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“Man, that smells great!” Xander said as he came back
to the kitchen with his long, wet hair pulled back into a neat braid once more.
“Cheese burgers with three kinds of cheese, grilled
onions, mustard, and a thick pickle on the side,” Willow smiled. “Your
timing is perfect.”
Instead of sitting by Spike, Xander dropped into the chair
beside Oz. “Remember when we’d have ‘cheeseburger in paradise’
Oz nodded. “We were all broke, but when everyone chipped
in five bucks, we all ate good.”
Willow frowned at the snub to Spike, but placed his full
plate before her friend. “As long as Giles didn’t get stuck with the clean
up, I think he liked it, too.”
“I need to call him,” Xander said as he wrapped his
hands around the soft bun.
Willow took what should have been Xander’s seat beside
Spike. She patted the withdrawn vamp on the arm before she answered. “He’s
supposed to chat me on the computer tonight. Do you want to talk to him then?”
Xander nodded, took a big bite, then let his eyes roll up
in an expression of pleasure. They all smiled at Xander except Spike who was
picking the label off his beer bottle. They chatted a bit, reminiscing about the
burger and research parties at Giles’.
Once his food was half gone, Xander turned the conversation
to the Gazebo. He gave Oz a breakdown of what he thought needed to be done and
how long it might take. He hoped to complete it before winter.
“The first thing we need to do is get you established
back in the world,” Gunn said. “I have started the paper work with the
authorities, but they’ll have to see you in person.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Xander’s mood fell a bit.
“Hey! I almost forgot!” Willow chirped. She got up and
rummaged in her pocketbook. She came back and held out a silver key chain with
several keys on it. “Ta da!”
Xander swallowed his bite of pickle and took them.
She leaned over his shoulder and pointed them out. “House
key. Master key to all outbuildings except the foundry. Manual override key to
the gate. Key to my car, just in case.”
“Oh, Willow!” Xander pulled her into a hug. “Thank
you!” He was touched by this physical manifestation of
“You’re staying here now. We can’t have you getting
locked out at all odd hours. Look at the fob.” Xander turned over the silver
oval to reveal an etched silhouette of the original Enterprise form Star Trek.
“I looked for Babylon 5, but this was the best I could do.”
“Gee. I guess I need some pants with pockets, now.”
“It’s still early on a Tuesday. The mall should be
fairly dead, if you want to go.”
“I don’t know…”
“Come on. We’ll just get you enough clothes to make it
safe for you to work properly at the Gazebo.”
“Bare feet and power tools are of the unmixy.” Oz put
“True, but… I don’t have any money.”
“Yeah, you do,” Spike spoke up. He didn’t look at
Xander, but rolled the now-empty bottle between his palms. “Several of your
gems have sold. I’m holding the money in a special account until you can
establish a bank account of your own.”
“Less your commission?” Xander snapped.
Spike glanced up sharply. “I’m not getting commission,
remember?” He got up and left before Xander could say anything else. Shortly,
a door slammed upstairs.
Xander didn’t meet anyone’s eyes, but returned to
Willow bit her lip and started to tell Xander to go to
“Work clothes can be put on the company card,” Oz said.
“It’s better than having the place shut down when you drop something on your
foot.” He gave his wife his patented ‘don’t meddle’ look.
“Come on,” Willow coaxed. “I want to go to the
“Sure. I guess so.” He straightened. “It’s time I
went out in the world anyway. No. Wait. I don’t have clothes to wear to go out
“You’ve got good enough clothes to go to Wal-Mart.”
“First day back out in the world and you want to take the
man to Wal-Mart?” Gunn asked.
Xander looked over at him. “I’ve fought Giftox demons
in the ring. I can face Wal-Mart.”
Gunn thought it over. “That’s the only qualifications I
would take. Still, be careful.”
Now excited, Willow hopped to her feet. “I’ll make a
list, and then we’ll take you upstairs so I can measure you. It’s not good
to start out not having a clue about sizes.”
Oz leaned in and said quietly to Xander, “Be brave, man.
If you start to wig, you know she’ll bring you right back.”
