Half a Sky of Stars by Sandra Strait

Illustration by Sandra Strait.

An interlude in the ‘Ten Years After&rsquo universe, looking at a scene from Xander's life between ‘Chosen’ and ‘Ten Years After’. Rating PG-13.

Half a Sky of Stars

Xander lay on his back on the sand, gazing up at the stars, his right hand resting on his abdomen and still clutching a now-empty bottle of local beer. He wasn't sleepy even though everything was quiet and still with just the sound of waves breaking on the beach.

‘Funny thing, when you’re a teenager you always wanted to stay up all night, but your natural state is to be making with the little zees’, he thought, ‘and now, what, nearly thirty? I'll be fine even if I lie here for hours.’

He continued to gaze heavenward. He remembered nights camping in his parents’ yard in Sunnydale but he hadn't usually seen the stars no super power see-through-tents vision for good old Xander he'd always been Mr. Ordinary Guy.

He'd never lain like this on a Californian beach and stared at the stars either, with or without a girl. He thought idly that it was a shame that he had no memory of what it looked like to see the star-spangled blackness all the way across with two eyes. Then he mentally shrugged that would probably be too much emptiness for his brain to deal with anyway.

Still, it was pleasant to lie here, with no fears about what might happen whether he slept or didn't, and let his thoughts wander.

The job was going well; the new hospital was taking shape. His crew of American and European volunteers and local workers were keeping to schedule cheerfully, the plans had been drawn up by somebody who'd actually visited the site rather than just sitting on their butt up in the capital, so there were no major boo-boos, and the local materials were better than you often found.

Other people might think his lifestyle over the last few years was aimless and irresponsible, or alternatively brave and self-sacrificing you pay your money and you take your choice. But Xander knew that his meanderings from disaster zone to disaster zone, poverty stricken country to poverty-stricken country, were none of those things. Xander’s life had a purpose and a driving force, and these days it didn't have much to do with demons or Watchers or Slayers. Xander did what he did because he owed other survivors of unimaginable horrors the chance to get on with their lives.

He'd thought that way first late in ‘04, when a new-found English friend in a hotel bar in Tanzania had asked him to put his building skills to use where a charity was building a school. A school for kids who wore tattered American T-shirts, and ate less in a week than Xander remembered eating in a day at their age.

Standing on his hotel balcony before he went to bed that night Xander had thought of his conversation with the English guy. For some reason he'd found himself talking about Anya, and how he was dreading Christmas without her, and Chris, because that was the guy’s name, had finally said “You got to forgive her for dying, man, because in the biggest possible way she's moved on, and so should you.” That was when he'd suggested that Xander stay and help with the school project and Xander had said he would think about it.

He had been planning on flying to London with the newly discovered Slayer, and taking a break with his friends over Christmas, but he'd thought of those kids, and he'd thought of the schools he had attended back in Sunnydale; gone now, but like palaces compared with this school, being built to replace one that had been a patch of earth under a tree.

Then he had thought of his friends. They would all celebrate Christmas with more or less enjoyment; there would be more food than he would need, and lots of drink. They would cast worried looks if he went too near the drink, none of them would mention Anya at all, and Xander would wonder whether this was because they had already put her to the back of their minds, and didn't think of her, or because they didn't want to upset him at Christmas.

‘Why not stay and do something useful?’ he had found himself thinking. There had been no pay offered; only a room and his meals, and Xander had thought of Anya and how she would have told him off for using his valuable skills for almost nothing. Then Xander had smiled, and he'd laughed out loud in the still African night.

Because he'd thought that actually Anya would have understood; realised that this was a way of paying back the world for the good things, like still breathing.

But she would also have understood that this was also a way of obtaining vengeance ‘Like you fuck me up by burying my whole life in a hole in the ground, and you make me half blind, and you kill the only woman I’ve loved, just as I'd worked that one out,’ he'd thought. ‘But I have survived, just like Gloria Gaynor, and I will not go down. I spit in your eye, whoever and wherever you are, you bastard, and I’ll help a few other people to survive and have better lives at the same time!’

It had been a good Christmas, with carols and a good meal, and people who treated him as an equal, someone who wanted to be here, and knew what he was doing, rather than looking as if they were worried about upsetting him, or trying to keep the conversation simple so that he would understand it. He'd decided that he could stay there a bit longer; there was no definite news of any more un-contacted Slayers that he needed to hurry away for.

Then the same charity had asked him to go out to Indonesia and be involved in post-tsunami re-building, and he'd thought about the Watchers Council expecting him to start travelling around Africa again hunting for Slayers, and then he had sent them an e-mail, packed his bag and got on a plane to Soekarno Hatta Airport. Giles and the new Council could find one of their newly trained Watchers to search in Africa. His friends were still his friends, but their lives were not his life, and Xander suddenly realized that to really grow up he would have to lead his own life.

Over the next few years Xander was glad that his youth in Sunnydale, and his years as a Scooby, made him aware of the existence of vampires and demons; knowing that they were real saved not only his skin, but possibly those of one or two of his workmates on one or two occasions. But, glad as he was to know about them, he found he was even gladder to know that the Watchers and the Slayers existed to deal with them, and most of the time he no longer had to.

Tonight, here on this beach, looking at half a sky of stars, Xander let his mind wander to his old friends one by one. Willow was his best friend since kindergarten; Giles had been a sort of father figure, still was in a distant way; Buffy a hero figure, a crush, and someone who scared the hell out of him at times; and Dawn was a sort of kid-sister figure, or maybe more a kid step-sister figure as he'd only known her after the Summers came to Sunnydale, and only properly since that ‘summer without Buffy or Joyce’.

He loved them the way you loved your best friend since kindergarten, or your step-sister or whatever, but he'd come to realize that having new friends was fine - the other guys had friends that weren't family, or forever, and most of the people he met, and worked with, weren't doing a job just because their best friend, or mentor, or school-boy crush was involved in it - they were doing what they wanted.

So Xander felt no guilt at striking out on his own in the world anymore, and he kept in touch with the folk from Sunnydale because they were as near as he had to family. He ignored the Harrises - didn't know where they were these days, and was glad of that - and now he thought of Sunnydale, and what he had learned there, in the same way as some of the other people thought of school and university. He had realized sometime in ’07, building houses for earthquake victims, that for the first time in his whole life his default setting was content, with really happy or sad as variants that happened, and then leveled back to content.

He thought about it again sometimes, like this, and it was the best life that he could imagine. Not any of the ones he had imagined in the past, Xander and Buffy, Xander the Hero, Xander and Anya - but the best now, and totally real.

Drifting across the sand, from the other side of the bonfire they'd cooked fish on earlier, he heard laughter and recognized it as Sam, the wiry little Londoner who was in charge of the electricians. Funny, when he'd first met Sam, Xander had been reminded of Spike.

He hadn't thought of the vampire for a long time, but seeing and hearing Sam was like somebody poking you over a bruised rib. Bringing the memories of the vampire to the front of his mind was like picking at the scab over a cut knee when you were a kid. Only difference was that the poke made him realize that the rib had healed or that picking at the scab left smooth new skin the memory didn't hurt him, or anger him, any more.

Willow had told him, years ago, that Spike had regenerated, or transported or something, from the hell-hole at the bottom of the Hellmouth, where everyone had thought he'd died, to Angel’s place in LA. And Xander had been so angry at first. ‘Why should Bleach Boy get another chance when Anya died and IS DEAD?’ he had stormed.

Then Willow had gone on to explain that Spike had been tied by the amulet to the bad guys Angel was working for, and that Angel and Spike, with Wesley and some others, had staged a major league rebellion and totally screwed up Wolfram and Hart, which she said was very much of the good.

When Willow continued that no-one was sure, but it looked like Spike might well have got away again, something inside Xander admitted defeat. Anya couldn't have done that if she had come back under those circumstances she would either have devoted herself to making W&H more profitable or, if she had tried to help Angel with whatever his crazy plan had been, she would just have gotten herself killed again and they would probably have lost.

After that he had not really thought that much about Spike, or Angel for that matter. Then he'd heard Sam’s voice, and he had waited for the anger, or the bitterness, and - nothing. He'd no problem being friendly with Sam, and when they had a drink together, or played a game of pool, he would fleetingly see or hear Spike, and remember him doing just those things and it was like looking back at an old room-mate, who had pissed you off so totally at one time that you could have happily punched him but now you'd probably reminisce with if you met them.

Xander had wondered at himself he'd hated the bastard but all the reasons for hating him were old, and the other people didn't seem to be carrying a grudge. Then Xander decided that not-hating was better than hating, and stopped worrying about it. These days when he saw Sam he thought ‘Sam’, not ‘Spike’, without any second thought.

Xander could hear a girl’s voice murmuring and Sam laughing again, louder this time. Loud enough to disturb the girl who lay in the crook of Xander’s left arm, and she moved her T-shirt clad body into closer contact with his, and rubbed herself, half asleep, against him. This was often the start to love-making, he had learned over their three months together.

She was pretty and undemanding, doing a year’s voluntary work after leaving university, and their relationship was a good one. She probably wasn't the new love of Xander’s life, and he probably wasn't the love of hers. When they left this project they would go their separate ways, and promise to stay in touch. There would be e-mails for a while, then one or the other would find someone new, and they would move on. But here, in this place, they were a couple and it was good.

Xander tossed the beer can a few feet away, he could pick it up in the morning, and rolled into a closer embrace, his rapidly stiffening dick responding to her caresses which were becoming more coordinated as she woke up, and soon they were making love on the sand for the second time that night.

Above them was a sky full of stars, and the ones that Xander couldn't see didn't worry him because those he could see were beautiful, and more than enough for him to be content with.


  • The End

  • The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.