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Midnight In The Garden


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Dancetomato's Fic...

Title: Midnight in the Garden of Spike and Xander
Author: Dancetomato (
Pairing: S/X
Rating: PG this part; NC17 eventually
Spoilers: Season 7 BTVS
Feedback: Why else would I write if not to get feedback? Oh yeah, because this bunny bit and wouldn't let go.
Disclaimer: Xander, Spike and anything remotely related to the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to Joss and Co. The city of Savannah belongs to its ghosts. SCAD and other places in Savannah are named out of love, no disrespect intended. My favorite boys just decided they wanted to go to my favorite city.
Summary: Xander has a surprising encounter in his new hometown 5 years after Sunnydale went the way of Atlantis.
Note: I used to live in Savannah. If you've never been there, go! It's a beautiful city.
Dedicated to Dragonmaster, my very first beta reader, who made the experience most satisfying by reassuring me that this was actually interesting. It made me tingly. Thank you!


"Xaaan! Have you seen my Hilfiger shorts?"

Xander Harris paused in the midst of tying his shoes to indulge in a healthy eye roll/exasperated sigh combo. "Aren't they hanging in your closet?" he replied, trying to keep his annoyance out of his voice. The last thing he needed today was a replay of the, "You're an insensitive lout who doesn't appreciate how good you've got it," lecture he'd received at least weekly since in a post-orgasmic haze he'd asked his lover to move with him six months ago.

"They're not there," the voice whined. "Did you pick them up from the dry cleaner yesterday like I told you to?"

Xander sagged against the sofa. He knew he'd forgotten something. "Um, I'm sorry. I completely forgot."

"You forgot?!" An irate blonde stormed into the room. "You know how important today is! Are you trying to screw it up for me?"

Xander tried to look contrite, but his "contrite" face was starting to look like his "bite me" face. Luckily Brad was too far into his hissy fit to notice. "We were rushing to secure the site before that storm blew in, and I got..."

His mea culpa was falling on deaf ears. Xander ticked off the points of the lecture by heart. Going to ruin Brad's career? Check. Too slovenly to appreciate the importance of dressing well? Check. Too immature for an adult relationship? Taking Brad for granted? Check and check. "Now what am I supposed to wear?" Brad demanded.

Something told Xander that the right answer wasn't, "How about one of the dozen nearly identical pair of khaki shorts you own?" Instead he swallowed his pride and groveled. Again.

"I'm sorry sweetheart. I'll go down now and pick them up."

"Curry's is closed on Saturday." Brad's "sulky" face was nearly identical to Xander's "contrite" face. "That's why I told you to pick them up yesterday."

"Sweetheart, it's just a picnic. Does it really matter what you wear?"

Brad's icy blue eyes narrowed. "You know that today's the day that new guy in my department is arriving. I'm not going to let some British nonentity win that slot on the new project team. I've worked too damn hard to let anyone get in my way." With that Brad fulfilled every gay stereotype by flouncing out of the room in a huff.


While Brad dealt with his fashion emergency, Xander once again pondered how he ended up in this relationship. Life-sucking mummy women and head-eating bug ladies were starting to look like the high points of his romantic life. Fucking doormat demon magnet. Okay, so Brad wasn't an actual demon, but he was a lot scarier than 90% of what Xander had encountered on the Hellmouth.

Like most of his relationships, Xander didn't set out to get involved with a narcissistic control freak. He just seemed to be wearing a sign that said, "Hey, if you'll give me any of the attention for which I am starved, I will be your butt monkey." He had thought that moving across the country and finally getting a clue about his, shall we say, ambiguous sexuality, would change his life. Really the only difference between Brad and Cordelia was that Brad had outdoor plumbing. And Xander spent a lot less time in closets now.

After the closing of the Hellmouth, they'd all spent about a month in complete shock. Xander still had trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that Anya was gone and that Spike had saved the world. Surprisingly he had less pain thinking about Anya's death. He was saddened, but they'd had their closure. He had only the grief of losing a woman that he had loved, even if he hadn't been in love with her.

