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When Xander Met Ari

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Title: When Xander Met Ari
Author: Fandom: BtVS
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Xander Harris/Ari (OC), Xander/Spike
Beta(s): Unbeta'd but Proofread
Prompt(s): prompt 247 : Mali and prompt 063 : Past
Disclaimer: Joss & Mutant Enemy owns 'em, we just use and abuse 'em....
Summary: A little out-take from before A Refuge for Loyal Hearts - ever wonder what Xander got up to in Africa?
Images: Story banner by & image at end of story is of Robert Ri'chard
A/N: Please note, you don't have to have read 'Refuge' to follow this story as it can be read as a standalone. And vice versa - if you are reading Refuge but don't want to read this out-take, it should not affect your understanding of the story.

He felt so incredibly weary. He couldn't deny that he had enjoyed this last trip - it had been a learning experience - and he wasn't quite as happy as normal to be returning to the Council HQ. He knew Giles had plans for him - he had mentioned something about Scotland and setting Xander up with a few slayers on a longer term basis which he had to admit, sounded quite attractive. Before visiting Mali, the travelling had been starting to wear him down. But why now? Shaking his head, Xander accepted that sometimes fate had other plans for him despite how difficult it had been to leave Ari behind - he had one photograph that Ari's sister, Tesshan had given to him and taking it out of his messenger bag, he smiled at the beautiful eyes in the happy face, the thumbs up gesture typical of Ari's love of life and all of it's experiences ....

When he had arrived in Mali, a little landlocked country in West Africa he had been expecting the normal slayer search. Getting off the plane, he had felt crumpled and tired - his eye patch was sticking uncomfortably to his face with sweat, and his hair was in his eyes as he hadn't even had time for a haircut before travelling again.

Reaching the tarmac, he looked around for his escort. It wouldn't surprise him if he didn't have one - Andrew tended to play fast and loose with descriptions when he said that Xander would be 'welcomed'. Whoever was meant to be meeting him allegedly knew the girl Xander had come to find and this wasn't going to be a wild goose chase - it had the potential to be the most straightforward Slayer search he had undertaken. Just across the concourse, his gaze was caught and for the first time in a long time he felt a stirring of desire.

Tall, slim but with a shockingly rounded ass in canvas shorts although it was hidden slightly by a flowing white shirt, the person facing away from him caught his eye not simply because of her figure but because of her hair. He was so used to be being surrounded by dark hair and dark eyes that returning to the UK tended to be a shock when he saw blondes and redheads. To see a blonde here was even more surprising. The locs or dreads were even, thick strands of honey blond hair lying in little bumps over a nicely shaped head. Without conscious thought, Xander headed in her direction, faltering to a stop as she turned around and a smile spread across the smooth brown face.

"Hello. Xander Harris?" He nodded, still slightly surprised and disconcerted by his own responses. "Good. I am Ari. Your Andrew told me to expect you. Is this all of your luggage?" Without waiting for a response, Ari casually hefted Xander's heavy bag and gestured towards the building. "Shall we?"

"I - er, yeah sure. Ari did you say?" Xander held out his hand, blushing deeply as he realised that there wasn't one spare to shake his because they were carrying other bags as well as Xander's luggage. "Sorry - I think the flight has muddled my mind more than normal. It's a pleasure to meet you Ari, thank you."

"Come on Xander Harris, let's get you you a drink - you look like you need one." Nodding, Xander dry washed his face and followed his escort, wondering just when he was going to accept that life for him was never going to be normal?

One drink turned into two, two turned into three, and Xander couldn't remember the last time he had had such a good time. Ari made him laugh with tales of growing up in Mali, and Xander was able to share stories of Sunnydale without censoring himself - it made a nice change to talk about vampires and demons without changing it to robberies and muggings. Still smiling, Xander relaxed into his chair, jerking back when he bumped against Ari's knee under the table. He sat bolt upright, suddenly very conscious of their limbs touching, Ari's light scent tickling his nose and their proximity at the small table. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so conscious of another person, and for it to happen now, with Ari was -

"May I ask you something?" Xander stiffened.

"About my eye, right?!" He sighed.

"No, I would imagine that has something to do with why you are asking after N'tende At'ri and her new powers. I wondered - actually, it does not matter." Ari took a long drink, avoiding Xander's eyes.

"No, please - say what it is you wanted to say."

"It is a difficult question to ask and I have no wish to offend you." Xander took a deep breath and realised that it was time - time to let go of Anya and the past; time to finally let go of his preconceptions and petty labels; time to accept himself and perhaps take a small step into the future.

"I don't think you're going to offend me, Ari. But if it helps, perhaps I could ask you something first?" Ari nodded, a shy smile crossing the beautiful face. "Ari, would you be incredibly offended if I asked to kiss you?" The smile widened, blinding in the dimness of the bar.

"I - I would not be offended at all. But perhaps somewhere else would be more sensible? I am accepted here but that does not mean I choose to be blatant about such things." Xander was sure his grin would split his face in two and he nodded eagerly. But as he got to his feet he realised he needed to clarify something - he wanted to go into this with honesty from the very beginning.

"Ari - look, I've never - I mean, always before it was - " Ari looked confused then a look of comprehension was turned to Xander.

"Oh. OH!! I see. There are no assumptions Xander Harris. Only as far - or not - as you are prepared to go. I would simply like to get to know you better." Relieved at Ari's understanding, Xander walked around the table and reached for his bag at the same time as Ari, gasping as their hands touched for the first time. For a moment, they were both frozen in place, staring at each other and simply enjoying the moment of communion. For the first time in a long time, Xander could see a future where he didn't necessarily have to be alone and it settled his heart, made him feel - hopeful. Whatever form this thing took - and this attraction blindsiding him meant he had no preconceptions, Xander realised that he was ready to move forward and with a lighter step he followed Ari out of the bar and followed him to his waiting jeep.......

Xander's photo of Ari