“I know. That’s why I can bear to go.”
Xander finished his meal and let Willow take him upstairs
to Midra’s sewing room for a good measuring. In his room below them, Spike
easily heard their conversation about shopping and Xander joking about driving.
He closed his eyes to dampen the unreasonable anger. Xander was going to go out
driving with him. Then he suddenly knew what Willow had meant. He had to
Sod it! One thing Spike wasn’t good at was apologies. He
listened to them walk down the stairs and leave the house. He followed their
progress to the garage and listened to the car drive away. Spike picked up his
notepad and pen and went upstairs to Xander’s room. The door was standing open
and the man had not told him to stay out.
Spike crossed to the sun-lit chair and sank down upon it. He bit the tip of his pen and started to write.
As Willow turned out onto the main road, she looked over at
Xander. “Tell me when you want to go home, Okay?”
“Home. I will. Did you know I kept the keys to my
apartment? Even after Sunnydale went all hole, I carried the keys. Not my car
“Huh. I did, too. I still have a key to Ravello drive somewhere.”
“You’ve built quite a home for yourself, Willow. I’m
flattered to be a part of it.”
“Xander.” She reached over and took his hand.
“you’ve always had a home in my heart.”
He squeezed her hand and let her reclaim it and put it
safely o the wheel. “Thank you, Wills. But do I really rate the biggest
Willow laughed. “Do you want a smaller room? There are
three more to choose from. All guest rooms.”
“I do like that room…”
“Then stay there. Share the window with Spike and no one
will have a problem with it. Well, Buffy might complain, but she enjoys that.”
Xander laughed. “Yeah, I can share the window.”
“He feels bad, you know.”
“I know. But… I can’t let him walk all over me,
“Just know that he’s fragile, too. He hides it, but his
soul digs at him.”
“Yeah. I remember.” Xander cast about for some way to
turn the topic of conversation. “You say we can talk to Giles over the
computer? Through a crappy little picture?”
“Oh, Xander!” He knew he’d hit on her love of
computers. “You don’t know all the good technology there is now!” He
relaxed and let himself worry secretly about Spike as Willow went on about
bandwidth and new micro chips. His attention snapped back when she brought it
back to shopping. “We could buy you a lap top of your own! There’s a
wonderful computer shop in the mall and the new…”
“Whoa! Slow down. I don’t need a new toy just yet. Let
me get some clothes, first.”
“Okay. But I do have an old one I can set you up with.
It’s not super fast, but you can learn on it. You were talking at dinner the
other day about all the music you need to catch up with. The whole house is
wireless. I can get the old laptop out and you can download what you want. I
even have a MusicBox I’m not using but it only holds a hundred songs. I got it
free with my new laptop, but I have a better one.”
“A hundred songs?”
And so they talked and shopped.
Xander returned home wearing new clothes with an arm full
of bags. He and Willow soon drew everyone into the living room with their happy
chatter. They recounted how Willow turned the tables on a woman who was looking
down on Xander’s shabby clothes by telling her Xander had lost everything in a
fire. On their brief trip to the mall, a pretty bookseller shamelessly hit on
Xander; practically following him around and carrying his purchases to the
counter for him.
“I think it was because I was buying so much,” Xander
“Bull!” Willow cried. “You’re hot, Xander.”
“No. I’m not.”
“Riiiiight. Hey! Where’s Spike? She told me one of the
books he’d ordered was in.”
“He went out a little while after you did,” Gunn said.
“Don’t know where.”
Xander’s good mood crashed. “I think I’ll take some
of this upstairs.”
“I’ll call you for dinner,” Midra said.
Upstairs, Xander immediately found the neatly folded note.
It was sitting on a chair which had been set in the middle of the rug.
Xander chewed his lip as he opened it, and was puzzled to
find a verse of poetry.
Too often between brothers a word
Wounds more deeply than a sword.
Perhaps another word, spoken in due haste,
Can heal the rift, and avoid the waste.
I’m sorry I mocked what you hold dear
I hope this makes our course again clear.
See you tomorrow.