His feelings about Spike's death were way more complicated. Spike had changed so much over the years. Only after he was gone did Xander admit to himself that Spike really had become a good man. Xander felt an unexpected stab of regret, ashamed of how cruel he had been to the vampire. Granted Spike had tried to kill them, stab them in the back, extort money from them, and more. But he had also fought side by side with them; saved each of their lives more than once; withstood Glory's torture to protect Dawn; and ultimately gone through who knows what hell to earn his soul, only to return and be murderous Charley McCarthy of the First. More than anything he wished that he could apologize and tell Spike how much he admired him for sticking with them even through all the abuse and mistrust. But Xander would never have that opportunity. He would never get the chance to thank Spike for saving his life and saving the world.

They all emerged from the shock of the "earthquake" that destroyed Sunnydale as if emerging from a dark cave, blinking in the bright light of day. They took stock of their lives and then went on with them. Buffy stayed in L.A. with Dawn, where they both attended school and helped Angel spank down the occasional demon threat. Giles and Willow headed to England with a more mature, subdued Andrew in tow to endeavor to rebuild the Watcher's Council and track down the new slayers. Faith and Wood headed to the Hellmouth in Cleveland where she averted apocalyptic doom while Wood continued to surprise her.

Xander was at a loss. He'd been very good at construction, but his impaired depth perception seemed to preclude returning to his former career. After flailing around for a while, Xander happened upon a job working for a movie studio. Constructing sets was completely different from constructing office buildings. Carpentry skills were more important than the ability to spot a steel girder being lowered into place with his peripheral vision. He found he liked the work. He did a Merchant/Ivory-type artsy film based on some book he'd avoided reading in high school, and in the process he became really interested in learning more about historical architecture. When he got the chance to go work on location in Savannah, Georgia, he didn't even hesitate. And he'd never regretted his decision.

Xander felt like he'd landed on another planet. In L.A. a one hundred year old building was ancient; in Savannah the same building would be the new one on the block. During his down time he relished walking through the squares of the city admiring the skillfully restored homes. He loved the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss (though he learned the hard way to look and not touch-the chigger bites spread all over his body made him wish for the comfort of the chicken pox he'd had in elementary school). The people were even more alien than the architecture and flora. People in Savannah smiled at one another. They waved at complete strangers. They shared their life story while you paid for your groceries, all in that accent that sounded like honey dripping in your ears. When the film crew left Savannah, Xander didn't join them.

Considering the number of times he'd had to rebuild the Summer's home, it wasn't surprising that Xander found a job with a firm specializing in historical restorations of old homes. He loved restoring old homes to new life. Savannah was known for old colonial houses, but it was the Victorian homes south of the main historic district that were his passion. He was not blind (well, he was in one eye) to the psychological aspect of working out his sense of loss by giving new life to that which had been cast away. He stubbornly refused, however, to think about the significance of choosing to specialize in resurrecting Victorians that were turning to dust.

In addition to being a beautiful historic city, Savannah was also home to one of the best design schools in the nation. After a year on the job, Xander's firm paid for him to get his bachelor's degree in Historic Preservation at the Savannah College of Art & Design. He struggled somewhat with some of the graphics and drafting courses because of his vision, but he more than compensated by having an artist's hands and passion for the delicate work of restoration.

Gradually, Xander realized that there was one area of his life in which he hadn't moved forward. He'd made a number of acquaintances, but no true friends. He attracted a great deal of attention from women-and not a few men-who were drawn to his mysterious aura of mourning, not to mention the surprisingly sexy eye patch. He wouldn't talk to anyone about how he'd lost his eye. Not that they would have believed him if he'd told them an wicked preacher working for the darkest evil that existed had stuck his thumb through his eye as easily as squashing a bug. Speculation surrounded him, and he remained amused but detached from it. His favorite rumor was that he'd lost his eye during a particularly kinky orgy at a Hollywood rave. If only.

