The ease of the morning in the big bed with the dark green sheets, the just-right pillows, and the sky blue comforter had given way to the need to move, and stretch and to satisfy the growl of stomachs. After much debate, Oz had decreed that it was lunchtime and Xander, for no other reason than he never turned down a opportunity to eat, agreed and got out of bed, dressed and followed Oz out into whatever the day might hold.
The drizzle of the early morning had given way to a weak November sun that made the granite look slick and shiny, but didn’t make it sparkle the way it had done the day before. Xander wasn’t sure he liked the effect, but decided to keep his opinion to himself. Saying that the stone looked somehow oily sounded weird in his head, so he was pretty sure it would sound even weirder if he said it out loud.
He felt an elbow nudging at his arm and looked down to see Oz looking back, grinning in amusement. “You’re thinking really loudly.”
“Yeah, I do that sometimes. Usually thoughts that sound stupid, even in here.” Xander tapped his head lightly and shrugged. “So, you promised me lunch and so far I’m not seeing much sign of food. As much as I liked the Rowie thing this morning, I really don’t think I could eat another one. I reckon I put on 10 pounds.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “That really made me sound like a girl, didn’t it?”
Oz chuckled. “I’m saying nothing on the grounds that it might incriminate me. But you’re right, I did promise you lunch. You’ve been initiated into Aberdeen breakfast rituals, so now it’s time to have the full, city worker lunch experience.”
Xander looked around him and noticed the familiar big yellow M across the street. “MacDonalds?” he asked. “Okay, I can always go for a Big Mac, but I don’t really see what's Aberdeenish about it? Unless they do a haggis burger, and if they do, I’m really not going there.”
“Relax, no haggis burgers. And it’s not Aberdeenish, it would be Aberdonian, but that’s beside the point. I’m not talking about a Big Mac. You’re looking the wrong way. We’re going over there.” Oz turned and pointed across the street.
“Marks and Spencer?” Xander said incredulously. “Okay, I know I haven’t been in Britain long, but even I’ve been to Marks and Spencer. It’s like the backbone of the British middle classes.”
“Trust me, Marks and Spencer is just the first step. And if you want to blend in around here, call it Markies.”
“Okay Obi Wan, I bow to your greater local knowledge. Just don’t take me into the lingerie section. Dawn made me go with her in London and, while the stuff on the rails was really pretty to look at, I really didn’t want a picture of Dawn wearing some of those sets in my head. I felt like a dirty old man.”
“No lingerie until we’ve been on our third date, I promise,” said Oz.
“And this counts as our second date?” Xander asked.
“Well, I guess we did things the wrong way around, but now at least I’m taking you to lunch, so don’t knock it.” Oz grinned up at Xander and when the traffic lights turned to red, he ambled across the street with the rest of the waiting pedestrians. Xander followed.
Ten minutes later he mock staggered out of the door of the food hall and looked back at Oz, who was still ambling, but this time behind him. “Man, that was brutal. I swear that granny hit me deliberately in the butt with her walking stick when I went for the last Chinese chicken wrap.”
“And being the master tactician that you are, you recognised a no-win situation when you saw one, withdrew gracefully from the fray and looked for something else.” Oz raised the small plastic bag carrying their booty as an illustration of his point, unconsciously repeating Xander's gesture with the bakery bag from earlier that morning.
“Okay, so now that we’ve survived that trauma, where do we eat, because I’m not seeing too many prospective venues around here, unless we’re going back to your room?”
Oz stopped in front of an open gate in the centre of a granite colonnade running along the edge of the main street. We’re going in here,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the path beyond the gate. Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked through the gateway, leaving Xander on the pavement.
“But, but…” Xander stammered, horrified. He was standing looking up the path to the church that had creeped him out when he’d gone for his early morning walkabout. “You want to eat in a church?” he shouted after Oz, but the lack of reply made him sigh and plunge through the gate, muttering under his breath as he followed Oz up the broad path towards the church door, past the gravestones and memorials in all shapes, sizes and colours of granite that lined the route. Sometimes, he thought, it was amazing what he would do for food, or a friend. Put both together and he knew he didn’t have a prayer, and wasn’t that an ironic thought as he approached the arched, stone entrance way to the church.
Oz ambled surprisingly quickly for a man so small. Xander speculated that it must have something to do with the wolf. By the time he caught up, Oz was settled on a bench, down a small path to the right and some distance from the main door. The bench was one of a number dotted along the path and it was placed next to a blackened horizontal tombstone, supported on ornately carved, but worn, stubby stone legs. When he reached it, Xander stopped and stood in front of Oz with his arms folded. “Didn’t we get enough of graveyards in Sunnydale? Why on earth would you want to eat in one, here?”
“Xander,” Oz said softly. “Sit. Eat. Stop thinking for a minute.”
Realising that he wasn’t going to win the argument, Xander sat and accepted the bottle of water Oz handed him, along with the BLT he’d chosen in lieu of the surrendered wrap. He took it out of its packaging and started to munch, trying to do as Oz had asked - to stop thinking and just relax.
After a few bites he decided that Oz’s Zen must be catching, because the tension was disappearing from his shoulders and he turned to watch Oz, who was chewing with the air of someone completely contented with his lot.
“What did you get? I mean, what kind of sandwich?”
“Roast Beef and Horseradish,” Oz replied. “I like a little bit of tang with my meat.”
Xander nearly choked on the bit of tomato he was eating and took a swig of water to ward off a coughing fit. Staring at Oz, he shook his head. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Neither can I, but then that’s part of the fun,” Oz replied, smiling serenely. “Every minute can be a surprise. It’s exciting.”
“I’ll take your word for it. So, talking of surprises, what’s with the church and why are we eating in the graveyard? And more to the point, why are other people eating in a graveyard?” Xander gestured with his water bottle at the other benches occupied by office workers, mothers with pushchairs and elderly people, including a certain old lady with a walking stick who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying her lunch.
Oz gestured towards the church. “This is the Kirk of St Nicholas. It’s known as the ‘Mither Kirk’ of Aberdeen. That’s Mother Church to you and me.”
“Thanks for that,” Xander replied. “Because, you know, without the clarification I might have got it mixed it up with Mother Ship, and that would lead to unfortunate and potentially disrespectful religious references involving Star Trek and/or possibly Scientology.
“Yeah, okay, shutting up now. So tell me about the church.”
Oz took a drink of his water and put the bottle down on the ground at his feet. “Parts of it date back to the 12th century and there’s been something on this site, in some form or another, since then. There are actually two churches in the building – the east and west kirks from the time when the city was growing and needed more space for its ministry. The whole building was kind of a focal point then, with it being right in the centre of the city, and it's still one today. Though nowadays more people probably eat their lunch in the kirk yard than actually go in and worship. But it’s still serving its flock in a different way. It’s kind of cool.”
“So how do you know about this place?”
“I got talking to an old guy who was cutting the grass around the gravestones and he started telling me the history. Did you know that in 1745, during the Jacobite Rebellion, the Duke of Cumberland stabled his horses inside the church?”
“I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I didn’t know that. And now that I do, I can keep it in mind the next time I run out of conversation at parties.” Xander grinned as Oz rolled his eyes. “I’m thinking the old Duke wasn’t a religious type, then?”
“I don’t know about that, but after the Battle of Culloden, his nick name was ‘The Butcher’.”
Xander swallowed the last part of his sandwich and stared up at the spire of the church in front of him. “It’s funny,” he said. “Sometimes I forget that with all the Hellmouth stuff and fighting demons and all the other nasties, humans can be just as evil as any of the stuff that goes bump in the night. With humans, we get to go bump in the daytime as well.”
“That’s very philosophical of you,” Oz commented.
“Yeah, well. It’s becoming a disturbing habit lately.” Xander pulled one leg up until his foot was resting on the edge of the bench and lent forward, resting his chin on his knee, his hands wrapped around his calf. “You know all those big life questions? What am I doing here? What do I want? What do I do next? I’ve been wondering that for a while. It’s like, you know a carpenter has a Level? We use them to make sure the line of the wood is true and can see when things are off by where the little bubble is sitting. Since Sunnydale, my bubble has been all over the place. It’s never quite made it into that little window where I need it to be.” He scratched his chin absently and shook his head at the indulgence of the metaphor. “I wanted to go to Africa, you know. But there’s always something in the way. The others are off doing their thing, but I’m here, and don’t get me wrong, here’s great. Here’s more than great. I was so clear in my head, that after this job I was going to go back to London and demand Dawn send me off to Africa. No more excuses, no more false prophecies or crappy translations. But it was a crappy translation that sent me here and now I’m sitting in this.. this place, and things look different.”
“In what way?” Oz asked curiously.
“It’s like you said in the bar, about how learning the local lingo helps you blend in to a place. This morning I walked by here and this place gave me the major wiggins. It looked so gloomy and forbidding. But now the rain’s stopped and you tell me it’s called the ‘Mither Kirk’ and people come here and eat their lunch. It’s like looking at something through the other end of a telescope. They don’t call this a cemetery or a graveyard. It’s a kirk yard. It’s just a word, but somehow it changes your perspective.” He turned his head and looked at Oz. “I kind of like the perspective.”
Oz leaned down and grabbed his water bottle, taking a long drink before he looked back over at Xander. “Perspective isn’t just about what you see. It’s about what you think.”
“What do I think?”
“That perhaps, it would be simple to stay here. We had a good time last night. We know each other. It’s easy and comfortable.”
“But…?” Xander asked. “It sounds like there’s a ‘but’ coming.”
“There’s always a ‘but’, Xander. You know that. The bubble might almost be in the window, but it’s not right there. Just because I’m a barman in a stupid theme pub doesn’t stop me being a werewolf. I don’t lock myself up any more. I go out onto the moors to the north and I run. I let myself go and I run. This place is a kirk yard, and the living spend time here and incorporate it into their daily lives, but it’s still a place of the dead. That’s the ‘but’.”
“You’re saying I can’t be comfortable?”
Oz shook his head. “No. You can be comfortable, but, you can’t not ‘know’. Just because you’ve found another name for something, doesn’t make it any less what it is.”
Sighing, Xander stared at the spire of the church before turning back to Oz. “So what do I do?” he asked.
“That’s up to you. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like. I’d like that. But you know, in the end you’re going to have to let yourself run. It’s just a matter of where.”
“You’re really annoying when you’re insightful, you know that?”
“I know.” Oz replied with a shrug. “It’s a good job I’m good in bed, to make up for it.”
Snorting, Xander lifted his head and let his foot drop back down to the ground. “Modest as well.”
“Okay, I know you’re right.“
The question hung in the air. Xander closed his eye and sorted through all the possible futures he could imagine, before acknowledging that there really was only one. “So I need to use the lovely corporate credit card I’ve got, to book a flight.”
“Do you have your passport with you?”
“And you’ve had all your shots?”
“You name it, I’ve had it.”
“So, I couldn’t be accused of encouraging you to do something impetuous, if I told you that you can fly direct from Aberdeen to Amsterdam. From there you can go practically anywhere you want.”
Xander took a long drink of his water as he turned Oz’s comment over in his head. “I guess that’s a bit of info I could have picked up in lots of places. No need for anyone to know where it came from exactly.” Willow’s name hung unspoken between them. “And I wouldn’t have to go back to London first,” he continued. “I’d say that you’re a genius, but you’re already puffed up enough. But it does feel a little like cheating, not to face Dawn and Giles and co and just tell them I’m going.”
“Remember the old lady with the walking stick in Markies. It’s like that. It’s all about tactics, about knowing how to pick your battles. You can choose your own battlefield.”
“And if that battlefield happens to be a phone call from Amsterdam airport, a couple of hours before my flight gets called, then that’s neither here nor there?”
“I told you, you are a good tactician.”
“I still feel like I’m a coward.”
“You’re planning to go to Africa to fight evil and find Slayers, Xander. You’re not a coward, believe me.”
“Will you come with me?” He knew the answer before Oz replied.
Oz shook his head. “Tempting, but no. I have my own battles to fight. But who knows, six months from now you could be walking down a street in Nairobi, or Addis Ababa, or Lusaka, and you’ll turn a corner and I’ll be coming the other way. “
“Who knows,” Xander said with a smile. “It wouldn’t be any weirder than meeting you in a fake Egyptian bar in Aberdeen.”
“Maybe next time it will be Cairo and you’ll meet me in the real thing.”
“Yeah, who knows,” Xander repeated. “I suppose if I’m going to do it, I should just do it.”
Standing up, Oz turned his back and stretched, running his fingers through his hair, ruffling the pink stripe at his crown and making the flecks of silver sparkle in the watery sunlight. After a moment, he turned back. “Xander, will you do me a favour? Six months seems a long time away, even on a ‘who knows’. Will you wait three days?”
Xander raised his eyebrows. “Why three days?”
“Because then it’s the full moon. I’m being selfish, but I thought we could maybe have the next three days. Then it will be time for the wolf and I won’t try to talk you out of it.”
Xander stared at Oz. The bubble in the Level in his head bounced from side to side, before settling firmly between the lines. He counted to three, but it didn’t move.
Reaching over, Xander curled his fingers around the palm of Oz’s smaller hand. “I can do that. We can have three days. We can eat Rowies and watch the sun and the rain on the granite and you can teach me some more of the tools of your trade.
“In three days, it’ll be time for both of us to run.”