The grey skies of Scotland were a vast contrast to the wild blue ones of Africa, Xander thought. He closed his good eye, leaning back against the car seat. He was glad that Giles decided to make the drive to the castle a quiet one. Giles had been there at the airport to pick him up, which had surprised him a little; he’d half expected it to be Andrew or Willow. Giles had been easy to spot when Xander had exited the jet way. He’d no bags to collect so it was straight out to the car and off to the castle.
Xander opened his eye when he felt the car slow down. The property the castle sat on spread out before him with the castle slowly getting closer. It would be good to have a roof over his head for an extended period of time. He spied Buffy putting the new Slayers through their paces in one of the fields. In the other was Dawn, in all her giant-sized glory. Xander was glad he’d gotten Willow’s e-mail or he’d be seriously wigged about now.
Giles pulled into the small parking area in front of the castle. It probably wouldn’t be long before everyone knew he was here and be clamoring to see him. Giles put a hand on his arm.
“I’ve prepared a room near mine for you if you like. It’s on the other side of the castle from the girls. I can give Andrew instructions that you shouldn’t be disturbed if you prefer.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’d be great, thanks.”
Giles nodded and they exited the car. Andrew was about to rush him when Giles glared; there was a quick whispered conference and Andrew went away. They weren’t bothered as Giles led him down long colorless corridors. He stopped in front of one door, opening it to show Xander in. Bed, dresser, large window, bathroom off to the side.
“I’m next door,” Giles said. “And, Xander? I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”
The nightmares came.
Xander wasn’t sure why he thought they wouldn’t. He always knew he was dreaming, but there was never anything he could do but let the dream play out. He was patrolling with several girls he’d found. They were making their way to an airport; the nearest one was at least two countries away, so he was making do. The newest recruit was the youngest daughter of a goat herder who was happy to send her with the mysterious American who promised a better life. So he was stalking the grasslands with her, a chieftain’s daughter, the diplomat’s daughter and the twins from Chad or Congo or one of those other C countries.
You would have thought that the grasslands were a hard place for demons or vampires to hide, but you’d be wrong. The grasses sometimes got to be as high as a person, so they always had to be on alert. Vampires fed on wildebeest and antelope out here, so several humans would have been like a buffet after a diet of only beef or something like that. Metaphors were not Xander’s strong suit.
So they’d all been equipped with stakes and swords and Xander had a wicked machete given to him by some oil barren whose life he’d saved. They were almost to the edge of the grasses and to a clearing that Xander was pretty sure led to a village where they could hole up for a few days. That’s when it happened.
He doesn’t remember much, or his mind chose not to remember. There was screaming and blood and dust and gore and then nothing. Xander woke in the village, not a scratch on him. He’d asked about the girls. One man, a healer Xander thought, just shook his head. A day later he was led to where the villagers had buried the remains. They told of a great battle, finding Xander surrounded by the women who’d protected them. He’d said their names over the unmarked spot of earth that was their grave. Aba, Daib, Kabili, Rabia and Radhi; their names would be remembered.
He’d just gotten to the part of his dream where he was cursing God or Yahweh or Jehovah or some other name to whatever fucked up deity had decided that he should live when he was shaken awake.
“Xander, it’s a dream.”
He blinked to see Giles sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand on his arm. Andrew was nervously standing in the doorway and Buffy was just coming up behind him.
“I know,” he whispered before composing himself. He gave a half smile to Buffy. “I wasn’t that loud was I?”
Buffy smiled gently back to him. “No, I got the call from Andrew. He said maybe I should be here for my BFF.”
“I thought that was Willow.”
“A girl can’t have two best friends?”
Xander laughed, nodding. “Go back to bed, Buff, I’m fine.”
She stood there for a moment, looking at him, before she nodded and turned away. Andrew followed shortly after. Giles stayed, removing his hand from Xander’s shoulder, but not moving from the bed.
“I’m fine, Giles. It was just a dream.”
Giles frowned, the lines deepening on his forehead. “It was more than just a dream, Xander. Willow never said why you wanted to leave Africa.”
“I never told her.”
“You can tell me.”
“Not yet, Giles. Not yet.”
Giles continued to frown at him. “I do hope that you will confide in me, Xander. Whatever happened over there, you need to talk about it otherwise it will consume you.” He got up and left then.
Xander knew he would talk to Giles eventually. Giles had been through what he had been through. But Giles had got his slayer back. Twice. Xander didn’t have that, he’d never have that.
The next day was sunny, completely opposite to Xander’s mood. He’d slept restlessly after the nightmare, as if his brain knew another could be on the horizon if he allowed himself deeper sleep. Giles said nothing to him as they met in the hallway, heading for the dining room. Andrew took one look at Xander’s expression and cut off any bright greeting. Buffy was another story.
“Morning sleepy heads!” she smiled. She’d undoubtedly been up for a while. “There’s coffee, juice and Sarah,” she pointed to one of the younger Slayers, “has made her famous blueberry pancakes.”
Xander headed straight for the coffee pot, caffeine was his friend. He looked around the room after a few sips. Slayers everywhere, a vampire or demon’s worst nightmare right here in this room. He wandered down to one end, to the table nearest the door, where no one was sitting. Here he could have some peace before having to face his friends in the bright light of day. His plan was derailed when a plate of food was set in front of him and someone sat next to him.
