulder after a nasty patrol and a Zit-something demon tried to climb in through the window. The closest weapon had been a pillow. It had at least knocked the scaled creature off the sill and onto the ground below. From there it had been relatively easy to aim the crossbow.
Xander finished off the braid, tying it neatly just a the nape of Vin’s neck. It was more complicated that the traditional three strand weave, more compact, a bit more manly if Xander were pressed to describe it. Buffy liked it because it didn’t leave a tail for something to pull on. For some strange reason it seemed to suit Vin better.
“Nice.” Chris commented as he wiped his hands, finished with kitchen duties.
“Well, I think it’s time for me to head out,” Buck said his goodbyes and as the brothers watched his SUV move away Chris disappeared.
They’d been avoiding being alone together, neither really sure what to say, what to do, but here they were.
“You know, at some point we’re going to have to stop just staring at each other,” Xander chuckled, a bit forced.
“Anythin yah wanted ta do?” Vin’s accent getting a bit deeper as he got a bit anxious.
“Uh, maybe… meet your horse?” It was the only thing he could think of. Of course the second they turned to the barn he thought of a million things, like watching movies or painting each others nails. He had gotten a bit comfortable with the horses the previous night, but that was with a fence between them and not going into their territory at all. Besides, JD had pulled him aside and told him not to get too brave with Peso as Vin’s horse was apparently a demon in disguise. He really had enough of that back home. But Vin seemed more comfortable now that he was on familiar ground.
He pulled open the barn doors and started pointing out the different horses and what kind they were, who they belonged to. Chaucer, Ezra’s horse, was just looking at him; like the horse could tell how nervous Xander was and was scoffing at his chances of getting away from Peso with important bits attached. Pony, Chris’s horse, seemed pretty good natured. He leaned over his partition and nibbled Xander’s collar a little, as if trying to comfort him.
Vin kept getting deeper into the barn, leading right to the dusky part of the back corner. Great, Xander thought, it’s a vampire demon horse. No natural light shone in that part of the cavernous space. Vin leaned over the partition as the large, dark head scooted forward. It seemed okay with Vin, softly lipping the man’s new hairstyle.
“Xander,” Vin soothed softly, holding out his hand a bit. Xander approached slowly, as if in negotiation with a touchy tribal demon. Gently spacing out his footfalls so he wasn’t being aggressive, or passive. Vin took Xander’s hand and, when Peso leaned his nose more forward, carefully placed his brother’s hand on the beast’s snout. Peso scoffed out a breath, Xander barely refrained from jumping nervously.
The horse was testing him! Xander realized. Cocky thing was trying to scare him! With a narrowing of his eyes and a pursing of lips he swore the four legged irritant wouldn’t get the best of him. Without prompting he took his other hand and laid it over Peso’s ear, softly starting to scratch. At first Peso froze, the only other person who dared touch his head like that was his human, his Vin creature.
Then, as the scratches got more forceful and better placed he leaned into the hand. Peso made it a point to be unpleasant, but this was a battle lost before it had even begun. A Xander determined to make a friend was unavoidable.
“See,” Vin chuckled a bit. “I knew you two’d get along.”
They were taking it slow. Both in Xander and Peso’s first meeting and, it seemed, in their own communications. Vin handed Xander a rubbery comb and demonstrated how to care for Peso, who just leaned into each round stroke like a cat. He was positive that the horse was purring under his breath.
“You look a lot like dad,” Vin managed to say after watching Xander relax enough to let his lips curl up a bit.
“Yeah?” Xander asked, not sure he was ready for a conversation to be too deep.
“Yup,” Vin brought his own comb up against Peso’s back and looked up to meet Xander’s gaze. “Dark hair, brown eyes, when at rest you have a little grin. He always looked like he was waiting for the joke to start.”
“You look like mom then?” he didn’t realize how odd it would be to say that until he did. So he did it again just to prove he could. “Mom.”
“Yup, I guess. Lighter hair, pointier nose, but yup, pretty much. But I got grandpa’s eyes. Never met’em but I got some pictures. Show’em to ya later.”
“Did they ride?” sticking with basic questions seemed the best for now. Nothing too deep, nothing to break this apart before it started.
“Dad did, took you up a couple a times, mom frown’n something fierce,” though Vin remembered the laughter that would escape as Alex giggled from his perch high above the ground. Alex had been a little over one year old when their father died. Not much time after that mom had joined him. He’d been a little under three years when they’d been split up, when Vin had actually knocked out the first CPS agent who tried to take him away.
“I think I remember mom a little,” Xander wracked his brain on the way to Denver, thinking about how to identify his brother. Would they look alike? He’d wondered. Now he knew they didn’t really look anything alike, except for maybe their noses, that hint of a smile Vin said he saw in him. He had a vague recollection of a lady with light hair smiling at him and picking him up. He told Jessica once about his dream and she’d just slapped him. He hadn’t said anything after that, even if it had been a half-hearted attempt.
“That’s good,” Vin showed him the next step, taking out a bristly brush to get rid of the dirt and hair they’d separated with the rubbery comb.
“Yeah, it’s nice.” They continued grooming in silence for a little while.
“We gotta find some way to prove to the guys that you got this close,” Vin muttered as he switched to the last brush, a soft thing that would swipe away the last of the dust and hair that got pulled loose as they worked.
“I guess I could always braid Peso’s hair,” Xander joked, his grin dropped as Vin handed him a ribbon.
Later Chris insisted on taking pictures. Though why he couldn’t have just taken a picture of Xander in front of Peso instead didn’t seem to occur to any of them. Vin framed his copy, feeling a little ridiculous at the fact that he and his horse were immortalized forever with matching up do’s.
Soundtrack for this chapter- Four Star Mary and Boys Like Girls.
Fun fact- Four Star Mary is the band that played during BtVS every time you heard the Dingoes. I was curious, looked it up, adore it all. Made some of this really easy to write. Highly recommended!
Also, debated putting in a hold-up or some sort of legal altercation during the shopping that could raise some questions about Xander, some puzzle pieces for the ATF agents to pick at. Nixed it, and pretty happy with that decision. Too cliché. Let’s work on bonding before the jumping down the throat scenarios. Shall we?
Not sure who gave the horses the names they have, but I do know that some of the best Old West fanfic I’ve read have been about Ezra’s horse, Chaucer. Go read them! Horse Tales by Nottasha! ( www.nottasha.com ) Don't drink anything while you do... you will end up with whatever beverage you choose up your nose. Fair warning.