Part VI

"I need to talk to Buffy for a minute. . .could you wait for me in the lobby?"

Xander's mother nodded and departed, and Joyce waited for a few seconds before turning to Xander and commented, "I hated to lie to her like that. . .but I suppose you don't want her knowing what you were really up to tonight, right?"

Xander nodded and replied, "I'd have to answer a big yes to that question, Mrs. Summers." The painkillers had him in a mild haze, but he was otherwise alert, and the doctor had told him that he would be free to go home for a few days of bed rest in the morning. Mrs. Summers had immediately called Xander's mother when Buffy called her from the hospital, and had driven her over to see her son. Xander had been mildly gratified by the attention, though it was largely limited to complaints over how Xander had needlessly endangered himself by walking around at night where he could be mugged by gang members. He smiled at Joyce and continued, "Thanks for bringing my mom, Mrs. Summers."

Joyce smiled and responded, "I'm glad to do what I can to help, Xander. . .I'm sorry I couldn't be there myself, but-"

"I know," interrupted Xander. Learning that her daughter was the Slayer had been difficult enough on Joyce: the last thing she needed was to watch a medieval combat ritual that could have led to the death of one of her daughter's best friends. He smiled and commented, "At least no one wound up in a coma this time." He shuddered, thinking of how they almost lost Willow last May during the Acathla incident.

Joyce nodded, then continued, "Xander, what you'd done for Buffy. . .and for Faith. . .it's just wonderful. If I can do anything else for you. . .?"

Xander grinned and replied, "Well, there is something. . ." He paused, and Joyce waited for him to continue. After a moment, he concluded, ". . .you could make sure that the next time we have a sleepover at your place, we don't run out of Cheesy Chips at a crucial moment."

Joyce chuckled and replied, "I think I can guarantee you that, Xander." She reached out and gently tousled his hair, then commented, "I'd better get your mother home. . .it's been a stressful night for her too. Good night, Xander." She smiled and exited the room.

Buffy, who was standing quietly in a corner of the room, waited for about ten seconds, then called out, "All right, the maternal units have departed. . .everyone come on in."

After a moment, the waiting group began filing in. Willow and Oz came in first, followed by Giles and Faith, then Angel, Wesley, and Walters, followed by. . .Xander blinked at seeing the last person to enter the room, and he was speechless for a moment before softly calling out, "Cordelia?"

The former May Queen, who was holding a bouquet, flushed as she heard Xander call out her name, and she did not hesitate to reply, "Well. . .Willow called, and when I inexplicably didn't hang up on her immediately she told me that you had actually done something useful with that big stick you nearly knocked my head off with. . .and that you had managed to get yourself put in the hospital over it. Well, I figured that since you brought me flowers in the hospital when I really, really hated you. . .the least I could do was return the favor." She walked forward and put the flowers on the tray in front of Xander, then turned to leave.

Xander called out, "Cordelia?" The young woman paused and turned to face her former boyfriend, who was looking at her with a mildly amused expression on his face. There was only calm gratitude in his voice as he continued, "Thank you for coming to see me. . .see you in school next week?"

Cordelia snorted and replied, "Not if I see you first." The relief visible in her eyes belied the harsh tone of her voice as she left the room without further comment.

Xander chuckled and commented, "It's so gratifying to see that some people never change." Wesley and Walters moved over to his bedside, and Xander was moved to grin and comment, "I heard what you said, Wesley. . .thanks. So you're staying on here?"

The Watcher smiled and replied, "So it would seem. There is always plenty of research to be done around here, and Mr. Giles has been kind enough to request my services in that area. . .perhaps with time my other skills will meet his standards as well." He nodded at Xander and withdrew, and Xander looked at Walters for a long moment before commenting, "You're just not one for talking, are you Walters?"

The young Watcher laughed, then replied, "Mr. Travers never encouraged it. . .I've been his personal assistant for five years now, and he has never been one to be reluctant to let one know what he expects of them. . .it never occurred to me that he might be in the wrong in this whole matter, until he forced the continuation of the Test. . .loyalty is a cardinal virtue, but a man with no personal honor is unworthy of it." He smiled and continued, "I will probably be out of a job now, whether or not he is sacked over his conduct during Miss Summers' Cruciamentum. I was thinking of asking permission to stay on here. . .it seems that you could use another capable combatant here. . .or fifty, could the Council spare them."

Xander laughed and replied, "It's fine by me. . .I saw you with that sword: you were doing fine until Trick decided to take you out. One thing though. . .promise me that I'll never have to fight you again. I think that some of the bruises I got will be here for weeks."

Walters smiled softly and responded, "No more Tests of Honor for us. . .but I would like to spar with you in the future. . .it seems I still have some things to learn." He turned away, only to stop when Xander called out, "Hey, Walters."

The Watcher turned back and replied, "Yes, Mr. Harris?"

Xander paused for a moment, then asked, "Do you have a first name, Walters?"

Walters considered the question, then replied, "Yes. . .David."

Xander nodded, then replied, "My name is Xander, David. . .pleased to make your acquaintance." He carefully extended his undamaged left arm and hand, and after a moment, the young Watcher grasped the extended hand and shook it firmly. A long moment of unspoken communication passed between the two men before Walters released Xander's hand, nodded, and departed with Wesley.

Angel moved forward, chuckling as he noted, "Seeing as how you're making peace with people who were just trying to beat the hell out of you, I don't suppose you'd consider making peace with someone who hasn't lately?"