After yet another solitary Sunday afternoon spent walking through the beautiful squares, Xander came to a decision. It was disrespectful to Anya and Spike for him to go through life not actually living it. His classmates and co-workers were surprised as he started to take them up on offers of lunch or a beer or a day at the beach. Slowly, much as with the homes he worked on, Xander carefully rebuilt his life.

After his second year of school, Xander bought an old townhouse on Tattnall Street, a few blocks from Forsythe Park. The neighborhood was filled with eclectic and eccentric folk, all of whom were glad to have a resident preservationist to consult with on their own homes. It was during this time that Xander stopped carrying a stake with him. It wasn't a conscious decision. His old life just seemed so far away. Savannah may be considered the most haunted city in the country, but to Xander it was a city at peace with itself. It allowed Xander to be at peace with himself.

Perhaps it was this peace. Or perhaps it was the overload of hormones after prolonged celibacy. But one night Xander went to a party and went home with a beautiful blonde. A beautiful blonde who happened to be a man. Brad was a golden boy, literally. His hair shone in the sunlight and his skin glowed from hours spent at the beach. Xander knew him vaguely. Brad was working on his bachelor's in historic interior design at SCAD, and they had consulted on a few projects. On this particular night, though, something about Brad caught Xander's attention. He found himself drowning in blue eyes, and later drowning in the depths of sexual awakening. It wasn't as if he'd thought about his sexuality that much, aside from his desperate plea for Willow to gay him up. Maybe she had after all. All Xander knew was that with Brad he felt loved. Yeah, okay, so Brad was pretty high maintenance, but if it was one thing Xander knew it was how to placate high maintenance people. That's what being a Zeppo is all about. Before he knew it, Brad had taken over the house on Tattnall, changing the curtains, Xander's wardrobe, and most of Xander's life.


Xander came out of his reverie to find Brad standing at the door tapping his foot impatiently. Sighing, Xander picked up the ice chest and picnic basket-God forbid Brad ruin his manicure by actually carrying something-and followed his lover into the jasmine-scented Saturday morning sunshine.

They arrived at Forsythe Park a few minutes later and joined the group congregating from Brad's department. While Brad worked the crowd, giving air kisses and being ruthlessly charming, Xander sat his burdens on the grass and plopped down on the hastily laid out blanket. Brad would be pissed that Xander wasn't following a few steps behind him, smiling and setting off Brad's fair-haired good looks with his own dark mysteriousness, but hey, what would Brad do, leave him? Xander was not surprised to find that this thought did not disturb him in the least.

"Is the beast of burden getting his rest?" a laughing voice said behind him. He turned and smiled at the voluptuous young woman who was gracefully settling herself beside him on the blanket. Kari was a doctoral student in Brad's department. Over the past year she and Xander had formed a strong friendship. He listened to her moan about the lack of straight, single men in Savannah; she listened to him bitch about his diva lover; but mostly they bonded over a love for intricate plaster work and dental molding. Kari reminded him a little of Anya. She always spoke her mind. He loved her for it.

"Just doing my duty as the butch, ma'am," Xander answered in his best southern accent.

Kari giggled at Xander's mangled Rhett Butler imitation. "Did you meet the new boy yet?"

Xander shook his head. "Nah. I figured I'd let Brad lift his leg and mark his territory first."

"Well, he's stunning and charming. He has to be gay," she declared with a sigh.

Xander laughed. "Aren't we all, honey." He leaned his body into Kari so that their shoulders touched. He whispered in her ear with an evil grin, "You know, some of us have been known to bat for both teams."

She playfully pushed him away. "Yeah, some people have no standards."

A petulant voice interrupted their banter. "Isn't this cozy?" Xander looked up to see Brad standing beside the blanket. "Xander, I need a drink."

