DISCLAIMER: Everything belongs to Joss. I'm not making money off this.
FANDOM: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Firefly
PAIRING: Xander/Spike implied
CATEGORY: AU, XO, action
SPOILERS: anything in Buffy is possible up to and including ‘Chosen,' vague ones for Firefly
SERIES: not planned
SUMMARY: Xander finds more than Slayers and demons in Africa.
Sown with Salt
Xander's heart stuttered as he caught sight of the leader of the group trudging along what passed for a highway in this part of the world. A highway, if you didn't mind sharing the road with foot traffic with more than two feet and the accompanying smells. It was always the dry season here and the dust kicked up by what was laughingly called a breeze had obscured the group till it was almost too late.
"Caleb," he snarled, standing square in the roadway by the time they'd made their way around the curve, hand resting on the grip of the gun tucked into the back of his pants.
The priest was out of his cleric's collar, instead wearing a calf length brown coat over a shirt the color of old blood and tan pants, gun that was suddenly in his hand seemingly leaping from the thigh holster.
The dark skinned beauty had halted beside him in the same instant, sawed off shotgun balanced in her hands. The young man and hunch-shouldered girl stumbled to a halt behind them; the big man that had brought up the rear glaring at him, before swinging around to scan their back trail.
Caleb held up his free hand. "Don't know any Caleb, neighbor. Name's Malcolm Reynolds."
Xander bared his teeth. "I don't know how you managed to crawl out of hell, Caleb, but I'm going to send you straight back."
The young girl shrieked, suddenly wrenching out of the young man's grip, dodging past the woman as she tried to reach her. She stared up at him, ignoring the other's cries that she come back. "The stars say to tell you, the same face but not the same heart."
Frowning, Xander let his hand drop from his gun, meeting the girl's eyes. "Who taught you to hear the stars, little bird?"
Xander closed his eye, shoulders twisting tighter.
"Mwalimu,, it is not right that you face danger without me," a quiet voice stated from behind him.
"Caleb isn't someone I'd let within a hundred miles of you, Eshe," he sighed, taking off his hat to scratch at the sweat drying under the strap of his patch as he studied the group in front of him.
Eshe, body as beautiful and perfectly formed as a cheetah, came up beside him, careful to stay on his right side. Her skin, the color of good chocolate – when was the last time he'd had American food, never mind chocolate? – gleamed with sweat in the heat, but her face was a serene as the sunrise.
Reynolds swore in three languages, pulling the girl back to him, passing her over to the young man who was reaching for her. "I told you–"
Xander held up a hand. "I know that you're not Caleb. If you had been, you'd have killed that girl, not gotten her out of harms way."
The man switched languages, cursing in Mandarin as he holstered his gun. The other two armed strangers did the same. "Well, then, I can see how's you'd want to put a bullet in the huh choo-shang tza-jiao duh tzang-huo."
The one eyed man offered his hand. "Sorry about that. Xander Harris." They shook. Reynolds offered no other names. "Where did you rescue the girl from?"
The taller man's eyes narrowed. "Who says we did?"
"Maggie Walsh was a megalomanic scientist. She experimented on her own staff. Some friends and I destroyed her first lab. They rebuilt in South America. They must have lost that base recently."
"The wicked plum burned it down. Effulgent, sweet boy," the girl half-sang.
Xander nodded. Dru, when she'd learned of Spike's death. The familiar knifeblade at the thought of his name.
"Heart of ashes and dust, phoenix."
Xander smiled sadly at the girl. "Not my heart, little bird."
She stamped her foot, kicking up dust that danced around her. "Have faith, whelp."
He stared at her and then nodded, before turning back to Reynolds, who had been watching them impatiently. "I won't ask where you're going. Eshe," the Slayer tensed beside him, "will see you to safety."
Reynolds frowned. "Assuming I let her, where will you be?"
"Making sure you have no one on your backtrail, mercenary."
"Who says we're mercs?" the big man at the back of the group demanded. "Sides, I'd know if anyone had been tryin' to follow us."
Harris lost his smile. He nodded toward the girl and young man. "They do, especially him. He's not dressed for this climate, and not armed. And he clings to her as if he hasn't seen her in a while, as if he has been terrified of never seeing her again." He looked to the right. "Better get going, more than the wildlife comes out at night in these parts."
"Mwalimu, let me come with you," Eshe asked.
He had stopped trying to get her to call him Xander instead of Teacher after the first week. "Do you think that I can't take care of myself, Eshe? Or that they are prepared for what is coming?" He ignored Reynolds' protest, staring at his Slayer. "Whatever comes, you will have no part of it. You were never meant to kill humans, none of you are. If you get to civilization, call Giles and tell him the Initiative has relocated again."
Xander swung back to the mercenary. "Willing to earn some more money?"
Reynolds was glaring at him. It didn't ease much. "How?"
"Come hunting with the team Giles will send. I imagine that you weren't able to take out the entire base. I don't intend for it to last out the month. The week if I can manage it."
The older man glanced at the woman beside him, apparently knowing her well enough that they had an entire conversation without words. "Anybody that would experiment on little girls got no right to live," he said finally. "But I got a contract to get these two out of the country first." He glared again, glancing between Xander and Eshe. "And I don't need no help doing it."
"Yes, you do. You have no idea of what walks here at night." Xander stepped backwards, feeling something slip loose inside, like stretching a limb that had gone to sleep. As quickly as that, he went from two legs to four.
The big man in back hollered, hand scrambling for his gun as a hyena that came up to his waist stood where the one eyed young man had been. A hyena with one eye, the other socket scarred and empty.
Xander laughed, as only a hyena can, before trotting around the group to start the hunt.