November 26. Thanksgiving. Very early in the morning.

The door opened and she came out. She was moving slowly, with careful steps gliding around the bags of this and that they had already moved from the apartment. She wore a green nightdress, the color of grass drying in the summer sun. It had a darker border of lace around the long straight sleeves and across the collar, and it dipped in the front to show her pale, even skin from her throat down to the tops of her breasts. She knelt, smoothing the gathered dress around her as she sank next to him.

"Xander?" she breathed softly at him. Her eyes seemed huge and deep, and his breath caught in his throat as he looked at her. As she spoke, his eye followed her lips and they called to him. "Xander, thank you. For the house, for agreeing to stay here tonight. For everything."

He tore his gaze from her lips to her eyes, and was very nearly overwhelmed again. He found his voice, and gentle and low as it was it sounded harsh after her sweet softness. "I wanted to do it, for you. For us. It's my present to you for making me really live again. At last."

She took his hand, so scarred and rough but so gentle in its touch, and raised it to her heart for a moment. Then she took the emerald tie that held her dress closed in front, and pressed the end into his hand. She closed her eyes and smiled. "Aren't you going to open my present to you, Xander? At last?"

He got a good night's sleep. Eventually.

END of Book One, "The Key and the Carpenter."

By ReverendKilljoy

LOOK for Book Two, "The Sword and the Fist," to be posted soon.

Sneak Preview:

Robin Wood stood, tranquil, peaceful, in the center of a room. His eyes were open, but he was looking inward, processing with his mind and not his eyes. He was standing that way, thinking about nothing, worried about nothing, when Death came for him.

A knife flew through the air, aimed for a spot just below his shoulder blade. It was slender and black and only the slightest exhale of breath from the woman who had thrown it marked its passage. Her eyes shone and a grin began to form as the blade hurtled through the air towards Wood.

With one motion, he bent one knee and reached towards the small of his back. This caused him to drop slightly and to pivot. As he drew a small wooden sword from a sheath in his jacket, he continued to duck and turn, whipping around as he spun into the ground.

The tightly-wrapped brilliant white silk handle of his hardwood blade made his dark hands look almost ebony, as they whipped his sword through the space his body had occupied moments before. With a single sharp exhalation, he drove his bent leg straight, snapping back to his full height as his blade connected with the knife precisely where he had been standing.

"KI!" came the sound, from his mouth, from his chest, from the muscles of his arms, the powerful flesh of his legs. His whole body, just as he had been trained so long ago. Just one "KI!" and there was a knife, now whistling back the way it had came, rotating slightly from the spin of his blocking blade.

With a sigh, the knife ended its whispering flight, protruding from the throat of the woman who had thrown it. It fixed her grin, not faltering even as she slowly collapsed. A knife, buried there just so, does not kill instantly. She had time to realize that he had killed her. Then she was gone.