Author's Notes:

Guide: telepathic thoughts

Song: Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones

****CHAPTER 1*******

And wild, wild horses couldn't drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn't pull me away

Xander's mind hummed with memories as the tune played on the local classic rock radio. His life since Sunnydale had been a roller coaster, but for what it had been worth, it was great to finally be on his own. Sure, the gang had tried to stay together; maybe too long. Tempers got short as more heroes tried to join the Scoobies. Words that weren't meant had been said; passions had flared. Buffy, Xander and Willow all hurt too much to stay together much longer.

Spike, Anya, and Tara had been too much to lose for the trio. Giles had parted first, in his oh so sensible fashion. He had taken a mythology professorship at Georgetown. His students were often interested in the "studies" of Sunnydale. Though the emails had been short; Giles was happy. His students were enthused to learn; he even had an unofficial facebook fan club. Xander smiled; that man's grin would break a young girl's heart someday. He imagined Giles sitting in an upscale coffee shop with a homemade scarf and a hippie-type girlfriend talking him into a trip to Greenwich Village, which he would probably never admit would interest him terribly.

Buffy hadn't lasted long after. Losing her second father, though his departure had been no surprise to the small clique, had sent her into despair. She had relied on the old man and his sarcastic idiosyncrasies. She dove farther and farther into crime fighting; she wouldn't even get a real job anymore. The last letter she had sent told him from the cover she had been incarcerated. Her rage had led to the killing of an innocent. She had gone too far; even she would admit that, but much like Willow's magick, it was an intoxicant.

Buffy couldn't have stopped herself from staking that bank robber, still her favorite weapon of choice, any more than she could have staked Angel. Xander was sure Buffy would handle prison well. Maybe she'd even apply herself and get an associates degree while she was there. She had three years. Xander had promised to keep in touch with her, but he found it less and less likely as time went on.

Willow had decided to stay in California with Kennedy. The pair balanced each other so nicely; Willow had even talked Xander into a morning of yoga before he had left. The two were persuasive and, in his teasing moments, he had called them trouble. But he had begun to sense that he had become the third wheel and after Oz, he didn't want to be that guy again.

He had decided to bow out gracefully. There were many tearful but knowing goodbyes. They promised when they adopted they'd name him the godfather; he teased her that Alex would be a great name for a boy. The same blazing sunset had been on the horizon the evening he had left Palisades for good. Dish washing, bar tending, minor construction gigs just hadn't been enough for Xander. He loved Willow, but he craved something beyond the menial life and rut he had grown into. Sunnydale was gone; he had to move on.

The Greyhound had taken him to Michigan where he had been a fisherman. Amtrak had led him to Louisiana where he had boiled craw fish for about half a year. A Greyhound outside of Austin had sent him to a ring of pawn shops, which had rueful dealings with drug dealers. Xander had roamed and explored many things. This Greyhound's final destination was in Billings. Maybe Montana with it's flat prairies and homespun ways would soothe his roaming beast. Either way, it would be another experience to add to the list. The little town of Prairie Dog, about ten miles south of Billings hosted a lot of promise. Xander wondered if he was close enough to South Dakota to see the huge hunks of presidential heads. He shrugged as he drifted off to sleep; he'd think about that tomorrow.

Xander woke up a bit disoriented and startled. A shaft of morning sun split his eyeball into two earlier than he was accustomed to waking up. However, the mothers of Prairie Dog had been up a while. Below his little window, he could see buns bobbing up and down on tops of heads as they weaved through the town's tiny farmer's market. He could hear the butcher calling out orders and complementing customers. He had a raucous laugh that reminded Xander of hot coffee. His stomach grumbled just thinking of coffee. Xander looked at his meager wallet and possessions scattered all about the dresser. He lived out of the duffel bag he had brought; a picture in frame was the only vibrant piece of memory he had. That, of course, and his precautionary stake. You could never be too careful. The ten that rested next to the mirror was the last ten he had left.

Xander sighed as he brushed the stray black bangs away from his eyeballs and slash from a witch-induced battle in New Orleans. Fortune had him cross paths with a touring Oz back then. For a weekend, they had fought evil like it was the good old days. Xander often mused about how his right eye stayed intact at all. At least it was only noticeable if you squinted or if he laughed really loud. That didn't happen much nowadays anyway. Xander figured this was his next stop; he'd better find a job somewhere around these parts. At least he hoped the good people of Prairie Dog would be honest with him. Xander staggered to his feet and pulled open the drawer. He slid on a simple black t-shirt and headed down the back stairwell of the local Motel 8.

They just seemed to sprout up like garden gnomes every town he was in. He was starting to feel affinity for the glowing yellow 8 sign in the sky. Xander yawned as the haze of the late morning greeted him. The prairie was different from the desert. No dust to make him sneeze like he was putting out a wildfire. He slipped onto the stool closest to the glass doors of the old school diner. Knick-knacks all over the wall proclaimed old Campbell's Soup slogans and explored the wonders of tail-finned Chevy in neon blue. Xander smiled warmly. This was so different from LA. The waitresses all wore that same pale pink and black combo and shuffled about making banter with their usuals, refilling coffee and laughing in mirth. A hurried older gentlemen talked loudly from the little slat that ran between the kitchen and the dining room. He didn't sweat as he cooked and loved making a show of tossing the pancakes into the air.