Xander glanced at Kari apologetically and stood to get Brad one of his oh-so-cool Zima-esque drinks out of the cooler, snagging beers for Kari and himself. He started to sit back down, but Brad had other plans.

"Come on. I have to go talk to that British bitch. Don't say anything; you'll only embarrass us both." He pulled Xander away as Kari shook her head, glad for once that she was single.

Brad hauled Xander over to a cluster of department members who were crowded together like tourists in New York looking in the Christmas windows at Saks. They appeared to be enthralled with something shiny and new. Xander couldn't see the new guy who captivated them. No one noticed Brad's arrival, much to his annoyance. He cleared his throat, and his department head, Tom, finally caught sight of him. "Brad, come meet our new colleague. Brad, this is Wil. Wil, this is Brad."

Brad put on his best alluring smile and walked over to shake his rival's hand. "Welcome to Savannah. Hope you're taking care of yourself in this heat. I'm sure it must be a shock after the dreary English weather."

Xander couldn't see Wil, but he heard a faintly evil chuckle emerge from the apex of the crowd. He had a vague feeling of déjà vu. "Brad. Thanks for your concern, but actually I've been in Charleston for a year working on a project, so I've already acclimated to your unique humidity."

"Charleston," Brad repeated. "I thought you were from England."

There was that chuckle again. It set off some sympathetic vibration in Xander's spine. "That was a long time ago, ducks. I've been in Charleston redoing the interior on the Desoto House. It was quite a challenge. The wallpaper is now an exact match to the original. So satisfying."

"Wil here knows more about Victorian interiors than anyone I've ever met," offered Tom. "We're lucky to have lured him here to work on this project."

Brad bristled. Xander knew that he'd been taken off his last project for botching up the one sample they had of the original wallpaper, ruining their chances of crafting an exact match. Knowing that his lover was going to sink his claws into Wil, Xander stepped forward to try to pacify him. It was then that he got his first glimpse of the recent arrival.

He had that weird sensation of running into someone you know really well in a strange place. You know the person, but for a moment you can't for the life of you remember their name because they are out of place. This man was so familiar: soft blond curls, sapphire blue eyes set off by cheekbones that would make a supermodel green with envy, corners of the mouth curled in a sardonic grin. Yet Xander couldn't place him. As he watched the sunlight glinting off William's honeyed curls, he had a vague sense that something was wrong with this picture. Their eyes met and caught. Then he realized what it was. This man was standing in the sunlight but wasn't bursting into flame. His breath, his heartbeat, his molecules all stopped as the name rose to his lips. "Spike?"

Part 2

Xander looked like he'd seen a ghost. His brain was in fact yelling at him, "You are seeing a ghost!" As he stared at the familiar face in front of him, his addled brain didn't register the momentary widening of Wil's eyes. By the time his mental processor had rebooted, Wil's face was almost preternaturally blank.

"Spike? It's me, Xander."

"I'm sorry, but you must have mistaken me for someone else." Wil's voice was cool and detached.

Xander's gaze reflected his befuddlement. "But you...I mean, you..." He stopped, for once in his life at a loss for words, gaping at the man in front of him. The hair was different; his skin, while pale, did not have the same vampirical luminescence; the accent was more Gilesian. But those eyes. Xander would know those eyes anywhere. He couldn't explain how or why, but this was Spike. Alive. Not undead alive. Breathing, heart-beating alive. And in Savannah. For the first time in years, the prickling consciousness of Hellmouthy goings-on skittered up Xander's spine. Whatever Spike was playing at, he'd just have to play along. This wasn't over, though. Xander spread his hands in front of himself apologetically. "I'm sorry. It's just that you look exactly like an old friend of mine from California. It gave me a wiggins."

Xander could have sworn a smirk flickered across the man's face, but then again he could have sworn that Spike was dust at the bottom of the crater that once was his hometown. Wil met his eye for a moment, but then turned away. "That's all right," he offered dismissively.

After this awkward exchange, the group began moving away. Xander didn't move until he felt a hand clutch painfully at his elbow.

"What was that all about?" Brad demanded.

Xander blinked. He blinked again. Then he turned to face his lover. "Um, nothing. Justhe just looks like an old friend that's all."

Brad eyed him suspiciously, but after a moment returned to stalking Tom, his charming smile once more in place.


An hour later, Xander saw Wil standing alone, leaning against a live oak watching a game of ultimate Frisbee. He hesitated. Then he squared his shoulders, nervously checked his patch, and walked over to join him. Wil eyed him warily as he approached.

Xander stood for a moment, unsure of how to begin. "So, um, Wil." Xander placed an ironic emphasis on the name. "Pretty sunny today, huh." Xander felt like a detective trying to put a suspect at ease so they would inadvertently spill their guts.

Wil concentrated on the game. "Yeah." Xander waited, but nothing more was forthcoming.

Where's Angela Lansbury when you need her? he thought to himself. "You English are awfully pale. I hope you've got sunscreen on; you wouldn't want to burn up in the sun." Ha! Call me Kojak, Xander commended himself.

But Wil didn't take the bait. "Yep, sunscreen and shade. I'm fine, thanks." He pushed off the trunk of the tree and made to walk away.

Xander lost his patience and grabbed the Wil's arm. "Damn it Spike, just turn off the act. I know it's you, and I want to know what the hell - literally - you're doing here."

Wil's eyes blazed with indignation. "Look mate, I don't know what your damage is, but I'm not your friend. I've never seen you before in my life. Now get your hand off me." He jerked his arm out of Xander's grasp and stormed off. Xander shook his head. Maybe it wasn't Spike. It shouldn't be, couldn't be Spike. But something about those eyes told him that, no matter what Wil said, this was Spike. And Xander was damned if he was going to let this drop. If for no other reason than here was his chance at closure. A chance to make up for all the times he'd treated Spike like dirt. With that, a plan began to form in Xander's mind. He perked up, whistling as he went across the field to join Kari on the blanket.


Xander winced as Brad slammed the door so hard it made the windows rattle. Tom had informed Brad while they watched the others playing Frisbee that Wil was on the project and Brad most definitely was not. In a fit of pique, Brad made Xander gather their things so that he could make a self-righteous exit. Normally Xander would now have been concentrating on smoothing is boyfriend's ruffled feathers with kisses and cosseting. But Xander just distractedly ambled around the apartment, putting away the picnic things. His mind was on an entirely different blue-eyed blonde, a fact that did not escape Brad's attention.

"Xander, are you listening to me?" Xander had not in fact been listening, though he knew well what Brad had been saying. Once again he was within the scripted play that was their relationship. He knew all his lines by heart.

"Yes, of course I am," he replied with a well-practiced air of interest.

"I can't believe after all I've done for that department, Tom would pick that, that, wannabe instead of me."

Xander's next line was, "I know. You are the best damn designer he's got. What an asshole!" He opened his mouth, but the words that came out were, "I guess it's because he needs someone who can do the job correctly, not someone who will stand around looking fabulous while screwing up the whole project."

If Xander hadn't been so surprised himself, he would have been able to appreciate all the more the look on Brad's face. The same look an actor in a play would have when another in the scene breaks character and leaves him standing there like a stupid idiot.

Brad approached Xander with an almost menacing air. "What the hell did you say?" It might have been more intimidating if (a) Xander didn't tower over him or (b) Xander gave a shit. Which he found he didn't.

"You heard me." Xander's voice was calm. "You thought you could get the job by batting your eyelashes and impressing them with your fashion sense. But this is an important project, and they don't need a fashion model. They need someone who understands historic preservation and actually has some expertise in this area. You have expertise in a lot of areas-selfishness, cattiness, shallowness. But they need someone who knows more about historical paint analysis than about what shade of Miss Clairol is the least brassy."

Brad blanched visibly, and for a moment Xander felt sorry for him. That moment passed, however.