Xander snickered: between the drugs and the successful conclusion of the evening's events, even Dead Boy couldn't get under his skin right now. He replied, "You know I can't make peace with you, Dead Boy. . .it would just confuse the hell out of Buffy and make her life even more chaotic." Buffy winced at this as Angel laughed, and Xander continued, "However. . .it seems to me that the vamp traffic was rather light where I was, and that you were doing more than your share to keep them off of me and the Watchers. . .thanks."

Mildly surprised that Xander had acknowledged the assist, Angel smiled and replied, "All part of the service." He turned to Buffy and nodded, then glided out of the room in silence.

Giles moved over to Xander and commented, "You know. . .I almost called off the whole thing. . .you could have let me know about your gift. . .it would have saved us some unnecessary tension."

Xander smiled ruefully and replied, "Sorry, Giles. . .I didn't know whether Travers was in a position to call the whole thing off or not. . .I thought it was best to let him think that I would be a patsy." He paused and looked at Giles as he queried, "Gift? I've worked at it a lot. . .but I think calling it a gift might be a little much."

Giles frowned and replied, "Xander, your skills with the quarterstaff are formidable. . .I've been working with it for over twenty five years, and my skills are only marginally superior to yours. . .if we continue training you, you could actually use it offensively against most of the opponents you are likely to encounter in Sunnydale. . .in combination with a stake, of course." He smiled and concluded, "We'll discuss a training schedule as soon as you are fully recovered." He gave Xander a long look, and the younger man could see the gratitude in the Watcher's eyes before he nodded at Xander and departed.

Willow and Oz walked over to Xander, and Xander commented, "Did Willow keep you in the dark too, Oz?"

Oz smiled softly and replied, "She would have. . .but I thought something was up from the way she was acting, and. . .well, I had some favors to call in." Both Xander and Willow winced at that comment, but Oz was clearly in a friendly mood as he concluded, "Good job, Xander."

Xander chuckled: he was pleased that Oz was not holding a grudge over the whole thing with him and Willow. He looked over at his best friend, and saw that the worry that had been absent in her eyes during the whole crisis was visibly present now. He reached out and clasped her hand and commented softly, "Kind of silly to get all worked up now, Will: the docs say I'm going to be fine."

The redhead's eyes flashed, and she retorted, "Easy for you to say, you big dumb jerk! You almost got yourself killed tonight! How do you expect me to feel about that?" Tears came to her eyes, and she began sobbing, "I saw Trick grab you. . .and I thought that I was going to lose you."

Xander instinctively drew Willow to him, and held her as she cried for several minutes. At length, he leaned over to her ear and whispered, "You realize, of course, I'm going to get back at you for making my love life the subject of sworn testimony, Willow."

Willow stopped in mid-sob and started laughing, then pulled back from him, a puckish expression appearing on her tear-streaked face as she replied, "It could have been worse. . .I could have brought up Praying Mantis Lady. . .or the mummy."

Xander winced and replied, "Point taken." He reached out and squeezed Willow's hand, then continued, "Thanks for everything, Will. . .you did a good job tonight, too."

Willow smiled at him, then let Oz take her hand as they left the room. Buffy walked over to Xander, shaking her head as she commented, "You sure managed to stir things up tonight, Xander. . .is there anything we can do to keep you from nearly getting yourself killed?"

Xander tried to shrug, but found that the drug-induced numbness made it a difficult prospect. He settled for a rueful smile and replied, "Hey. . .it's not my fault this stuff keeps happening. . .zombie street gangs, Tests of Honor. . .suddenly English papers don't seem as traumatic as they used to." He met Buffy's gaze with a suddenly shy look and commented, "It wasn't anything you couldn't have done. . .if their stupid rules had let you. . .and I had a good role model. Buffy, things have been pretty strange here since you came to town, but it's nice to feel special for a change. . .and I have you to thank for it."

Buffy blinked, and tears appeared in her eyes as she leaned over and brushed the hair from his forehead as she softly kissed his brow. She leaned over to his ear and whispered, "You were special before I ever laid eyes on you, Xander." She straightened and left the room, and Xander found himself needing to compose himself for a long moment. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, then opened them again to see Faith grinning at him.

The younger Slayer chuckled and asked, "Want me to come back later? You look beat."

Xander smiled and replied, "Naw. . .it's nice to talk to you, Faith." He looked at her earnestly and continued, "You saved me tonight, Faith. . .thanks."

Faith laughed and replied, "How many times did you save me tonight, Xander? On the stand, getting beaten on by Walters. . .not to mention keeping me from ripping that bastard Travers' head off." She looked away for a moment and mumbled, "You're making it kind of hard to keep up my idea that everyone in the world is out to get me, ya know?"

Xander reached across his body and clasped her hand, causing her to look at him. He met her eyes and responded, "You were worth it. . .say, all of this conspicuous heroism on my part isn't giving you any different ideas about whether I'm boyfriend material, is it?" His expression and tone made it clear that he was kidding, and he was surprised to see a contemplative look on Faith's face.

The Slayer laughed again and replied, "Maybe. . .but I'm retiring from the game for a while, Xander. . .if I'm going to give this trust thing a try, I'm going to have to give everything in my life some serious thought. . .including the whole 'use and discard' thing." She looked at him and continued, "Of course, you're not the only game in town. . .that Walters guy is kind of hot. . ."

Xander blinked and asked, "You're kidding, right?" He gave her a mock glare, looking for signs of deception, and only saw an enigmatic smile.

"Maybe. . .maybe not. Time will tell, won't it?" Faith grinned and winked at him, then departed, calling out, "Get some sleep, hero."

Xander looked around, examining his surroundings. Alone in a hospital room, nursing a damaged shoulder and looking forward to waking up in the morning in significant pain. Not great. . .but considering the alternatives. . .not so bad, either. He chuckled again, after which he turned over and was asleep in seconds.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired