Title: What a Difference a Day Makes – 3/?
Rating: PG I guess, maybe PG-13?
Disclaimer: Don't own them, I wish I did, but for now I'm just playing in a pretty big sandbox
A/N: Huge thanks to Sam smhwpf, I haven't had any of the parts of this story betad until now because, to be honest, it's so close to my heart that I didn't want to let it go, I'm so glad I did for this part - especially for the laugh you gave me with the yellow text Sam! I seriously was on the floor laughing at that! I decided not to cut any of the third part btw, I just love Rose so much that I couldn't bring myself to do it!
Okay, on with the fun!
"Are you sure that would be for the best?"
She barely registered the question as she watched the door close silently behind him.
"Buffy? Are you still there?"
Shaking her head quickly she focused on what Giles was saying.
"Um, yeah, I'm here. I don't know if it's a good idea, but I think I should see him. Thank him."
"I understand that, but perhaps there are other factors to take into consideration. From what Andrew tells me it seems Spike's quite
settled in Los Angeles, has been for a while, and yet he hasn't contacted you or any of us. Maybe he's not ready for it yet."
"I guess..." She didn't know how to finish the sentence.
"Xander? What do you think?"
"He's gone Giles, he left a minute ago."
"Oh. I see." She wondered if he really did see. Could he hear the confusion in her voice? Did he understand where it was coming from? Giles had always been the wisest person she knew and was highly perceptive most of the time. But this thing, this whatever it was
she'd found with Xander, this was something she hadn't seen coming.
Could she really expect someone on another continent to appreciate the turmoil in her mind? Especially with so much unsaid?
No, he didn't see, he couldn't. He was just being Giles and she missed him terribly.
"Perhaps you should talk to him about it. You may find Xander has something pertinent to add after his recent fact-finding excursion."
She frowned, there it was again - Giles clearly knew more about Xander's recent adventures than she did, but the only way that was
possible was if the two of them had planned this on the quiet. Which also meant that Xander would have known he'd be in danger. And yet he'd gone anyway, just like always.
"Huh?" She tried playing it dumb even though she knew there was little chance of Giles falling for that, not now.
She was right - he didn't buy it. With a sigh he said simply, "Talk to Xander. See what he has to say."
Quite clearly she wasn't going to get anything more from Giles and she needed to actually be in visual range for the puppy dog eyes to work. The message she was getting loud and clear was that Xander knew something that might relate to Spike's current situation and the only way she was going to find out what was to ask him outright.
As she said her goodbyes to Giles and promised to call Dawn later on to tell her `everything' (like that was going to happen!) she reflected that it wouldn't be a problem talking to Xander about whatever it was. She was so over the non-communication thing now; the only downside to the plan was that she had no idea where he was.
Everything she'd read about Morocco had indicated that the centre of Marrakech was not the best place for a lone American tourist. Especially not a lone American tourist who also happened to be a young woman.
She shuddered a little as she remembered the openly lecherous stares the cab driver had given her on the way here the night before. Going out onto the streets would undoubtedly bring more of the same. Still, needs must when the devil drives and all. Smiling, she realised that it now apparently took little more than a five-minute conversation with Giles to have her speaking like him. Just as well it didn't work in reverse, she could just imagine Giles' reaction if he ended up `mangling' the English language in the way he accused her of doing all too often.
Feeling a little more positive, she searched through her bags looking for the guidebook she'd bought at the airport. Finally finding it, she opened up the "handy pull-out map" thinking she'd like to one day meet the person who thought this gigantic piece of multi coloured paper was "handy" if only to actually see the size of their hands.
If there was one thing she missed about US cities, hell even Sunnydale, it was the easy to follow grid layouts. Rome had proven to be a confusing nightmare of back streets, alleyways and covered walkways that had taken a lot of getting used to. The friendly folks at "Lonely Planet" apparently realised this and had produced a plethora of guides to the city that made it pretty much impossible to get lost.
Not so for Marrakech. The map before her showed a multitude of twisting, inter-connecting streets that looped back on each other continually like a ball of string. And that was in the modern part of the city! She didn't want to think about the blank area on the map where the cartographers had apparently given up and settled for the word "Suuq" instead of actually mapping it. Instinct told her that was going to be exactly where Xander would head. All in all it wasn't a very promising start to the day.
Sighing heavily, she gathered up the map along with the remains of her fast-fading courage and headed for the door. The sooner she found him, the sooner she could get this mess sorted out.
The sounds of the Jemaa l-Fna market place were overwhelming. He watched as vendors touted their wares to unsuspecting tourists. One girl in particular seemed to be drawing a lot of attention as she wandered around the huge market place with a wide-eyed look of wonder. Various items of jewellery were thrust towards her along with leatherwork and sample photographs of Mendhi. She was trying her best with the polite refusal approach but Xander knew from experience that politeness didn't count for much here. Sure enough, rather than taking the hint and leaving her in peace, the street sellers continued their assault with renewed vigour. The small group soon caught the attention of others and in the blink of an eye she was surrounded.
He briefly considered heading over to help her out but the bright smile still on her face convinced him that she wasn't exactly hating
it. In fact, chances were pretty good that she was loving every minute of it and would be telling her friends all about it for months to come.
A wave of envy washed over him as he realised being clamoured over in the market didn't even feature in the most memorable events of his time in Africa. Oh no, he had the much more interesting stories of midnight forays into war-torn countries recovering from years of
drought and famine whilst on the trail of some long-forgotten legends of mystical warrior women.
They weren't exactly the kind of stories you told at dinner parties. There was never going to be a time when he'd regale near-strangers
with tales of how he'd single-handedly run away from the Acis demon in the middle of the Sahara. Derisive laughter bubbled up in him at that thought - hobbled away after taking the beating of his life came a lot closer to the truth. He'd been more than lucky to get out of there with his life, especially after what he'd found out about the last visitor to the caves before him. Andrew's little bombshell had proven that he hadn't escaped; the Acis had let him go. The question was, why?
A commotion from the centre of the square dragged his attention back to the present. The girl he'd spotted earlier was no longer smiling. The press of people around her was growing by the second and Xander had to squint to see her in the centre of the group. The growing fear in her expression propelled him to his feet and before he had a chance to think about it he was at her side.
Gently, trying not to spook her any more than she already was, he placed one hand on her lower back to guide her and used his other hand to push against the throng clamouring for her attention. She jumped a little at his touch but allowed him to help her out of the crowd.
As soon as they were clear, he dropped his hand and took a step back so as not to intimidate her. He needed have worried as she turned to him with that huge smile back on her face. To her credit, there was barely a flicker when she saw the eye-patch. Her expression was definitely infectious and he found himself grinning along like an idiot.
"Thanks, I think you just saved my life. Or at least my bank balance!"
There was a lilt in her voice that he found it difficult to place, British he thought, but not English. "I'm Eilidh by the way."
He shook her outstretched hand with the smile still plastered across
his face. "Xander is me… uh, I mean, hi, I'm Xander." Wow, one smile from a strange girl and suddenly he regressed back five years. Wonders never ceased.
She raised an eyebrow, "Xander? Unusual name isn't it?"
He laughed at that, "You should meet my friends. And anyway, I could say the same for Eilidh couldn't I?"
"Touché." If it were possible her smile widened.
"Well, Eilidh. I think we scared them away." She glanced around and saw he was right, most of the vendors had moved on to other targets and there were only a few shadowy looking men in brown hooded robes loitering nearby.
"Thanks to you."
"All part of the service," he touched the first two fingers of his hand to his forehead in a mock salute. "Looks like you're safe now. It was good to meet you." He turned to walk away but stopped as she laid a hand on his arm.
"Wait, please. The least I can do is buy you some tea. I mean you did rescue me, in some cultures that would make us as good as
married." There was a glint in her eyes and a playful tone in her voice.
He weighed up his options, go back and have the painful conversation he knew he couldn't avoid with Buffy; or spend ten minutes pretending he was normal. So he was selfish, sue him. After the last few days he figured he deserved some normality. He grinned at Eilidh and said "Lead on."
He had no chance of seeing the small group of robed figures off to their left watching them go with interest.
Dammit! How was it possible to get lost within two minutes of stepping out of the door? No. She wasn't lost. That just wasn't something that happened to Buffy Summers. She might, from time to time, be a little situationally misplaced, such as now, but she was never lost.
Oh, who was she kidding? She'd taken what had looked like a shortcut to the main square and had ended up following a twisted path which took her past at least ten rug stores before she finally began to suspect that it was actually the same store that she'd just walked
past for the tenth time. Frustrated she stopped and pulled out the guidebook again, angry that she was failing so miserably at the simple task of getting from A to B.
Leafing through the pages, she supposed the book might have been of some use if there were anything even remotely resembling street signs - or even proper streets - anywhere around her, but there was nothing.
She was still in the tourist area; that much she could tell from the various groups who wandered past gawping at the intricate patterns on the rugs hanging outside that damned store. Realising she didn't really have any other option, she tagged along behind one largish
group of mostly British tourists on the grounds that they would probably eventually end up back in something resembling a normal street from where she could get her bearings.
A few of the people in the group eyed her warily; apparently they'd also heard the horror stories about pickpockets and were trying to see how this petite blonde girl fit into the stereotype. Keeping her expression open and her hands in plain sight, she spoke quietly to the middle-aged woman beside her.
"Excuse me? I got separated from my group - would you mind if I come with you guys until I find them again?"
The grey-haired woman smiled widely at her, the relief at hearing the American accent obvious.
"Oh you poor thing! Of course we don't mind, dearie. We'll get you back to your friends in a jiffy! Clifford!" This last was aimed at a balding man a few steps ahead, he turned to see what the fuss was about. "Clifford, this little girl's lost her friends. She'll be coming with us for now so you just keep an eye out for her."
Rebelling both at being called a little girl and the thought of Clifford looking out for her, Buffy found it a struggle to keep the smile on her face. She managed it and gave silent thanks to the hours of practice the Homecoming pageant had given her.
"So where are you from dearie? And what brings you to Africa? I must say it's been quite a culture shock for Clifford and me. Hasn't it,
Clifford? Clifford? I said hasn't it been quite the culture shock?"
Clifford grunted non-committally and Buffy could feel the muscles in her face begin to ache already as she kept the falsely bright smile on her face.
Fifteen minutes later and Buffy knew the entire life story of Clifford, his wife Rose, their son James and the never-ending feud with the Galloways next door who insisted on growing those awful Leylandii trees despite what the council had told them. Buffy had been forced to suppress a giggle at that one, she'd suddenly gotten an image of Giles in stern-face mode telling someone to cut down a bunch of trees.
Without warning, the walkway they were on went through an archway and widened out into the market square. Relief washed over her as she spotted the street the Watchers' Council's apartment was on. She was still no closer to finding Xander but at least she was no longer lost herself. She turned to thank Rose and Clifford and found herself face to face with a snake.
She let out a tiny scream and was about to drop into fighting stance when she saw the grinning face of the man holding the reptile out to her.
"Camera? You, pretty girl, photograph?"
She opened her mouth to refuse but before she could say anything she found herself being pulled away and Rose's voice saying loudly
"No. No camera. Come on dearie, you can't trust these fellas. That could have been poisonous or anything! Are you all right dearie? Did he give you a scare?"
Again struggling to keep the laughter contained, Buffy shook her head, "Oh no, I'm fine, He just startled me."
Rose patted her hand and she really had to fight against the ire being patronised always caused in her.
"Do you see any of your friends?"
"My friends? Oh... right..." Buffy was at a loss, Rose had obviously decided to take the helpless American girl under her wing, and it was going to be difficult getting away from her without finding another group she could pass off as her tour party.
She cast around, looking for any likely party and was rewarded when she spotted a group of obviously American tourists in eye-hurtingly
bright clothing. Sometimes her fellow-country folk depressed her.
She was about to point them out to Rose so that she could make good her escape when out of the corner of her eye she spotted him. Xander.
It was the eye-patch that caught her attention first of all, but the sight of him with his head thrown back in laughter, that confirmed it. It had been far too long since she'd seem him laugh like that, but there was something undeniably Xander about it.
"Is that your young man then?" She started a little as Rose spoke and realised that the older woman was following her gaze.
"Huh? Oh. What makes you think that?"
"Please, dearie. I'm a mother, there's some things we just know." She smiled, "I just hope some day some girl looks at my James in the
same way you're looking at...?" she looked at Buffy expectantly.
"Xander." She supplied.
"Xander? I don't know, you Americans and your odd names. Tell me what's wrong with good old-fashioned names like Liz or Alex?"
This time there was no keeping the laughter down. It bubbled out of her like a fountain of mirth. Rose looked from her to the laughing man across the square and commented, "Well, you're a good match anyway. Now go get him before someone else makes off with him. He's quite the catch."
Buffy smiled her thanks and nodded, "Yes, he is isn't he?" She found herself thinking back on all the times he'd stood at her side,
supporting her always.
He'd been part of who she was for so long now that she honestly didn't know if she could function without him. What had happened between them had happened because it was the next logical step in their relationship. If she hadn't been so self-involved over the past year or so, she realised, she might have seen it sooner instead of focusing on her uneasy relationship with Spike.
The smile dropped from her face instantly. Spike. She had to find out what Xander knew and talking to him about it was going to hurt them both. It might even drive a wedge between them that could never be removed. She'd almost forgotten the animosity that had existed between the two men.
"Are you all right dearie?" Rose's question brought her out of her reverie. "I wouldn't worry about her if I were you, I'm sure your fella's only got eyes for you." A rather tasteless joke flicked its way through her mind but Buffy's internal censor stopped her from saying it aloud. "Her?" She realised what Rose had said and looked at her in confusion. Glancing back across at the café Xander was currently in, she realised for the first time that he was sharing his table with someone. An attractive, brunette, mid-twenties and ultimately female someone.
As a bitter taste formed in her mouth, Buffy acknowledged the irony in the fact that mere moments before she'd been considering the
possibility that Xander would be jealous of Spike. It seemed she had her own green-eyed monster to deal with.
"Oh." She forced a brightness into her tone that she didn't really feel. "Well, thanks for everything Rose. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Morocco." She was a little surprised when the older woman drew her into a hug; from her experience the British weren't known for being the hugging kind.
"You too, dearie. Now," she stepped back and smiled, "Go get your man." Buffy smiled and nodded. Her man. There was something very comforting, very right, about that phrase.
Setting her shoulders, she took off across the square towards the café. About halfway there, she became aware of someone keeping pace with her and in her peripheral vision she caught sight of something that made her blood run cold.
It couldn't be. Not here, not now.
She froze for a second before realising he wasn't after her. Instead the robed figure was headed directly for her target. Straight for Xander and his mystery companion. She watched dumbstruck as the figure drew a wickedly sharp knife from the belt of robe and broke
into a loping run which belied his blindness.