Xander was lost in thought when Anne materialized before him. His train of thought had made him briefly forget about his hunger as he explored the avenues of Shaggy's topping choices he could recall. The waitress saw a weary traveler. He had strong, chipped hands and lines from age and battles running all along his visible parts. He didn't hunch like the rest of the men and had leapt into the diner as quietly as a cat. His boyish features made him cute though. She coughed quietly and he looked at her, startled. It wasn't every morning Xander was greeted with a nice neck line with a pair of B cups and pulled-back blond hair.

"Morning, stranger. Welcome to Prairie Dog's number one diner."

"Only diner, don't you mean?"

"Well," she chuckled, "that too."

"Got any specials?" I think I'll try my hand at flirting to try and get a job, Xander though. He added a wink onto the end of the question mark.

"I could make our pancake breakfast into a smiley breakfast?" She offered, dissuaded by his unabashed flirting.

He shook his head. "I don't think so. How about a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie? You guys do have apple pie right? Like, at all hours?"

"What do you think this is, Northern Exposure?"A gruff voice had finally appeared in the food service slat. The old man was giving Xander an uncomfortable once-over, probably feeling mutinous toward the city slicker.

"Never mind; I think I'll stick with the pancake breakfast then." He didn't want to mess with the man in charge of his vittles, no sir. Vittles? Xander cocked an internal eyebrow. Did I just think in terms of vittles?


"No, no just thinking to myself. Actually, I do have one. Is there anyone around town in need of a spare hand?"

The cook in the back snorted. "You think you could do our work, city boy?"

Anne looked back toward the opening, slightly annoyed. "Dave, get back to the grill. You don't have any room to talk. You fed the pigs chicken corn once, remember?" Dave just snorted and kept his opinion to himself the rest of the morning.

"Stranger, if work's what you want, you kind find it easy enough. But you've gotta have patience and a nice work ethic like the rest of the folks around here. Think you got that?"

More than you know, Xander though. "Yeah, I don't think that would be a problem."

"Well, you might first want to talk to Zeke. He runs the farmer's market."

Dave rang the little bell that announced Xander's meal was ready and Xander leaned past Anne. "You didn't spit in this did you, Dave?"

"Why? Would you call it the city boy's special if I did?"

Anne tried to reassure him. "Dave's got a sense of humor, but I'm sure it's fine."

Xander poked at his eggs uneasily and then wolfed it down unceremoniously. What doesn't kill me might make me stronger; unless it's a demon's spell to break me into a lucky twin and an unlucky twin, he mused. Ten minutes later Xander was picking over a large barrel of peaches, absentmindedly, trying to get the attention of Zeke, headmaster of fruits and such in the farmer's market. A man a couple of barrels over was sniffing at a green apple when the whole wheelbarrow full of them tumbled over. Xander's quick reflexes saved at least seven of them and Angus looked up, not visibly impressed.

"Thanks," the old ranch hand gave a low grumble. "Seems as though this wheelbarrow gets a little more unsteady each season."

"Why don't you just buy a new one?" Xander often talked without thinking it through with his inner Zeppo first. He would have liked to have, upon further review, just have given an agreeable grunt in return. He really wasn't looking to engage in conversation this early in the morning.

"Who's got that kind of money around here? Certainly not my plot of land and I. All those big companies came in all around us. You wanna go ask them for a loan, boy?"

"I didn't mean to imply anything by it." Xander thought it best to be polite. Old Angus looked as though he could rip the arms out of Xander's sockets. But there was just something familiar enough about him Xander couldn't be sure of.

"Angus, you quit pestering that young'un! You know better."

"Jennie, dear, you know I can't help it." Angus shrugged and glanced over to the elderly African American lady who ran the booth.

"Don't you mind him, son, he's just an old-codger with a toothache." Angus gave her a patronizing look. "Now, what can I help you with?"

"Well ma'am, Anne told me you might be willing to help me. I'm looking to make an honest day's wage so I can survive and keep rolling around the country, or stick around if something suits me." There was no reason to lie. At least not about himself.

"Well, I can't say I could use your help expressly. All I'm doing now in my off season is running the quilting bees. You are welcome to come over and help me can some of the extra fruits I got for sale here at the end of this week, but that's a few days off. Could your farm use another hand, Angus?"

Angus snorted in mutinous contempt at Jennie. He wanted to refuse, but he knew better. He was just a hired hand, but he'd bet his left ear the kid would be hired on. His owner could be too quick to do just that sort of thing. Another reason to not like city folk; he thought it'd be impractical. But the boy wanted to work. Angus shrugged; unsure of what to do.

Angus, he's a hard worker. His past is clouded, but I believe he could be a definite use. A cheery voice rang in his head; it was not his conscience. His conscience wasn't quite so female. He snorted again out loud.

"Well, something tells me if I don't at least bring you back that I'll get a talking to." He sighed. You can start by lugging back all these fruits I've bought from Jennie. Xander nodded gratefully and then picked up a crate of fruit easily. Angus was slightly surprised, but not generally the type to show it.

"Angus Finn, your total is 15.25. Now, that's not on credit. Get over here and fork over some cash, you dirty old man."

"Aw, Jennie, hun, you know that's how you like me." He winked as he forked over the cash and winced as he watched Xander trip over an invisible root and drop two oranges. Angus' mind slowly tacked a fruit dropping tax to the end of Xander's pay. "What did you do that for?"

Xander tried to mumble something but couldn't come up with a convincing enough mumble. He wondered if the man was related to Riley at all, but wouldn't bother to ask unless it came up. He was convinced of two things: One that it wouldn't, and two that he had lost major impression points with his tripping act. He shook his head to himself all the way back to the motel to grab his meager duffel bag of possessions. The two men drove down the silent prairie roads in their own heads.