Poetry? When had Spike had time to find the right bit of
poetry? Still, he had apologized. His mood lifted, Xander wondered when he’d
On his way down to dinner, Xander stopped at Spike’s
room. In his chat with the admittedly attractive and intelligent bookseller,
he’d told her about the bike Spike was restoring and she’d shown him a book
about the history of the Indian motorcycle that had just come in. Xander
didn’t think she worked on commission, but it looked like something all the
guys would enjoy. He sat it on the floor and leaned it against the door where
the vampire would find it. He jumped when the unlatched door opened, letting the
heavy book thump to the floor. Xander started to just close the door, but
curiosity got the better of him.
There was not much in the room. It was very simply and
tastefully decorated in warm browns, tans, and punctuated with blue the color of
a Siamese cat’s eyes. Absently, Xander noted how the blue matched Spike’s
eyes at times. The room was smaller than his own and heavy curtains blocked the
sun from the one window. A few pieces of clothing were scattered around. The
blankets had been thrown into place, or perhaps Spike slept on top of them. A
sword in its sheath leaned in the corner. A stack of books lay on the bedside
table and more were in a sloppy pile under the window. A little TV with a video
game attached sat atop the dresser.
Xander knelt down and looked over the titles of the books,
wondering if the poetry book Spike had quoted was there. Of course, there was a
whole library in the room above, but he thought the book would be here.
They were fiction novels and surprisingly a few biographies. No poetry.
Xander turned off the light, closed the door all the way,
and left the book as he had intended.
After the meal, Gunn took Xander into the tidy office and
went over details of Xander’s location and the timing of the event. He was
very careful to stay away from any personal details. After three hours, a couple
of phone calls, and several visits to various government websites, Gunn declared
him pretty much back in the land of the living. The following week he had to
appear in person at the court house.
“You should call your mother before the government does,
He sighed and ran his hand over his hair. “Yeah. I
should. First thing in the morning, okay?”
“I’ll print out the information you need and you can
call when it feels right. Thanks, Xander. I’m sorry I had to do all this…”
“Gunn, I am more grateful to you than you know. I was
worried about a media circus. I really don’t want to make the rounds of the
“I’m a pro. It won’t happen. Want to raid the cookie
“I’d love to.”
Willow intercepted them. “Xander! Do you want to talk to
Giles? It’s almost G-Time!”
Xander moaned. “Oh, Willow. I do. I really do. But,
tomorrow? Can I talk to him tomorrow?”
“Oh. Sure. I guess you’ve been digging things up.”
“Yeah, “ Xander laughed dryly. “I’m alive again.
Now I know how Buffy felt.”
That night, Xander lay awake. Thoughts about talking to his
mother haunted him. What could he say? “Hi, Mom! Guess what, I’m not dead
and you have to return the insurance money. By the way, how was Dad’s
And Giles. He loved Giles like a favorite uncle. There were
times the man literally laid his life on the line for all of them. He had been
the last person Xander had talked to before he set out on that fateful shopping
trip. And the stroke? How could he face that?
He hoped Spike wasn’t mocking him with the poetry. He had
seemed almost jealous when he’d mentioned reading poetry with Anthony.
Xander looked at the shape of the stack of books on the
table. One of them was the complete poems of John Donne. Anthony had an often
voiced regret that he’d never been able to get this hands on that very book.
Travelers so rarely read poetry. Now Xander could read all those poems Anthony
only barely remembered. The loss hit him again, hard. He punched his pillow in
Damn Spike. He’d lost people before. He’d seen the vamp
when Buffy died. Maybe they could talk about it. Suddenly, often-suppressed
tears welled to the top. He rolled to his side and hid his sobs in the pillow.
Jessie, Mrs. Calendar, Joyce, Buffy, Anya, Anthony, his father, the potentials
and new slayers he’d barely gotten to know, the past five years of freedom…
all his losses surfaced.
And he let it go. When the tide finally subsided, he lay as
one washed ashore, wishing he could call out for Spike and see how his friend
felt. He wanted to talk about that hard summer after Buffy died and to apologize
for shutting him out. He wanted to know of another’s losses.
But Spike wasn’t there.
On to Chapter 18
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