“You gotta eat, Xan. How can you be my Xander-shaped-friend if you waste away to nothing?”
Xander turned to see Buffy giving him a small smile, one he returned as he picked up a fork. “Hope you don’t mind a slightly more muscled Xander.”
She brought a hand up and squeezed his bicep. “It suits you. Besides, you were getting all kinds of muscle-y doing the carpentry and construction thing.”
“You should see me in a Speedo.”
Buffy nearly choked on her juice. “Xander!”
He grinned, a laugh bubbling up inside of him. He’d made the right call to come here, being around Buffy always made him feel better. Maybe this was the first step, being around his best friends, his family. A rumble started to echo through the hall and two of the girls at the other end of the room stood up, exiting quickly. Xander looked at Buffy, the question in his expression.
“Dawn,” she answered. “She sleeps out in one of the barns, so it takes a few minutes for her to make it over to eat.”
“How do you manage to feed her without breaking the bank?” he asked.
Buffy brightened. “Oh, Willow thought of this great spell. She made it so she, or any of the other witches, can enchant one small plate of food to make it seem like enough for Dawnie. Kinda like that stuff in that film with the little men.”
“Hobbits,” Xander said. “So it’s like our version of Elvish bread.”
There was silence as Xander ate his pancakes, drank his coffee and mulled over the thought of Dawn possibly being the largest hobbit in existence.
“Any plans for today?” Buffy asked.
“Not really. Thought I might just go sit out in a field and soak up the sun.”
“Didn’t get enough of that in Africa?” she teased.
Xander half smiled. Most of his travels had been done under the cover of darkness. Less people to run into, less questions asked about what a foreigner was doing in the company of all those young girls. “Maybe I’ll just hang with Dawn or explore the castle.”
“Send a flare if you get lost,” she said. “Lots of twists and turns.”
He nodded. “Do I need to carry anything?”
“Nah, we got rid of the one vamp and all that’s left are a few rats.”
“Good to know.”
More silence as he drank down the dregs of his coffee and contemplated more. Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad after all. Buffy had kicked his ass in her own way, getting him out of his funk.
“Xander, you know you can talk to me right?”
“I know, Buffy. Giles said that same thing to me last night.”
“You’re family,” she said. “We don’t want to see you hurting.”
“When I’m ready, I promise, I’ll let you both know. I think it’s something you’ll both want to hear.”
“Anytime, Xan, anytime.” She got up, grabbed his plate and cup, kissed his cheek and went on her way.
He touched the spot where her lips had been and thought. Nearly a year had passed since Sunnydale. While he and Anya hadn’t been together, there’d been the possibility of reconciliation. He’d love her forever, he didn’t doubt that, but Buffy had owned a large piece of his heart since they day he’d met her. He could hear Anya chiding him about moving on, living life and having lots of sex. He chuckled to himself as he rose from his seat and made his way outside.
The next week and a half was fairly uneventful. He began to lose the deep tan he’d acquired and got the calluses back on his hands when he volunteered to do repair work around the castle. He hung out in the larger library with Giles, shelving books and doing research. He talked with Dawn about this and that. He hung out with Buffy and Willow, who offered to make him a tea that would help him sleep and be rid of the nightmares. He refused. When he had another one, it was Buffy who was the first to respond.
“I temporarily moved in on the other side of you. I want to be here for you, Xander,” she said.
The next morning he decided he should tell them. After breakfast, Buffy went with him to Giles’ office. It took him a while to start, even then it began as a whisper. When he’d finished, there were fresh tears on his cheeks. Giles handed over his handkerchief without a word. After Xander dried off, Giles spoke.
“It wasn’t your fault, dear boy.”
“I know that, but I still feel guilty.”
Giles nodded. “And a part of you always will. We can have a ceremony, honor the girls. Their names will go on a wall we’ve erected.”
“They’d want you to be okay, Xander,” Buffy said. “You were their Watcher, if not on paper, in deed. A Slayer’s instinct is to protect, they died protecting you.”
“I know,” he whispered.
Buffy got up from her chair and hugged him. He just let her hold him for the longest time. She stepped back and looked him in the eye.
“Can you give me and Giles a minute?”
He nodded and left the office. He eventually found himself in one of the farthest fields, looking back at the castle. Buffy found him there, just staring at the scenery.
“So, I had this thought,” she said, sitting down next to him.
She whapped him lightly on the arm, smiling. “How’d you like to be my Watcher?”
“Uh, Buff, isn’t that Giles’ job?”
“He’s kinda everyone’s Watcher, ‘til we get some more.”
“Buffy, I’m honored, but….”
“But nothing, no buts allowed here, mister. I want you to be my Watcher, Xander.”
She shrugged. “Why not? You’ve always been there for me. Besides, that means I get to keep you here in Scotland with me and I can find out if you’re feeling the same things I am.”
He stared at her, open mouthed. She reached over and gently shut it.
“What? A girl can’t have feelings for one of her best friends?”
“She can, but Buffy, you never….”
“That’s right, I never really to the time to think about what a great catch you are, Xan. So what do you say?”
“I’d be an idiot to say no.”
“Good thing you’re not an idiot.” She kissed him then, full on the mouth, took his hand and they watched the Slayers parade out for training.