"What the hell do you know, you one-eyed freak? The only reason you're on the project is that they worry they'll be sued if they fired the cripple."

For a split second Xander was ten years old again, his father screaming, "You're nobody. You're a pathetic loser who will never amount to anything." He'd never told his father to fuck off. In a sense, now was his chance.

"I may only have one eye, but at least I have a home. Which you don't. Get the hell out of my house."

Brad stood motionless, realizing that he'd overplayed this hand. So he pulled an ace out of his sleeve. His expression softened as he placed his hand possessively on Xander's arm. His lips pursed in the pout that had always gotten him his way. "Baby, you don't mean that. You don't want me to go."

At one time those pouty lips would have been so kissable, but now Xander just looked at him with disgust. "In point of fact, that's exactly what I want. I want you to go. Elsewhere. For good."

Brad slid his hand up Xander's arm, until it cupped the back of his neck. He moved closer and nuzzled Xander's throat in exactly the spot he knew made the dark-haired man melt instantly. Xander did not melt. "Brad, are we done here? Because we both have things to do. You need to pack all your things, and I need to move on with my life."

Brad's cold blue eyes blazed as he stepped back from Xander. "You fucking bitch! You'll be sorry. You think anyone will want you? You were lucky to have me. You think all those people will want to have you around now? They only put up with you because you were with me. You're nobody. You're a pathetic loser who will never amount to anything."

To Brad's astonishment, Xander smiled. "Yeah, so I've been told. But I'd rather be nobody without you than to have to put up with even one more second of your spoiled, selfish crap."

With that Xander turned and walked to the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob. Without turning around he said, "I'll be back after dinner. I expect all traces of you to be gone by then." He opened the door and walked out into a whole new world. A world without high maintenance diva boyfriends. A world where he no longer had to feign interest in GQ. A world in which he didn't have to hide his comic books under the mattress. As he walked away with a lightness in his step, his thoughts turned away from the man he hoped to never see again to another blue-eyed blonde. One that he really wanted to see again.

Part 3


Xander wandered through the squares of historic Savannah, his elation quickly evaporating. He didn't regret what he'd just done. He deeply regretted, however, that he hadn't done it earlier. He felt like he'd changed so much. He'd discovered what he loved to do, moved practically to another planet and figured out that he could make it on his own. Yet he was still the Zeppo. Probably a therapist would tell him that he sought out destructive, demeaning relationships because he didn't believe he was lovable. He got involved with lovers who treated him like a doormat because that's how he saw himself. No shit. He knew he has baggage. He didn't need to be told that. He just needed to figure out how to put it down and leave it behind. He was tired of lugging around a veritable steamer trunk full of self-esteem issues.

His mood lifted slightly at the thought of what he'd just done. It was no use worrying about wasting the last six months of his life with an abusive shit head. The important thing was that he'd ended it. Once again he was taking control over his own life. The steamer trunk started to feel more like a large suitcase. He'd be damned if he was going to waste one more brain cell on the man who, most likely, was currently trashing his home in an immature display of rage. The thought made Xander shrug. Considering the number of times he'd had to practically rebuild the Summers' home after some demonic redecorating, he felt sure he could deal with the damage done by a prissy queen whose destructive power was hindered by his determination not to ruin his manicure.


A short while later, Xander's wandering had led him to Madison Square. This wasn't surprising since one of his favorite haunts was located there. Shaver's Bookstore was one of a dying breed: a locally-owned bookstore filled with eccentric characters and without a single pretentious coffee confection in sight. Xander headed toward his favorite section, "Savannah Architecture." He stopped in the midst of "Vegetarian Cooking" when in the next aisle he saw a familiar head bent over a book of photographs featuring some of Savannah's Victorian homes. *Time to do a little scoobying, see if he could uncover some mystery-or at least some Scooby snacks.* He assumed a casual expression--he hoped--and sidled up to the man in question.

