Chapter Eighteen


"Sorry," she sniffed, pulling away from the warm hug in which she was immersed. Buffy wiped her eyes with her hand and gave a lop-sided smile to Xander.

"Sorry? For what?"

"For coming apart on you like that; I shouldnít have done it."

Xander grinned his famous grin and patted her cheek gently in reassurance. "You may be expected to do a lot of things, Buffster, but no one ever said you couldnít cry. Besides, you needed that. Gives your cheeks a rosy glow."

"No," she disagreed, "I think thatís from you incessantly patting them. And thanks. Youíre a true friend, Xander. Iím glad to have you back." She hugged him again, kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Even if you are a little zany.

"Now, letís get out of this place."

"Your wish is my command, your highness. But what about Miss Calendarís body? We canít just leave it here," Xander noted, sadness in his brown eyes.

Buffy eyed the foreboding metal door that graciously concealed her friendís mangled corpse. "First of all, we canít say anything to Giles; heíd be just to upset. As far as he knows sheís still in Sunnydale Cemetery, sleeping peacefully. To know what Angelus did, it would just upset him too much, and I canít bare to see him in that much pain again." The slayer closed her eyes momentarily, thinking back to when that monster had murdered her and picturing Gilesí grim face when he walked upstairs to find her broken body on his bed. "We notify the authorities, and theyíll take care of it. I guess thatís all we can do."

"So Iím guessing no more patrol for a while?" the slayerette asked, staring at the goring in her shoulder, then glancing at her still bum ankle.

"You guessed right. It looks like itís time for a little R&R for the slayer. A much needed vacation is at last at hand."

Xander pulled himself to his feet and nodded. He swayed erratically back and forth for a moment as a wave of dizziness swept through him, then gathered himself. Starting for the door, Xander heard an irate shout for behind him. "Some kinda gentleman you are! Humph! Doesnít even help a lady to her feet!" Immediately, the boy spun around and gingerly lifted Buffy up, leaning her against his shoulder while he leaned back on her.

"Iím sorry," he apologized. "I didnít know you were a lady. You ought really to tell me these things." Buffy jabbed him in the side while Xander merely smiled.

Together they limped out of the meat factory, their bodies sagging against the otherís. It was a pitiful sight to view, but at least they were reunited at last.

Outside, the air struck Xander as the most wonderful thing heíd ever experienced, short of meeting Buffy Summers. The rainbow arching brilliantly over his head was only the icing on the cake and the rest of his friends were the cherry. "Look at the rainbow, Xander. Isnít it spectacular?"

"Yes, it is," he said, looking ahead. "Willow!"

Spinning wildly like a top, the redheadís eyes bulged at the man standing behind her. "Xander!"

The whole group came charging to his side, all ecstatic to see him. Hugs were exchanged all around. "I thought Iíd never see you again!" she exclaimed. "But sure enough, here you are! Iím so glad!" Willow hugged him ferociously.

Xander grimaced with pain. "Wills, could ya ease up a bit? I canít feel anything below my neck anymore." She pulled back embarrassed, but smiling. "Geez, you been working out?"

"She has," Oz replied. "You should have seen her heave those giant wooden crates across the storeroom over there."

"My little Willowís got muscles? Whoída thought..." She blushed then shot Xander a sharp look.

Now, it was Gilesí turn to welcome Xander back. The Brit showed his usual amount of emotion as he hid his sincere thankfulness. "Well, uh, yes. Indeed, welcome home, Xander."

"Thanks, G-man," the slayerette said, whacking him hard on the back. He started to tear up as he commented, "That was the warmest welcome home I ever received."

"On second thought," Giles said, cleaning the water marks from his glasses, "I take that back." Everyone laughed.

Then, strangely, Cordelia stepped from the backÖ quietly. Her eyes were soft with love and relief as she moved toward the boy for a hug. Xander smiled, murmuring her name for a moment. The group heard a welcome back, then nothing as the brunette whispered a long something in his ear. Buffy looked quizzically at the pair, a flash of jealousy igniting in her gut as she saw Cordy pull away from him, but not without brushing his cheek with a kiss. The slayer heard a soft thanks from Xander as he stepped back and into his crowd of friends still hugging him. Giles, of course, insisted that this all wait until later after their injuries had been treated at the hospital.

Reluctantly, Buffy, Xander and Faith climbed into an awaiting cab that quickly sped away from the factory. Xander watched as the familiar faces dwindled as the distance between them grew, and he sighed, thinking about all his friends had gone through that day just to rescue him, especially Buffy. He had never dreamed in his life that she cared so much for him. Even if it wasnít love, this friendship was definitely the next best thing.

Exhaling deeply, Xander settled into the seat, letting sleep overtake him. It sure had been a long, very tiresome day. Even in his exhausted state, the slayerette could still feel Buffyís body leaning up against his and her head resting on his shoulder as she slept as well. This was a life Xander knew he could get used to. So, he placed his head gently atop hers and drifted off to slumberland, too.