"Doing a little research," Inner-Xander groaned. *Very smooth, Sherlock.*

Wil was startled. For a moment Xander thought panic flitted through Wil's eyes, but maybe that was an illusion caused by the afternoon sunlight coming through the windows. Xander told Inner-Xander to stop commenting on the irony that the same sunlight on Wil's blond hair looked like a halo. Panic or not, it was replaced quickly with wary disdain. "Yes."

Xander waited, but this seemed to be the only reply he was going to get. He peeked over the blond's shoulder and saw the interior of a house he'd worked on last year. "That was a great project," Xander offered conversationally. "The moulding was a bitch to reproduce, but in the end it looks perfect."

Wil snorted. Far from being offended, Xander was encouraged by this show of contempt. "You don't agree?"

Wil looked back down at the picture. "Yeah, well, the moulding's all right, but look at that settee. It's at least 25 years later than the date of the house, and don't even get me started on the wallpaper. I could go down to Wal-Mart and find more suitable wall coverings than that anachronistic Contact paper."

Xander chuckled. "I know. Brad fucked up the only extant piece of original wallpaper. Instead of coming clean and choosing a pattern from another house of the time period, he decided to wing it. Tom was pissed. Luckily the client is too unenlightened to know Victorian from Danish Modern. He was just glad to have a fashionable home in the Historic District."

"Brad." Wil mused. "I got the idea from the folks at the picnic that he was your boyfriend."

If he was hoping to disconcert Xander with this reference to his sexuality, he was hoping in vain. Xander had been through a lot in a decade. Admitting he had a boyfriend was a piece of cake. In reality, it was harder to admit to the bad taste of choosing to date Brad than it was to admit that he liked sleeping with men.

"Was is the operative word here. As a matter of fact, I imagine he's trashing my town house as we speak. I gave him the afternoon to get him and his stuff gone."

"You left a scorned, vengeful ex-lover alone in your apartment?" Wil raised one eyebrow, and Xander had a flash of déjà vu. "That's some knackers. Or else you are a complete idiot." Wil looked reluctantly impressed.

Xander smirked. "Probably some of both. But mostly it's a matter of I couldn't stand one more second in his presence." He threw a sidelong glance at Wil. "Actually, I have you to thank for my new bachelor status."

This time Wil raised both eyebrows. Ha! Xander allowed himself an inner crow of triumph that he threw Wil off balance.

"Me? What the bloody hell did I do?" That hellmouthy tingle was back in Xander's spine. He'd heard this indignant whine before from a blond tied to an ugly chair in the basement of doom.

"You got Brad's spot on the team for one thing. That started the snit that was the last straw on this camel's back. Plus you...remind me of an old friend. He, well, he's been gone a long time, and I miss him. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye, or tell him how much he'd meant to me. After he di...left, I promised myself that I would remember that life is too short and unpredictable to waste a single moment. Seeing you today made me realize I've wasted way too many moments with someone who treated me like his slave." Xander made a valiant attempt to quirk his own eyebrow. "And not in the good, 'Please sir, may I have another?' way." Xander's joke achieved the desired effect. The awkwardness broke, leaving in its wake an oddly familiar sense of camaraderie.

"So," said Wil.

"So," said Xander.

Two beats of silence. Then:

"So, wanna go get some coffee or something?" Xander asked tentatively. Wil gave him an inscrutable look. Xander didn't realize he was holding his breath until the flash of anxiety on Wil's face relaxed into a surprisingly shy smile. That smile got Xander's lungs pumping again, but made his heart stop for a moment.

"Yeah. Okay, mate." Reshelving the book, he walked toward the door. He was followed by the one-eyed man who discovered that his circulatory system was once again functioning as normal. Perhaps unfortunately so, he thought, as he discreetly readjusted himself, trying not to stare at the possibly resurrected but nonetheless attractive ass of the man in front of him. Funny, Xander suddenly found he was less concerned about the dead man of his past than he was about the living, breathing one he followed out the door.